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Tallulah!: The Life and times of a Leading Lady Hardcover – October 26, 2004

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 592 pages
  • Publisher: It Books (October 26, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060394358
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060394356
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.7 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.9 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,568,158 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Critic Lobenthal (the New York Times, Playbill, etc.) began researching Tallulah Bankhead (1902–1968) as an undergraduate. Twenty-five years later, his exhaustively researched biography is the definitive, gloves-off evocation of the life of the brazen stage and screen actress so roundly ahead of her time. Bankhead was born in Huntsville, Ala. Her mother died three weeks after her birth from peritonitis; her father's family—Dixiecrat politicians and lawyers—provided an endlessly flamboyant if penurious background for her early life. Barely 16, Bankhead fled from Alabama's claustrophobic, restrictive society to New York. Before age 20, she was a resounding success on the London stage and already notorious for what would become her life-long profligate sex- and alcohol-related escapades. The 1930s brought her back to New York, the stage and a burgeoning interest in leftist politics, which landed her on J. Edgar Hoover's list of persons to watch. Unlike previous Bankhead biographers, Lobenthal doesn't pass judgment on the volatile actress or act as apologist; rather, he contextualizes her often outrageous behavior (like arriving onstage drunk) and explains her choices as an actress. And in contrast to Bankhead's autobiography, there is no dissembling; facts are stated, ramifications elucidated. Lobenthal's clean, reportorial prose flows more smoothly once Bankhead leaves the South and her multifaceted persona begins to glitter in earnest; the book's sole flaw is an obsessive attention to detail. Photos.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

"Becoming notorious" was her intent, according to Lobenthal, who spent 25 years researching Tallulah Bankhead's life and her construction of a swaggering, assured persona that hid her underlying anxieties. Certainly she succeeded, for Bankhead remains known as much for her scandals, vices, and indiscretions as for her acting. Lobenthal engagingly uses 150 interviews with Tallulah's friends, lovers, enemies, and employers as well as FBI files to create a page-turning biography. Perhaps the most illuminating portion traces her early development on the New York stage, where she learned her craft working rather than studying at acting school. Having left her well-born Alabama family for Broadway, the insecure teen managed at 19 to land her first starring role in Everyday, a short-lived play that brought her favorable critical response. Other teenage landmarks included cocaine, which would bolster her throughout her life, and Napier Alington, the man she later referred to as the love of her life despite her many lovers of both sexes, all carefully documented. Outspoken and tempestuous, La Bankhead lives-- large. Whitney Scott
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Customer Reviews

3.6 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

27 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Phillip O. VINE VOICE on December 28, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Several biographies appeared in the decade following Tallulah Bankhead's death (1968) but since then, her light has diminished rapidly. It is thus exciting to see a brand new biography published in 2004. This 500+ tome is probably the most detailed ever but most of the information here focuses on her career and works. Every play and film is analyzed in minute detail. This is so much a "career biography" that the wild antics and hilarious persona of the woman herself often seems to be hiding in the background and we never get a sense of this fascinating woman's personality. Although I admire the research that went into this book, I cannot say that it was a "fun" read and not nearly as entertaining as Lee Israel's 70s biography "Miss Tallulah Bankhead". Also, as other reviewers have noted, only a handful of photos are included.
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By krebsman VINE VOICE on September 17, 2005
Format: Hardcover
She's been dead for nearly 40 years and she's still controversial. There were certainly bigger stars, but there was one Tallulah. In my childhood I remember her as a deep-voiced woman who carried a long cigarette holder and called everyone "dahling." I had no idea that she had at one time been considered a great actress. She originated two of the great roles of the 20th Century American theatre: Regina in Lillian Hellman's THE LITTLE FOXES and the Sabina in Thorton Wilder's THE SKIN OF OUR TEETH. She received the New York Film Critics Award as Best Actress for her performance in Alfred Hitchcock's LIFEBOAT. Opinon was always divided on whether she was truly a great actress or merely a strong charismatic personality. Her professional achievements were overwhelmed by an oversized caricature of herself she popularized on radio. Rumors of her offstage behavior did not help matters. There have been several other biographies of Tallulah since her death. They have tended to focus on the sensational aspects of her life. Joel Lobenthal has subtitled his book, THE LIFE AND TIMES OF A LEADING LADY. He examines the life of the artist and the context in which she lived and worked. This is a detailed work. He gives synopses of every play Bankhead ever appeared in and lets us know how critics, public and co-workers assessed her performances. He does not neglect the seamier side of Tallulah's life. Her alcoholism, drug usage, exhibitionism, numerous sexual escapades with members of both sexes are all recounted, often in more detail than previously reported. But the main focus is on the artist. Lobenthal has great respect for his subject's artistry, and that is very refreshing. The detail of this book may bore some people, but for those with a strong interest in the English speaking theatre of the 20th Century, this book will prove informative and provocative.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Kevin Killian HALL OF FAME on August 16, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Joel Lobenthal's book is a remarkable feat. He has rescued Tallulah Bankhead from her fans.

I can't understand the horrid reviews this book has gotten from others on the site. I found his work utterly compelling and a vast improvement on every other book I've seen (all of which I've enjoyed by the way). It's just that Lobenthal has done something no other biographer has attempted-he has gone back and attempted to recreate the actual performances that she gave, by various means, including locating fellow castmates, some of them of extreme age but all of them with amazing, never before heard memories and anecdotes. They build up a picture of Bankhead as being the exact opposite of the coke-addled personality-driven dilettante we have been used to for a long, long time.

And Lobenthal's research has deep roots! He worked on this project for close to 30 years, and it shows. He seems to know everything about Bankhead, but about American and British theater throughout the 20th century. Plus, he has persuaded his witnesses to spill all the beans and you'll find things out in this book which you never imagined about all of your favorite actors, writers and directors.

What a roller coaster ride Bankhead had for a career. Things looked pretty bleak for her by the mid 1930s and then in rapid succession she landed a series of parts which put her once again in the thick of the theatrical action and even returned her to movies. As Regina Giddens in Lillian Hellman's THE LITTLE FOXES, she brought her Southern gentility into play, and got out the claws. As Lily Sabina in Thornton Wilder's THE SKIN OF OUR TEETH, she brought European expressionism onto the Broadway stage during World War II.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By CP on November 23, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Sexy, funny and extremely well researched. A pleasure to read, this is both a rollicking tale of a tough, talented temptress and an education in theatre from the twenties to the fifties.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By G. Pillson on December 9, 2004
Format: Hardcover
....and none of the dazzle, which pretty much makes the life of a changeling like Congressman's Bankhead's little girl a dull read. While the author's research is impressive -- and some of the new information he provides genuinely insightful -- it's buried in far too many plot synopses and sniffily disapproving asides on his subject's (mis)behavior. In the end, he gives the impression of one who would far rather have written about a dutiful, intellectual, sobersided performer -- Helen Hayes? Jane Alexander? -- than one of the most tempestuous, maddening, bewitching figures in the American theatre.

Also -- and really quite shocking -- the photographs that are included, while mostly unfamiliar, are also almost uniformly startlingly unflattering. It's hard to get a sense of why people found Tallulah so fascinating when the visuals are so thoroughly un-enchanting. Everyone takes a bad photo now and then, and certainly no retoucher ever had a better friend than TB, but with so much richness available, why stint?
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