From Publishers Weekly
Critic Lobenthal (the New York Times
, 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.
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"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 ScottCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved