Halloween season is approaching, and who better to raise back from the dead than Tallulah Bankhead, who passed away in 1968 after living the type of life that will keep biographers in business well after the Mayan calendar "runs out."
Although I did not follow Tallulah's "never practise two vices at once" rule, reading her biography as a thirteen-year-old was the only justification I needed to lead a hedonistic lifestyle well into my late twenties.
That, and the power of a good one-liner to justify all the emotional misdemeanours, both to myself and the authorities (particularly foreign customs).
And nobody comes out with better one-liners than Tallulah, god bless her witty American soul.
For those who are not familiar with Tallulah "I've tried several varieties of sex. The conventional position makes me claustrophobic. And the others give me either stiff neck or lockjaw," Bankhead, I shall write up a perky elegy soon - but for those out there who are part of a community which cherishes her memory, I bring you this fine contribution from Stephanie Cavanaugh, who paid her respects not too long ago and who took these photographs.
Now that we have had an account of the Garbo Grave visit, and the Bankhead Bastillon all we need is for someone out there to visit the Dietrich Dépôt to complete the holly trinity of The Girls. So spread the word.....
Over to you Stephanie:
I don’t know why Tallulah Bankhead is buried in St. Paul ’s Churchyard outside the minuscule port town of Rock Hall , Maryland . But there the Alabama-born and New York-cured actress lies. Rock Hall is in the middle of nowhere, even a spit farther from somewhere than Chestertown, a few miles away. It was in Chestertown that I took my first stab at higher education.
A tiny school of 700 lily-white, corn-fed students, Washington College , the town’s main industry, was about the only one that accepted me and my miserable grades and board scores. But with my crotch length skirts and thigh high boots I suppose I single handedly filled their slot for exotics.
Two hours out of Baltimore in one direction, two hours out of Washington in the other, and then another four or so from Manhattan , my home town, Chestertown was splendidly isolated – from my parents.
More importantly, it was where the enchantingly outrageous Tallulah, with her quick wit, naughty eyes, and smoky voice had chosen to face eternity. “Divinely impossible,” she was called, and how I wished people would say that of me. Unfortunately, I was only successful at the impossible part.
This was (more or less) why I was booted from the school by Christmas, without ever having had a graveside commune.
Fast forward 30-some years and the husband and I are off for a Sunday drive from our Washington home, he for crab cakes and me for a visit with Tallulah; a fascination rekindled by my good friend Diana McLellan's book, "The Girls," in which she deliciously dissects the violet passions of the major stars of the 1930s stage and screen--Garbo, Dietrich, and Bankhead among them.
St Paul’s is a country churchyard off a quiet road that’s a mile off another quiet road and set beside a pond that would be pretty if it didn’t appear to be in the process of being smothered by creeping kudzu.
Tallulah lies beneath a spartan stone slab stone topped with a decaying bouquet of plastic roses, strung here and there with notes from admirers, tightly wrapped in cellophane to protect them from the elements.
I wondered, as I contorted myself to take pictures of the epistles, if these earlier visitors traveled with rolls of wrap in their totes, or if a kindly church person preserves them. And if there’s preserved a cache of older letters to the star.
" I'm not sure how to go about writing you as I've never written anyone that wasn't living, other than Santa Claus." Began one, which continued on to discuss baseball (a passion of hers) and then wondered, "Do all the Hollywood celebs still see one another like they did here?"
At some point I noticed that I’d stretched myself beside her to get a clear shot, and I sensed her last words of record whispering to me, "Codeine…bourbon…"
Sorry dahling, I shrugged and blew her a smoke ring. Fresh out.