Words by: Theodora Sutcliffe
So who was Tallulah Bankhead?
Politician's daughter, classic movie star, West End actress, wit, sexual athlete, gay icon and all round libertine-turned-talk show host in later years. Tallulah was famous for her husky voice, her no-holds-barred parties and her underwear-free cartwheels. She once memorably remarked "Cocaine isn't habit-forming - I've been using it for years" and was almost thrown out of England by MI5 for indulging in "indecent and unnatural practices" with no fewer than five Eton schoolboys simultaneously.
Where did she drink?
Where didn't Miss Bankhead drink?! The Sands in Vegas, The 21 Club, The Algonquin and Bleeck's in New York, the London Ritz, the Hotel Elysée and Ambassador Hotel in Paris, the hotspots of Deauville... Oh, and the playing fields of Eton, of course. In later life, she imbibed mainly at her home, Windows, surrounded by the young gay men she called caddies, whose duties apparently included fixing her drinks, bringing her drugs and sharpening her lipsticks, as well as holding her hand while she went to sleep.
What did she drink?
Straight Bourbon, mostly, which she claimed her doctor recommended for pneumonia in 1943. A serious cocktail drinker, Tallulah wrote, "You'll not find me in the two-cocktails-before-dinner file. After two cocktails, I don't want any dinner. Or any lunch." She enjoyed French 75s, Mint Juleps, Manhattans and (Gin) Martinis, while frozen daiquiris were a favourite on hot afternoons. Her preferred morning-after tipple - though she rejected, having tried them all, the notion that there was any such thing as a hangover cure - was the Black Velvet, a half and half mixture of Guinness and champagne. Apparently, Tallulah's last coherent words were "Codeine . . . Bourbon . . ."
Any famous drinking buddies?
Tallulah briefly lived at the Algonquin Hotel, and became close to Dorothy Parker and her circle. In London, she befriended the wit and playwright, Noel Coward. Her Hollywood buddies included Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich and Alfred Hitchcock, while her wit left her friends with Chico Marx and the stand-up Joe E. Lewis. Bizarrely, she knew the legendary socialite Nicky Haslam while he was at Eton.
How did drink change her life?
Tallulah observed in her (ghosted) autobiography, "Let's face it, my dears. I have been tight as a tick! Fried as a mink! Stiff as a goat!" but asserted that she had never missed a show. Drink did impact her gambling abilities, causing her to remark "never practice two vices at once". But despite consuming quite awe-inspiring quantities of gin and bourbon, washed down with around 100 cigarettes a day, Tallulah lived until well into her 60s and died a millionaire.
Any drinking stories?
Tallulah once told a friend that a doctor had instructed her to eat an apple whenever she felt tempted to drink. She observed, "But really, darling, sixty apples a day?!" When Dorothy Parker hosted a party for Tallulah's then-assistant, Tallulah showed up drunk, doing cartwheels and back flips. When she left, Miss Parker commented, approvingly, that she was glad her "mother" had left.