Tallulah Bankhead was an actress, free spirit, wit, Democrat, baseball fan, animal lover, drinker, bawdy shocker of prudes, scourge of bigots and hypocrites.
The convent-reared Southern belle had a vocabulary that could bring blushes to the cheeks of stevedores.
Her 50-year career in show business could be traced to a beauty contest win at 14 in her native Alabama.
Her voice, the rich, deep, croaking contralto that said "Dahling" in a way unique to her, occasioned as much comment as her beauty and was an important element in her acting. Broadway columnist Earl Wilson once asked her if she was ever mistaken for a man over the telephone.
"No," she answered, "were you?"
Bankhead attended no less than four convent schools in the course of her education. But when she was only 16 — with the triumph of the bathing beauty contest still fresh in her mind — she succeeded in gaining her father's permission to go to New York and try to get on the stage.
She landed a walk-on part in a show called "Squab Farm," which lasted only a month. Soon after she got a part in "39 East."
When she determined that she was not advancing as fast as she should on Broadway, the young actress sailed for England. There she was an instant success. Londoners went wild over her in a play called "The Dancers", in which she played a cigarette-smoking, short skirted flapper. For eight years thereafter she was the toast of London.
In 1930, lucrative offers from Hollywood brought her home for a try at the movies. However, she did not make a success at films until years later when, in 1944, she made "Lifeboat," under the direction of Alfred Hitchcock.
Bankhead considered the initial adventure in Hollywood a failure and returned to New York and the stage.
The really big Bankhead success, and the one that remains bright in the memory of veteran playgoers, was the 1939 production of Lillian Hellman's "The Little Foxes," in which she played the most vicious member of a wholly vicious Southern family.
Another triumph came in 1942 with the production of Thornton Wilder's "The Skin of Our Teeth," when critics and the public raved over he performance as Sabina.
Her last Broadway appearance was in Tennessee Williams' "The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore," which closed after five performances.