Wednesday, July 14, 2010

More of an act than an actress . . .

 . . . is how an anonymous wag once described the colorful Tallulah Bankhead. Scrabbling around for ideas for an Oliver Swithin short story, I briefly consider fictionalizing a highly apocryphal anecdote about La Bankhead, but my integrity prevails. Still . . .

Tallulah was once in a stage production with an ambitious actress much younger than herself, whom she overheard bragging "She's not so great. I can upstage her anytime." "Dahling," Tallulah replied, stepping out of the shadows, "I can upstage you without even being onstage."

The play included a scene in which Tallulah exits to leave the younger actress onstage alone, performing one half of a long telephone call. Before she left the stage, Tallulah placed the half-full glass of champagne she'd been sipping on the very edge of a prominently placed table, half on and half off. For the rest of the scene, the audience's attention was entirely on the precariously balanced glass, ignoring the other actress entirely.

Triumph for Tallulah. (Of course, the adhesive tape on the bottom of the glass helped.)

Probably untrue. The whole "convenience" factor of the circumstances weighs against it. (Not to mention that it requires Tallulah Bankhead to walk away from a half-full glass of champagne.) As unlikely as the famous* anecdote of Jean Harlow, who apparently met Margot Asquith, wife of a British Prime Minister and a wonderful wit in her own right. Mrs. Asquith found herself needing to correct the movie star's mispronunciation of her first name: "No, dear, the t is silent. As in Harlow."

*Not going to stop me telling it.

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