27 July 2017

I got it in the bathroom!

With the leading role in Anastasia (1956), Ingrid Bergman made her American comeback after she had spent years in Italy making films with Italian filmmaker Roberto Rossellini. Bergman had been forced to stay in Italy due to her affair with Rossellini and the major scandal it caused in the U.S. in 1949 (read more here). But in 1956, Bergman separated from Rossellini and, after being considered persona non grata in the U.S. for years, returned to the American screen with Anastasia and immediately won her second Oscar

On 27 March 1957, Cary Grant accepted the Oscar on Bergman's behalf during the 29th Academy Award ceremony. (Bergman herself was in Paris at the time starring in the French adaptation of the play Tea and Sympathy.) Bergman and Grant had become very good friends since they had worked together on Hitchock's Notorious (1946), and Grant was also one of the few people in Hollywood who had defended and supported Bergman during the Rossellini scandal. So it was only natural for Bergman to ask her dear friend to accept the award on her behalf in case she won. Of course, Grant willingly accepted and you can watch his acceptance speech here.

Above: Ingrid Bergman and her good friend Cary Grant who accepted the Oscar for Anastasia on her behalf; Bergman and Grant made two movies together: Notorious (1946 and Indiscreet (1958). Below: Yul Brynner and Bergman in a scene from "Anastasia", a film directed by Anatole Litvak.
Below: Backstage at the 29th Oscar ceremony with Anthony Quinn (Best Supporting Actor for Lust for Life), Dorothy Malone (Best Supporting Actress for Written on the Wind), Yul Brynner (Best Actor for The King and I) and Cary Grant holding Ingrid Bergman's Oscar for Best Actress for Anastasia.

The letter for this post is a letter from Ingrid Bergman to Cary Grant written in Paris on 29 March 1957, two days after the Oscar ceremony. Bergman thanks her friend for accepting the award for her and for the sweet words he spoke at the ceremony. She also tells him that, despite having given interviews to the press all day, she only fully realised that she had won the Oscar when she was in the bathroom hearing his voice on the radio.

Source: theacademy.tumblr.com/ from the Cary Grant papers at the Margaret Herrick Library


Paris 29-3-1957

My dear Cary, my wonderful friend:

I got the news about the award in the morning at 6 o'clock. I said on the phone: "I got it?" The answer was yes--- and I fell asleep again. This seems a very indifferent way of accepting an Oscar, but I was full of sleeping pills so that I could go through the night! A couple of hours later I was awakened and what seems to me 1000 photographers. The whole day I did nothing but answer questions in all languages about how I felt. I really felt a very dull happiness and was only hoping the day would end. Finallay [sic] it was over and I went to my room to take a bath and to see Tola and celebrate -in peace- the evening. I hear a scream and my 7 year old son rushes into the bathroom with the radio in his hands, yelling "Mama, they are talking about you". He came in just as I heared [sic] my name mentioned and the roar of the public in Hollywood. It was a transmission -on wire- with a French commentator about the awards. In the back of the commentator I heared your voice. You said something about "if you can hear me now" and "wherever you are the [sic] the world" and I said "I am here, Cary, in the bathroom!"And then you gave me the good wishes and I could hear all the people cheer. That was the moment I really received the Oscar and I felt tears coming to my eyes. Having known about it all day, but still not GETTING it, I GOT it in the bathroom! What a place to get an Oscar! Nothing could have made me happier than that you took it and I thank you for the sweet words you said. How lucky that I heard them, it was all due to my little boy! 

With my love,

Ingrid (signed)

Bergman's first Oscar was for her leading role in Gaslight (1944), and she would win a third Oscar for her supporting role in the 1974 Murder on the Orient Express.

23 July 2017

George Hurrell: more than just a photographer

A leading portrait photographer in the 1930s/40s, George Hurrell photographed every major star in Hollywood, including the incomparable Barbara Stanwyck. Here is a short memo from Barbara about Hurrell, sharing her thoughts on his work and calling him more than "just a photographer". The memo is undated and I don't know why it was written or to whom, but it gives me an excuse to show you these beautiful pictures of Barbara taken by Hurrell.

Via: icollector


George Hurrell is more than "just a photographer". His work always seemed to me to go beyond the subject at hand. More into the depth of its character- and that after all is what makes Hurrell a fine artist.

13 July 2017

I have been stupidly loyal

In the early 1950s, John Wayne made the worst decision of his film career. He decided to play the role of the Mongol warlord Genghis Khan in Howard Hughes' production The Conqueror (1956)a decision he would sorely regret. Wayne's casting as Khan is generally considered one of the worst miscastings ever --Wayne later agreed that he had been terribly miscast-- and the film itself also ranks as one of the worst films of all time.

Nevertheless, The Conqueror was a film Wayne had wanted to make and producer Howard Hughes had been willing to give him whatever he wanted. (At the time, Wayne was at the peak of his career and still had to make one more film as part of a three-picture deal with Hughes' studio RKO.) In mid-May 1954, filming on The Conqueror began and ended in early August. Production was not without problems and eventually cost RKO 6 million dollars, making The Conqueror the studio's most expensive production. Despite the huge investment, the film eventually became both a commercial and critical flop.

On 29 April 1954a disgruntled John Wayne wrote the following letter to Howard Hughes. Apparently, Hughes had hired Wayne in 1952 to do The Conqueror, but two years later Wayne was still waiting for production to finally start. In his letter, Wayne complains about the money he lost for holding himself available for RKO, and how he had turned down "four very top pictures". Wayne also mentions his friendship with Hughes, feeling that he had been taken advantage of ("I have been stupidly loyal"). Production on The Conqueror finally began a few weeks after Wayne had written his letter to Hughes. As said, the film turned out to be a big disaster, and Wayne would regret playing Genghis Khan for the rest of his life. (Wayne reportedly said that the moral of the film was "not to make an ass of yourself trying to play parts you're not suited for." )


1022 Palm Avenue
Hollywood 46, Calif.
April 29, 1954

Mr. Howard Hughes
Hughes Tool Company
7000 Romaine
Hollywood 38, Calif.

Dear Howard:

There seems to be no way of getting to you in time of stress except by letter. Knowingly, carelessly, or unintentionally --let's call it the latter-- you have caused me a huge financial loss and a great loss of prestige at a point in my life and in my career when I can afford neither.

"The Conqueror", if you will remember, was to start on April 1st, and a final plug was pulled when I now learn that it is not going to start until May 17th. Do you realize that this assignment has been hanging over my head since January 1952 -two and a half years?  I have kept my word to the very letter and held myself free and available for RKO to do one picture, pursuant to the studio' s request and your personal request, in the following manner:

In 1952, from January until May; in 1953 from July until the time of my divorce, which was October 19th; and this year from January 4th until the finish of the picture, which cannot possibly be completed before July 21st, and it is not probable that it will be finished then, due to the history of your production procedure at RKO.  The time lost on "Jet Pilot" is not being referred to in this letter.

Taking into consideration my average earnings over the last four years, you have cost me $250,000 in 1952, $250,000 in 1953, and $500,000 in 1954. This adds up to $1,000,000 in cash lost to me, without figuring the equities in percentages of the gross from four very top pictures I was obliged to reject while I was keeping my faith with you. And without figuring what it means to a star in my position to lose four top pictures; plus the fact that being off the screen at this time hurts my career and popularity and future earnings. I don't suppose an honest man can put any real premium on his word, but the fact remains this is a terribly severe loss to me at this crucial time of my life.

As you can see by these cold facts, I have never taken advantage of any friendship between us. As a matter of fact, I have been stupidly loyal. I hate to refer to this, but you made a statement to me that I was one of the few friends you had in the motion picture business. I feel that I have been tremendously imposed upon.

The above are facts that Mr. Tevlin can readily verify. If you had taken the trouble to read my letter of February 3rd, which resulted in a meeting about the middle of February, you would have a better understanding of my problems. In that meeting you cut through issues that were vital to me in a manner only you are capable of doing, and reached a surface conclusion without the slightest understanding of all the facts.

It's true, I admit, that you did one thing: you listened to me and changed the picture from "The Long Wire" to "The Conqueror". I don't want you to say that this was done merely for my good-- it was more for your good.

Therefore, realizing that your mind is obviously on more important matters than the production of motion pictures, I would like to suggest that, in order to avoid a lot of exploded tempers, you authorize Mr. Tevlin to sit down with Mr. Marin and myself, immediately and prior to the tests scheduled for Tuesday of next week, and discuss a re-adjustment of my financial return from this picture. $100,000 does not even start to make the necessary adjustment. 


John Wayne

Images of the letter via icollector.


-Apart from being a cinematic and financial disaster, The Conqueror was also a disaster in a different, more horrific way. A year before production started, tests with nuclear weapons had been executed at 137 miles (220 km) from the film location (the Utah desert). During the whole production which lasted almost three months, the cast and film crew were exposed to radioactive fallout, even though the site had been deemed safe. By 1980, 91 of the 220 cast and crew members had some form of cancer and 46 had already died of it, including John Wayne, Susan Hayward, Agnes Moorehead and director Dick Powell. Although it was never conclusively proven that the nuclear tests were the cause of the cancer cases, an expert stated in 1980 that in a group of 220 you would expect only 30-some people to get cancer. Nevertheless, John Wayne always believed that his lung cancer had been caused by his smoking habit and not the nuclear fallout.

-Jet Pilot, another Howard Hughes' production mentioned in Wayne's letter, was filmed between December 1949 and February 1950. It wasn't released, however, until 1957. By that time, Hughes had already sold RKO, and the film was released by Universal-International. 

Leading lady Susan Hayward and John Wayne still having something to laugh about on the set of The Conqueror.

29 June 2017

The human mind cannot grasp it

In 1942, in post-Pearl Harbor America, many Hollywood actors joined the army, including 28-year-old Tyrone Power who enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps. Having learned to fly in 1938, Power really wanted to be a combat flyer but was considered too old for active combat duty. So he became a transport pilot, and as such was shipped out to combat zones in the Pacific in early 1945. Power flew a lot of missions transporting cargo and wounded soldiers, also during the battles of Iwo Jima (Feb-March 1945) and Okinawa (Apr-June 1945). In August 1945 after the first atomic bomb was dropped, he also flew supplies to the Marine troops in Hiroshima. 

In November 1945, Power returned to the States a changed man, having witnessed the war up close. Seeking more meaningful roles, he resumed his film career with a dramatic part in The Razor's Edge (1946) and went on to make about 20 more films. In 1958, Power died unexpectedly of a heart attack at age 44; he was buried with full military honours.

The letter for this post is a letter from Tyrone Power to his good friend J. Watson Webb, who was a Hollywood film editor (his work includes A Letter to Three Wives (1949) and The Razor's Edge (1946)). Power's letter was written on 10 August 1945, four days after the bombing of Hiroshima and one day after the bomb on Nagasaki. Apart from containing personal news, the letter naturally deals with the bomb. Also, a day earlier the Russians had invaded Japan (their invasion was decisive in ending WWII), and Power shares his thoughts on that too.

Source: tyrone-power.com 
Transcript of the letter is shown below.
Click on the above link for the original image of the letter.
10 August, 1945 
Dear Watty;- 
Had another of your wonderful letters the other day, and as usual, was so happy to hear from you. Your letters are NEVER boring, my dear friend. You should know that by now. Sometimes you have more to tell me, than at others.... but no matter what it is, I always like to hear it.
By the way, I hear we have some new neighbors out our way. The other night I saw Eddie Bracken, who is out here doing a show, and he tells me that he bought the place just up the street, across fro [sic] Coopers. getting to quite a 'tony' neighborhood. 
Watson Webb
There is not a great deal to reoprt [sic] from out here. Of course, the thought in everyone's mind, and the subject of all conversation these days is the new bomb. And it is not just the immediate effect that it is going to have on the Japs, and the war in general...... but the effect it is going to have on us all, for the rest of our lives. For as surely as I sit here writing to you tgis [sic] morning..... our whole lives have changed. They are no more tha [sic] same, than they were the day the first horseless carriage appeared. Speculation is high, as to just how long the world will last, now that they have released this force. They are well on the way to destroying it all, of course you know that. The only question everyone asks is, "How much more time do we have.... how many years?" 
Yesterday I was fortunate enough to be able to see some of the pictures that were taken just after the first one was dropped. Even if I were allowed to tell you what it was like, I doubt whether I could. It actually defies description. There are no words in our poor vocabulary, at present, to draw an adequate picture of it. The human mind cannot grasp it, at present. Watty, it is simply staggering. One can only look at it, and say, "My God!".  
Now, with Russia in the thing out here too, it looks as though it won't be so long after all. I must say that up to this point, I didn't have too optimistic an outlook on this whole thing. But this has changed the picture entirely. It just cannot be humanly possible for anyone, or anything to hold out very long. The question is, of course.... how many do they have? Can they get enough? Surely, they don't need many... but how many?

With us too, it's particularly in mind, for we know that they must be around here someplace. Where none of us know.... but they are here someplace. Just let them be careful, that's all I have to say.

Well, so much for that. It is something that is out of our hands, and we can't do a damn thing one way or another.... but sit and wait.

Your parties sound like great fun, and I do wish I could be there. That's a charming business about the Mac's pool. Can't they do anything about guards, or anything like that? What a graceful scene that must have been at the D. Selznicks..... but I believe we talked about that before.

The pictures of Arrowhead, I thought were wonderful, and I can understand after looking at them, how you would like to go back again. I could use a bit of that duty, myself. Also a Sunday at your pool. What I wouldn't give for some of that!

Tyrone Power and his first wife Annabella
You probably know by this time that Annabella is coming out to the coast with her mother, and they are going to open the house again. I think it is the only sensible thing to do. She will have Anne, and the baby with her... and Annie, and I'm sure they will be happy. It will be like a dream for her mother. Thank God we have a place like that for them to come. She certainly deserves it after what she has been through for the past five years. Drop in on them, and do all you can. But, then, I know you will.

Saw Hank again the other day. We had a visit for about an hour. He is looking ver [sic] well, and is just 'sweating-out' his orders. I guess he and I will be in this thing 'til the last dog's hung. There certainly is a big rush for the gates though. I have heard of so many who are getting out.

Don't believe there is much other news, dear friend. Take good care of yourself, anf [sic] do let me hear from you soon. Let me know what picture you do next. 

My love to Ma, when you write, and my best...

Always, Tyrone (signed)

8 June 2017

Miss Leigh seems to be the best qualified

In December 1938, a young unknown British actress named Vivien Leigh visited the set of Gone with the Wind accompanied by talent agent Myron Selznick. Myron's brother, producer David Selznick, had just started production of GWTW (the burning of Atlanta scene), even though he still hadn't found his Scarlett O'Hara yet. After being introduced to Leigh, Selznick was impressed and very quickly considered her a serious candidate for the role of Scarlett. Despite widespread protests against the casting of Leigh (being a non-Southerner), Leigh got the coveted role and signed her contract on 16 January 1939.

When word got out that Vivien Leigh was to be cast as Scarlett, David Selznick sent numerous letters to entertainment journalists to justify his decision. Shown below is Selznick's letter to Ed Sullivan (a gossip columnist at the time), written on 7 January 1939, just nine days before Leigh was officially hired. Although Selznick denied that he had chosen Leigh ("Vivien Leigh is by no means cast as Scarlett"), it is quite clear that he had already made his decision.

Selznick's letter is shown in transcript only. 
You'll find the original image of the letter via this page.

David Selznick and Vivien Leigh both won Oscars for GWTW for resp. Best Film and Best Actress.
January 7, 1939
Mr. Ed Sullivan 
621 North Alta Drive
Beverly Hills, California  
Dear Ed: 
Vivien Leigh is by no means cast as Scarlett. There are three other possibilities. But should we decide on Miss Leigh for the role, I think the following answers your question:
  1. Scarlett O'Hara's parents were French and Irish. Identically, Miss Leigh's parents are French and Irish.
  2. A large part of the South prides itself on its English ancestry, and an English girl might presumably, therefore, be as acceptable in the role as a Northern girl.
  3. Experts insist that the real Southern accent, as opposed to the Hollywood conception of a Southern accent, is basically English. There is a much closer relationship between the English accent and the Southern accent than there is between the Southern accent and the Northern accent, as students will tell you, and as we have found through experience.
  4. I think it would be ungrateful on the part of Americans, particularly Americans in the film and theatrical worlds, to feel bad about such a selection in view of the English public's warm reception of American actors' portrayals of the most important and best-beloved characters in English history and fiction, ranging all the way from Wallace Beery in "Treasure Island", to Fredric March as Browning in "The Barretts", to Gary Cooper in "Bengal Lancer".
  5. And, finally, let me call your attention to the most successful performances in the American Theatre in many, many years-- those, respectively, of the American Helen Hayes as "Queen Victoria" and the British Raymond Massey as "Abraham Lincoln". 
Ed Sullivan
I feel that there are days when we should all do everything within our power to help cement British-American relationships and mutual sympathies, rather than to indulge in thoughtless, half-baked and silly criticisms. As I have said, Miss Leigh is not set for the role, but if she gets it Miss Leigh seems to us to be the best qualified from the standpoints of physical resemblance to Miss Mitchell's Scarlett, and- more importantly- ability to give the right performance in one of the most trying roles ever written. And this after a two-year search.
And if she gets the role, I like to think that you'll be in there rooting for her. 
Cordially and sincerely yours, 
P.S. Incidentally, just where do the carpers think the name "Georgia" came from, but from England? I suppose they'd also object to George Washington being played by an Englishman! 

27 May 2017

Please believe me it was not my doing

Something's Got to Give (1962) was Marilyn Monroe's last (unfinished) film. Directed by George Cukor and co-starring Dean Martin and Cyd Charisse, the film was a remake of the 1940 My Favorite Wife, a screwball comedy starring Cary Grant and Irene Dunne. From the very beginning, the project was plagued with problems involving its leading lady. On the first day of production, Marilyn didn't show up because of a sinus infection, and over the next month she only rarely made an appearance due to several health problems. With the production going quickly over budget and also having to deal with another project that ran over budget (the epic Cleopatra starring Elizabeth Taylor), 20th Century Fox couldn't afford to keep an unreliable leading lady on the payroll. Marilyn was eventually fired on 8 June 1962.

Marilyn was to be replaced with Lee Remick, but leading man Dean Martin (a friend of Marilyn's) refused to work with anybody but Marilyn. As a result, Fox agreed to rehire Marilyn and even agreed to pay her more than her previous salary. Marilyn accepted the studio's offer on the condition that Cukor was replaced with Jean Negulesco with whom she had worked on How To Marry a Millionaire (1953). Before filming could resume, however, Marilyn died of a barbiturate overdose. The film was abandoned after her death and was eventually remade under a different title with a different cast (Move Over Darling (1963), directed by Michael Gordon and starring Doris Day and James Garner).

George Cukor and Marilyn Monroe on the set of Something's Got to Give (above), and Marilyn with co-star Cyd Charisse in a scene from the film (below).
Following her dismissal from Something's Got to Give, Marilyn sent identical telegrams to cast and crew members. Shown below are the telegrams she sent to resp. George Cukor and Cyd Charisse.

Source: julienslive


1962 JUN 8 PM 10 15



Via: pinterest


1962 JUN 8 PM 10 16



17 May 2017

It could be a very important and constructive film

After reading the Cold War novel Seven Days in May by Fletcher Knebel and Charles W. Bailey IIKirk Douglas knew it could be made into a great film. He bought the rights to the novel through his production company Joel Productions, teamed up with director John Frankenheimer and put together a cast of wonderful actors like Burt Lancaster and Fredric March (Douglas himself was to play an important role in the film too). Eventually released in 1964, the result was an excellent political thriller, which is still considered one of the best of its kind.

Having heard about Douglas' plans to picturise Seven Days in May, director Stanley Kubrick wrote Douglas a letter on 8 February 1963. Kubrick had been interested in filming the story himself, but now that Douglas was going to film it, Kubrick decided to offer him some unsolicited adviceDouglas wrote back 11 days later, saying he appreciated Kubrick's suggestions and also asked if they could make another movie together ("How about a comedy? I think I'm pretty funny, don't you?"). The two men had previously worked together on Paths of Glory (1957) and Spartacus (1960) and reportedly had a difficult working relationship. Despite Douglas' suggestion that they work together again, in the end they never did.

Kirk Douglas and Stanley Kubrick on the set of their second and last film together, Spartacus (1960). 


Mr. Kirk Douglas
707 North Canon Drive
Beverly Hills,

February 8th, 1963.

Dear Kirk,

I thought I would be presumptuous enough to drop you a line about your forthcomimg film SEVEN DAYS IN MAY which, as you may know, I had some interest in myself.

I think it's a marvellous story and could be a very important and constructive film. There were a couple of things about it which, in my opinion, detracted from its potential meaning. The most important, I think, is the complete cop-out at the end when the President confronts the Air Force Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and gets him to admit that if the responsibility were his, he would have done things just in the same way. This is extremely unlikely and takes away from the most important theme in the book, namely the conflict in the Government between intelligent civilian management of the affairs of state versus the driving force of the military-industrial complex. Have you ever seen Eisenhower's famous last speech as President where he warned the country, in a manner extremely untypical for him, of the growing threat of the military-industrial complex - that was his expression.

I think it would be very good if you could dramatise the difficulty a President would have in agreeing to some form of sensible disarmament scheme and how the semi-paranoiac extremists can make great political trouble for him. This is very nicely touched on in the book when the President's Popularity Poll reaches a new low, but I think it's greatly dissipated by the ending. 

I should also prefer to see less physical action undertaken by Senators and high Government officials. There's a bit too much creeping and crawling and slugging and gun-play involving these characters and I think it would be much more realistic if this could be delegated to lower echelon characters.

I hope that John and Rod and Eddie don't resent this letter and I leave it to you to present any of these ideas, if you consider them worthy, in your own charming and inimitable manner. 

In any event, I wish you the best of luck with the film and give my regards to Eddie and Ann.

Best regards,

(signed "Stanley")

Stanley Kubrick



February 19, 1963

Dear Stanley,

How nice to hear from you again, and I certainly appreciate your suggestions -- but then you know how we geniuses work. You will be pleased to know that we have been thinking about all the points you mentioned. Your letter has served to give us more confidence about the work we must do in these areas. I think we should have an interesting picture and a pretty good cast.

By the way, what's cooking with your project-- what's happening with your lawsuit versus "Failsafe". If there's any way that I can help I wish you'd call on me. 

In the meantime, my sincere  wishes for the success of your picture. 
Also, I think it's about time we did another picture together. How about a comedy? I think I'm very funny, don't you? 

Let's keep in touch.


(signed "Kirk")

Kirk Douglas

Mr. Stanley Kubrick
Shepperton Studios
Shepperton, Middlesex

Source: Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research

Note: During the filming of his Cold War satire Dr. Strangelove (1964), Kubrick learnt that Fail-Safe (1964), directed by Sidney Lumet, was being produced at the same time. Fail-Safe's plot was so similar to Red Alert (the novel by Peter George on which Dr. Strangelove was based) that George filed a lawsuit for plagiarism and later settled out of court. As both films were being produced by the same studio (Columbia Pictures), Kubrick insisted that his film was released first. He got his wish-- Fail-Safe opened eight months later than Dr. Strangelove and as a result performed poorly at the box-office. 

Burt Lancaster, Fredric March and Kirk Douglas-- powerhouse acting in Seven Days in May.

29 April 2017

I was in that state where one does not remember

I must admit that I had never heard of Sophie Tucker, but apparently she was one of the most popular entertainers (a singer, actress and comedian) in the United States during the first half of the 20th century. Tucker was a good friend of fellow singer/actress Carol Channing, and in June 1964 she attended the premiere of Hello Dolly! on Broadway starring Channing in the leading role. After the premiere, there was a party with some of the day's biggest stars, among them Richard Burton and his then-wife Elizabeth Taylor. Burton was drinking heavily (he was known for his alcohol addiction) and after Tucker had sung a song in honour of her friend Carol, Burton stood up and slurred: "Ladies and gentlemen, up until now I thought my wife was in charge of butchering the English language, but I must admit I was wrong. Tonight I have witnessed the Empress of Butchery. Long live the Queen, Miss Sophie Tucker". [source

The next day, Tucker received a telegram from Burton apologising for his behaviour.


New York NY Jun 19 1964

Miss Sophie Tucker
730 Park Ave NYK

Dear Miss Tucker

My wife tells me I was rude to you last night. I was in that state where one does not remember but Elizabeth never lies and so my deepest apologies to you. I am a great admirer of yours and can only think that I was very very much under the weather. Sincerely.

Richard Burton

17 April 2017

Tallulah & Billie

Tallulah Bankhead was perhaps more famous for her eccentric personality and stormy personal life than her acting career. She had lots of affairs with both men and women, one of the women being jazz singer Billie Holiday. Tallulah and Billie probably first met in Harlem in the early 1930s but didn't get together until the late 1940s when they were both performing on Broadway (Billie at the Strand Theatre while Tallulah was doing a play at a theatre nearby). The two women became close and had an intense relationship for a few years. 

The only photo I could find of Tallulah Bankhead and Billie Holiday together. December 1951, here the two women are photographed with jazz trombonist Dickie Wells.

In early 1949, Billie was charged with possession of opium. Tallulah tried to help her and got in touch with FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, who was a close friend of her father's (wealthy politician Will Bankhead). In a telephone call with Hoover, Tallulah begged him to exonerate Billie of the charges, but Hoover told her that the case had been handed over to the state authorities, that it was out of his hands. Following their telephone conversation, Tallulah contacted Hoover again on 9 February 1949. Pleading Billie's case once more, this time she wrote him a letter.
Source: Groove Notes


Hotel Elysee
60 East 54th Street
New York, N.Y. 
February 9, 1949

J. Edgar Hoover
Federal Bureau of Investigation
Washington, D.C.

Dear Mr. Hoover:

I am ashamed of my unpardonable delay in writing to thank you a thousand times for the kindness, consideration and courtesy, in fact all the nicest adjectives in the book, for the trouble you took re our telephone conversation in connection with Billie Holiday.

I tremble when I think of my audacity in approaching you at all with so little to recommend me, except the esteem, admiration and high regard my father held for you. I would never have dared to ask him or you a favor for myself but knowing your true humanitarian spirit it seemed quite natural at the time to go to the top man. As my Negro mammy used to say - "When you pray you pray to God don't you?".

I have met Billie Holiday but twice in my life but admire her immensely as an artist and feel the most profound compassion for her knowing as I do the unfortunate circumstances of her background. Although my intention is not to condone her weaknesses I certainly understand the eccentricities of her behaviour because she is essentially a child at heart whose troubles has made her psychologically unable to cope with the world in which she finds herself. Her vital need is more medical than the confinement of four walls.

However guilty she may be, whatever penalty she may be required to pay for her frailties, poor thing, you I know did everything within the law to lighten her burden. Bless you for this,

Kindest regards,


Tallulah Bankhead

Sometime between 1949 and 1952, Tallulah began to distance herself from Billie. Afraid that her career would be destroyed if people knew about their relationship, Tallulah didn't mention Billie once in her 1952 autobiography. A few years later when Billie was working on her own autobiography Lady Sings the Blues, a copy of the manuscript was sent to Tallulah who threatened to file a lawsuit if she wasn't kept out of the book. On 12 January 1955, Billie responded with an embittered letter (shown below in transcript). Billie never received a reply to her letter, and in the end Tallulah was only mentioned as "just a friend who sometimes came around to the house to eat spaghetti."

Dear Miss Bankhead:
I thought I was a friend of yours. That's why there's nothing in my book that was unfriendly to you, unkind or libelous. Because I didn't want to drag you, I tried six times last month to talk to you on the damn phone, and tell you about the book just as a matter of courtesy. That bitch you have who impersonates you kept telling me to call back and when I did, it was the same deal until I gave up. But while I was working out of town, you didn't mind talking to Doubleday and suggesting behind my damned back that I had flipped and/or made up those little mentions of you in my book. Baby, Cliff Allen and Billy Heywood are still around. My maid who was with me at the Strand isn't dead either. There are plenty of others around who remember how you carried on so you almost got me fired out of the place.  And if you want to get shitty, we can make it a big shitty party. We can all get funky together!
I don't know whether you've got one of those damn lawyers telling you what to do or not. But I'm writing this to give you a chance to answer back quick and apologize to me and to Doubleday. Read my book over again. I understand they sent you a duplicate manuscript. There's nothing in it to hurt you. If you think so, let's talk about it like I wanted to last month. It's going to press right now so there is no time for monkeying around. Straighten up and fly right, Banky. Nobody's trying to drag you.
Billie Holiday