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the truth about me

The Fashion Coloring Book by Sharon Lee Tate and Mona Shafer Edwards


“I’ve mentioned Sister’s beauty. There’s no denying that I was the ugly duckling, thanks to my fat and my pimples. Sister was the top Bankhead girl until I got into the theater. She liked to dance and swim and ride. She was an excellent student, I was an indifferent one. Sister was the party girl. I was the homebody. She liked to be up at the crack of dawn. I liked to lie in bed and meditate on the future. I would grow furious when awakened to pin up Sister’s hair. I loathed parties. I had a preference for the mirror.

It was Sister who won the Tres Biens at the Sacred Heart convent, reward for consistent good conduct and good marks which entitled the recipient to wear a blue sash for a month. I could never win a Tres Bien. My conduct was off-key. When thwarted I resorted to biting, a form of mayhem not encouraged by the nuns. Sister was mouselike. She copped three Tres Biens in a row. When denied a fourth, I was so outraged I picked up an inkwell and hurled it against the wall.”

–Tallulah Bankhead Tallulah: My Autobiography. Harper & Brothers, 1952. 'For Daddy.'

 


There was a time in Hollywood when an autobiography was a sort of last strike, a secret weapon, the dagger upon dying. You could finally get back at those people you worked with in the studio trenches and tell how it really went down. And then sometimes there would be a case of “dueling” memoirs, Lillian Hellman vs. Elia Kazan. Joan Crawford vs. Bette Davis. Of course, an autobiography still carries some punch when it is written by a “celebrity.” But “celebrity” has cheapened over the years with easier attainment. Like millionaire. Spiritual healer. Late-night talk-show host. And you don’t have to be famous, or even interesting, to publish a memoir.

Tallulah thoroughly knows her part, and she plays it to the hilt. It’s sad that otherwise intelligent people go to the grave with a handful of tired scripts about themselves that they have had since birth. Ms. Bankhead is a rebel, a naughty girl, misunderstood, clever, happiest with wolves at the door. You can just see her caressing that image of herself, like a magnum of wine, in her house in Bedford Hills where she retired from the glitterati. Shut it, m’lady.

Ever wonder what you really look like to other people? You will never, ever, never ever know.

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