I’m as Pure as the Driven Slush

Tallulah Bankhead? Joan Collins? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Two vibrant actresses have been connected to a satirical statement about purity: Tallulah Bankhead and Joan Collins. I think that the statement was made as a humorous self-description. But it may have been made as a criticism. Here are two versions:

I’m as pure as the driven slush.
She is as pure as the driven slush.

Could you explore this saying?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence located by QI appeared in the widely-distributed syndicated column of Walter Winchell in 1941: 1 2

Tallulah, however, is still indifferent to what others think and say of her. As indifferent as she was a dozen seasons ago when a prudish interviewer asked: “Would you call yourself a pure woman?” “Yes,” said Bankhead, “I’m as pure as the driven slush.”

In 1947 The Saturday Evening Post published a seven page profile of Tallulah Bankhead with the title “Alabama Tornado” by Maurice Zolotow. The quotation was repeated in the article, but it was not spoken during the interview: 3 4 5

Secretly, she is pleased with her largely unfounded reputation as one of the wickedest women of the age. She once cracked, “I’m as pure as the driven slush.”

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In 1952 Bankhead published “Tallulah: My Autobiography”, and she stated that she had employed the comical expression more than once: 6

I was a hedonist, long before I knew what a hedonist was. Though my virtue may have been intact my flashy deportment, my seeming scorn for convention, my lust for the spotlight, led many a peasant to believe I was a latter-day version of Ninon d’Enclos or Lola Montez. I didn’t help matters by boasting, if cued, that I was “pure as the driven slush.”

In 1984 the book “Joan Collins: The Unauthorized Biography” included an instance of the saying. Joan Collins reportedly used the expression to describe a character that she was playing on the television soap opera Dynasty: 7

Joan plunged with enthusiasm into a new series of Dynasty adventures. The actress once described Alexis as being “pure as the driven slush,” and in the show’s fourth season Ms. Colby certainly lived up to the description.

In 1987 the compilation “The Portable Curmudgeon” included a variant of the saying which it credited to Bankhead: 8

My heart is pure as the driven slush.
Tallulah Bankhead

In 2013 the phrase appeared in The Times Literary Supplement (TLS) in London. The back page columnist presented the words of the Scottish poet Norman MacCaig who was commenting about another author: 9

His adjectives don’t slaver, his nouns don’t leer, his verbs don’t tumesce in your face. But he still writes about them far too much for the good of his book. If it’s pure it is – who coined the phrase? – pure as the driven slush.

The next week an astute TLS reader credited the distinctive locution to Bankhead: 10

…MacCaig was right to suspect this was not his own coinage: it is one of Tallulah Bankhead’s many memorable remarks about herself.

In conclusion, QI believes that Tallulah Bankhead can properly be credited with the statement “I’m as pure as the driven slush.”

(Great thanks to George Thompson who recently saw this phrase mentioned in the Times Literary Supplement.)

Notes:

  1. 1941 September 3, Tucson Daily Citizen, Walter Winchell On Broadway, Quote Page 4, Column 2, Tucson, Arizona. (NewspaperArchive)
  2. 1941 September 3, Omaha World Herald, Walter Winchell On Broadway, Quote Page 6, Column 5, Omaha, Nebraska. (GenealogyBank)
  3. 1947 April 12, Saturday Evening Post, Volume 219, Issue 41, Alabama Tornado by Maurice Zolotow, Start Page 15, Quote Page 17, Column 1, Saturday Evening Post Society, Inc., Indianapolis, Indiana. (Academic Search Premier EBSCO)
  4. Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, Edited by Elizabeth Knowles, Entry: Tallulah Bankhead, Oxford University Press. (Accessed Oxford Reference Online on September 10, 2011)
  5. 2006, The Yale Book of Quotations by Fred R. Shapiro, Section: Tallulah Bankhead, Page 43, Yale University Press, New Haven. (Verified on paper)
  6. 2004, Tallulah: My Autobiography by Tallulah Bankhead, Quote Page 73 and 74, University Press of Mississippi. (First published in 1952 by Harper & Brothers, New York) (Google Books Preview)
  7. 1984, Joan Collins: The Unauthorized Biography by Jeff Rovin, Quote Page 216 and 217, Bantam Books, New York. (Verified with scans)
  8. 1987, The Portable Curmudgeon, Compiled and edited by Jon Winokur, Quote Page 135, NAL Books: New American Library, New York. (Verified with scans)
  9. 2013 July 12, Times Literary Supplement (TLS), NB by J.C., (Excerpt is from a transcript of a broadcast by Norman MacCaig), Quote Page 32, Column 4, London, United Kingdom. (Verified on paper; Special thanks to George Thompson)
  10. 2013 July 19, Times Literary Supplement (TLS), (Letter from Peter Sherwood, of London), Quote Page 6, Column 5, London, United Kingdom. (Verified on paper; Special thanks to George Thompson)