Category Archives: Tallulah Bankhead

There Is Less in This Than Meets the Eye

Tallulah Bankhead? Dorothy Parker? Robert Benchley? James Boswell? Richard Burke? William Hazlitt?

Dear Quote investigator: The actress Tallulah Bankhead was watching an ostentatious play, and she whispered to her companion a hilarious line based on an inverted cliché:

There is less in this than meets the eye.

This quip has also been attributed to two other witty people: Dorothy Parker and Robert Benchley. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote investigator: QI has located no substantive support for ascribing the comment to Parker or Benchley.

In 1922 the theater critic Alexander Woollcott invited Tallulah Bankhead to join him at a performance of Maurice Maeterlinck’s drama “Aglavaine and Selysette”. The following day Woollcott’s hostile review of the production in “The New York Times” credited the remark to a “beautiful lady”: 1

The civility of the spectators was really extraordinary. There was not so much as a snicker, for instance, when William Raymond, as Meleander, cried out anxiously: “What shall I be doing next year?” Not a ripple when Clare Eames, gazing severely at the audience, said: “It is sometimes better not to rouse those who slumber.” It is, it is, indeed. But after all the matinee was best summed up by the beautiful lady in the back row, who said: “There is less in this than meets the eye.”

Later in 1922 Woollcott published the book “Shouts and Murmurs: Echoes of a Thousand and One First Nights”. He discussed Maeterlinck’s play in a chapter called “Capsule Criticism” and credited the statement to Bankhead: 2

Two gifted young actresses and a considerable bit of scenery were involved, and much pretentious rumbling of voice and wafting of gesture had gone into the enterprise. Miss Bankhead, fearful, apparently, lest she be struck dead for impiety, became desperate enough to whisper, “There is less in this than meets the eye.”

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading


  1. 1922 January 4, New York Times, The Play by Alexander Woollcott, Quote Page 11, Column 1, New York, New York. (ProQuest)
  2. 1922, Shouts and Murmurs: Echoes of a Thousand and One First Nights by Alexander Woollcott, Chapter 4: Capsule Criticism, Start Page 77, Quote Page 86, The Century Company, New York. (Google Books Full View) link

Whatever You Have Read That I Said Is Almost Certainly Untrue, Except . . .

Tallulah Bankhead? Apocryphal?

faithless08Dear Quote Investigator: The movie star Tallulah Bankhead apparently grew tired of seeing misquotations, and she proclaimed that any quotation ascribed to her was inaccurate:

…except if it is funny, in which case I definitely said it.

I thought you might enjoy this topic. What do you think?

Quote Investigator: In July 1957 “The Philadelphia Inquirer” of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania published a column containing a miscellaneous set of the sayings together with attributions under the title called “Quotes of the Week”. One statement was germane. Emphasis added by QI: 1

Tallulah Bankhead: “Whatever you have read that I said is almost certainly untrue, except if it was funny, in which case I definitely said it.”

Bankhead lived until 1968, and QI believes that this citation provides good support for the accuracy of the ascription. Yet, the statement did not appear directly within an interview which incrementally reduced its credibility.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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  1. 1957 July 29, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Quotes of the Week, Quote Page 3, Column 3, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com)

There Have Only Been Two Geniuses in the World — Willie Mays and Willie Shakespeare

Tallulah Bankhead? Apocryphal?

mays08Dear Quote Investigator: The famous actress Tallulah Bankhead was an ardent baseball fan, and she was particularly impressed by the outstanding skills of the great athlete Willie Mays. Apparently, she stated that there have only been two authentic geniuses in history:

Willie Mays and Willie Shakespeare

I am not sure if this ascription is accurate because Bankhead died in 1968, and the earliest citation I have seen is from the 1980s. Would you please examine this quotation?

Quote Investigator: There is substantive evidence that Tallulah Bankhead did make a remark of this type. The earliest instance located by QI appeared in 1962. The detailed citation is given further below.

In 1960 “Ebony” magazine published a profile of Bankhead in which she praised Willie Mays and expressed her allegiance to the San Francisco Giants baseball team: 1

Willie Mays: “A perfectly charming man . . . the greatest all-around ballplayer in the world . . . a master showman with a spectacular touch” says Tallulah . . .

Her well-known devotion to the National League Giants started in 1939 and persisted after that club had abandoned New York’s Polo Ground for San Francisco’s Seals Stadium. The Giants’ failure to win the pennant last year was a disappointment to her, but she is speculating enthusiastically about their chances in 1960. “With the help of those good Alabama men, Willie Mays and Willie McCovey, they might do it this time,” she says.

On October 23, 1962 “The Chicago Daily Defender” printed a small set of miscellaneous quotations under the title “They Said It”. The statement under examination was credited to Tallulah Bankhead. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 2

“There have only been two geniuses in the world — Willie Mays and Willie Shakespeare. But dahling, I think you had better put Shakespeare first.”
—Actress Tallulah Bankhead

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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  1. 1960 January, Ebony, Volume 15, Number 3, A Southerner Looks At Prejudice By Allan Morrison, Start Page 29, Quote Page 30 and 33, Published by Johnson Publishing Company. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. 1962 October 23, Chicago Daily Defender, They Said It, Quote Page 11, Column 4, Chicago, Illinois. (ProQuest)

They’ve Absolutely Ruined Your Perfectly Dreadful Play

Tallulah Bankhead? Apocryphal?

orpheus11Dear Quote Investigator: The funniest one-line review of a movie I have ever encountered is the following:

Darling, they’ve absolutely ruined your perfectly dreadful play.

According to a show-business legend, the movie star Tallulah Bankhead delivered this mortifying judgement to the famous playwright Tennessee Williams when she saw the film version of his play “Orpheus Descending”. Would you please explore this tale?

Quote Investigator: In 1940 Tennessee Williams wrote a play titled “Battle of Angels”; however, at that time he was unable to successfully mount a full production. He rewrote and retitled the work “Orpheus Descending”, and in 1957 it was presented on Broadway, but the reception was muted. The construction of the play had been inspired by the tragic ancient myth of Orpheus and Eurydice.

In 1960 “Orpheus Descending” was adapted into a film titled “The Fugitive Kind” with top performers in the cast: Marlon Brando played the Orpheus-type role and Anna Magnani played the Eurydice-type role. The critical notices were mixed, and the commercial performance was weak.

The earliest evidence located by QI of a match for the quotation appeared in the widely-syndicated column of Walter Winchell in May 1960. Winchell stated that Tallulah Bankhead and Tennessee Williams had recently resumed a friendship that previously had been strained. Bankhead’s candor was unhampered. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

They witnessed the film “Fugitive Kind” (adapted from his “Orpheus Descending”) and she told him: “I think it’s disgraceful. They’ve absolutely ruined a bad play!” Tennessee enjoys being spiked by Talu the tiger.

The use of the pedestrian word “bad” in this version of the quotation reduced its humor. Yet, this instance might be the most faithful to the words Bankhead actually uttered. The word choice evolved as the tale was retold during the ensuing years.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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  1. 1960 May 25, The Terre Haute Tribune, Walter Winchell of New York, Quote Page 4, Column 3, Terre Haute, Indiana. (Newspapers_com)

Cocaine Isn’t Habit-Forming. I Should Know. I’ve Been Using It for Years

Tallulah Bankhead? Lillian Hellman? Dashiell Hammett? Apocryphal?

tall09Dear Quote Investigator: The most obtuse quotation I know of was uttered by the actress Tallulah Bankhead whose erratic behavior caused Dashiell Hammett, the well-known author of popular detective novels, to complain about her drug use. Bankhead reportedly defended herself with the following parodic remark:

I tell you cocaine isn’t habit-forming and I know because I’ve been taking it for years.

Was this really spoken by Bankhead?

Quote Investigator: In 1952 “Tallulah: My Autobiography” was released by the movie star, and she wrote about her experiences with heroin and cocaine. Bankhead stated that when she was young she wished to shock people, but she was not really an addict. For example, when she was offered a drink at a party she sometimes responded with: 1

“No, thank you. I don’t drink. Got any cocaine?” Thus did I start the myth that I was an addict.

Eventually, in the 1920s, she did tentatively experiment with drugs. She snorted heroin which she was told incorrectly was cocaine, and it made her extremely ill. Because or her bad experience she stated: 2

I’ve never touched either since except medicinally.

Indeed, she did use cocaine therapeutically to maintain her voice according to her own account. Her desire to appear scandalous led her to formulate the comical and infamous quotation. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 3

In London, when I had one of my frequent attacks of the actor’s nightmare, laryngitis, Sir Milson Reese, the King’s doctor, sprayed my throat with a solution laced with cocaine. It stimulated my larynx, relieved strain on my vocal chords, reduced my chances of becoming mute during a performance.

At Boots, the London chemists, where I presented the prescription, I was given a bottle of pale little lozenges, labeled “Cocaine and Menthol.” Obsessed with the desire to shock people, I whipped the vial out at every opportunity. I’d hold it out to my friends: “Have some cocaine?” “Tallulah, isn’t it habit-forming?” “Cocaine habit-forming? Of course not. I ought to know. I’ve been using it for years.”

A different story about the quotation has been told by Bankhead’s one-time-friend Lillian Hellman who was a notable Broadway playwright. Hellman’s account was given in the 1973 memoir “Pentimento” which is excerpted further below. The dramatist suggested that Bankhead did have a serious drug dependency.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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  1. 1952, Tallulah: My Autobiography by Tallulah Bankhead, Quote Page 98, Published by Harper & Brothers, New York. (Verified on paper)
  2. 1952, Tallulah: My Autobiography by Tallulah Bankhead, Quote Page 101, Published by Harper & Brothers, New York. (Verified on paper)
  3. 1952, Tallulah: My Autobiography by Tallulah Bankhead, Quote Page 100 and 101, Published by Harper & Brothers, New York. (Verified on paper)

Good Girls Keep Diaries; Bad Girls Don’t Have the Time

Tallulah Bankhead? Herb Stein? Anonymous?

diary08Dear Quote Investigator: You have previously examined a quotation attributed to the movie star Tallulah Bankhead. Perhaps you would be willing to look at another quip. Here are two versions:

1) Only good girls keep diaries. Bad girls don’t have time.
2) It’s the good girls who keep diaries; the bad girls never have the time.

Should Bankhead receive credit?

Quote Investigator: In August 1956 the widely-syndicated gossip columnist Earl Wilson printed an instance of the joke which he categorized as a “pearl”; however, Wilson provided no attribution. The ellipsis was in the original text: 1

EARL’S PEARLS . . . Good girls keep diaries; bad girls don’t have the time.

Shortly afterwards in November 1956 the quip was ascribed to Bankhead in a Canadian newspaper although the wording was slightly different: 2

Tallulah Bankhead says: “It’s good girls who keep diaries of what they do. Bad girls never have the time.”
—Daily Express Service

In the following years the joke was further disseminated with the linkage to Bankhead usually preserved. Eventually the columnist Earl Wilson reprinted the jest, and he too ascribed the remark to Bankhead.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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  1. 1956 August 22, Aberdeen American-News (Aberdeen Daily News), It Happened Last Night by Earl Wilson, Quote Page 4, Column 5, Aberdeen, South Dakota. (GenealogyBank)
  2. 1956 November 21, The Calgary Herald, The Button Box (acknowledgement to Daily Express Service), Quote Page 6, Column 5, Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Google News Archive)

I’m as Pure as the Driven Slush

Tallulah Bankhead? Joan Collins? Apocryphal?

tallulah05Dear 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.

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  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)