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.

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


  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)