US actress, whose popularity was due as much to her beauty, wit, and distinctly husky voice as to her acting ability.
Daughter of a US congressman, Bankhead was born in Huntsville, Alabama. She made her stage and screen debut in 1918 and although she went on to make films at intervals, including Hitchcock's Lifeboat (1944) and (as Catherine the Great) A Royal Scandal (1945), it was in the theatre that she had her greatest success. She appeared on the London stage in the twenties in popular productions of The Gold Diggers, The Garden of Eden, and Her Cardboard Lover. Her most notable performances, however, came in the USA in the more dramatically challenging The Little Foxes (1939), followed by Thornton Wilder's Pulitzer prizewinning play The Skin of Our Teeth (1942), for which Bankhead received New York Critics Awards. Other successes included Coward's Fallen Angels, in a part offered to her by ‘The Master’ after Somerset Maugham had turned her down for the part of Sadie Thompson in Rain.
Her marriage to the actor John Emery in 1937 ended three years later. She began appearing in cabaret in the fifties and in 1952 published her autobiography, Tallulah.