Wednesday 19 August 2015

Cruella de Vil Based on Actress Tallulah Bankhead

Cruella de Vil, the villainess in the movie 101 Dalmatians, is known for her expensive car, her fancy clothes, her trademark cigarette holder and her sultry voice.  The same can be said of actress Tallulah Bankhead, on whom Cruella was based.

Bankhead was born into an Alabama family steeped in politics.  Tragedy struck when her mother died of blood poisoning three weeks after her birth.  Her father descended into alcoholism and Tallulah was shuffled off to her grandparents' home.  In an effort to keep Tallulah out of trouble, her grandparents enrolled her in a Catholic convent school a few years later.  But Tallulah would have none of it.

The pretty young girl entered a beauty contest and won first prize.  As a teenager she headed to New York City where she received bit parts, eventually making it to Broadway.  She soon became known as a party girl:  one of her trademark moves was to attend a soiree where she would perform cartwheels wearing a skirt sans underwear.  

Hollywood beckdoned and Tallulah landed her first role in the Tarnished Lady in 1931.  The following year, she was cast in Devil and the Deep, claiming that the main reason she took the role was to bed her handsome co-star, Gary Cooper.  Tallulah was the original choice for Scarlett O'Hara in Gone with the Wind.  However, by 1939, the director thought she looked to old to play Scarlett, who starts the film as a 16 year old.

Hitchcock cast her in Lifeboat, possibly her best performance.  For the role, Tallulah received the New York Film Critics Circle award.  When she received her trophy, she responded in her sultry voice:  "Dahlings, I was wonderful."

In London, England, Tallulah was known for driving around town in her Bentley.  A cigarette holder between her lips, she was known to smoke as many as 150 cigarettes a day.  The Hollywood roles started to dry up for the aging film star.  However, NBC hired her as hostess for The Big Show in 1950.  Tallulah also starred as the Black Widow in Batman in the 1960's.

Tallulah passed away in 1968, a lonely divorcee.  She never had children, nor dalmatians.  She is immortalized in the infamous Cruella de Vil.


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