Thursday, June 9, 2016

Madsion* (for Madison*)

I just saw a great Tallulah Bankhead flick from 1931 called The Cheat. It was the third remake of the Cecil B. DeMille silent from 1915, and the second feature in a film series entitled "Murder, Morals and Music," which is currently taking place at the Madison Theater (one of the oldest movie houses in Albany, and its only surviving independent one) over the next few months. What really makes these movie nights fun, besides the chance to see such old fare on such a big screen, is the short preliminary video (à la Robert Osbourne on TCM) of our host and his "guest programmer" filling us in the film we're about to see—and gleefully dishing the dirt on its stars. "Tallulah never wore underwear!" we're told. She would strip naked at parties. She slept with both women and men. She openly used cocaine and she reportedly smoked 150 [!] cigarettes a day. She was like a cross between Mae West and Madonna. (Our hosts compared her to Lady Gaga, but I think she looks much more like Madge.) Even during the "pre-Code" era, Bankhead's "wild" roles on celluloid could scarcely compete with her actual life. The smoking thing may have been a bit of an exaggeration (merely lighting up that many times a day would be a chore), but I guess they really weren't kidding about the underwear. As soon as the film began to roll, here comes Tallulah in the sheerest little shimmy imaginable and nary a bra strap or panty line in sight. It seems that there were a few complaints, though, causing Alfred Hitchcock to famously quip during the making of Lifeboat: "I don't know if this is a matter for the costume department, makeup, or hairdressing." I really wanted to make today's typo Underware, but apparently that is a valid typography term (though a few of the seven hits we got in OhioLINK were for the type that Tallulah eschewed). You can give that one a try as well, but today's official typo is Madsion* (for Madison*), found three times in OhioLINK, and 151 times in WorldCat.

(Tallulah and Augustus John with her famous portrait, 1929, from Wikimedia Commons.)

Carol Reid

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