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June 11, 2009

Tallulah Bankhead's classical (and Baltimore) connections

Having attended (and reviewed) the funny play about Tallulah Bankhead, Looped, in DC the other day, I've been having Tallulah moments ever since, reliving some of the choice lines in that show, re-reading stuff in books, checking out audio and video mementos of the indelible actress.

I was particularly delighted to come across a story from the 1950s about the late Baltimore-born, Peabody-trained composer and cellist Alan Shulman dedicating a work of his, A Laurentian Overture, to Tallulah. Guido Cantelli conducted the NY Philharmonic premiere.

Turns out Shulman and the star had met on ...

her radio program The Big Show. "Alan is a brilliant cellist," she told a newspaper interviewer. "I'm simply devoted to him. He's a darling. We talk music all the time." (Can't you just hear that delicious voice uttering those words?)

Tallulah was asked if she ever studied music. "But of course, darling. I took piano and violin when I was at school I even played pieces for commencement. Things like Sinding's Rustle of Spring. And there was a Chopin nocturne -- how does it go? Dah, dah, da da DAAAH da. [Extra points to the first person who can decipher that clue and identify the piece.] I never kept it up, of course. But I love music."

She went on to name her favorite composer -- Wagner. "Most musicians tell me that Mozart is the greatest. I adore him, too. But me, I'm an emotional gal, and Wagner's music sweeps me away. But really, darling, I don't know anything about music at all."

As it turns out, the Baltimore Symphony is playing orchestral excertps from Wagner's Ring this week with conductor Marin Alsop. As a confirmed Wagnerite myself, I've been looking forward to reveling in all that "emotional" stuff. Now, I'll be thinking of Tallulah while doing so. If you catch me smiling during the Ride of the Valkyries, you'll know why.

I couldn't find a clip of Tallulah singing along with Wagner or anything like that, but I can't resist sharing this little scene from her terrific guest apeparance on the Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour, when Tallulah and Lucy were at war due to some unintended accidents:


Posted by Tim Smith at 10:24 AM | | Comments (2)


Funny! Thanks for posting!

My pleasure. TIM

Funny! Thanks for posting.

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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