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: