Netflix's new Ryan Murphy show Hollywood blends fact and fiction to talk about the Golden Era of movies. One of the real people in Hollywood is Tallulah Bankhead. In the series, she's played by Paget Brewster. In real life, she was a raucous, unabashed actor who is known for her rumoured sexual escapades with both men and women. In Hollywood, she's shown kissing Queen Latifah's Hattie McDaniel (of Gone with the Wind fame), and that is based on real reports that Bankhead and Daniels were an item. Murphy didn't tiptoe around these reports on Hollywood, nor did he in an interview with the New York Post. You won't find words like "rumoured" "reported" or "alleged" in any of Murphy's discussions of either actress.
"We don't make a big deal out of the fact that Hattie or Tallulah were bisexual, but they were," he told the paper. "It was just, that part of Hollywood was filled with shame. They just want you to be one thing. Out in public, they had to pretend to be just that person, but behind closed doors they were many things."
While Bankhead had been quoted as reportedly saying, "Going down on a woman gives me a stiff neck, going down on a man gives me lockjaw, and conventional sex gives me claustrophobia," McDaniel's sexual orientation was only rumoured. She didn't speak openly about it, likely because it was already a dangerous time to be black, let alone black and gay.
Viewers first meet Bankhead in Hollywood at a George Cukor party where Bankhead was in attendance with Gone with the Wind's Vivien Leigh. In real life, Bankhead knew Cukor from starring in the 1931 film that he directed, Tarnished Lady. Cukor's parties were legendary and all kinds of famous people would attend. Bankhead and Leigh did run in the same circles; in fact Bankhead almost landed the role of Scarlett O'Hara in Gone with the Wind before it went to Leigh.
Bankhead's film and TV history is lengthy. She began acting in 1918 and is known for roles like 1944's Lifeboat and the 1945 film A Royal Scandal, where she played Catherine the Great. Her last role was as Black Widow in the '60s Batman TV series.
But she'll probably never be as famous for her work on screen as she was for what happened off set.