Saturday, December 24, 2016

Tallulah by Tallulah Bankhead

In late summer of ’51, idling on my acres preliminary to my return to England, I started talking into a recording machine, one of those contraptions which operates a two sided record, each faceted to absorb a half-hour monologue. The disc can be started and stopped on whim. Once a platter is completed, its content can be played back to its startled author. This device fascinated me- I could address it at length without fear of interruption or reprisal.

I poured a lot of words into that whirligig. Once I was so careless as to impose two successive recitations on each face of the record, one on top of another. Mary Resnick, who undertook to unscramble the resulting bedlam, had to be put to bed in a dark room with ice packs on her temples. More than once I set the disc to spinning, talked into it for a half hour, only to find later I had failed to release the voice intake. For thirty minutes I had been talking to myself. Conversations broke into this narrative which had nothing to do with this chronicle. An irrelevant dialogue with Edie Van Cleve took up one side of a record because I had neglected to turn off the voice inlet while we debated the advisability of bathing Doloras, my Maltese. Transcribing the records, Miss Resnick blanched when one of them erupted a long discourse on the life and times of Evelyn Nesbitt, for love of whom Harry Thaw ventilated Stanford White. “What are you going to call the Evelyn
Nesbitt book?” Miss Resnick wanted to know. Once my first sentence was waxed, I knew I’d see my life through, though the graves yawned and the heavens burst. I may temporize and back and fill on the edge of a new experience but once I’ve plunged in, I’ll wrestle it to a decision, win, lose or draw.

I muted such alarms as nibbled at me. Was I presumptuous in thinking anyone could be interested in my story? Would I be wiser to ape the shoemaker and stick to my last? How much could I tell without outraging the living or smirching the dead?

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