After her film career declined in the mid-1940s, Kelly returned to New York where she worked in radio and summer stock. She also became a personal assistant to Tallulah Bankhead. Kelly returned to the screen after 17 years with guest spots on television and in film roles.
In 1971, Kelly returned to the stage in the revival of No, No, Nanette for which she won a Tony Award. She continued appearing in film and television roles until she suffered a stroke in January 1980 which limited her ability to speak. Kelly died of cancer in 1981.
At a time when being openly gay was not socially acceptable, Kelly was open about her sexuality. On occasion she would frankly disclose, in public and with typical candor, to being a "dyke". During the 1930s, she disclosed to Motion Picture magazine that she had been living with actress Wilma Cox for several years and had no intention of getting married. She later claimed she had an affair with Tallulah Bankhead when she worked as Bankhead's personal assistant.
Tallulah Bankhead was an American actress of the stage and screen, talk-show host, and bonne vivante. Rumors about Bankhead's sex life have lingered for years, and she was linked romantically with many notable female personalities of the day, including Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich, Eva Le Gallienne, Hattie McDaniel, and Alla Nazimova, as well as writer Mercedes de Acosta and singer Billie Holiday. Actress Patsy Kelly claimed she had a sexual relationship with Bankhead when she worked for her as a personal assistant.
In January 1980, Kelly suffered a stroke while in San Francisco which caused her to lose the ability to speak. She was admitted to Englewood Nursing Home in Englewood, New Jersey, on the advice of her old friend Ruby Keeler where she underwent therapy.
On September 24, 1981, Kelly died of cancer at the Motion Picture & Television Country House and Hospital in Woodland Hills, California. She is buried with her parents, John and Delia Kelly, in Calvary Cemetery in Queens.
For her contribution to the motion picture industry, she has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6669 Hollywood Boulevard.
Tallulah Brockman Bankhead (January 31, 1902 – December 12, 1968) was an award-winning American actress of the stage and screen, talk-show host, and bonne vivante. Bankhead was also known for her deep voice, flamboyant personality, romances with men and women, and support of liberal causes, which broke with the tendency of southern Democrats at the time to support a more conservative agenda.
Bankhead was born in Huntsville, Alabama, to William Brockman Bankhead and Adelaide Eugenia "Ada" Bankhead (née Sledge). The event took place on the second floor of what is now known as the Isaac Schiffman Building; a marker has been erected to commemorate the site and, in 1980, the building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. "Tallu" was named after her paternal grandmother. Her mother died as a result of blood poisoning on February 23, 1902, shortly after Tallulah's birth, and is buried in Huntsville's historic Maple Hill Cemetery. Tallulah has been described as "an extremely homely child", overweight and with a deep, husky voice resulting from chronic bronchitis. However, others described her as an exhibitionist, performer, personality, and star from the very beginning.
She came from the powerful Bankhead and Brockman political family, active in the Democratic Party in the South in general and Alabama in particular. Her father was the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives from 1936–1940.
Tallulah Bankhead photographed by Carl Van Vechten, 1934
She was the niece of Senator John H. Bankhead II and granddaughter of Senator John H. Bankhead. Bankhead herself was a Democrat, albeit one of a more liberal stripe than the rest of her family. Her elder sister and only sibling, Evelyn Eugenia (born January 24, 1901 – died May 11, 1979) was known as "Sister". Tallulah's family sent her to various schools in a vain attempt to keep her out of trouble, which included several years at a Roman Catholic convent school (although her father was a Methodist and her mother an Episcopalian). Bankhead herself would be raised as a Methodist.
One of Bankhead's most notorious events was an interview that she gave to Motion Picture magazine in 1932, in which she ranted wildly about the state of her life and her views on love, marriage, and children:
"I'm serious about love. I'm damned serious about it now.... I haven't had an affair for six months. Six months! Too long.... If there's anything the matter with me now, it's not Hollywood or Hollywood's state of mind.... The matter with me is, I WANT A MAN! ... Six months is a long, long while. I WANT A MAN!"
The interview created quite a commotion. Time ran a story about it, and, back home, Bankhead's father and family were perturbed. Bankhead immediately telegraphed her father, vowing never to speak with a magazine reporter again. However, following the release of the Kinsey Reports, she was once quoted as stating, "I found no surprises in the Kinsey Report. The good doctor's clinical notes were old hat to me...I've had many momentary love affairs. A lot of these impromptu romances have been climaxed in a fashion not generally condoned. I go into them impulsively. I scorn any notion of their permanence. I forget the fever associated with them when a new interest presents itself."
Rumors about her sex life have lingered for years, and she was linked romantically with many notable female personalities of the day, including Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford, Marlene Dietrich, Eva Le Gallienne, Laurette Taylor, Katharine Cornell and Alla Nazimova, as well as writer Mercedes de Acosta, the wealthy Betty Carstairs, and singer Billie Holiday.
Actress Patsy Kelly reportedly made a claim to controversial author Boze Hadleigh, which he included in his 1996 book about lesbianism in Hollywood, that she had had a long affair with Bankhead, although Hadleigh’s work has been criticized as opportunistic and unconfirmable. John Gruen's Menotti: A Biography notes an incident in which Jane Bowles chased Bankhead around Capricorn, Gian Carlo Menotti and Samuel Barber's Mount Kisco estate, insisting that Bankhead needed to play the lesbian character Inès in Jean-Paul Sartre's No Exit (which Paul Bowles had recently translated), but Bankhead locked herself in the bathroom and kept insisting "That lesbian! I wouldn't know a thing about it."
In 1933, Bankhead nearly died following a five-hour emergency hysterectomy due to venereal disease. Only 70 pounds (32 kg) when she left the hospital, she stoically said to her doctor, "Don't think this has taught me a lesson!"
Bankhead married actor John Emery, the son of stage actors Edward Emery (circa 1861–1938) and Isabel Waldron (1871–1950), on August 31, 1937 in Jasper, Alabama. They divorced on June 13, 1941 in Reno, Nevada.
Bankhead had no children but was the godmother of Brook and Brockman Seawell, children of her lifelong friend, actress Eugenia Rawls, and Rawls's husband, Donald Seawell. Bankhead was an avid baseball fan whose favorite team was the New York Giants. This was evident in one of her famous quotes, through which she gave a nod to the arts: "There have been only two geniuses in the world, Willie Mays and Willie Shakespeare. But, darling, I think you'd better put Shakespeare first."
Tallulah Bankhead died in St. Luke's Hospital in New York City of double pneumonia, complicated by emphysema and malnutrition, at 7:45 A.M. on December 12, 1968, aged 66. She was buried in Saint Paul's Churchyard, Chestertown, Maryland. Her last coherent words reportedly were "Codeine... bourbon."
For her contribution to the motion picture industry, Tallulah Bankhead has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6141 Hollywood Blvd.
Atcheson (a Broadway actor ndr) was put off by some of the things the men he met wanted to do in bed - a sentiment he shared when he first met the legendary Tallulah Bankhead. "Oh God!" she replied. "I know just what you mean. After all, I've tried everything. If I go down on a man it chokes me and if I go down on a woman it gags me. If I get buggered it hurts me like hell and if I get fucked it gives me acute claustrophobia. So I've just gone back to reading, love!" --The Gay Metropolis: The Landmark History of Gay Life in America by Charles Kaiser
Lillian Faderman notes that many women prominent in New York theater, such as Beatrice Lillie, Jeanne Eagels, Tallulah Bankhead, and Libby Holman, established public reputations as sexually adventurous women with both female and male partners. Their association with respectable Broadway theater gave them economic security as well as the social freedom to live their lives outside the cultural and sexual mainstream. --A Queer History of the United States by Michael BronskiDays of Love: Celebrating LGBT History One Story at a Time by Elisa Rolle
Paperback: 760 pages
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform; 1 edition (July 1, 2014)
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Days of Love chronicles more than 700 LGBT couples throughout history, spanning 2000 years from Alexander the Great to the most recent winner of a Lambda Literary Award. Many of the contemporary couples share their stories on how they met and fell in love, as well as photos from when they married or of their families. Included are professional portraits by Robert Giard and Stathis Orphanos, paintings by John Singer Sargent and Giovanni Boldini, and photographs by Frances Benjamin Johnson, Arnold Genthe, and Carl Van Vechten among others. “It's wonderful. Laying it out chronologically is inspired, offering a solid GLBT history. I kept learning things. I love the decision to include couples broken by death. It makes clear how important love is, as well as showing what people have been through. The layout and photos look terrific.” Christopher Bram “I couldn’t resist clicking through every page. I never realized the scope of the book would cover centuries! I know that it will be hugely validating to young, newly-emerging LGBT kids and be reassured that they really can have a secure, respected place in the world as their futures unfold.” Howard Cruse “This international history-and-photo book, featuring 100s of detailed bios of some of the most forward-moving gay persons in history, is sure to be one of those bestsellers that gay folk will enjoy for years to come as reference and research that is filled with facts and fun.” Jack Fritscher
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