Tallulah Bankhead: A Scandalous Life (Robson Books)

Marlene Dietrich called her 'The most immoral woman who ever lived'. Cecil Beaton described her as 'a wicked archangel', No one better summed up this fascinating woman than Tallulah herself, in an endless succession of anecdotes and one-liners, peppered with the expletives that became her trademark. 

Born in Alabama in 1903, she became a big star in London in the early 1920s. Branded an 'unsafe and unsavoury person' by the Hays Commission in America in the early 1930s, her career went from tremendous stage success in such hits as The Little Foxes and Fallen Angels, to appearances in some of the worst plays ever written, which she turned into triumphs by improvising lewd and outrageous asides to satisfy the cravings of her largely gay audiences.

Confessing to over 500 love affairs with both men and women, Tallulah married just once - to a man who divorced her citing mental cruelty. A headline writer's dream throughout her life, at the height of her fame she was said to drink two bottles of bourbon a day, smoke 100 cigarettes and take pills to help her sleep, pills to keep her awake, and pills to help her cope with the pills.

But while there always seemed to be someone on hand to record Tallulah's indiscretions, the other side of her personality went largely unrecorded. She raised vast amounts of money for children's charities, delivered stringent speeches against communism and racial and sexual prejudice, and actively supported the presidential campaigns of two close friends: Truman and Kennedy.

In this highly entertaining book David Bret tells Tallulah's story the only way it could be told: with shocking honesty and wit, What emerges is a vivid portrait of an immoral and wicked woman who was every inch a star, and who remains an enduring legend of the 20th century.