Dear Miss Bankhead:
I thought I was a friend of yours. That's why there was nothing in my book that was unfriendly to you, unkind or libelous. Because I didn't want to drag you, I tried six times last month to talk to you on the damn phone, and tell you about the book just as a matter of courtesy. That bitch you have who impersonates you kept telling me to call back and when I did, it was the same deal until I gave up. But while I was working out of town, you didn't mind talking to Doubleday and suggesting behind my damned back that I had flipped and/or made up those little mentions of you in my book. Baby, Cliff Allen and Billy Heywood are still around. My maid who was with me at the Strand isn't dead either. There are plenty of others around who remember how you carried on so you almost got me fired out of the place. And if you want to get shitty, we can make it a big shitty party. We can all get funky together!
I don't know whether you've got one of those damn lawyers telling you what to do or not. But I'm writing this to give you a chance to answer back quick and apologize to me and to Doubleday. Read my book over again. I understand they sent you a duplicate manuscript. There's nothing in it to hurt you. If you think so, let's talk about it like I wanted to last month. It's going to press right now so there is no time for monkeying around. Straighten up and fly right, Banky! Nobody's trying to drag you.
Miss Bankhead as in Tallulah Bankhead, the glamourous Broadway and sometimes movie actress, equally well-known for her death-stinging tongue, odd eccentricities, and for her alcoholic & drug laden tirades. Bille Holiday, the great jazz singing innovator known as Lady Day also equally known for her death-stinging tongue, strange eccentricities, and booze and drug laden tirades. Both of them forces not to be played with. Both notoriously bisexual. And both lovers for a short time, but as Holiday's ghost-written autobiography was going to press, Banky was denying that she even knew Billie Holiday well at all!
The truth of the matter is that the evidence strongly suggests they probably first met in the early 1930's during Bankhead's Harlem rent party and nightclub-slumming days, well before Holiday ever became famous. What is known is that by 1948 they were bosom buddies. A year earlier, Holiday entered the Alderson Federal Reformatoy for Women to serve her famous "one day and a year" sentence after being found guilty on dope charges. Four months after her release in 1948, Holiday was appearing at New York's Strand Theater with Count Basie on the first leg of a cross-country tour. At the same time, Tallulah Bankhead was nearby on Broadway starring in her hit play, Private Lives. Bankhead caused quite a commotion every night thundering late down the ailse during Billie's show to sit in her special seat to stare in amazement at the gifted & stunningly beautiful Lady Day. Because Holiday's license to perform in nightclubs where liquor was being served had been revoked (and not renewed) she was forced to earn her living in gruelling tours on the road. For months after the Strand performance, Bankhead traveled with her whenever she could. Also on the tour was dancer/comedian James "Stump Daddy" Cross - nicknamed after his wooden leg, who joined the two famous ladies to make a treacherous threesome.
Everyone knows Bankhead was with Holiday in Hollywood at a nightclub when a fight broke out and Billie was arrested and charged with opium possession. Now a felon (as well as a well-known user) Holiday was in serious jeopardy again, and it was Bankhead to the rescue. She bailed Holiday out, paid for a psychiatrist after Billie threatened suicide, and was generally very loving and supportive. She also wrote a useless letter to J. Edgar Hoover pleading Billie's case "As my Negro Mammy used to say 'When you pray, you pray to God don't you......I had only met Billie Holiday twice in my life....and feel the most profound compassion for her...she is essentially a child at heart whose troubles have made her psychologically unable to cope with the world in which she finds herself...poor thing, you know I did everything within the law to lighten her burden".
It is agreed that after this incident the two women dissolved their friendship, and in 1952, Bankhead's own autobiography was ghost-written and nary a mention of Holiday was made. In fact, Tallulah began a campaign to clean up her image and concentrated more on the opposite sex - no matter that they were all gay -whose "duties" as paid "caddies" included spraying her with Chanel No. 5 as she lay in the bath. In 1956, Billie's Lady Sings The Blues hit the bookstores, and before it was released, Tallulah Bankhead received a copy of the manuscript. Apparently, Billie spoke of her at some length, and Bankhead hit the roof. Or the shyt hit the fan. Bankhead fired off a no-nonsense epistle of warning to the book's editor. Opening with her trademark "Dahlings, if you publish that stuff about me in the Billie Holiday book, I'll sue you for every goddamned cent that Doubleday can make". Billie did not fake the funk in her speedy reply (letter above - Jan 12, 1955) but she did not receive a reply from Bankhead. But you can bet that when the book finally saw its release, Bankhead was only honorably mentioned as just "a friend who sometimes came around to the house to eat spaghetti".
Practically all of Holiday's biographers insist a love affair between the singer and the actress primarily due to "Stump Daddy's" testimony of being a third party to all of their shenanigans. A pimp & friend of Holiday's named Detroit Red would also offer compelling evidence, but Bankhead's biographer's are adamant that the rumors are "unsubstantiated" ignoring Holiday's letter (which first appeared in Lady Day: The Many Faces Of Billie Holiday, a wonderful pictorial history by Robert O' Meally ) and the eyewitness accounts of Cross, and others who were there during that time.
Billie Holiday died in New York in 1959, a shell of her former glory and beauty. It is said she had $500 stuck in her vagina as she lay dying (and handcuffed) to a hospital bed. She has continued to inspire generations of singers such as Erykah Badu and Corrine Bailey Rae. Tallulah Bankhead died in New York in 1968. Holidays friend, Detroit Red said her family members quickly shipped her body south so that all of her Harlem friends could not attend the funeral. Her last discernible words were "codeine" and "bourbon". Bankhead was also romantically linked with movie maid Hattie McDaniel (WTF) and actress Barbara Stanwyick.