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The Big Show Radio Program

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The Big Show 1950 Premiere over WIBA from Nov. 5 1950
The Big Show 1950 Premiere over WIBA from Nov. 5 1950

Meredith Wilson and Tallulah Bankhead take bemused direction from Director Dee Engelbach (right) during Radio's The Big Show circa 1950
Meredith Wilson and Tallulah Bankhead take bemused direction from baby-faced Director Dee Engelbach (right) during Radio's The Big Show circa 1950

NBC Veep Charles 'Bud' Barry promoted the concept of The Big Show for NBC's Silver Jubilee Year
NBC Veep Charles 'Bud' Barry promoted the concept of The Big Show for NBC's Silver Jubilee Year

Tallulah Bankhead paces and smokes while rehearsing with Elthel Merman circa 1951
Tallulah Bankhead paces and smokes while rehearsing with Elthel Merman circa 1951. Bankhead reportedly puffed an estimated 150 cigarettes per day.

The Big Show 19510 Premiere over WIBA from Sep. 30 1950
The Big Show 1951 Premiere over WIBA from Sep. 30 1951

Anacin sponsored 30 minutes of each The Big Show broadcast
Anacin sponsored 30 minutes of each The Big Show broadcast

Ford Motors' 1950 Fords sponsored the 1950 run of The Big Show
Ford Motors' 1950 Fords sponsored the 1950 run of The Big Show

RCA Victor Television sponsored 30 minutes of each The Big Show broadcasts
RCA Victor Television sponsored 30 minutes of each The Big Show broadcast

The roll-out of the 1951 Ford was also a participating sponsor for The Big Show
The roll-out of the 1951 Ford was also a participating sponsor for The Big Show


The 1951 Buick got into the act with The Big Show as well
The 1951 Buick got into the act with The Big Show as well



Reynolds Aluminum signed up to sponsor The Big Show in an effort to roll-out their Reynolds Wrap product.

Background

From the November 10, 1950 Oakland Tribune:

NBC Scores With "Big Show"
Proving Radio Isn't Dead

 By JOHN CROSBY
 
     NEW YORK, Nov. 10--NBC's widely trumpeted "The Big Show" came perilously close to proving that radio is not dead after all, which means that some of us profound thinkers will have to revise our opinions.  It was in practically every respect a perfectly wonderful show--witty, tuneful, surprisingly sophisticated and brilliantly put together.
     "The Big Show" was a big enterprise in every way.  The opening program contained such names as Fred Allen, Jimmy Durante, Jose Ferrer, Ethel Merman, Paul Lukas, Russell Nype Mindy Carson and Frankie Laine--all presided over and more or less blanketed by that extraordinarily vibrant lady known as Tallu.  It ran an hour and a half, one of the fastest and pleasantest 90 minutes in my memory; it was housed in NBC's newly acquired Center Theater (3000 seats); it had a 44-piece orchestra and 16-voice choir presided over by Meredith Willson; it cost a trillion dollars--and, well, it was big.
 

SHREWD GAMBLE

     To get to the politics of the matter, it was also a bold and, I think, shrewd gamble.  By starting off at 6 o'clock and extending through 7:30, NBC hopes to lure all the listeners to its network before CBS opens with its big gun, Jack Benny, and to hold them right on through Mr. B.  Sunday night in television areas is murderous on radio shows simply because there is so much good television fare that night.  But most of the good adult programs start after 7:30 so that the grownups can now surrender the TV set to the kids and sneak off to the bathroom to listen to the radio for an hour and a half.
     However, NBC's biggest gamble may have been Tallulah Bankhead, an unpredictable volcano who has been known to sweep away whole villages when she erupts.  As mistress of ceremonies, though, she was sharp as a knife and succeeded somehow in outshining even the most glittering names on that glittering roster.  My sole complaint is Miss Bankhead's addiction to the word "darling" (or "dolling," as she is wont to pronounce it.)  She employed "dolling" 422 times--425, according to my wife's count--and that's a bit too much for an hour and a half.  And besides there aren't that many dollings in the western hemisphere, dolling.
 

MALICE EXCHANGED

     There were so many bright moments on the show I don't quite know where to begin.  Ethel Merman, Paul Lukas and Russell Nype contributed about half of the score of "Call Me Madam," including the show-stopping duet between Merman and Nype, "You're Just in Love."  Later Miss Merman and Miss Bankhead engaged in a breath-taking exchange of female malice, the like of which I can't recall on radio.  ("You've been in so many shows that have run two years.  You must have been in at least 30 shows that have run two years.")
     Tallulah is more or less inherently iconoclastic, if that's not too mild a word, and consequently the passages between her and her guests were happily lacking in that overwhelming mutual esteem which marks the pleasantries between most emcees and guests.  When Jose Ferrer modestly demurred at being called the greatest actor on the New York stage, she agreed almost instantly that he probably wasn't.
 

ALLEN HER MATCH

     Consequently, most of the guests approached Tallu warily, keeping their lefts up and weaving slightly.  All except Fred Allen, the one man who is a match for her.  Allen remarked pleasantly that NBC had tried him on radio and tried him on television and was now waiting for another medium to come along.  "I've decided why they call television a medium.  It's because nothing on it is well done."
     As for the other high spots of which there were many...well, let's see.  Jose Ferrer did a fine bit from the first act of "Cyrano de Bergerac"; Jimmy Durante complained in song about the terrible time he has lining up blind dates, and the whole cast in a rousing finale paid their respects to the late George M. Cohan with a selection of his songs.  Even Tallu sang ("Give My Regards to Broadway") in a voice that has almost more timbre than Yellowstone National Park.
     I'd like to pass up the other stars in order to say a few kind words about the writers--Goodman Ace, Wellbourn Kelley and Frank Wilson--who turned out a script which didn't contain a single cliche and did contain a great many amusing lines.
Copyright, 1950, for The Tribune

The Big Show was a pretty big deal--on many levels. NBC had lost one of it's major artists to CBS--Jack Benny and his ensemble. And to add insult to injury, when it came time to broadcast NBC's The Big Show, it was up against, by then, CBS's The Jack Benny Program. But we're getting ahead of ourselves.

The Big Show was the brainchild of NBC Vice President for Programming, Charles 'Bud' Barry. It had been Barry's thankless task to rebuild NBC's market share over Radio. The head-to-head between CBS and NBC as both major networks entered Television, had been a knock-down, drag-out competition. In the five years leading up to 1950, CBS and NBC had been proactively poaching each other's talent on an often breathtaking scale from time to time. If one couldn't compete with a popular program, the thinking was, "Well let's just buy that talent from under them."

Needless to say, that tactic didn't continue for long. There were, after all, a finite number of popular programs that could command that level of industrial poaching. The poaching reached its highest notoriety after CBS coaxed The Jack Benny Program out from under NBC. NBC, up until that time, had fairly well dominated the weekend evening schedule. The departure of The Jack Benny Program left NBC veeps scrambling for a suitable alternative to go head to head with one of Radio's longest running, most popular prime time comedy and variety programs.

As NBC approached their Silver Anniversary in 1951, it was coming off of a decade-long run of prestigious, educational entertainment programming with flagship, sustaining features on modern plays, Western and World Literature, tributes to the efforts of the early United Nations, retrospectives on Shakespeare, Eugene O'Neill, the plays of Eva le Galienne, spotlights on the great directors of the era, and numerous historical and technical retrospectives of NBC Radio history.

NBC was also in a highly competitive battle with rivals CBS, ABC and Dumont over Television. But many at NBC believed that Radio was still as viable an entertainment medium as ever before in its history. In many respects that observation was accurate--in theory. But as a practical matter, the Golden Age of Radio was fast approaching its final years. Radio had become too expensive for many of the sponsors and networks who were expending resources on both Television and Radio of the era.

As an even more practical matter, Television was experiencing the same growing pains, both technologically and legislatively, as had Radio at its inception. Exponential leaps had been acheived in technology of the era, but in respect to Television, the same dynamics that plagued the standardization of Broadcast Radio were bedeviling the Television technology of the era. While we don't normally address Television in these articles, it's clear that Television's promise and increasing demand were, from 1950-on, directly affecting programming decisions across the AM and FM bands of the era.

As a point of comparison, famous programming syndicator Frederick Ziv was experiencing unprecedented success developing and marketing some of the finest transcribed, syndicated programming in history. Bold Venture, for example, featuring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, could be budgeted at approximately $12,000 an episode in 1951, primarily because of the means by which Ziv marketed and sold the feature. At the same time, networks of the era were attempting to draw the line for their most popular originating features at between $700 and $3,000 an episode.

We cite the prevailing expense climate of the era to highlight the estimated $30,000 cost per 90-minute episode of The Big Show. Consider the underlying expenses of the program:

  • Meredith Willson and his 40-piece orchestra
  • A twelve to sixteen-voice choral group
  • A core ensemble of between three and five headliners
  • Between three and five additional name talents appearing during some episodes.
  • Playing to a 3,000-seat live audience.
  • The attendant technicians, sponsor reps, directors and assistants, writers and announcers.

Now granted that their budget for 90-minutes of programming reflected the higher-end of the late 1940s and early 1950s cost of $10,000 per episode . . . and $30,000 per show was simply three times the cost of NBC's previous most expensive 30-minute features. But also remember that beginning around 1948, all the major networks were moving their programming in the direction of $1,000 per episode or less per weekly feature. The bottom line was that $30,000 per show simply wasn't practical for a sustaining program. NBC absolutely needed sponsor partners to make the show practical.

From the October 1st 1951 edition of the East Liverpool Review:

Radio In Review head -- The Great Experiement Wasn't Exactly A Success

     Well, the great experiment was not an unqualified success, but it certainly was an interesting one.
     "The British Broadcasting Corp. and the National Broadcasting Co. (conceivably the first time N.B.C. ever has taken second billing) present The Big Show as an expression of unity between the two countries," ran the opening announcement on the show heard in England Sept. 17, and somewhat edited and rearranged, heard over here last night.
     It was anything but an expression of unity, this English presentation of an essentially American radio show.
     The British press was overwhelmed by our production knowhow, aghast at the cost ($75,000 for the one in London and another in Paris), occasionally bewildered by the jokes and altogether opposed to Miss Tallulah Bankhead's rendition of Jervis Bay, a poem by Gene Fowler celebrating the famous fight of an armed British freighter against a German pocket battleship.
 
     "IT HAD the perfect timing and zest of a Commando raid," declared the Daily Mail, but I regret to say I left the theater feeling I had been given a spanking and then a toffee apple by a hasty and generous uncle."
     This rather obscure sentence refers to the fact that the show was studded with jokes about British austerity and everything else British (the spanking) and ended with Miss Bankhead's husky paean to British courage (the toffee apple).
     "The American-type exchanges between George Sanders and Tallulah Bankhead were very funny indeed in the impolite adolescent way of that kind of American humor," continued the same paper.
     Impolite?  Adolescent?  As to the first, Miss Bankhead has specialized in the comedy of insult which is something the British are pretty good at too, though they use a different inflection.
     The adolescence is an expression of opinion which we'll have to grant the newspaper.  Whether it was or not, the predominantly British crowd of 2,000 persons at the Palladium found Miss B.'s opening lines uproariously funny.
     "Bless you, darlings," intoned that famous foghorn which resounted on the British stage for so many years.
     "Now let's see-- what was I saying when I left London 16 years ago--oh, yes--make mine a double.  Oh what a happy return to the scene of my former triumphs--but they're all married now.  If they had to get married, why didn't they marry me.  Why marry strangers?"
     Miss Bankhead carried on in this vein at some length not only on the air but in the British press.
     The British press fell upon the situation, more particularly Miss Bankhead, as a news story almost unparalleled since Sarajevo.
     The Americans in the entourage, accustomed to radio hoopla attracting absolutely no attention in American newspapers, were flabbergasted by the amount of space they grabbed in Britain.
 
     SAID GOODMAN ACE, head writer on the show "Here the British have a sick king, a crisis in Iran and a war in Korea and yet we were on the front pages all the time.  The Big Show and Franchot Tone--we were the big stories of the day."
     Besides Miss Bankhead's extravagant personality, the British press played up the fact that Wilfred Pickles, probably England's most popular radio entertainer, wouldn't appear on the show.
     Pickles is an ad lib interviewer who refused to do a script show.
     In this country if Arthur Godfrey was too busy or too tired to appear on somebody else's show, no one would care especially even if they heard about it, which is unlikely.
     Not all the British press was unkind.  The News Chronicle decided it was one of the best "radio entertainments of its kind I ever listened to."
     The Daily Telegraph declared that British and American humor do coincide to some degree and the stately Times was exquisitely non-committal.  The Daily Telegraph took a poll of its readers and discovered more pros than cons, a dubious compliment.
     It was a fine gesture of international amity.  The Big Show, more rewarding than Henry Ford's peace ship and at least as spectacular as Queen Marie's visit over here.
     But, like a lot of these interchanges, it left the British just a little more puzzled about us and the Americans--at least, most of those who took the trip--even more baffled about the British.
                                                 (c) New York Tribune, 1951


But how to pay for a $30,000 per episode program . . .

That's when Bud Barry came up with NBC's 'Tandem' sponsorship scheme. In a nutshell, subscribing sponsors were sold portions of a block of primetime, weekly network programming. Specifically:

  • The first half hour of The Big Show
  • The first half of NBC Symphony
  • The first half of Screen Directors Playhouse
  • Duffy's Tavern
  • The Man Called X

'Blocked' programming wasn't particularly innovative for the era. Most of the networks had begun marketing blocks of primetime--and daytime--programming to share the expenses between several sponsors for at least nine years by 1950. What gave this scheme its appeal was the premium range of genre offered in the subscription: premium variety with The Big Show, premium music with NBC Symphony, premium drama with Screen Directors Playhouse, highly rated comedy with Duffy's Tavern, and equally well rated mystery with The Man Called X.

NBC soon had several takers for their Tandem plan: Ford Motor Company, RCA Television, Anacin, Chesterfield, Four-Way Cold Tablets, and Dentyne for starters. But apparently, as the first season neared its end, there still wasn't enough sponsorship to keep The Big Show afloat. On St. Patrick's Day, 1951, NBC began teasing the notion that The Big Show was unsustainable, hinting that it might soon leave the air. And indeed, after 27 installments, The Big Show left the air on May 6, 1951.

The parties to the production apparently managed to arrive at some sort of accomodation, since within a few weeks of leaving the air "for good", NBC was teasing a gala, pull out all the stops London premiere for a Season Two of The Big Show. The London extravaganza opening Season Two aired on September 30, 1951, much of the cast having been transported wholesale to London for the rehearsals and 90-minute performance. Tallulah Bankhead had spent almost eight years in London's West End as, literally, the Southern Belle of the Ball--and West End Stage. But it would appear that her return engagement was met with far milder fanfare. According to reports of the era, Londoners weren't very impressed with The Big Show, panning it in most of the British papers, and citing Tallulah Bankhead's performance as little more of a parody of her original visit to the West End.

Stateside, the London Remote Premiere gimmick apparently worked. NBC acquired six new sponsoring partners for the vehicle and, once the extravaganza returned stateside, The Big Show ran for a total of thirty-0ne Season Two installments.

Production format and talent

There was no hard and fast format for The Big Show. The few constants throughout both seasons were the manner in which the cast and guests for the night introduced themselves and Tallulah Bankhead's opening monologue or sketch. To understandable fanfare, The Big Show would open each program with its signature theme song, "A Hand Full of Stars," immediately followed by the introduction of Tallulah Bankhead as the host, and personal introductions by each of the ensemble members and guests for the night's production. We use the term 'ensemble members' somewhat loosely, since, depending on the point of view of the listener, the 'ensemble' represented some of the entertainment world's most popular and successful performers--many of them having already far overshadowed Tallulah Bankhead's career up to that point.

While the star-studded ensemble varied somewhat from program to program, Fred Allen was an oft-repeated member, in addition to Jimmy Durante, Portland Hoffa, Meredith Willson, Mindy Carson, and on a rotating basis, Groucho Marx, Jose Ferrer, Fanny Brice, Hanley Stafford, and Margaret Truman.

Broadcast primarily out of New York, to a packed live audience of 3,000 for most shows, the production moved to Hollywood, returned to New York, aired its second season premiere in London, then returned to New York for the duration.

The guest performers over the course of The Big Show's two years represented some of the biggest talents in the entertainment industry: the greatest singers, actors, comedians and personalities of the era. A peek below at the principle artists over the course of the series' two seasons shows virtually every significant performer of the era having participated in the weekly extravaganza at one time or another. And giving credit where it's due, Tallulah Bankhead, in this author's opinion, gave some of her finest performances of her career during the course of the series.'

The other two key players in the success of The Big Show were young director Dee Engelbach and versatile Meredith Willson, acting as both music director and ensemble performer. Willson also composed the signature closing theme, "May the Good Lord Bless and Keep You," which went on to become both a hit record for Bing Crosby and the theme song for The Red Skelton Show on Television. Meredith Willson had already honed his sketch comedy skills with, among others, The Burns and Allen Program, and while an unquestionably canny and clever performer in his own right, traditionally performed in the naive, country bumpkin role to most of the lead performers he supported. The Big Show was no exception.

Dee Engelbach had already established himself as the boy genius at NBC, and The Big Show only served to further underscore that sobriquet. Engelbach's baby face and iron fist kept the cat-herding on the star-studded extravaganzas to a minimum, which, given the big name talents, as well as the quixotic fireball, Bankhead, was no mean feat. Charmer that he was, Tallulah apparently adored the young director, making his Tallulah-wrangling chore far more manageable. The triumverate of Engelbach, Bankhead and Willson seemed well suited to schmoozing the respective categories of talent for the series, aided in no small part by the extraordinary writing talent onboard throughout the series.

Headed by Goodman Ace, Fred Allen, Selma Diamond and Mort Green, the writing staff represented some of the finest comedy writers in Radio. Given the vast array of big names they were tasked to write for, it's just as well that the writing staff was so polished and experienced. Goodman Ace, in particular, was reportedly responsible for most of the byplay lines between the principle performers and clearly had a hand in many of the sketch pieces. Selma Diamond, known for her biting repartee was undoubtedly responsible for many of Tallulah's lines. It didn't hurt that the core ensemble members were, for the most part, highly adept at improvisation and the impromptu quip. The Big Show did, after all, represent a pretty heady mix of personalities. With Jimmy Durante regularly fluffing his lines, Fred Allen and Bankhead always at the ready for an impromptu quip, and the quick-witted Eddie Cantor, Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, and Martin and Lewis stopping by, the quips an comebacks flew with often stunning regularity thoughout the course of any given program.

The Big Show was unquestionably a hit, both in popularity and with the critics of the era, but was it a hit commensurate with its price tag? The answer was apparently a resounding "no." During the course of the run of The Big Show, Television was acquiring an exponentially increasing audience share, despite the often lackluster presentations over early Television. Indeed, by 1952 feature articles about Radio programming were all but disappearing throughout the Radio and Television sections of newspapers large and small.

With the loss of local and regional promotion, the novelty and dramatically increased availability of television receivers, and the clamp down on budgets for Radio programs, the writing was writ indelibly on the wall: Radio was on its way out, Television was well on its way in. The Big Show experiment was a sobering one for all of the major networks of the era. If the NBC behemoth couldn't regain market share with a 90-minute weekly extravaganza, there was little hope that any of its competitors could either. But successful syndicators such as Frederick Ziv continued to rake in millions well past 1952 by clever pre-packaging, brilliant independent promotion, and utilizing major name talent. Syndicators had no overhead beyond the intial production, and could market their syndications directly to potential sponsors, networks and independents alike.

The major networks, most of them with one foot in Radio and the other in Television, simply weren't capable of sustaining innovative, quality programming over both mediums--equally--at the same time. Something had to give, and it was Radio that gave--its talent, its budget and its tradition of compelling programming.

The Big Show, a remarkable undertaking by any measure, was a worthy, albeit unsuccessful, 'hail Mary' in the waning days of Radio's Golden Age. The circulating recordings remain jam-packed with talent, span every aspect of the entertainment industry, sparkle with clever repartee, and provide a showcase for the quixotic dynamo that was Tallulah Bankhead. All in all, an historic series of recordings that, in the opinion of many, proved to be the line of demarcation ending The Golden Age of Radio.

Series Derivatives:

None
Genre: Anthology of Golden Age Radio Mystery Dramas
Network(s): NBC
Audition Date(s) and Title(s): Unknown
Premiere Date(s) and Title(s): 1950 Season: 50-11-05 01 Call Me Madam - Cyrano de Bergerac
1951 Season: 51-09-30 28 Caesar and Cleopatra
Run Dates(s)/ Time(s): 50-11-05 to 52-04-20; NBC; Fifty-seven, 90-minute programs; Sunday nights
Syndication:
Sponsors: Four-Way Cold Tablets, Anacin, RCA Victor, Ford, Chesterfield, Buick, Canon Towels, Reynolds Aluminum, Dentyne
Director(s): Dee Engelbach
Principal Artists: Talullah Bankhead, Meredith Wilson, Russell Nype, Ethel Merman, Paul Lukas, Fred Allen, Portland Hoffa, Jimmy Durante, Danny Thomas, Mindy Carson, Frankie Laine, Jose Ferrer, Groucho Marx, Ezio Pinza, Fanny Brice, Hanley Stafford, Jane Powell, David Brian, Frank Lovejoy, John Agar, Vincent Price, Jane Wyman, Bob Hope, Eddie Cantor, Perry Como, Lauritz Melchior, Ed Wynn, Ed Gardner, Margaret Truman, Joan Davis, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Sons Of the Pioneers, Charles Boyer, Clifton Webb, Imogene Coca, Joe Bushkin, Louis Armstrong, Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis, Rosalind Russell, Dorothy McGuire, Bret Lahr, Margaret O'Brien, Robert Merrill, Fran Warren, Gloria Swanson, Edward G. Robinson, Jack Carter, Martha Raye, Louis Calhern, Florence Desmond, Judy Holliday, Gypsy Rose Lee, Vaughn Monroe, Patricia Munsel, Danny Kaye, Ray Bolger, Maxie Rosenbloom, Gary Cooper, Rudy Vallee, Delta Rhythm Boys, June Wilson, Leo Durocher, Laraine Day, Robert Cummings, Judy Garland, Andrews Sisters, Beatrice Lillie, Jack Carson, West Point Choir, Uta Hagen, Olsen and Johnson, Monty Woolley, Jack Haley, Paul Kelly, James Melton, Herb Shriner, Bob Burns, Billy Eckstine, Evelyn Knight, Eddie Jackson, Celeste Holm, Smith and Dalel, Jack Perl, Cliff Hall, Eddie Cantor, Eddie Fisher, Phil Baker, Ella Fitzgerald, Jan Peerce, Johnny Burke, Rex Harrison, Lilli Palmer, Carmen Miranda, Don Cornell, Ethel Barrymore, Van Johnson, Jane Morgan, John Crosby, Vivian Blaine, Tommy Henrich, Olivia De Havilland, Eveleyn Varden, Lisa Kirk, Milton Berle, Gordon MacRae, Frank Lovejoy, Rosemary Clooney, Ginger Rogers, Lucienne Boyer, Paul Winchell and Jerry Mahoney, Sir Laurence Olivier, Vivien Leigh, Joan Fontaine, George Sanders, Wilfred Pickles, Josephine Baker, Gracie Fields, William Gargan, Fernand Gravet, Francoise Rosay, Georges Guetary, Shirley Booth, Marlene Dietrich, Benny Goodman, Frank Sinatra, The Ink Spots, Pamela Mason, Dorothy Sarnoff, Herb Jeffries, Jerry Lester, Sophie Tucker, Morton Downey, Ann Sheridan, June Valli, Maxine Sullivan, Gertrude Berg, Yul Brynner, Dane Clark, Martha Scott, Martha Wright, Mary McCarty, Dolores Gray, Paul Allen, George McGrath, Fred Sanders, Jean Carroll, Ann Sothern, Phil Silvers, Sarah Vaughan, Henny Youngman, Robert Merrill, Ozzie and Harriet Nelson, Alec Templeton, Johnny JOhnston, Vera Lynn, Clalude Rains, Jimmy Nelson, Bob Carroll, Tony Bennett, Betty Hutton, June Havoc, Shepperd Strudwick, Earl Wrightson, Dick Powell, Bob and Ray, Victor Borge, James Barton, Tony Bavaar, Jerry Colonna, Jean Sablon, Hoagy Carmichael, Jane Pickens, Kay Armen, Connee Boswell, Clark Dennis, Richard Eastham, Joe Frisco, Peter Lorre, Peter Donald, Helen O'Connell, Paul Douglas, Judy Canova, Jan Murray,l JFane Russell, Toni Arden, Oscar Levant, Jackie Miles, Peggy Lee, Julie Harris, William Prince
Recurring Performer(s): Tallulah Bankhead [Host]; Meredith Willson [Music direction and sketches]
Protagonist(s): None
Author(s): Dorothy Parker, Claire Boothe Luce, Charles MacArthur, Ernest Hemingway, Clifford Odetts, O. McIntyre, Maxwell Anderson, Walt Whitman, George Bernard Shaw, Cornell Woolrich, Herman Melville
Writer(s) George Foster, Mort Green, Patricia Collins, Goodman Ace, Frank Wilson, William Harris Murray, Selma Diamond, Cornell Woolrich, Fred Allen, Philip Barry, Samuel Blass, Wellbourn Kelley
Music Direction: Meredith Wilson and His Orchestra
Musical Theme(s): "A Hand Full of Stars" by Ted Shapiro; "May The Good Lord Bless and Keep You" by Meredith Willson.
Announcer(s): Jimmy Wallington, Ed Herlihy, Ben Grauer
Estimated Scripts or
Broadcasts:
57
Episodes in Circulation: 29
Total Episodes in Collection: 29
Provenances:

Optimistic Billboard article touting NBC's confidence in Radio and The Big Show from October 28 1950
Optimistic Billboard article touting NBC's confidence in Radio and The Big Show from October 28 1950

Billboard magazine announces the premature cancellation of The Big Show from May 24 1951
Billboard magazine announces the premature cancellation of The Big Show from May 24 1951
RadioGOLDINdex, Hickerson Guide.

Notes on Provenances:

The most helpful provenances were the log of the radioGOLDINdex and newspaper listings.

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[Date, title, and episode column annotations in
red refer to either details we have yet to fully provenance or other unverifiable information as of this writing. Red highlights in the text of the 'Notes' columns refer to information upon which we relied in citing dates, date or time changes, or titles.]







The Big Show Program Log

Date Episode Title Avail. Notes
50-11-05
1
Call Me Madam - Cyrano de Bergerac
Y
[Premiere from New York]

50-11-05 Wisconsin State Journal
5 p.m.--The Big Show (WMAQ):
new 90-minute program with Tallulah Bankhead, Russell Nype, Ethel Merman, Paul Lukas, Fred Allen, Portland Hoffa, Jimmy Durante, Danny Thomas, Mindy Carson, Frankie Laine, Jose Ferrer, Meredith Willson; scenes from "Call Me Madam" and "Cyrano de Bergerac" (starts on WIBA at 5:30 p.m.).
50-11-12
2
Breakthrough - Sentiment
Y
[Second broadcast; from Hollywood]

50-11-12 Wisconsin State Journal
5:30 p.m.--The Big Show (WIBA): Tallulah Bankhead, Groucho Marx, Ezio Pinza, Fanny Brice, Hanley Stafford, Jane Powell, Mindy Carson, Frankie Laine, David Brian, Frank Lovejoy, John Agar, Vincent Price, Jane Wyatt, Meredith Willson, others (starts on WMAQ at 5).
50-11-19
3
The Gettysburg Address - A Matter Of Perspective
Y
50-11-19 Wisconsin State Journal
5 p.m.--The Big Show (WMAQ; on WIBA at 5:30): Tallulah Bankhead, Bob Hope, Eddie Cantor, Jimmy Durante, Jose Ferrer, Mindy Carson, Perry Como.
50-11-26
4
Duffy's Tavern - Carmen
Y
50-11-26 Wisconsin State Journal
5 p.m.--The Big Show (WMAQ; on WIBA at 5:30): Lauritz Melchior, Tallulah Bankhead, Ed Wynn, Fred Allen, Ed "Archie" Gardner, Jack Carson, Mindy Carson.
50-12-03
5
State Secret - The Margaret Truman Show
Y
50-12-03 Wisconsin State Journal
5 p.m.--The Big Show (WMAQ; on WIBA at 5:30): Margaret Truman, Joan Davis, Fred Allen, Danny Thomas, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Mindy Carson, Sons of the Pioneers, Tallulah Bankhead.
50-12-10
6
All the Sad Young Men
Y
50-12-10 Wisconsin State Journal
5 p.m.--The Big Show (WMAQ; on WIBA at 5:30): Tallulah Bankhead, Charles Boyer, Jimmy Durante, Clifton Webb, Imogene Coca, Eddy Arnold, Joe Bushkin, Meredith Willson.
50-12-17
7
The Women
Y
50-12-17 Wisconsin State Journal
5 p.m.--The Big Show (WMAQ; on WIBA at 5:30): Tallulah Bankhead, Bob Hope, Louis Armstrong, Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis, Rosalind Russell, Dorothy McGuire, Frankie Laine, Meredith Willson.
50-12-24
8
Christmas Eve Program

Y
[Christmas Program]

50-12-24 Wisconsin State Journal
5 p.m.--The Big Show (WMAQ; on WIBA at 5:30): Tallulah Bankhead, Jimmy Durante, Ed Wynn, Bert Lahr, Charles Boyer, Margaret O'Brien, Robert Merrill, Frank Warren, Meredith Willson.
50-12-31
9
Twentieth Century - Romeo and Juliet
Y
50-12-31 Wisconsin State Journal
5:30 p.m.--Big Show (WIBA) Gloria Swanson, Margaret O'Brien, guest on the Tallulah Bankhead
New Year's Eve frolic.
51-01-07
10
After Dinner Story
Y
51-01-07 Wisconsin State Journal
5 p.m.--The Big Show (WMAQ; on WIBA at 5:30): Marlene Dietrich, Tallulah Bankhead, Fred Allen, Portland Hoffa, Danny Thomas, Edward G. Robinson, Fran Warren, Meredith Willson.
51-01-14
11
The Magnificent Yankee
Y
51-01-14 Wisconsin State Journal
5 p.m.--The Big Show (WMAQ; on WIBA at 5:30): Jack Carter, Jimmy Durante, Martha Raye, Louis Calhern, Florence Desmond, Fran Warren, Tallulah Bankhead, Meredith Willson.
51-01-21
12
Born Yesterday
Y
51-01-21 Wisconsin State Journal
5 p.m.--The Big Show (WMAQ; on WIBA at 5:30): Fred Allen, Eddie Cantor,
Judy Holliday, Gypsy Rose Lee, Portland Hoffa, Vaughn Monroe, Patrice Munsel, Meredith Willson, Tallulah Bankhead.
51-01-28
13
A Farewell To Arms
Y
51-01-28 Wisconsin State Journal
5 p.m.--The Big Show (WMAQ; on WIBA at 5:30): Tallulah Bankhead, Danny Kaye, Ray Bolger, Maxie Rosenbloom, Gary Cooper, Rudy Vallee, Delta Rhythm Boys, Julie Willson, Meredith Willson.
51-02-04
14
Born Yesterday - Private Lives
Y
51-02-04 Wisconsin State Journal
5 p.m.--The Big Show (WMAQ; on WIBA at 5:30): Judy Holliday, Fred Allen, Portland Hoffa, Leo Durocher, Laraine Day, Jimmy Durante, Roberts Cummings, Tallulah Bankhead, Meredith Willson.
51-02-11
15
A Telephone Call
Y
51-02-11 Wisconsin State Journal
5 p.m.--The Big Show (WMAQ; on WIBA at 5:30): Groucho Marx, Judy Garland, Andrews Sisters, Joan Davis, Martin and Lewis, Tallulah Bankhead, Meredith Willson.
51-02-18
16
Billy Budd
Y
51-02-18 Wisconsin State Journal
5 p.m.--The Big Show (WMAQ; on WIBA at 5:30): Beatrice Lillie, Jack Carson, Ed Wynn, Fred Allen, Portland Hoffa, Lauritz Melchior, West Point choir, Tallulah Bankhead, Meredith Wilson.
51-02-25
17
The Country Girl - The Man Who Came To Dinner
Y
51-02-25 Wisconsin State Journal
5 p.m.--The Big Show (WMAQ; on WIBA at 5:30): Uta Hagen, Judy Holliday, Olsen and Johnson, Monty Woolley, Jack Haley, Paul Kelly, James Melton, Tallulah Bankhead, Meredith Willson.
51-03-04
18
Second Threshold
Y
51-03-04 Wisconsin State Journal
5 p.m.--The Big Show (WMAQ; on WIBA at 5:30): Margaret Truman, Ethel Merman, Fred Allen, Portland Hoffa, Clive Brook, Frankie Laine, Herb Shriner, Tallulah Bankhead, Meredith Willson.
51-03-11
19
Junior
Y
51-03-11 Wisconsin State Journal
5 p.m.--The Big Show (WMAQ; on WIBA at 5:30): Jimmy Durante, Bob Burns, Billy Eckstine, Evelyn Knight, Eddie Jackson, Celeste Holm, Smith and Dale, Jack Pearl, Cliff Hall, Tallulah Bankhead, Meredith Willson.
51-03-18
20
Mamba's Daughters
Y
51-03-18 Wisconsin State Journal
5 p.m.--The Big Show (WMAQ; on WIBA at 5:30): Eddie Cantor and his protégé, Eddie Fisher, Fred Allen, Portland Hoffa, Phil Baker, Ella Fitzgerald, Jan Peerce, Ethel Waters, Johnny Burke, Tallulah Bankhead, Meredith Willson.
51-03-25
21
Anne Of A Thousand Days
Y
51-03-25 Wisconsin State Journal
5 p.m.--The Big Show (WMAQ; on WIBA at 5:30): Tallulah Bankhead, Rex Harrison, Judy Holliday, Lilli Palmer, Jimmy Durante, Carmen Miranda, Don Cornell, Meredith Willson.
51-04-01
22
The West Wind - Go For Broke
Y
51-04-01 Wisconsin State Journal
5 p.m.--The Big Show (WMAQ; on WIBA at 5:30): Ethel Barrymore, Groucho Marx, Bob Hope, Joan Davis, Van Johnson, Ezio Pinza, Tallulah Bankhead, Meredith Willson.
51-04-08
23
Green Pastures
Y
[Production returns to New York; Cracked master]

51-04-08 Wisconsin State Journal
5 p.m.--The Big Show (WMAQ; on WIBA at 5:30): Jane Morgan, John Crosby, Vivian Blaine, Fred Allen, Portland Hoffa, Jimmy Durante, Rudy Vallee, actors from "
The Green Pastures," Tallulah Bankhead, Meredith Willson.
51-04-15
24
Romeo and Juliet - Casey At the Bat
Y
[Note: most circulating exemplars of this episode have been either streamload damaged or LAME damaged, including the one on Archive.org. Ours is fully intact. Our secret? . . . . don't tell anyone . . . we actually listen to ours]

51-04-15 Wisconsin State Journal
5 p.m.--The Big Show (WMAQ; on WIBA at 5:30): Tommy Henrich, Eddie Cantor, Jack Carson, Phil Foster, Eddy Arnold, Martha Raye, Olivia De Havilland, Eveleyn Varden, Tallulah Bankhead, Meredith Willson.
51-04-22
25
The Devil's Disciple
Y
51-04-22 Wisconsin State Journal
5 p.m.--The Big Show (WMAQ; on WIBA at 5:30): Fred Allen, Portland Hoffa, Herb Shriner, Joan Davis, Judy Holliday, Lisa Kirk, Fran Warren, Tallulah Bankhead, Meredith Willson.
51-04-29
26
I Was A Communist For the FBI
Y
51-04-29 Wisconsin State Journal
5 p.m.--The Big Show (WMAQ; on WIBA at 5:30): Milton Berle, Jimmy Durante, Ethel Merman, Gordon MacRae, Frank Lovejoy, Rosemary Clooney, Tallulah Bankhead, Meredith Willson.
51-05-06
27
Advice To the Little Peyton Girl
Y
51-05-06 Wisconsin State Journal
5 p.m.--The Big Show (WMAQ; on WIBA at 5:30):
last show of season; Margaret Truman, Fred Allen, Portland Hoffa, Groucho Marx, Ginger Rogers, Lucienne Boyer, Paul Winchell and Jerry Mahoney, Tallulah Bankhead, Meredith Willson.





51-09-30
28
Caesar and Cleopatra
Y
[Second Season Premiere from London; First 60 minutes only]

51-08-12 Long Beach Press-Telegram

Tallulah to Broadcast
London 'Big Show'

LONDON. (UP) Tallulah Bankhead
will broadcast the first of her fall series of Amercian radio shows from London in September, the British Broadcasting Corporation said today.
Appearing with Miss Bankhead will be Fred Allen and his. wife, Portland Hoffa and Judy Holliday.
The program, known as "The Big Show," will be broadcast in person on the BBC on Sept. 16 and transcribed for broadcast over the National Broadcasting Company in the United States two weeks later.

51-09-30 Wisconsin State Journal
5:30 p.m.--The Big Show (WIBA):
starting new season; Tallulah Bankhead, Meredith Willson, Fred Allen, Portland Hoffa, Sir Laurence Olivier, Vivien Leigh, Beatrice Lillie, Joan Fontaine, George Sanders, Wilfred Pickles.

51-10-07
29
Title Unknown
N
51-10-07 Wisconsin State Journal
5:30 p.m.--The Big Show (WIBA): Tallulah Bankhead, Fred Allen, Portland Hoffa, Josephine Baker, Gracie Fields, William Gargan, Fernand Gravet, Francoise Rosay, George Sanders, Georges Guetary, Meredith Willson.
51-10-14
30
Title Unknown
N
51-10-14 Wisconsin State Journal
5:30 p.m.--The Big Show (WIBA): Tallulah Bandhead with Jimmy Durante, Ethel Merman, George Sanders, Fred Allen, Portland Hoffa, Shirley Booth, Meredith Willson.
51-10-21
31
Title Unknown
N
51-10-21 Wisconsin State Journal
5:30 p.m.--The Big Show (WIBA): Margaret Truman, Marlene Dietrich, Benny Goodman, Frank Sinatra, Andrews Sisters, Fred Allen, Portland Hoffa, Phil Foster, Tallulah Bankhead, Meredith Willson.
51-10-28
32
Revenge
N
51-10-28 Wisconsin State Journal
5:30 p.m.--The Big Show (WIBA): Tallulah Bankhead, Meredith Willson, Jack Carson, Jimmy Durante, the Ink Spots, James and Pamela Mason, Dorothy Sarnoff.
51-11-04
33
Title Unknown
N
51-11-04 Wisconsin State Journal
5:30 p.m.--The Big Show (WIBA): Tallulah Bankhead, Judy Holliday, Groucho Marx, Joan Davis, George Sanders, Herb Jeffries, Evelyn Knight, Meredith Willson.
51-11-11
34
Title Unknown
N
51-11-11 Wisconsin State Journal
5:30 p.m.--The Big Show (WIBA): Jerry Lester, Sophie Tucker, Morton Downey, Ann Sheridan and June Valli, visit Tallulah Bankhead.
51-11-18
35
The Goldbergs
N
51-11-18 Wisconsin State Journal
5:30 p.m.--The Big Show (WIBA): Tallulah Bankhead, Fred Allen, Portland Hoffa, Jack Pearl, Maxine Sullivan, Meredith Willson, Gertrude Berg, Yul Brynner.
51-11-25
36
Title Unknown
N
51-11-25 Wisconsin State Journal
5:30 p.m.--The Big Show (WIBA): Dane Clark, Martha Scott, Martha Wright, Mary McCarty, George Sanders, Phil Foster, Tallulah Bankhead, Meredith Willson.
51-12-02
37
Title Unknown
N
51-12-02 Wisconsin State Journal
5:30 p.m.--The Big Show (WIBA): Tallulah Bankhead, Ginger Rogers, Dolores Gray, Paul Allen, Portland Hoffa, George McGrath, Lauritz Melchior, Fred Sanders, Meredith Willson.
51-12-09
38
Title Unknown
N
51-12-09 Wisconsin State Journal - 5:30 p.m.--The Big Show (WMAQ; on WIBA at 9:30 p.m.): Jean Carroll, Ann Sothern, Tallulah Bankhead, Robert Cummings, Ed "Archie" Gardner, Meredith Willson.
51-12-16
39
Title Unknown
N
51-12-16 Wisconsin State Journal
5:30 p.m.--The Big Show (WIBA): Tallulah Bankhead, Rosalind Russell, Jack Carson, Phil Silvers, Sarah Vaughan, Henny Youngman, Meredith Willson.
51-12-23
40
Title Unknown
N
51-12-23 Wisconsin State Journal
5:30 p.m.--The Big Show (WIBA): Margaret Truman, Milton Berle, Robert Merrill, Ozzie and Harriet Nelson, Alec Templeton, Tallulah Bankhead, Meredith Willson.
51-12-30
41
Title Unknown
N
51-12-30 Wisconsin State Journal
5:30 p.m.--The Big Show (WIBA): Fred Allen, Joan Davis, Johnny Johnston, and Meredith Willson visit Tallulah Bankhead.
52-01-06
42
Title Unknown
N
52-01-06 Wisconsin State Journal
5:30 p.m.--The Big Show (WIBA): Vera Lynn, Herb Shriner, Claude Rains, Jimmy Nelson, Joan Davis, Bob Carroll, Meredith Willson, Tallulah Bankhead.
52-01-13
43
Title Unknown
N
52-01-13 Wisconsin State Journal
5:30 p.m.--The Big Show (WIBA): Fred Allen, Portland Hoffa, Phil Foster, Vera Lynn, Tony Bennett, Betty Hutton, June Havoc, Shepperd Strudwick, Tallulah Bankhead, Meredith Willson.
52-01-20
44
Title Unknown
N
52-01-20 Wisconsin State Journal
5:30 p.m.--The Big Show (WIBA): Vera Lynn, Earl Wrightson, Dick Powell, Shirley Booth, Jack Pearl, Cliff Hall, Tallulah Bankhead, Meredith Willson.
52-01-27
45
Here We Are
N
52-01-27 Wisconsin State Journal
5:30 p.m.--The Big Show (WIBA): Bob and Ray, Jack Carson, Victor Borge, Vera Lynn, James Barton, Tony Bavaar, Tallulah Bankhead, Meredith Willson.
52-02-03
46
Title Unknown
N
52-02-03 Wisconsin State Journal
5:30 p.m.--The Big Show (WIBA): Ethel Merman, Tallulah Bankhead, Fred Allen, Portland Hoffa, Jerry Colonna, Vera Lynn, Johnny Johnston, Meredith Willson.
52-02-10
47
Title Unknown
N
52-02-10 Wisconsin State Journal
5:30 p.m.--The Big Show (WIBA): Tallulah Bankhead, Meredith Willson, Vera Lynn, Jean Sablon, Joan Davis, Claude Rains, Phil Foster.
52-02-17
48
Title Unknown
N
52-02-17 Wisconsin State Journal
5:30 p.m.--The Big Show (WIBA): Hoagy Carmichael, Jane Pickens, Vera Lynn, Joan Davis, Fred Allen, Portland Hofa, Tallulah Bankhead, Meredith Willson.
52-02-24
49
Title Unknown
N
52-02-24 Wisconsin State Journal
5:30 p.m.--The Big Show (WIBA): Tallulah Bankhead, Victor Borge, Ed "Archie" Gardner, Gertrude Berg, Robert Merrill, Kay Armen, Meredith Willson.
52-03-02
50
Title Unknown
N
52-03-02 Wisconsin State Journal
5:30 p.m.--The Big Show (WIBA): Tallulah Bankhead, Meredith Willson, Rex Harrison, Lilli Palmer, Fred Allen, Portland Hoffa, Henny Youngman, Connee Boswell, Clark Dennis.
52-03-09
51
A Cask Of Amontillado - Who Did What To Fidalia
Y
52-03-09 Wisconsin State Journal
5:30 p.m.--The Big Show (WIBA): Tallulah Bankhead, Ethel Merman, Richard Eastham, Joe Frisco, Phil Foster, Peter Lorre, Meredith Willson.
52-03-16
52
Title Unknown
N
52-03-16 Wisconsin State Journal
5:30 p.m.--The Big Show (WIBA): Tallulah Bankhead, Fred Allen, Peter Donald, William Gargan, Frank Sinatra, Portland Hoffa, Helen O'Connell, Meredith Willson.
52-03-23
53
Title Unknown
N
52-03-23 Wisconsin State Journal
5:30 p.m.--The Big Show (WIBA): Tallulah Bankhead, Marlene Dietrich, Victor Borge, Rosemary Clooney, Jack Pearl, Cliff Hall, Paul Douglas, Earl Wrightson, Meredith Willson.
52-03-30
54
Title Unknown
N
52-03-30 Independent Long Beach
3:30 KFI--Big Show, Bankhead, Fred Allen, V. Blaine, Judy Canova, Jan Murray.
52-04-06
55
Title Unknown
N
52-04-06 Wisconsin State Journal
5:30 p.m.--The Big Show (WIBA): Tallulah Bankhead, Jane Russell, Toni Arden, Judy Canova, Oscar Levant, Paul Winchell and Jerry Mahoney, Herb Jeffries, Meredith Willson.
52-04-13
56
Title Unknown
N
52-04-13 Wisconsin State Journal
5:30 p.m.--The Big Show (WIBA): Groucho Marx, Fred Allen, George Sanders, Portland Hoffa, Jackie Miles, Peggy Lee, Tallulah Bankhead, Meredith Willson.
52-04-20
57
Title Unknown
N
52-04-20 Wisconsin State Journal
5:30 p.m.--The Big Show (WIBA):
season finale; Tallulah Bankhead, Julie Harris, William Prince, Fred Allen, Portland Hoffa, Phil Foster, Ethel Merman, Groucho Marx, George Sanders, Earl Wrightson, Meredith Willson.






The Big Show Radio Program Biographies




Tallulah Bankhead [Tallulah Brockman Bankhead]
Stage, Radio, Television and Film Actor
(1902-1968)

Birthplace: Jasper, Alabama, U.S.A.

Education:

Radiography:
1937 Shakespeare Cycle
1941 It's Time To Smile
1942 Johnny Presents
1942 Command Performance
1944 Radio Hall Of Fame
1944 Words At War
1944 Mail Call
1944 Democratic National Committee Program
1945 Tribute To Ethel Barrymore
1946 The Charlie McCarthy Show
1946 The Fred Allen Show
1946 Radio Reader's Digest
1947 Guest Star
1949 Turning Points
1950 The Big Show
1950 A Report To the Nation
1950 Screen Director's Playhouse
1950 Operation Tandem
1951 Our Silver Jubilee Show
1951 The Bing Crosby Show
1951 The House Of Music (Audition)
1952 Theater Guild On the Air
1953 The Buick-Berle Shwo
1955 Tallulah Bankhead Baseball Cracker Barrel
1955 Biography In Sound
1955 What Christmas Means To Me
1956 Recollections At Thirty
1963 Monitor
1965 Adlai
1965 The Chase and Sanborn Anniversary Show
Greece Fights On
Treasury Star Parade
Talullah Bankhead circa 1929
Talullah Bankhead circa 1929

Femme Fatale age 4
Femme Fatale age 4

Tallulah Bankhead circa 1934
Tallulah Bankhead circa 1934

Tallulah Bankhead Caricature

Tallulah costarred with her soon to be husband John Emery in Antony and Cleopatra (1937). A critic of Bankhead's performance remarked 'Miss Bankhead barged down the Nile last night--and sank'
Tallulah costarred with her soon to be husband John Emery in Antony and Cleopatra (1937). A critic of Bankhead's performance remarked 'Miss Bankhead barged down the Nile last night--and sank'

Tallulah with her real lion cub 'Winston Churchill' a gift to herself while in Reno obtaining her divorce from John Emery
Tallulah with her real lion cub 'Winston Churchill' a gift to herself while in Reno obtaining her divorce from John Emery

Tallulah Bankhead gets 'watered down' at Hitchcock's direction for her award-winning role in Lifeboat (1944)
Tallulah Bankhead gets 'watered down' at Hitchcock's direction for her award-winning role in Lifeboat (1944)

Tallulah hobnobs with Ethel Barrymore at a 1950 Hedda Hopper shindig
Tallulah hobnobs with Ethel Barrymore at a 1950 Hedda Hopper shindig.

In 1951 Tallulah recorded two songs with Jazz pianist Joe Bushkin for Columbia. Of the experience, she observed ''After two song recordings I'm frazzled by my own folly. But there's bouce in us Bankheads. I was up before the bell.'
In 1951 Tallulah recorded two songs with Jazz pianist Joe Bushkin for Columbia. Of the experience, she observed ''After two song recordings I'm frazzled by my own folly. But there's bouce in us Bankheads. I was up before the bell.''

A life-long Jazz fan Tallulah here knocks off an impromptu rendition of Melancholy Baby with Louis Armstrong
A life-long Jazz fan Tallulah here knocks off an impromptu rendition of ''Melancholy Baby'' with Louis Armstrong.

Tallulah mugs with three prize-winning Maltese at the 1951 Dog Show at Madison Garden
Tallulah mugs with three prize-winning Maltese at the 1951 Dog Show at Madison Garden

New York Giants Baseball logo 1951

A passionate New York Giants Baseball fan Tallulah rarely missed a home  game at The Polo Grounds (1951)
A passionate New York Giants Baseball fan Tallulah rarely missed a home game at The Polo Grounds (1951)

We must tell you, dahlings, that Miss Tallulah Bankhead never lacked for biographers--or autobiographies for that matter. Miss Bankhead was, her entire life, her own finest authority on Tallulah Bankhead, my deahs. She best told her own story in the Life magazine article of June 25, 1951, so we'll be borrowing heavily from her own bombastic, at times irreverent account of her life among mere mortals.

Tallulah Brockman Bankhead was born in 1902 to Adeline Eugenia Sledge and William Brockman Bankhead, then Speaker of The House of the United States House of Representatives. Little Tallulah's mother died just three weeks after bringing her into the world. Ada Sledge was a stunning beauty from Virginia.

Tallulah's uncle had served in The U.S. Senate, as had her grandfather before him. Steeped in the traditions of the ante-bellum South, the family was staunch Democrats to the core. Tallulah was raised as a society deb, departing for New York at the age of 15--heavily chaperoned, naturally dahling--to try her hand at the New York Stage and Film. She'd won a beauty contest in Alabama and an offer of a Film and Stage tryout accompanied the prize. Four years, five films, and eight plays later, Tallulah shipped off for Great Britain to hone her dramatic skills in London's West End
.

Having reinvented herself as simply 'Tallulah, dahling,' she spent eight years in the West End, wowing London Society and appeared in two more films and performed in seven more plays before heading back home. But not before rubbing elbows with Winston Churchill, Lord and Lady Beaverbrook, Beatrice Lillie and Ethel Barrymore. Indeed she later named a lion cub she owned, Winston Churchill. The Southern Belle flapper girl had stormed London's West End like Grant took Richmond.

Upon her return to America, she immediately began appearing in Forsaking All Others (1933), Dark Victory (1934), a revival of Rain (1935) as Sadie Thompson, Something Gay (1935), Reflected Glory (1936), Antony and Cleopatra (1937) as Cleopatra, The Circle (1938) as Elizabeth, and The Little Foxes (1939) as Regina Giddens. She toured some of her plays throughout every State of the Union but three between 1934 and 1948

Tallulah broke into Radio with 1937's Shakespeare Cycle, beginning a thirty year career over Radio. By 1941, Tallulah was appearing as much as her persona over Radio as in dramatic or comedic roles. Soon becoming a regular guest star on most of the more popular comedies of the era, Tallulah's serious, albeit brief, Film career gained her biggest splash, literally and figuratively, with Alfred Hitchcock's Lifeboat (1944) portraying Connie Porter.

Tallulah returned to the Stage in the mid-1940s, appearing in ten more roles over the next 20 years. Her rare appearances on early Television were met with, by then, understandable fanfare, and her popularity as both a celebrity and Theatre performer propelled her into a new career over Radio. She also recorded two Jazz tunes with Joe Bushkin for Columbia--"You Go to My Head" and "I'll Be Seeing You." Of the experience, she observed that "My vocal range is that of a seal. But what feeling, what passion, what nerve!"

1950 found Tallulah starring in a ninety-minute, $30,000 per episode NBC production appropriately titled, The Big Show. The program ran for fifty-seven installments over three years, and firmly established Bankhead as a multi-talented, gracious, humorous personality. The program was a weekly extravaganza on a previously unheard of scale. Presented as Radio's last great hope of recovering audience share from Television, the experiment lasted only as long as the production. Many cite the cancellation of The Big Show as the beginning of the end of The Golden Age of Radio.

Tallulah, indefatigable as always, continued to appear as herself, over Radio and Television's most popular panel shows, talk shows, and interview programs for the last twenty years of her life. Her last role over Television was as The Black Widow, in a recurring role in the Batman series (1967).

Married once and engaged once, to two different men, Tallulah married Stage, Radio and Film actor John Emery in 1937, following their starring appearances in Antony and Cleopatra (1937). The couple were married for four years. She'd been briefly engaged to Count Antony de Bosdari in 1932.

Tallulah Bankhead lived life by her own rules. Her eccentricities made her who she was--and she'd have given anyone an apocalyptic battle of wits over what's eccentric or not. One of the entertainment world's truly free spirits, she adored Jazz, alcohol, tobacco, men and women, in no particular order, and Life itself. Her greatest passion of all was performing before a live audience and her audiences could see that in every performance she ever gave.

The longer she performed, the more of a national treasure she became. A life of quite calculated--and clearly well celebrated--excess ultimately caught up with her in 1968 when she passed away from a bout of pneumonia and emphysema, after a life of smoking a reported 150 cigarettes a day--a true belle of the South till the end.

There's no question that Tallulah had her critics, a following more interested in the more salacious aspects of her personal life choices, and a far greater majority of adoring and fervent fans, alike. She was a true force of nature in every effort she undertook, a guiltless bon vivant, and a genuine American Original in every measurable way.

For those of us lucky enough to collect Radio recordings from The Golden Age of Radio, The Big Show, alone, leaves us with some forty hours of her performing genius and versatility. She was truly a marvel of the Entertainment World.

From the December 12, 1968 edition of the San Mateo Times: 

Tallulah Bankhead Dies, 64

 Pneumonia, Emphysema

 
     NEW YORK (UPI) -- Talluah Bankhead, a southern belle form Huntsville, Ala., who rose to become a star of Broadway and Hollywood, died today at the age of 64.
     Miss Bankhead died of double pneumonia complicated by emphysema.  The actress died at St. Luke's hospital in New York City, where she made her home.
     Miss Bankhead, who was born in Huntsville in 1904, was the daughter of a speaker of the House of Representatives and the granddaughter of a Senator.
     She rebelled from her traditional southern background and came to New York at the age of 15--after winning a beauty contest.  Four years later, in 1923, she was a hit in the London production of The Dancers.
     Miss Bankhead was an actress who became a legend in her own time.  Her name, her voice, stories about her and stories told by her, were nationally familiar.  Fast talking, dressed in mink coat and slacks, Miss Bankhead was a stage personality who lived the theater so completely that she was never "off-stage."
     Miss Bankhead, star of "The Little Foxes," "The Skin of Our Teeth" and many other plays, once claimed that her life was an "open book" and she was right.  Her every move was watched by an eager and appreciative public.
     A fast, often explosive talker, Miss Bankhead had temperament.  Discussing her life with a friend, she said she could stand anything if it were not dull.
     Miss Bankhead began thinking and living the stage after she had won a beauty contest when she was 14 years old.  Her father, Rep. William Brockman Bankhead, of Alabama, speaker of the house during 1936-40, let her go to New York when she was 16.  She got a walk-on part in "Squab  Farm" and later that year in "39 East."  However, New Yorkers did not take to the atomic Alabaman as fast as she wanted them to and she went to England in 1923.
     England taught America a lesson in bobbysox fans.  They were "flapper" fans then.  Britain went wild over Miss Bankhead, who was a hit in her first play, "The Dancers."  As a cigarette-smoking, wild-living, short-skirted vamp, she was the "dahling" of the nation during the eight years she lived there.  She starred in "Camille," "Fallen Angels" and "Let's Be Gay" before her return home.
     Hollywood lured Miss Bankhead home with fabulous offers but she never made a real success on the screen until her performance much later in 1944, in Alfred Hitchcock's film, "Lifeboat."  In the early 1930's she played in a series of "bad girl" movies such as "Tarnished Lady," "My Sin," and "Faithless," but she considered her movie career a failure and returned to the stage.
     Miss Bankhead scored a series of theatrical successes in the late 1930s.  In 1935 she won acclaim as "Sadie Thompson" in "Rain," and Iris March in "Green Hat."  More rave notices were hers after her portrayal of "Camille" and Regina Giddens in "Little Foxes" and "The Skin of Our Teeth."
     In 1948, Miss Bankhead and Donald Cook had a long run in "Private Lives" and then took the show on a 53-week road tour.
     Her feuds with producers were notorious.  She once called Billy Rose, Broadway showman, a "loathsome little bully," to which he answered "how can you bully Niagra Falls?"  She did not speak to Lillian Hellman, author of "The Little Foxes," after they had had a political argument.
     Miss Bankhead directed her own financial affairs and negotiated her own contracts.  Known for her generosity and extravagance, she said she was "always broke."  her contracts, however, usually contained a clause which gave her a percentage of the net profits.  In 1948 her income was estimated at $2,500 to $3000 a week and her tour in "Private Lives" netted about $1,000,000.
     Her mother, Eugenia Sledge, died shortly after her birth and an aunt, Mrs. Maire Owen, raised her in Montgomery, Ala.  She and her older sister, Eugenia, got along like "friends" she said, as they shunted from Washington where their father spent a good deal of his time, to Alabama.  They attended a variety of schools along the way.



Dee Engelbach [DeVere Engelbach]
(Director)

(1910-1983)

Birthplace: Virginia

Radiography:
1943 Radio Hall Of Fame
1945 The Doctor Fights
1945 Rogue's Gallery
1946 Academy Award
1948 Hallmark Playhouse
1948 The Man Called X
1949 Humphrey Bogart (Audition)
1950 The Scarlet Cloak (Audition)
1950 The Big Show
1951 American Portraits
1956 CBS Radio Workshop
1972 Same Time, Same Station

Meredith Wilson and Tallulah Bankhead take bemused direction from Director Dee Engelbach (right) during Radio's The Big Show circa 1950
Meredith Wilson and Tallulah Bankhead take bemused direction from baby-faced Director Dee Engelbach (right) during Radio's The Big Show circa 1950
Dee Engelbach was by all contemporary accounts a boy-genius director when he got his start on CBS in his early 30's. While cutting his teeth on Radio, Engelbach began wearing both Radio and Television directorial hats in 1948. Quickly elevated to producer-director status at NBC, Dee Engelbach was entrusted with some of the entertainment world's often delicate talent.

Three cases in point: Tallulah Bankhead, Groucho Marx and Milton Berle. All three were seasoned professionals--and notoriously high-maintenance scene stealers. But young Dee Engelbach not only managed to wrangle excellent performances from them, but leave all three of them singing young Dee's praises in the process. All three were regular visitors to Engelbach's The Big Show (1950) once Engelbach had moved to NBC.

Mr. Engelbach was an executive producer-director and program consultant in television for NBC. In 1954, he joined Circa Productions Inc., a television production company active in both New York and California and became Executive Vice President of the company.

But indeed, Engelbach's most loyal fans recall his Radio career. Engelbach directed many of the The Hallmark Playhouse (1948) episodes for CBS, as well as Radio Hall of Fame (1943-1944), many of the Rogue's Gallery (1945) for Mutual, then CBS, Academy Award (1946) for CBS, The Man Called X, with Herbert Marshall, virtually all of The Big Show (1950-1952) for NBC and American Portraits (1951) for NBC.

In the early days of television he produced and directed The All Star Revue which reunited him with Tallulah Bankhead, Groucho Marx and Milton Berle.

Dee Engelbach died in 1983 after a short illness while at St. Luke's Hospital in Manhattan. He was survived by his wife, the former Carole O'Hara, a daughter, and two sisters.




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