“And so, Patricia, as I was telling you, that deluded rector has, in literal effect, closed the church to me.”
Those 20 words of dialogue don’t seem like much, but to Tallulah Bankhead, that line was a struggle.
After the completion of Die! Die! My Darling (Fanatic for British audiences), several lines of dialogue had to be looped by Bankhead because the original audio could not be salvaged.
Looping (also known as automatic dialogue replacement) is the process of recording or re-recording audio in post-production. In some cases, looping refers to adding layers of background chatter in scenes, like a restaurant or public space.
In this particular instance, Tallulah was to record her lines of dialogue to exactly match her lip movements in the film, so the viewer can’t tell it was redubbed. The process is often extremely difficult since actors must recapture not only the mood, but stay in sync with their mouth.
Bankhead had quite a time tackling the situation in the summer of 1965 – and the struggle was caught on tape.
Playwright Matthew Lombardo used the tape excerpt of the recording session to write “Looped,” which debuted on Broadway in 2010. While the play takes creative liberties in expanding the real life recording which was only 45 minutes, Bankhead was certainly a whirlwind.
“I could hear her as she actually sounded in life, yelling at the director, asking a program assistant to please bring her her purse,” said Valerie Harper, who originated the role for the production.
"The tape was a riot but also quite touching and extremely valuable to me in capturing this flamboyant, larger-than-life woman."
Harper listened to the recording every night before a performance and studied Bankhead’s performances, read her biographies, and researched her personal life at The Paley Center. The hardest part for Harper was copying Tallulah's voice, and just when she thought it was right, the director often said, “Lower.”
Bankhead’s recording session was also impacted by her battle with substance abuse, so much so that the 20-word line of dialogue, according to Harper, took 8 hours.
“[Tallulah] fought with her demons all her life, but somehow came out victorious.”
Harper’s performance earned her a Tony nomination and sparked a national tour.
However, due to her battle with cancer, Harper was replaced by her friend, Stephanie Powers, who, as chance would have it, starred in the very film that needed redubbing.
“It’s more than a coincidence. It’s almost weird.” Stephanie Powers said, after taking over the role just two weeks before showtime.
“I didn’t study her at that time, but I do remember some of her manner and movements very clearly. It feels perfectly natural now for me to slip into her skin. So much so that sometimes I feel like I am channeling Tallulah.”