Tallulah Brewing Company

The Gavel Porter

Jasper, AL


(pdf version)

  On April 27, 2011, Cordova, AL was forever changed after a number of tornadoes devastated their downtown, part of a 116-mile-long swath of destruction.  During the storm, the town lost one of Alabama’s most famous landmarks: the Tallulah Hotel.  Although the hotel is now gone, it still provided the inspiration for the name, logo and charisma now found at Tallulah Brewing Company and both of these places take their name from one of Alabama’s most legendary residents.
    Tallulah Brockman Bankhead (1902-1968) was born in Huntsville, AL into what can only be described as a prominent and powerful family.  At the time of her birth, her grandfather, John Hollis Bankhead, was a U.S. Congressman, a position he held for 33 years, and during her lifetime her father, William Bankhead, and her uncle John Hollis Bankhead II would also represent Alabama in the U.S. Congress.  Tallulah’s father put together an 11-term career in the U.S. Congress and eventually became Speaker of the House during President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration as well as the namesake of Tallulah Brewing Company’s The Gavel Porter.  Tallulah’s mother died about a month after she was born due to complications from childbirth.  Tallulah was named after her grandmother who got her name from Tallulah Falls in Georgia.
    Bankhead grew up in a world of excess.  She spent most of her childhood with her grandparents in Jasper, AL, the home of Tallulah Brewing Company, but also spent time between her aunt’s house and an apartment in Washington, D.C.  Her famously raspy voice came from the chronic bronchitis that she suffered as a child and although she would eventually become one of America’s most famous sex symbols, Bankhead was an overweight child who cared little about her looks.  As she developed into a teenager, and with encouragement from her aunt, Bankhead began to care more about her image and, at the age of 15, she submitted her photo for a movie role and won the part.  Interestingly, she didn’t realize this at the time as she didn’t send her name and address along with the photo but she eventually saw her picture in a magazine along with the caption “Who is she?”.
    Bankhead relocated to New York City and moved into the Algonquin Hotel, a location known for its wild parties.  She was hired to work in six silent movies and then made her stage debut in The Squab Farm at the Bijou Theater in 1919.  She instantly took to the life of an actress, mingled with some of the day’s biggest stars, landed many roles in films and stage plays, and also let her rebellious streak soar.  Coming from a very conservative Southern area, Bankhead quickly developed a reputation for partying, using drugs and being extremely open about her bisexuality.  Before her move to New York, Bankhead’s father warned her against the dangers of alcohol and men but, as she later put it, “he didn’t say anything about women and cocaine”.  Although she never officially identified her sexual orientation, Bankhead did once describe herself as “ambisextrous”.  
    Bankhead would become one of the first American celebrities to be popularly known by just her first name and nearly all modern representations of “flapper girls” are inspired by her work.  She was considered to be an excellent actress and as her career progressed, she only got better.  Bankhead was tremendously witty and wasn’t afraid to take chances on stage, even if she ended up looking foolish.  She was, of course, also quite beautiful and landed parts in many movies and stage plays throughout the 1920s and 1930s, including during an eight-year stint in London.  Her first true taste of fame came from her part in the play They Knew What They Wanted which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1925.  
    During her short-lived Hollywood film career, she worked in four major movies alongside some of the industry’s most famous men including Cary Grant and Gary Cooper, all of whom she allegedly had affairs with.  None of the movies found much success, however, and in 1933 Bankhead moved back to the world of Broadway.  Shortly after, she almost died during an emergency hysterectomy brought on by a venereal disease, an event that sent her back to Alabama to recuperate.  After her recovery, Bankhead would bounce around the world for a few years, taking on roles in plays that found little acclaim.  
    David O. Selznick, the producer of Gone With the Wind, declared her to be his top choice to play Scarlet O’Hara but, at age 36, it was determined that she was too old for the part.  Although she probably missed out on the role of a lifetime, Bankhead’s career would blossom immediately afterwards as she hit it big with the movies The Little Foxes (1939), The Skin of our Teeth (1942) and with Alfred Hitchcock’s classic The Lifeboat (1944).  She became an international superstar who was just as famous for her remarkable acting as for her scandalous affairs but her pill-popping, heavy smoking, drinking and drug use also took a toll on her career.  Throughout the 1950s, Bankhead took on theater roles, movie parts and, at age 48, even revived her career as the emcee of the award-winning NBC show titled The Big Show.
    By the 1950s and 1960, Tallulah Bankhead’s career was fading out, and so was her health.  She passed away in Manhattan at the age of 68 and allegedly used her last words to call for a bottle of codeine and a bottle of bourbon.  Although she is still famous for her wild lifestyle, sexual exploits and casual use of profanity, Bankhead is also regarded as a pioneer in women’s rights, gay rights and sexual freedom.  By the time of her passing, she was considered to be one of the greatest stage actresses in history and had played nearly 300 roles on film, stage, radio and television.

     From the Brewer: American brown porter with a lighter malt body than traditional English Porters. A dark brown pour with a soft smoky flavor and tan head. ABV 5.1%, IBU 32

     Josh Bagwell - Managing Member; Drew Gilbert - Managing Member; Danny Bagwell, Wilson Bagwell, Denise Gilbert, Lisa Gilbert & Devin Gilbert - Members

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Tallulah Bankhead in the play Dark Victory, 1935