Stephanie Powers was 19 going on 20 when she met Tallulah Bankhead on the set of Die! Die! My Darling in 1964.
Little did Powers know that the film would begin an interesting friendship and lead to an even more interesting twist many years later…
1. It was a genre movie.
The success of Joan Crawford and Bette Davis’ What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? spawned a new “psycho-biddy” genre in which Old Hollywood played unstable and sometimes killer women (Strait-Jacket, What Ever Happened to Aunt Alice, and The Night Walker). Die! Die! was released in 1965, only three years after Davis and Crawford’s hit.
2. The title changed “across the pond."
Hammer Productions, known for horror films such as Horror of Dracula and The Curse of Frankenstein, released the film as Fanatic for British audiences.
The name changed for American audiences in part due to the success of Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte. “Darling” was a nod to Tallulah Bankhead, known for saying “Dah-ling” all the time.
3. Bankhead’s casting inspired additions.
Based on Nightmare by Anne Blaisdell, Hammer beefed up the role for Bankhead, even adding that her character was once an actress. They also drew themes from A Streetcar Named Desire, a play which Bankhead actually led in 1955.
4. Bankhead’s personality was big on and off the screen.
Director Silvio Narizzano remembered that Bankhead was “amenable” and “ready to rehearse,” though she sometimes threw an occasional tantrum. During off hours, they would sometimes play poker at her hotel. According to Stefanie Powers, Tallulah didn’t like to wear underpants, which surprised the crew on more than one occasion.
5. Bankhead did her own stunt.
The script called for Tallulah to drag Stefanie down the stairs. Originally, a stuntman wearing stockings was going to do the move, but after seeing him in costume, the 62-year old Bankhead changed her mind. So she mustered the strength and performed it herself. Of course, Powers hit a few steps along the way.
6. Powers and Bankhead didn’t hit it off at first.
“There was a very big age difference, of course, so we didn’t exactly hang out together while we were in the U.K. making the movie. But in the years that followed she did offer her friendship,” said Powers.
Interestingly, Tallulah always called Stephanie “Patricia,” her character’s name, even after filming ended.
7. Powers played Tallulah on stage.
Stephanie Powers played Bankhead on Broadway in “Looped,” a play which is based on the true experience of Bankhead recording audio for Die! Die! My Darling in the summer of 1965. The role was originated by Valerie Harper, Powers friend. More on that story here.