The house that Bankhead built
by Jennifer Cohron
Mar 10, 2013 | 1466 views | 0 0 comments | 21 21 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Jennifer Cohron
Jennifer Cohron
There is a rather modern idea that journalists are supposed to be void of all bias.

I have never been a very good journalist.

I am a writer, and writing is personal. I can’t imagine making a career out of collecting facts and passing them off as stories without exhibiting any thought, discretion or dare I say, passion.

I guess that’s why I gravitate toward features.

When writing hard news, I try very hard to follow the “just the facts, ma’am” mold. Features allow me to put my heart into my work.

All beats are important and certainly worthy of my best effort. However, to put it plainly, some are just more fun.

The Bankhead House and Heritage Center falls into that category.

I love that house.

I have walked every square inch of it dozens of times. I have invested a piece of myself in its beautiful walls, floors and fireplaces.

If there were ever a threat of it being torn down, I would run upstairs, throw on Tallulah’s furs and chain myself to the banister.

I don’t generally let this be known, but Tallulah and I are besties.

(Yes, I am aware that she has been dead for about 45 years.)

I was introduced to Tallulah as a young Lucy fan. After years of just showing “I Love Lucy,” WTTO 21 finally added “The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour” to its rotation.

Tallulah Bankhead was the special guest star for the second episode.

There’s a great line in the dinner scene when Lucy explains that Ricky is from Cuba, and Tallulah replies, “Yes, I had the feeling he wasn’t from Alabama.”

Only later did I realize that Tallulah was an Alabama girl like me, and it was years before I discovered her ties to Jasper.

I visited the display of some of her stuff when it was at Bevill State Community College several years ago. It was in a small, dimly-lit case tucked away at the back of a building — hardly worthy of a diva.

Now she has her own beautiful room in the house built by her father and where she was married in 1937.

I have a ritual that amuses the few who know about it.

I step into Tallulah’s room every time I am at the Bankhead House.

Even if it’s just for a second, I feel that I must pay my respects to her boozing, chain-smoking spirit in the corner.

Actually, I don’t believe in ghosts, but the Bankhead House does take on a different character at night.

Once I walked through the house with Paul Kennedy as he was turning out the lights and checking the doors. A spooky aura seemed to settle over a house that I had previously only known as warm and inviting.

I reminded myself that there was no need to worry because Tallulah and I are tight. Still, if I had heard ice clink in a glass upstairs, I would have vamoosed out the back door.

I always enter and exit through the back.

Coming in through the front is the best way to get the grand effect, but I just like the back better.

Maybe it’s because the back door is usually reserved for family, and I like feeling that I’m a part of the Bankhead family in some small way.

I will always cherish the memory of walking into the “Timeless Toys” exhibit last year and seeing Wyatt’s first Build-A-Bear, which I had loaned on his behalf.

They also used a picture that Zac took of Wyatt supervising me dressing the bear in the toy store.

I’ve covered nearly a dozen exhibits at the Bankhead House in the past two years. Being part of one alongside my son meant more to me than I can express.

That’s the real beauty of the Bankhead House.

Its previous tenants were high-ranking politicians and raucous celebrities.

Now the doors are open to anyone who desires to celebrate Walker County’s rich heritage.

To paraphrase Miss Bankhead, if you really want to help your hometown, “don’t be an actress, dahling. Be an audience.”