MINNEAPOLIS -- Sandra Ryan Heyward grew up in the pampered neighborhoods of Beverly Hills that sported some of Hollywood's biggest stars.
But when she decided to write her first play, she based her script on a stage and screen legend she had never met.
The resulting creation -- "Tallulah," inspired by the life and times of "bad girl" Tallulah Bankhead -- opens this weekend for an eight-performance run at the Historic State Theatre in downtown Minneapolis.
Bankhead -- who billed herself as "pure as the driven slush" -- stormed her way through show business' limelight for 40 years, starting in the 1920s.
She became a major entertainment figure, despite her well-documented -- and self-confessed -- escapades with booze, sex and drugs.
"Tallulah is one of the few stars of the time I didn't know personally," the playwright said in an interview this week. "Coming from Hollywood, I grew up among a lot of (movie and theater) stars, but Tallulah seemed to be the quintessential star.
"She is inextricably entwined in our culture, in our language some how," Heyward said. "'Hello daaaahling!' is what we will always remember."
A one-woman show, "Tallulah" stars Kathleen Turner, the '90s version of a stage and screen siren, fresh from critical success on the London stage as Mrs. Robinson in the latest version of "The Graduate."
With the Minneapolis performances, "Tallulah" opens an 11-city tour over the next several months, before moving to a yet-to-be-named Broadway theater, the playwright said.
"I had Kathleen in mind when I wrote the play," Heyward said of the production's single cast member. "She is the very best Tallulah you can imagine and she's lovely to work with."
An award-winning stage and screen actress, Turner saw the script soon after its completion and jumped at the chance to reprise the Hollywood vixen, known for her late-night antics, as well as her acting skills.
"I couldn't ask for a better person to do this show than Kathleen," the author said. "Above all else, she is an actress and she really is far better on the stage than you can imagine."
Turner has starred in dozens of major Hollywood film productions -- "Body Heat" and "Romancing the Stone" come immediately to mind -- while achieving critical success on the stage.
She was nominated for a Tony Award, for example, in 1990 for her performance in "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof."
"You will see a great performance, and hopefully a great play," Heyward said.
A former journalist and television producer, Heyward was reared in the Hollywood scene, thanks to her father, Phillip Klein, a stage and film producer, director and writer.
He produced several Shirley Temple and "Charlie Chan" movies, following a career as a New York theatrical producer, following in the footsteps of his own father and grandfather, Heyward said.
The author said "Tallulah" is "not a biography, not Tallulah per se, but the essence of a star," culling its action and dialogue from an imaginary experience in Bankhead's life.
The play unfolds from Bankhead's New York home in 1947, during the presidential campaign featuring Truman and Dewey.
Bankhead, whose father was once speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, is hosting a fund raiser for then-President Truman, in keeping with her party-girl reputation.
But Truman bails out at the last minute and Bankhead goes into an emotional tailspin, revealing her "essence" as a strong and independent woman, according to the script.
Tickets for "Tallulah" are $12.50-$49.50 and are available by calling (612) 673-0404. Most performances start at 8 p.m., with two matinees.
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