The Big Show was an NBC house-built package and an innovation in show business deriving its name from the fact that the talent roster each week included “the biggest names in show business.” Bob Hope, Groucho Marx, Phil Harris, the Andrews Sisters, Milton Berle, Judy Holliday, Jimmy Durante, Eddie Cantor and many others were heard on the program — along with hostess Tallulah Bankhead. It was not until the rehearsal of the premiere broadcast that Bankhead discovered the program was cleverly scheduled in an effort to kill the radio career of Jack Benny, who jumped networks for a shareholder deal.
The Big Show was also a financial loss for NBC beginning from day one. To offset the lack of sponsor interest, the network purposely made the weekly program one lengthy commercial promoting their business interests, from RCA television to RCA recording artists. Ethel Merman, for example, appeared on the program multiple times, reprising a dramatic scene from her current Broadway musical, Call Me Madame, which NBC was fifty percent vested.
Since many books already paint a livid portrait of Tallulah Bankhead, this book primarily documents the history of NBC’s The Big Show, broadcast from 1950 to 1952, with briefs fosucing on the life and career of Tallulah Bankhead as it pertained to references on the radio program. This book also includes never-before-published photographs, details about the 1952 television rendition, and a reprint of her 1950 talent contract with NBC.