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The Entertainer: Movies, Magic, and My Father's Twentieth Century Hardcover – November 8, 2012

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Lyle Talbot (1902–96) was a familiar face on big and small screens, an actor you would recognize even if you couldn’t name him. He was a regular on The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet; he did guest-star turns on Newhart and St. Elsewhere; and he costarred with such notables as Bogart, Tracy, and Lombard. Talbot, who had also been a carnival barker and a hypnotist’s assistant—was nearly 60 when the author, his daughter, was born—and so the book is much more a traditional biography than many memoirs written by celebrity offspring. It’s also better written than most of them, Margaret being an experienced journalist with no axe to grind or bad memories to exorcize. She writes about her father with great fondness, remembering him as a sweet man, a “something will turn up” optimist. He was a product of the Hollywood studio system, a working actor, never a star. And, yet, because he worked during Hollywood’s golden era, his story is also Hollywood’s story, as much the history of Hollywood as it is the biography of one of its less-famous actors. A fascinating slice of movie life. --David Pitt


“Sharp and engaging . . . Talbot père comes across as a sort of Zelig-with-personality, a life-embracing man whose career spans, and illuminates, the first 60 years of the 20th century.”—The New York Times Book Review

"A well-researched and clear-eyed history of the early American entertainment industry told through the perspective of a Zelig-like figure who worked with everyone from Shirley Temple to Mae West to Ed Wood. Talbot fille draws from historical sources as well as her own recollection, and the result is less a walk down memory lane than a gateway to a bygone era."—Entertainment Weekly

“Margaret Talbot’s wry, wonderful new book . . . That Talbot is a writer gifted enough to evoke not just images but their attendant music through her words will come as no surprise to anyone who’s read her in The New Yorker or elsewhere. One of the things The Entertainer makes abundantly clear, though, is that she comes by her aesthetic sense naturally. . . . Talbot has woven a tale as romantic and vivid as any film could hope to be, while still seeing every bit of it plain. She is as clear-eyed about her father as she is about history—no easy feat. . . . [Lyle] never had even a starring role as dazzling as the one his youngest child, with history as her guide, has now written for him.”—Slate

"In The Entertainer: Movies, Magic and My Father's Twentieth Century, New Yorker staff writer Margaret Talbot succeeds at what Hollywood failed to do for her father: She makes him a star. . . . Talbot employs novelistic style in bringing this period to life . . . [and] vividly imagines her way into her father's world. . . . Lyle Talbot had one humdinger of a life story."—Los Angeles Times

"A tender but clear-eyed portrait  . . . Like Lyle, this book is substantial but never heavy, with a sense of humor and an appreciation for the things that make life fun. While it may be true that Lyle Talbot 'led a resolutely unexamined life,' his daughter has written a story that gets to the heart of one of America’s luckier, happier sons."—Boston Globe

“Talbot, a staff writer for The New Yorker, has also accomplished something unusual. There are many books about actors written by their children. This may be the only one that's as much a century-spanning cultural history as a charming, affectionate tribute. . . . Talbot brings '30s Tinseltown to radiant life.”—Newsday

"Deliciously written . . .  [a] gleaming tribute of a book."—More

"A frolicking, applause-worthy memoir."—Good Housekeeping

"New Yorker staff writer Talbot debuts with an affectionate biography of her father, stage, screen and TV actor Lyle Talbot. Mingling memoir and relevant social and cultural history, the author shows how her father’s career in many ways paralleled the changes in the 20th-century entertainment industry. . . . A thorough, lovingly researched paean to a father and a way of life."—Kirkus

“What a wonderful, loving, beautifully researched and touching story this is! Lyle Talbot lived a charmed life—a player's life—from the final days of vaudeville to the golden years of American television. Somehow through it all (the glamour, the hardship, the stardom, the rejection and the many transformations of modernity) he comported himself with a dignity that feels very much out of time to a contemporary reader. His daughter's tender yet clear-headed remembrance of him is a gift and a treasure—and a top-notch documentation of Hollywood history, besides.”—Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat Pray Love 
“The real life of consummate entertainer Lyle Talbot turns out to be his most unforgettable role. He seems to have been part of every stage of the rise of the modern entertainment industry, yet perhaps his greatest fortune was to have his story so beautifully rendered by his daughter. Weaving together cultural history, biography, and delightful backstage accounts, Margaret Talbot has created a classic of narrative nonfiction—one that would have enthralled even the great man himself.”—David Grann, author of The Lost City of Z

“Some people are born storytellers. Some people are born with a story to tell. Margaret Talbot is both. The Entertainer is a gorgeously detailed and relentlessly inventive portrait of her father's adventures in 1930s Hollywood and on the home front.”—Karen Abbot, author of Sin in the Second City
 “Had Margaret Talbot devoted her beguiling prose simply to retelling her father's golden stories of Broadway and Hollywood, The Entertainer would be wonderful. Instead she has entwined those stories with a superb history of what used to be called 'the show business,' and written a brilliant and important book that touches the core of our national experience.”—Sean Wilentz, author of Bob Dylan in America

"In this beautiful book—part memoir, part history—Margaret Talbot tells a family story of the American movie industry."—Deborah Blum, author of The Poisoner's Handbook  


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Books; 1St Edition edition (November 8, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594487065
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594487064
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.3 x 1.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (70 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #556,167 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

21 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Timothy J. Bazzett on November 9, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Margaret Talbot, a regular contributor to The New Yorker magazine, would have made her father proud with her book, THE ENTERTAINER, a tribute not only to her late father, actor LYLE TALBOT, but also to the stage, film and television industry that provided him and his family with a living.

I've been reading Talbot's New Yorker pieces for some years now, and her latest was one on her father and the film industry, which was actually an abbreviated sort of mash-up summary of this this book. I like the way she writes, and the magazine piece whetted my appetite for the book. But I have a confession to make. I had confused her father with another character actor named Lyle - Lyle Betger. But it turned out it didn't matter. THE ENTERTAINER is an extremely entertaining read. It documents not only the high (and low) points of her father's long career in show biz (from the 1910s well into the 1980s - Lyle Talbot was born in 1902), but also the development and growth of film and television. Talbot has done her research and it shows. She even documents the birth of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), of which her father was a founding member, throwing in some delicious details about how the mob tried to get a piece of that action, but failed, mainly due to the efforts of another early SAG member, Robert Montgomery of all people. I remember his very high-class early TV show, Robert Montgomery Presents. And of course nearly everyone remembers his busy daughter of TV's "Bewitched" fame, Elizabeth Montgomery. (This part, about unionizing actors, was the only part of the book which I thought dragged on perhaps just a little too long.)

Talbot tells you from the start that this is not a simple bio of her father, and it's not.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Lisa Shafer on November 10, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I won an ARC of this book on a goodreads giveaway.
However, other than a few minor flaws that I assume were corrected for the "real" book, this was wonderful!
I am not a film buff, nor did I even know who Lyle Talbot was when I began reading. But the author weaves the history of 20th Century entertainment around her father's life story in a fascinating way. The man was in carnivals, hypnotists' shows, traveling theater companies, silent movies, talkies, B-movies (He was in "Plan 9 From Outer Space," the worst movie ever made!), and early sit-coms.
Yes, this book is a tribute to a well-loved father, but it's also history. And it's not just about entertainment. Talbot does a good job of covering women's roles, men's roles, alcoholism, organized crime, and attitudes toward sex.
I found this book fascinating and plan to buy a few copies to give to family members who will appreciate it.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Ronald T. Roseborough VINE VOICE on November 8, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Margaret Talbot writes a fine tribute to her father, Lyle Talbot and Hollywood as seen through his eyes. Lyle never attained star status, but he was a very competent actor who enthusiastically took every acting job he was offered and played it with skill and professionalism. He had cut his teeth during the 1920's traveling in small theater shows that crisscrossed the Midwest. In the 1930's Lyle was an experienced stage actor, but a novice in the films being made in Hollywood. His stage credits came in handy, however, as the films were just beginning to talk. Lyle and Hollywood grew together. He got progressively better roles and a contract with Warner Brothers. He became close friends and drinking buddies with many of the stars of the Golden Age of Hollywood. The book also recounts Lyle's fight to win more rights and benefits for actors as he helps establish the Screen Actor's Guild. He also battled with alcohol, finally winning with the help of his fourth wife, Margaret Epple. They would be married for over forty years and be blessed with four children, before death separated them. Margaret Talbot writes a loving memoir, at times very warm and intimate, while at other times very scholarly. Highly recommended for any devotee of the silver screen and its mystique.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on December 4, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This book benefits from both serendipity and skill. The author, a journalist, has a descriptive, conversational style that's extremely engaging, and sometimes the prose is so good that I had to pause a moment and admire it. The serendipity is that she was born to a much older father, Lyle Talbot, whose acting career covered much of the country and most of the time period that is the foundation for cultural mores and attitudes today. Mr. Talbot kept notes, scrapbooks, photos and letters, and of course his daughter had access to the source, as well. As a journalist, she also brings her research skills to bear. The result is one of the best books I've ever read. Every time I open it, I feel like I'm traveling back in time.

Don't hesitate to get the Kindle version. The photos are extraordinary, and can be enlarged by double tapping.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Joel Canfield on March 22, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This is the second book in a row I've read where the main subject matter was overwhelmed by overlong, overdetailed history lessons (the other being the new book "The Searchers" by Glenn Frankel). Frustrating, because both books had a lot to offer and were written by talented writers. I can understand why publishers wouldn't be clamoring to put out a straight biography of Lyle Talbot, certainly not the best known actor of his generation (but one I still remember fondly, if only from TV shows of the 60's) - so there was most likely a need to create a bigger context to justify this book. But there were several sections, such as when the author went on and on about the popularity of hypnotist acts in the early 1900's, that had me skipping pages at an alarming rate. The parts of the book I did enjoy were the ones that dealt directly with the author's father's life and career, and her relationship with him. It would actually be great to read a stripped down version of this book that focused on that narrative - I did feel as though the author was straining to make the book more significant than it had to be by dealing at length with all the extra historical material. But I enjoy her New Yorker articles and I enjoyed MOST of this book!
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