21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on November 9, 2012
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. There are many fascinating little sidetrip stories about folks like Montgomery, Mae West, Humphrey Bogart, the contentious and crude Warner Brothers, and many lesser known figures of the film industry. And then there are the TV connections from later in Lyle Talbot's career where he became a busy stock character actor in many shows and series. Because he was a guy who wanted to work, and wasn't picky about his roles. There are oodles of B-movies in his filmography, gangster flicks and westerns and even a couple of Ed Wood films. Never an outright star, Lyle Talbot was still a well-known figure, in stage, screen and TV. He was married four times, and Margaret, her sister and two brothers were all the products of his fourth and final marriage to a woman 26 years his junior, a marriage that lasted for forty years, finally bringing Talbot's alcoholism under control. The author, who was the youngest of the four Talbot children, remembers a wonderful, loving and committed father. He was nearly 60 when Margaret was born, but she shares the advantages of having an 'old father,' mostly in all the stories he had to tell, with elements of the history of the 20th century running through them.
The television part of Lyle's career was also interesting to me, especially his long run as a bit player in "The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet." (Rick Nelson was one of my own first 'idols' of show biz.) And there was her oldest brother Stephen's juvenile acting career as the Beav's pal Gilbert on "Leave It to Beaver."
This was a great book for anyone who would enjoy a new slant on the history of film and TV, a personalized ground-level point of view which is extremely well written. Yeah, Margaret, your daddy would be proud.
Note: I read an Advanced Reader Copy of the book, which did not contain a filmography. I sincerely hope the finished book will include an appendix listing all of Lyle Talbot's stage, screen and TV roles. I for one would enjoy perusing it.
- Tim Bazzett, author of the memoir BOOKLOVER
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on November 10, 2012
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.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
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.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on December 4, 2012
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.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on March 22, 2013
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!
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on January 26, 2013
I might have overlooked this book on two counts. 1. I generally don't care for biographies written by family members as the close relationship makes it difficult for the author to treat their subject with any kind of objectivity. 2. Who is Lyle Talbot again? Luckily, I happened to pick up a copy of the New Yorker at the doctor's office and the excerpt made me immediately order the book from amazon. And I'm glad I did. In the past year I've read biographies of Myrna Loy, Spencer Tracy and Humphrey Bogart and while they were all interesting reads, this was by far the better book. Lyle Talbot was not a big enough star or even mid-level movie actor to have left behind a huge footprint, so his daughter has filled in his story with a history of the entertainment industry as it transitioned from traveling players to nightly television, and she weaves his story in with this history in a very readable fashion. Was Talbot objective in her analysis of her Dad and his life? Maybe, maybe not, but I had great fun the other night watching him in 1933's "The Life of Jimmy Dolan," and I will be looking for him in other movies in the future. And I'll also keep an eye out for his daughter's publications.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on November 19, 2012
Margaret Talbot's "The Entertainer" is that rare Hollywood book that manages to mix nostalgia, memoir, social history and biography. A staff writer for The New Yorker magazine, Talbot manages to pull this off in part because she is such a fine writer. But she also combines the skills of a family historian -- this is the story of her father, after all -- with the perspective and insights of an experienced journalist. The result is a book that is informative, engaging, revealing, and at times, very moving. And what material she has to work with! Her actor father Lyle Talbot's career spanned nearly the entire 20th century and he acted in almost every facet of show business from tent theater companies in the old Midwest to Warner Bros. in the '30s, Broadway in the '40s, television in the '50s and '60s and beyond, and back to the stage. The author concentrates on Talbot's early years touring the Midwest and his brush with movie stardom during the Depression working with everyone from Bette Davis to Humphrey Bogart, Shirley Temple to Mae West. If I have one criticism of the book it's that it races through the latter years of Lyle Talbot's career when he was a ubiquitous presence on television as a character actor of many faces. Throughout the book, his daughter chronicles her father's extraordinary romantic life with actresses, chorus girls and lesser mortals, and his battle with alcohol, before being saved by a much younger fifth wife, Paula, with whom he had 4 remarkable children (three of them are journalists, the fourth a medical doctor). The author grew up as the youngest child listening to her father's stories of his charmed life, and he could not have passed them down to a more gifted chronicler.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on December 25, 2012
Excellent well-written book that is a part biography of actor Lyle Talbot, and part, a look at the history of entertainment in the 20th century. Talbot is well known for some great pre-code films like Three on a Match and was under contract at Warner's Brothers for many years. He never broke the rank to become a leading man but was usually the second lead. The book explores his ties to establishing the Screen Actors Guild as part of his not being able to reach the "star" category but also considers that he just didn't quite have the personality of a Gable or Cooper to get to the upper echolon of film stardom. The book also details his early years with a carnival, a hypnotist's assistant, and the theatre. After films, Talbot made numerous television appearances and in fact, was able to earn his living as an actor his entire life, never having to wait tables or take other work. A well known Hollywood womanizer and heavy drinker, against the odds, Talbot was 46 when he married his fourth wife who was just 20. This lady gave Talbot the stability he had been seeking his entire life and they had 4 children, who in being interviewed for the book, all have happy memories of their father. This lady also gave the ultimatum that if he didn't stop drinking, she would leave him. He did. I think the book portrays a man who lived well and loved well but also knew what he had to do to get the peace and security he had been seeking his entire life. The book is well written by Talbot's daughter and provides a great look at how the entertainment industry evolved in the 20th century and a honest look at her father and his career.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
If the name of Lyle Talbot doesn't ring a bell, it's not because he didn't try to get your attention. He was a carnival barker and wandering trouper in the '20s, a relatively famous actor in Hollywood in the '30s, on Broadway in the '40s, on TV sitcoms in the '50s and '60s, and in stage productions in the '80s. He died in 1996 after a long and busy life integrated into what seems like a history of twentieth century American entertainment. This is what makes _The Entertainer: Movies, Magic, and My Father's Twentieth Century_ (Riverhead Books) so valuable. It is written by his daughter, Margaret Talbot, a staff writer for _The New Yorker_, who says it is not a biography, although it is as close as Lyle Talbot is ever going to get, I suppose. It is an affectionate tribute to her father, incorporating lots of his stories; the author writes, "My father was not a listener. He was a talker. A storyteller." The book has plenty of funny anecdotes, but wonderfully summarizes the changing realms of entertainment into which this hard-working actor injected himself.
Talbot was born in 1902, and became a carnival barker at age seventeen, and then an assistant to a stage hypnotist and a magician. He started acting in plays, in an era in which good looks and personality were becoming more important than elocution or grandiosity, and when young people were a target audience. He loved the traveling theater, but an agent saw him in Dallas and summoned him to Hollywood. He worked the Warner Brothers schedule for contract players, making movies six days a week, often twelve hours a day, making twelve movies in 1933. He costarred with Spencer Tracy, Shirley Temple, Mae West, Humphrey Bogart, Barbara Stanwyck, and plenty more. He loved the work, but it was excessive; he and a score of other actors formed the Screen Actors Guild, which grew into a powerful Union. He never gained the stardom of those other names. The author thinks it was just a matter of chance; the odds of becoming a star are tiny even if you have everything going for you. He never turned down a job, ever. If he was given a part, he did it. (The lack of pickiness may have been one reason he didn't go further.) This meant that he acted in serials (he was the first movie Lex Luthor) and that he was in a couple of Ed Wood's bizarrely bad films. He had a good, dependable ten-year role as the next-door neighbor in "The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet."
Talbot gave credit to his fifth wife, Paula, the author's mother, whom he married in 1948 when she was 20 and he was 46. It was an enormously successful marriage. She was able to get Talbot to see the wisdom of joining Alcoholics Anonymous. He worked steadily and he was an exemplary husband and father. The marriage lasted forty sustaining years, until, strangely, Paula died of a brain aneurism and strokes, leaving the eighty-seven year old a widower. He was bereft, and died himself seven years later in 1996. He sounds like such a lovable character in this account and memoir. He didn't get the sort of stardom a few others achieve in Hollywood. His daughter reflects: "If he had a credo, it was a credo of entertaining. You owed something to the people who came to see you. You did a job for them. You kept working for as long as you could, with as much love as you could muster. That didn't make him the best actor, and it didn't make him a star, but it made him a lifelong working actor." That's not too shabby. And even more that that, he eventually had a long-term marriage with children who loved and appreciated him. Not everyone in Hollywood manages such things. This loving and vivid account ought to get him posthumous stardom at least for that.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Lyle Talbot is not a household word, but he was the stock in trade of the entertainment business. While they might not be able to name him, many viewers would recognize him as a character actor in the 1930's on. Lyle studied his craft and participated in all the entertainment venues of the times. In The Entertainer, his daughter, Margaret Talbot, reviews his life and the entertainment industry in its many facets.
Lyle grew up in the Midwest. He got his start in entertainment as a teenager, when he started touring with carnivals and repertory troupes. In these years before movies became popular, there were many of these groups touring town to town, bringing entertainment to those whose lives didn't offer much otherwise. From this experience, he learned to be a professional; to always come with lines learned and on time, to make sure the show would always go on.
In the 1930's, Lyle got the call to Hollywood. With his clean-cut looks and tailored elegance, he was touted as the next leading man. That didn't happen, but he worked for decades in the movies and rubbed shoulders with such names as Clark Gable, Pat O'Brien, Loretta Young, and Mae West. Lyle was a man about town, known for his romantic life as well as for his acting. He was also one of the original twenty-four actors who started the Screen Actors Guild, as a protest against the grueling work schedule expected of actors at the time.
Like many actors, Lyle found it hard to resist the lure of Broadway. He left Hollywood and worked in one of the longest running plays around the time of World War II. He also spent his summers throughout his life doing summer stock to keep up with the world of live theatre.
When television grew up, Lyle transitioned to it. He became a regular on the Ozzie and Harriett show, one of the most popular early shows. He played the next door neighbor. One of his sons, Stephen, played another familiar character. He was one of Jerry Mathis's friends on Leave It To Beaver.
Margaret Talbot has written a fascinating, well-researched book about her father's life and about the various forms of the entertainment world. She tells the good as well as the bad about her father, but there is no doubt she loved this kind man who spent his life bringing joy to others. This book is recommended to those interested in the early days of Hollywood and television, as well as those interested in the life of an actor.