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4.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating footnote in the history of films and Hollywood; a very good read, November 9, 2012
This review is from: The Entertainer: Movies, Magic, and My Father's Twentieth Century (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. 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
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