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The Entertainer: Movies, Magic, and My Father's Twentieth Centuryby Margaret Talbot
Synopses & Reviews
Using the life and career of her father, an early Hollywood actor, New Yorker writer Margaret Talbot tells the thrilling story of the rise of popular culture through a transfixing personal lens. The arc of Lyle Talbot’s career is in fact the story of American entertainment. Born in 1902, Lyle left his home in small-town Nebraska in 1918 to join a traveling carnival. From there he became a magician’s assistant, an actor in a traveling theater troupe, a romantic lead in early talkies, then an actor in major Warner Bros. pictures with stars such as Humphrey Bogart and Carole Lombard, then an actor in cult B movies, and finally a part of the advent of television, with regular roles on The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet and Leave It to Beaver. Ultimately, his career spanned the entire trajectory of the industry.
In her captivating, impeccably researched narrative—a charmed combination of Hollywood history, social history, and family memoir—Margaret Talbot conjures warmth and nostalgia for those earlier eras of ’10s and ’20s small-town America, ’30s and ’40s Hollywood. She transports us to an alluring time, simpler but also exciting, and illustrates the changing face of her father’s America, all while telling the story of mass entertainment across the first half of the twentieth century.
"A staff writer with the New Yorker, the author remembers her father, the actor Lyle Talbot (1902 — 1996), with much fondness in this combination biography and autobiography. As she traces his life and career, a huge tapestry of American mass entertainment and popular culture is unfurled as a backdrop: 'Zelig-like, he'd been present at so many of its transformative moments.' Thus, she detours into such areas as sideshows, dance marathons, tent shows in Tornado Alley, the hypnotism craze of the 1890s to the early 1920s, the 1939 World's Fair, Production Code censorship, and the 'vinegary put-downs' of the 'brassily vulgar' pre-Code movies. Lyle left smalltown Nebraska in 1918 to join a carnival, was a magician's assistant, traveled with a theater troupe, and launched his own theater company, the Talbot Players, in Memphis before his 1932 arrival in Hollywood. He rarely turned down a job, so he did everything: romantic leads, elegant gangsters, and cowboys, appearing on Broadway (Separate Rooms) and in movie serials (Atom Man vs. Superman), exploitation films (Glen or Glenda), radio (Hollywood Footlights), TV (The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet), and Lincoln Center (South Pacific). Talbot's life provides a springboard for an evocative 'magic lantern of memory' by his daughter: 'Stories were the soft golden net that enmeshed us. My father's stories.' In the end, Talbot has created a fluid time-travel flight on the wings of cinema." Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
About the Author
Margaret Talbot has been a staff writer for The New Yorker since 2003. Previously, she was a contributing writer at The New York Times Magazine and an editor at The New Republic. She lives in Washington, D.C.
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Arts and Entertainment » Film and Television » Actors » Biographies