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The Entertainer: Movies, Magic, and My Father's Twentieth Century

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  • Posted November 10, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    The Entertainer┬┐ covers a large swatch of twentieth century ente

    The Entertainer… covers a large swatch of twentieth century entertainment as history and also a biography of the author’s father, Lyle Talbot.  It’s quite obvious that Margaret was deeply fond of her father, although her grandmother didn’t quite like the influence he had on his daughter.  But the tales she heard from her Dad clearly fascinated her and made her realize that the history of entertaining was one to share with the world because of its unique evolution over time and with the additional development of new technologies so rapidly occurring during the 20th Century.
    To begin with the reader is introduced to the world of the “story” as her father shared events and characters galore in his long career; he was already sixty when his daughter was born.  This is the world we learn began with side shows, circuses, traveling stage shows, hypnotists with real and criminal skills, silent screen movies, “talkies,” big screen movies, and so much more until one gets the full picture that just also includes America’s development.  An interesting part that is sometimes unrecognized is how much small rural towns contributed to the spread of entertainment, whether it was good or bad.  The monotony of life led to a demand for such entertainment which also served as morality plays, stories in which common people could identify with similar characters, and just downright plain silliness to lighten the financial and work burdens of most Americans. At times the entertainment was quite bawdy and probably should have been banned but wasn’t as there was little preoccupation with ratings in the 1920s and 1930s and even later.
    Then we read about Lyle Talbot’s career which spanned every type of possible acting from gangsters and romance stories to cowboy tales and more.  Lyle Talbot never really made it big in the sense of his own performance but certainly worked with the “big” names in the industry, from Mae West to Clark Gable and more.  He also acted in well-known TV serials and actually performed in Hollywood and New York great shows, including Lincoln Center. A multitude of famous and not so well-known films are listed with leading and minor actors and actresses. 
    Margaret Talbot prefers to focus more on the varying talents of her father and other actors and actresses.  While she glosses over the difficulties of such a lifestyle, including her father’s weakness for less than savory women and absence because of constant traveling that goes with the job, she does create in the reader the sense that acting skills had to change as well as the means by which entertainment was offered.  She tells some funny stories about how her father flubbed certain performances such as when he was supposed to feign a punch on another character but wound up knocking him out and more like this account.
    This is a book for any person with even the faintest interest in entertainment, whether that be in pre-movie entertainment, movies, TV movies and serial shows, and the theater.  All in all, Margaret Talbot has offered a panoramic history and depiction that should be required reading for everyone in the industry and those who love the same for all the reasons so obvious in Margaret Talbot’s tribute to one of the greatest industries in the world!

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  • Posted January 28, 2013

    If you love anything about old Hollywood, read this book. Not

    If you love anything about old Hollywood, read this book. Not only do you find out about Lyle Talbot, but you get a glimpse at the other star of the Talbot family. A surprise to me and extremely interesting. Margaret Talbot gives little if any dirt about Hollywood, which I found refreshing. Hollywood in the 30's was interesting enough without that. First book I read on my Nook.

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  • Posted January 17, 2013

    While the former carnie hustler and stage actor on the Midwester

    While the former carnie hustler and stage actor on the Midwestern circuit never became a star despite a contract at Warners playing opposite Bette Davis, Humphrey Bogart and Mae West, he worked steadily in a chaotic profession. Now, forgotten by all but movie buffs his daughter, “New Yorker” reporter Margaret Talbot, has written “The Entertainer: Movies, Magic and My Father’s Twentieth Century,” an anecdote-stuffed, affectionate portrait of a sweet man and the culture that shaped and fed him. I borrowed a copy from the library, and for sheer entertainment value, it’s one of the best biographies I’ve read in a long time.

    On screen, his best work was in gritty pre-censorship melodramas such as “20,000 Years in Sing Sing.” After he lost his contract in the mid-‘30s, he survived by taking every job. After the war, it was exploitation movies that warned of juvenile delinquency and the menace of marijuana. He appeared in no less than three Ed Wood movies, including “Plan 9 from Outer Space.” But television suited his talents the best. With his jowly boxer’s face and daddy’s pot belly, he looked like everyone’s friendly neighbor, and he played that role for a decade opposite Ozzie Nelson.

    His successful late marriage and the arrival of his children shifts “The Entertainer” from history to memoir. We learn about his grooming habits, that he loved circuses, gadgets, carnies and sharp clothes. He even learn something of his character; when his wife sued for divorce and took the kids, he stopped drinking and won her back. They stayed married for nearly 40 years, until her death.

    This makes for a wonderful life, but a dull biography, so Margaret wisely cast her father in an ensemble that includes Hollywood producers, strippers, mobsters, and the aforementioned Wood. Their lives and stories dominate the picture. All Lyle has to do is be himself and be charming. The result is a vivid portrait of a common actor and the exciting, wonderful, weird times he lived in.

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  • Posted October 21, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    Entertainer, Husband, Father

    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. This book provided for review by Library Thing.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 18, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

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