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

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

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by Margaret Talbot
     
 

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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 aSee more details below

Overview

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.

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Editorial Reviews

The Washington Post
Margaret Talbot grew up in thrall to her father's storytelling, typically about his career, which stretched from carnivals and circuses to traveling theater troupes to Hollywood in the 1930s and television in the 1950s and even to acting for the touchingly inept, cross-dressing indie filmmaker Ed Wood. The Entertainer is not so much a life of Lyle as a showcase for his tales, which combine with Margaret's research to form a charming and informative panorama of 20th-century American popular culture…The Entertainer does indeed entertain…
—Dennis Drabelle
Publishers Weekly
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. (Nov.)
David Grann
"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
From the Publisher
“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

“This is simply one of the best books ever written about this era of show business and the people who populated that world. It is essential for anyone interested in film and theater history, in the social history of the 20th century, or simply in a fascinating story remarkably told.”—Library Journal

"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

"An endearing and insightful portrait of an actor and a father—and of a country that always enjoyed the thrill of being entertained."—The Associated Press

"A fascinating social history of America...at the same time, a warm father/daughter story."—USA Today

"The Entertainer, as much astute cultural history as biography, explored not only the passion to entertain, but also our changing relationship with entertainment itself, from small-town magic acts to gangster films to such 1950s cheese as Plan 9 From Outer Space to TV sitcoms. . . . Thanks to this wonderful book, it turns out that Lyle Talbot is indelible, not in pictures but in words."—The Washingtonian

“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  

 

Library Journal
A New Yorker staff writer, Talbot takes a personal approach to telling the story of popular culture in early 20th-century America. She memorializes her father, Lyle Talbot, born in Nebraska in 1902, who became a magician's assistant, actor with a traveling theater troupe, romantic lead in early talkies, character actor in big Warner films, and, finally, a TV regular. Lots of in-house excitement for this one.
Kirkus Reviews
New Yorker staff writer Talbot debuts with an affectionate biography of her father, stage, screen and TV actor Lyle Talbot (1902–1996). 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. Born in Brainard, Neb., Lyle Talbot was raised by his grandmother in a rooming house/hotel catering to traveling salesmen. Stage-struck, the talented young man began as a magician's assistant, then joined traveling troupes of actors who played in the opera houses of the Midwest. In 1932, he was off to Hollywood, where he soon became a contract player, then a budding star who socialized with many notables of the era (the Mae West stories are amusing), hung out at San Simeon with Hearst and other stars, married several times (none of the early marriages lasted long) and battled alcoholism. Author Talbot pauses continually to fill us in on such things as the history of gangster films, the rise of the talkies, Hollywood scandals, Hollywood actors on Broadway and wartime moviemaking. She also--perhaps excessively so--summarizes some films her father appeared in, a decision that manifests her great affection rather than her sense of narrative balance. When TV began to emerge, Lyle Talbot was right there, appearing on numerous shows, including a gig with Ozzie and Harriet. Talbot also includes an interesting section about fan clubs (her father had one) and about her father's late, stable marriage to a far younger woman (it produced the author and her siblings). A thorough, lovingly researched paean to a father and a way of life.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781101597057
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
11/08/2012
Sold by:
Penguin Group
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
432
Sales rank:
586,682
File size:
6 MB
Age Range:
18 Years

Meet 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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