The Classic Connoisseur’s Guide to the Best Films & Stars
The only thing better than watching a fine classic movie is learning about what went on behind the cameras. What was that actor really like? What accounts for the trends that sweep through Hollywood? What were audiences expecting back then? The Entertainer is a book for you about classic Hollywood and more.
Margaret Talbot answers these questions and many more in the lively and very readable book, The Entertainer: Movies, Magic and My Father’s Twentieth Century. The hardcover book was published last year, but if you were hoping for a more economical version, now is the time. The paperback will be issued in November. (Preorders available now at Amazon.)
Talbot’s father, Lyle Talbot, whose name I confess I did not remember even though I have seen several of his movies and TV appearances, provides a focus for this history of entertainment in America, from magic shows and one-ring circuses through traveling repertory theater to movies and television.
Once I saw his photo, I did remember his appearances — particularly as the next-door neighbor in “Ozzie and Harriet.” You can see the episode where his character is introduced — as part of the new couple in town — in this YouTube clip.
Talbot had a nicely chiseled appearance and a devotion to entertaining people that included always showing up on time with his lines memorized. In the studio contract days, that was enough to earn him the title “star.”
But he lacked that mysterious “x” factor that made so many of the unknowns he worked with in 1930s Hollywood, like Humphrey Bogart, Spencer Tracy, or Barbara Stanwyck, become REAL stars. But on the other hand, Talbot never lacked for work, something not too many Hollywood aspirants can say.
Talbot’s book spares us the usual “poor little rich kid” tale of a Hollywood actor’s child exposed to sex, drugs and general misbehavior by the elders. That’s because by the time Talbot married her mother, he had sown just about all the wild oats he could find. Several marriages (that quickly failed) to hot babes and a growing problem of alcoholism had just about torpedoed any chance the boy from Nebraska of having a normal life and a family. Yet miraculously, his final marriage straightened him out. Lyle stopped drinking, fathered four children, and put family time above all else.
The Entertainer is so much more than a memoir of an almost-famous actor. The experienced writer, Talbot (New Yorker, New Republic, the New York Times Magazine) takes every twist and turn of her father’s life as a way to launch into an explanation of entertainment in American culture, with wonderful details and stories that keep you entertained. Her father would be proud of her.