The Entertainer: Movies, Magic, and My Father's Twentieth Century
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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 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.
lot. At Christmastime, the department stores used to bring stuff over to your office to show you.” And the studios provided other, more dubious services as well. As my father remembered it, “The studio would protect you. They would even get a traffic ticket okayed for you. There was a guy by the name of Blayney Matthews who was hired to kind of look after Errol Flynn to keep him out of trouble. Errol was inclined to get into a lot of different things,” my father said, with the kind of polite
things happen. The incredible has now become commonplace. The Screen Actors Guild rules the roost. . . . The stars have stepped down into the ranks to fight for the extras, the bit players, the masses. . . . The result has been a startling betterment of working conditions, somewhat increased pay, and the discovery that the iron heel of the studios is still a heel, but that it is not iron and that it is not, in fact, any more impressive than any other heel.” While the Guild did improve
marry the writer Henry Miller, and to make a life and a community for herself in the bohemian precincts of Big Sur. She drew and painted and was an excellent cook. She tolerated Miller’s faults and eccentricities, relishing the role of muse to genius. Miller told friends that she reminded him of his old friend and lover Anaïs Nin, in that she “brings with her the feeling of ease and abundance.” She was especially kind and loving to Miller’s two young children from his third marriage, Valentine
performers, ensuring they could fire any who got caught up in scandals. He persuaded studio publicity departments to muffle the tales of sybaritic luxury that Hollywood stars enjoyed; and for a time, the studios dutifully pumped out home movies of stars like Marion Davies (the mistress of the media titan William Randolph Hearst) dusting her living room, or Alma Rubens (a beautiful dope addict) chatting sedately with her aged mother. He tried to do something about the problem of would-be actresses
punishment and redemption. Ladies They Talk About is an odd little film in which plausibility and motivation take it on the chin. But it has its piquant, pre-Code moments. Barbara Stanwyck plays Nan Taylor, a bank robber in a gang of guys led by Lyle, looking unusually buff. Though he made only two movies with her, and neither of them was particularly good, Barbara Stanwyck was my father’s favorite actress to work with. She was such a professional, he said, always came to the set prepared, always