The Entertainer: Movies, Magic and My Father's Twentieth Century,
By Margaret Talbot
Turns out I have seen a surprising number of films that star or feature Lyle Talbot. Perhaps this isn't such a huge surprise, as I am crazy for pre-Code pictures, and having been one of the original horses in the Warner Bros. stable, the man made about 8-12 films a year for that outfit. Talbot could play sniveling, smoldering, or sophisticated, or all of the above all at once, with a dash of dastardly.
Talbot began a career in theater as a magician's assistant, carny, and performer in traveling tent shows throughout the Midwest while still a teenager. He learned to act on the road and eventually wound up in Hollywood, where handsome young men with theater experience could work in talking pictures. Talbot signed with Warner Bros., with other regulars, Joan Blondell, Bette Davis, Humphrey Bogart, Ann Dvorak, and Warren William, and churned out (as noted) a lot of movies every year.
Perhaps because of this, Talbot was one of the founding members of the Screen Actors Guild, a labor union formed to protect actors from the hard hours, grueling production schedules, and multi-year contracts with invasive terms fostered by the major studios. Warner Bros. in particular (and ironically, given the "every man" theme of so many of their stories) was one of the most notoriously exploitative places to work.
Although he never quite reached star status, Lyle Talbot worked steadily in motion pictures throughout the 1930s, '40s, and '50s, then made a successful transition to television, appearing in everything from The Life of Riley to Who's the Boss?, with a long, recurring role on about 70 of the 50,000 episodes of The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. The man worked and worked.
He also married a lot and drank a lot, and yes, he was in a bunch of Ed Wood, Jr. movies.
Last year, the AFI Silver Theater in Silver Spring, Maryland ran a mini-festival of Talbot's early films to celebrate the publication of Margaret Talbot’s book, The Entertainer, which is part memoir, part biography of her father's life and career. Having just bought the book and devoured it, I went to listen to Margaret Talbot talk and to see one of my favorite pictures, Three on a Match, which I'd never seen on the big screen. As I wrote at the time, her book is a real page-turner. It covers the entire landscape of American popular entertainment of the 20th century — her father’s century — with a journalist’s detail and a child’s affection.
His is a fascinating story...and now it's available in paperback. Buy it for his birthday.