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.