The Entertainer: Movies, Magic and My Father’s Twentieth Century. Margaret Talbot. Penguin Group USA. November 2013. 432 pp. pbk. ISBN #: 9781594631887.
The Entertainer… covers a large swatch of twentieth century entertainment as history and also a biography of the author’s father, Lyle Talbot. It’s quite obvious that Margaret was deeply fond of her father, although her grandmother didn’t quite like the influence he had on his daughter. But the tales she heard from her Dad clearly fascinated her and made her realize that the history of entertaining was one to share with the world because of its unique evolution over time and with the additional development of new technologies so rapidly occurring during the 20th Century.
To begin with the reader is introduced to the world of the “story” as her father shared events and characters galore in his long career; he was already sixty when his daughter was born. This is the world we learn began with side shows, circuses, traveling stage shows, hypnotists with real and criminal skills, silent screen movies, “talkies,” big screen movies, and so much more until one gets the full picture that just also includes America’s development. An interesting part that is sometimes unrecognized is how much small rural towns contributed to the spread of entertainment, whether it was good or bad. The monotony of life led to a demand for such entertainment which also served as morality plays, stories in which common people could identify with similar characters, and just downright plain silliness to lighten the financial and work burdens of most Americans. At times the entertainment was quite bawdy and probably should have been banned but wasn’t as there was little preoccupation with ratings in the 1920s and 1930s and even later.
Then we read about Lyle Talbot’s career which spanned every type of possible acting from gangsters and romance stories to cowboy tales and more. Lyle Talbot never really made it big in the sense of his own performance but certainly worked with the “big” names in the industry, from Mae West to Clark Gable and more. He also acted in well-known TV serials and actually performed in Hollywood and New York great shows, including Lincoln Center. A multitude of famous and not so well-known films are listed with leading and minor actors and actresses.
Margaret Talbot prefers to focus more on the varying talents of her father and other actors and actresses. While she glosses over the difficulties of such a lifestyle, including her father’s weakness for less than savory women and absence because of constant traveling that goes with the job, she does create in the reader the sense that acting skills had to change as well as the means by which entertainment was offered. She tells some funny stories about how her father flubbed certain performances such as when he was supposed to feign a punch on another character but wound up knocking him out and more like this account.
This is a book for any person with even the faintest interest in entertainment, whether that be in pre-movie entertainment, movies, TV movies and serial shows, and the theater. All in all, Margaret Talbot has offered a panoramic history and depiction that should be required reading for everyone in the industry and those who love the same for all the reasons so obvious in Margaret Talbot’s tribute to one of the greatest industries in the world!