by Margaret Talbot
This review originally appeared on my movie blog Out of the Past.
Please make sure you also check out my interview with the author which can be found on my movie blog too.
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 American, '30s and '40s Hollywood. She transports us to an alluring time, simpler but also exciting, and illustrated the changing face of her father's America, all while telling the story of mass entertainment across the first half of the twentieth century. - Riverhead Books
Margaret Talbot's The Entertainer is not simply a biography about her father the actor Lyle Talbot. Rather the book consists of two parallel stories; one of Talbot's life as a man and career as an actor and the other about the evolution of Hollywood and the entertainment industry in the twentieth century.
This book is a portrait of an entertainer placed firmly on the canvass of twentieth century history. The Entertainer is a charming book with a lot of insight and thoughtfulness and a rich abundance of information. The book chronicles Lyle Talbot's life and career almost chronologically. There are several jumps back and forth through time but the course keeps steady and it reads as though you are moving forward continuously rather than simply jumping around.
Margaret Talbot doesn't try to romanticize her father. She is frank about his drinking problem and how he never became a major movie star. But this book is also an ode to the father who she knew and loved dearly. Their age gap reminds me very much of the one I have with my own father (52 years in my case and almost 60 in hers). Her father was secretive about his romantic past, much like my own is now. A lot of what Margaret Talbot found out about her father Lyle's girlfriends and wives was from her research.
Speaking of research, the author relies a lot on the memories of her father as well as the stories that her father told her and the ones shared by family and friends. She also relies on scrapbooks, photographs, clippings, receipts, menus, telegrams, postcards and other papers saved over the years. She revisited taped interviews and transcripts and dug up articles and interviews from various publications and read many biographies, novels and books on history and criticism. She recounts a lovely story about a man finding a photo scrapbook of her father at a yard sale, realizing it's importance and contacting her about transferring the book back to the family. I'm sure a lot of people would have kept those photographs or sold them so it's nice to hear that someone was generous enough to give them to the family for safe keeping.
The book clocks in at over 400 pages and includes 45 black and white photos which appear throughout the text. This type of design is my ideal as the photos appear with the relevant text to go along with it. It keeps me from flipping back and forth from a photo insert to where I had left off reading (which I have done many times in the past with other books).
Disclosure: Thank you to Riverhead Books (a division of Penguin) for providing me with an advance readers copy of the book to review.