The Entertainer: Movies, Magic, and My Father’s Twentieth Century
The Entertainer could be described as the biography of an actor who never quite made it. But Lyle Talbot’s journey from hypnotist’s “horse” (usually a boy, paid to pretend to be hypnotized on stage) to regular roles in American sitcoms of the ´50s and ´60s, provides his daughter with a unique insight of the history of the entertainment industry in the 20th century.
Talbot, a staff writer at the New Yorker, applies a writer’s skill to her personalized retelling of Lyle’s story. Aided by his meticulously kept scrapbooks, interview notes and photographs as well as a great deal of additional research, she has produced a fascinating account of his life. But this is more than a biography. Talbot frequently steps away from Lyle’s story to explain and amplify the world he inhabited, creating an unusual but welcome mix. There is the personal (her reflections on her parents’ marriage and Lyle’s struggle with alcohol), the anecdotal (his recollections of Hollywood icons like Bette Davis) and the factual (in the early 1930s, theaters started selling popcorn; candy came next, and soft drinks in the 1940s).
Putting all these facets together, Talbot makes The Entertainer an enjoyable and highly informative read. She honors her father and at the same time creates a valuable piece of cultural history: a biography of a man, but also of the explosion of mass entertainment in 20th-century America.