The Original Talbot Player

Our father, Lyle Talbot (1902-1996), was a stage, screen and television actor, whose career spanned the 20th century – from traveling tent shows in the Midwest to Broadway and Hollywood. He appeared in over 150 movies, starting as a “contract player” at Warner Brothers in the early days of “talking pictures” and was a founding member of the Screen Actors Guild. As a young matinee idol, he starred opposite Bette Davis, Barbara Stanwyk, Carole Lombard, Mae West, Spencer Tracy, Pat O’Brien and Humphrey Bogart in the Golden Age of Hollywood.

In those days, even when playing a gangster, he often wore a tuxedo, “reeking of savoir faire,” in the words of a New York Times critic.

Later, he aged into a fine character actor, a stalwart of TV shows in the ’50s and ‘60s from The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet to The Bob Cummings Show. On stage, he may be the only actor to have played both the Walter Matthau and the Jack Lemmon roles in different national touring productions of Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple.

Never one to turn down a job, he appeared frequently in the old “cliffhanger” movie serials -- the first actor to play Superman’s nemesis, Lex Luthor, and Batman’s ally, Commissioner Gordon. He even showed up in the notoriously dreadful films of Ed Wood, Glen or Glenda and Plan Nine from Outer Space. “Eddie paid me in crumpled bills,” he used to say, “but I didn’t mind because I made sure he paid me every day.” It was the kind of story he loved to tell about the movie business.

Our father had many Hollywood romances – from Busby Berkeley chorus girls to the Italian countess who became mobster Bugsy Siegel’s lover – and three short-lived marriages – one to an artist who later married novelist Henry Miller. On his fourth try, he got it right, marrying our mother, Paula (whose real name was Margaret) a teenaged singer and actress who set aside her career to raise and inspire four children. Their improbable, passionate marriage lasted 40 years, till the day she died.

Growing up in a small town on the Nebraska prairie, Lyle was raised by his Irish grandmother, whose maiden name was, prophetically, “Hollywood.” He left home to work as a magician’s assistant, became a leading man on the Midwestern theater circuit, and went on to form his own theatrical troupe known as The Talbot Players, a name we are pleased to revive in his honor.

You can now read the full story of Lyle Talbot's amazing, roller coaster career — and even more extraordinary life — in Margaret Talbot's biography and memoir, "The Entertainer: Movies, Magic and My Father's Twentieth Century" (Riverhead Books 2012).

Go to Wikipedia or IMDB to learn more about Lyle.

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