Carnival barker, magician’s assistant, hypnotist’s shill, Hollywood roué (onscreen and in person)—you name it, Lyle Talbot lived it. Born in 1902, he turns up like Zelig, observes his daughter, Margaret Talbot, in just about every era of 20th-century American entertainment. So her deliciously written account of his long, colorful career is more than a dishy showbiz bio. It captures the texture of “the old, weird America,” when Lyle toured with MacKnight the Hypnotic Fun Maker (a man with “an air of moonstruck gravitas” and “scruples as bendable as cheap spoons”). It reveals Hollywood in the loose-living pre-Code days. And it explores the way “entertainment evolved . . . and how ideas about character and personality—about what made a person interesting, attractive, worthwhile—changed along with it.” Lyle’s movie contract was dropped in 1936. But just when his life took a turn for the noir (booze, bad marriages, B movies), he was rescued by the author’s mother and fetched up in the family-friendly ’50s with a brood of children, a house in the suburbs and a 10-year run as the affable neighbor on The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. If that’s not a perfect Hollywood ending, this gleaming tribute of a book is.
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