On Sunday, April 30 at 3 pm Eastern longtime New Yorker staff writer Margaret Talbot will be our guest for a casual conversation that you will not want to miss. Why? Because she will be speaking of the history of performing arts in 20th century America through the lens of her father’s life and career. And she is chronicling the life of a parent. How will we be seen by those who come after us, how will be judged? And how will we judge ourselves?
This is how Ms. Talbot puts it in the book she wrote about this subject:
The Entertainer: Movies, Magic and My Father’s Twentieth Century (Riverhead Books 2012):
“This book is not a memoir, though my own memories are woven throughout, and it’s not a biography of my father, either, though his memories are the brightest fiber in it. It’s an idiosyncratic history of how entertainment evolved in the twentieth century, and how ideas of character and personality—about what made a person interesting, attractive, worthwhile—changed along with it. The way I tell that story is through my father and his life. So it’s also a book about being a working actor—what it took, what he gave—to make a life in twentieth-century show business. I’ll always be grateful to my father for showing me you could make a life—and even a living—doing what you loved, and that it was almost your duty to try. Even if what you loved was some feckless, creative pursuit that more practical people with better heads for money would try to talk you out of. Even if what you loved was a business that made stars—and you never were one.”
Here is Margaret Talbot’s website, with links to selected articles: https://margarettalbot.com/ .
She has written about Justice Alito and Justice Barrett, about Greta Garbo and Joni Mitchell. All famous and stars in their chosen fields, not something we are or could pretend to be. But we should care, as Ms. Talbot writes, about someone who made a life out of what he loved and was good at. Perhaps we have done the same and hope for the like for our children and their children, for our friends. And perhaps it is time to reflect on the American entertainment industry in the 20th century: after all, we lived through half of it and it has helped shape our lives through to this day. My grandfather helped found Famous Players –- Lasky, but dropped out of the film business and spent the rest of his life on the margins of the entertainment industry, ending up by producing Jose Ferrer in Cyrano on Broadway, later preserved in an excellent film. His legacy includes a series of movie palaces he built, three of which survive, and two of which I visit when in Connecticut. Not at the level of Lyle, but Arthur Friend made an impact and left a mark. Perhaps you have your own example.
Almost all of you, I bet, will have seen Lyle Talbot on the screen and on television. The ongoing tribute on TCM to the 100th anniversary of the founding of Warner Bros. has given me a chance to catch up to the films in which Lyle appeared as a WB contract player. He was almost always billed as second or third male lead, which granted him photo clip ID credit, per early Warner’s policy, in the opening credits. He was handsome, debonair, and could play gangsters and romantic figures alike, often the same. I have also seen him as the lead in a B movie about pilots, and as the lead in a “quota quickie” made in Canada about a rogue cop who wasn’t. Throughout his career, including as a regular on Ozzie and Harriet, he was recognizable and lovers of the studio era of film know him and respect his skill.
But for most of us, that is not why will may choose to speak with Ms. Talbot or to care about what she wrote and why. We will all have our reasons, as we sum up our lives and set our expectations for the future. But do be there, whatever your reasons and expectations are now or may become.
Usual rules: send me an email by the close of business the Friday before, April 28, if you want to participate, at firstname.lastname@example.org .