They were never front-line, A-list stars or even top-name character actors, but they worked a lot in both movies and TV, and invariably had beneficial effects on properties that hired them.
Hello, everybody. Joe Morella and Frank Segers, your classic movies guys, providing the spotlight today to that versatile baritone, Lyle Talbot, whom (we bet) you’ll recognize when you see his picture (there he is above romancing Carol Lombard in 1932’s No More Orchids).
In this we are inspired by the recent publication of The Entertainer: Movies, Magic, and My Father’s Twentieth Century, written by the actor’s daughter Margaret Talbot. While she unsuccessfully tries to examine a century of movie history though the lens of Talbot’s career, she writes movingly, yet dispassionately, about her father, who had his share of early triumphs and late-career battles.
In fact, Talbot’s working life spanned a good deal of the 20th century. He was born in Pittsburgh in 1902 and died in San Francisco in 1996. Over that period, he successively appeared in many show biz venues: carnivals, vaudeville, the stage and, beginning in the early Thirties, the “talkies.”
After his film career diminished in the Fifties, he turned to television in abundance, and is often remembered today as the Nelson’s strong-voice neighbor “Joe Randolph” on the long running TV series, The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet. In all, his career encompasses more than 300 — yes, 300 — movie and TV titles.
When he first arrived in Hollywood, Talbot was considered a hot leading man prospect. His costars in a string of projects included Loretta Young, Barbara Stanwyck, Dick Powell, Pat O’Brien, Ann Dvorak, a very young John Wayne and (in 1932’s 20 Years In Sing Sing) Spencer Tracy. He even hung out with the William Randolph Hearst crowd at the latter’s San Simeon in northern California.
Talbot had leading man looks and bearing. But somehow, he never projected “star” charisma onscreen, and never made it to the A-list. But he kept on working. One of his proudest boasts is that he made pretty much his entire living from acting.
Talbot had his share of romances throughout his career, and married and divorced three times almost casually. As his career went on, he developed a drinking problem. His personal life stabilized in the late Forties when he met and married his fourth wife, Margaret Epple, a woman nearly a generation his junior who sternly cracked down on any sign of alcohol abuse.
The couple had a long and fruitful marriage (until her death in 1989) that produced four children including the author of the biography that inspired this blog.
Talbot’s daughter appears less than pleased that the actor today is most widely recognized as that straight, authoritative actor who anchored the completely whacky casts of two Edward D. Wood Jr. titles: 1953’s Glen or Glenda (a strange look as cross dressing) and the infamous 1959 space odyssey, Plan 9 From Outer Space, that has become affectionately regarded as “the worst movie ever made.”
We disagree with that assessment, but Talbot nonetheless regarded each assignment from the eccentric director (played by Johnny Depp in director Tim Burton’s superb 1994 biopic, Ed Wood) as a serious paying job. He recalled that Wood paid him daily (about $300) in stained and wrinkled 10-dollar bills.
A job was a job. No frills for our truly working actor.