Carole Lombard had many leading men over the years, and now one of her more obscure ones has received a biographical treatment. He's Lyle Talbot, shown with Lombard and Louise Closser Hale in 1932's "No More Orchids." Two things apparently make this book particularly interesting: it's written by his daughter, Margaret Talbot, a staff writer for the New Yorker, and most of it focuses on Lyle's early years -- much of which is little known -- from his birth in 1902 to his leaving Hollywood in 1940. (He would return as a character actor in the 1950s, and died in 1996.)
Born in Pittsburgh, his mother dying soon after his birth and his father thrown out by the grandmother who would raise him in Nebraska, Lyle Talbot joined a traveling carnival in 1918 after meeting his father, who had since remarried and now worked there. It was here, working the small-town circuits during the 1920s, that Lyle learned the ropes of show business, gradually rising from carnival barker to magician's assistant. Later that decade, he became a traveling stage actor, and when films began to talk, he headed to Hollywood (after the crash of 1929, when he was wiped out) and signed with Warners -- something noted on the book's cover via its pre-Code credit style typography. (Like Lombard, he was loaned to Columbia for "No More Orchids.")
Talbot was a reliable if complementary leading man (think of a pre-Code version of Fred MacMurray, though their vibes were entirely different), working with the likes of Kay Francis in "Mary Stevens, M.D." He also had supporting parts in Warners gems such as "Three On A Match" and "Heat Lightning." Fame and good looks enabled him to run with the Hollywood crowd and be a guest at San Simeon, and he would be among the 21 founders of the Screen Actors Guild.
But the good life (he later told one of his sons that while the younger generation believed it invented free love in the sixties, 1930s Hollywood was just as sexually charged, if not more so) apparently also led to his decline -- several short marriages, a bout with drinking, a loss of his contract. In 1940, he left Hollywood, returned to the stage, and didn't come back until the late '40s, by which time he was a regular in serials and was a full-fledged character actor. In the 1950s, he was a semi-regular on TV's "The Adventures Of Ozzie And Harriet" as the Nelsons' next-door neighbor.
Reviews generally have been favorable to Margaret Talbot's book (it will be released Thursday), and she's making several personal appearances to promote it. At 3:30 p.m. Nov. 10, she'll be at the Politics & Prose bookstore in Washington, D.C. (http://www.politics-prose.com/event/book/margaret-talbot-entertainer), and on Dec. 5, she'll be at the Brattle Theater in Cambridge, Mass. (http://brattlefilm.org/2012/12/05/an-evening-with-margaret-talbot/), where one of her father's films will be shown. Might it be "No More Orchids"?
To order "The Entertainer," visit http://www.amazon.com/The-Entertainer-Fathers-Twentieth-Century/dp/1594487065.