Lyle Talbot (February 8, 1902 – March 2, 1996) was an American actor on stage and screen, best known for his long career in film from 1931 to 1960 and for his frequent appearances on television in the 1950s and 1960s. He also played Joe Randolph for ten years in the ABC situation comedy, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet.
He began his movie career under contract with Warner Brothers in the early days of "talking pictures." He appeared in more than 150 films, first as a young matinée idol and later as a character actor and star of many B movies. He was a founding member of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and later served its board.
Talbot's exceptionally long and varied career as an actor is recounted in a book by his youngest daughter, The New Yorker writer Margaret Talbot, entitled The Entertainer: Movies, Magic and My Father's Twentieth Century,(Riverhead Books: A division of Penguin, 2012).
Born Lisle Henderson in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Talbot was reared in Brainard in Butler County in eastern Nebraska. He began his career as a magician's assistant and became a leading actor in traveling tent shows in the American Midwest. He briefly established his own theater company inMemphis, Tennessee. He went to Hollywood, California, in 1931, when the film industry began producing movies with sound and needed "actors who could talk". His screen test was watched and appreciated by studio head Darryl F. Zanuck and, even more so, by director William Wellman who immediately wanted to cast Talbot.
Film and stage
Most notable among Talbot's film work was his appearance in the classic pre-Code proto-noir Three on a Match (1932) with Bette Davis andHumphrey Bogart, and co-starring with Spencer Tracy in the prison movie 20,000 Years in Sing Sing that same year. He romanced opera singerGrace Moore in One Night of Love in 1934 and pursued Mae West in Go West, Young Man two years later. He also appeared opposite Carole Lombard, Barbara Stanwyck, Mary Astor, Ginger Rogers, and Shirley Temple.
Talbot's activism in SAG union affairs severely impacted his career path. Warner Bros. dropped him from its roster, and Talbot seldom received starring roles again. He became a capable character actor, playing affable neighbors or crafty villains with equal finesse. In countless low-budget B-movies, Talbot's supporting roles spanned the gamut. He played cowboys, pirates, detectives, cops, surgeons, psychiatrists, soldiers, judges, newspaper editors, storekeepers, and boxers.
In later life, Talbot proudly claimed to have never rejected any role offered to him. He played roles in three now infamous Edward D. Wood, Jr., films: Glen or Glenda, Jail Bait and Plan 9 from Outer Space. Talbot also worked with the Three Stooges in Gold Raiders, was the first actor to portray evil scientist Lex Luthor onscreen in 1950's Atom Man vs. Superman (wearing a rubber "bald cap"), played villains in four comedies with The Bowery Boys, and took the role of Commissioner Gordon in the 1949 serial Batman and Robin. His last film role was in 1960 in the Franklin D. Roosevelt biography, Sunrise at Campobello, starring Ralph Bellamy in the title role.
Having started his career in the theater and later co-starred on Broadway in 1940-1941 in Separate Rooms, Talbot returned to the stage in the 1960s and 1970s, starring in national road company versions of Thornton Wilder's The Matchmaker, Gore Vidal's political drama The Best Man, Neil Simon's The Odd Couple and Barefoot in the Park, Arthur Sumner Long's "Never Too Late," and appearing as Captain Braddock in a 1967 revival of South Pacific, at Lincoln Center in New York City.
Talbot also appeared in many television programs, three times as Colonel Billings on the syndicated western series, The Adventures of Kit Carson (1951–1955), starring Bill Williams. He appeared four times as a judge on the syndicated western The Cisco Kid, starring Duncan Renaldo and Leo Carrillo. He guest starred on Gene Autry's The Range Rider, starring Jock Mahoneyand Dick Jones.
From 1955 to 1966, Talbot appeared in some seventy episodes of The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, as the helpful neighbor, Joe Randolph, with Mary Jane Croft as the outspoken Mrs. Clara Randolph. In time, he superseded Don DeFore as Thorny, the Nelson's other neighbor.
From 1950 to 1955, Talbot was cast five times in different roles on the western, The Lone Ranger. In 1955, he appeared as Baylor in six episodes of the series, Commando Cody: Sky Marshal of the Universe. From 1953 to 1957, he was cast as different characters in four episodes of the anthology series, Lux Video Theatre.
Talbot also had a recurring role from 1955 to 1958 as Robert Cummings' United States Air Force buddy Paul Fonda in seven episodes of NBC's The Bob Cummings Show. From 1954 to 1958, he appeared six times on the CBS' sitcom, December Bride, with Spring Byington. In 1958 he appeared on Perry Mason as Michael Garvin Sr. in "The Case of the Long-Legged Models." In 1967, he was cast three times as Colonel Blake in CBS's The Beverly Hillbillies. From 1965 to 1971, he appeared three times on The Beverly Hilbillies spin-off, Green Acres.
In 1959, Talbot was cast as Sheriff Clyde Chadwick in "The Sanctuary" of the ABC/Warner Brothers western series, Colt .45, starring Wayde Preston. The guest cast also included Harry Lauteras Johnny Tyler, and Van Williams as Tom Rucker.
Among Talbot's other guest-starring appearances included Annie Oakley, It's a Great Life, The Public Defender, The Pride of the Family, Crossroads, Hey, Jeannie!, The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show, Broken Arrow, The Millionaire, Richard Diamond, Private Detective, Tales of Wells Fargo, Buckskin, Cimarron City, Angel, Hawaiian Eye, 77 Sunset Strip, Surfside 6
Continued: The Roaring 20s, The Restless Gun, Stagecoach West, The Red Skelton Show, The Adventures of Wild Bill Hickok, Topper, The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin, Laredo, Perry Mason,The Real McCoys, Rawhide, Wagon Train, Charlie's Angels, Newhart, The Dukes of Hazzard, St. Elsewhere, and Who's the Boss?.
Talbot continued to appear occasionally on television in his eighties and narrated two PBS biographies, The Case of Dashiell Hammett and World Without Walls about pioneering pilot Beryl Markham, both produced and written by his son, Stephen Talbot, formerly a recurring cast member, Gilbert Bates, on Leave It to Beaver, another series on which his father had also appeared.
Talbot was the first live action actor to play two prominent DC Comics characters on-screen: the aforementioned Commissioner Gordon in Batman and Robin, and supervillain Lex Luthor in Atom Man vs. Superman (who at the time was simply known as Luthor). Talbot began a longstanding tradition of actors in these roles that were most recently filled by Gary Oldman and Kevin Spacey, respectively.
After several brief marriages and countless romantic entanglements, Talbot in 1948 married a young singer and actress, Margaret Epple, who often used the stage name, Paula. They had four children together and remained married for more than forty years until her death in 1989.
Three of their four children became journalists: Stephen Talbot was for many years a documentary producer for the PBS series Frontline and "Frontline World" and is now the executive producer ofSound Tracks: Music Without Borders. David Talbot is an author ("Brothers" about John F. and Robert F. Kennedy) and the founder and editor of Salon.com.
Margaret Talbot of The New Yorker who wrote about her father's long career beginning in pre-Code Hollywood, why he never became a big star, and his role in founding the Screen Actors Guild, in her magazine's edition of October 1, 2012. The second daughter, Cynthia Talbot, is a family physician and residency director in Portland, Oregon.
Talbot's granddaughter, Caitlin Talbot, is an actress based in Los Angeles.