Those of you out there that enjoy a good read concerning History of Hollywood in the Golden age which I do not seem to get tired of then I can hardily recommend THE ENTERTAINER, MOVIES, MAGIC AND MY FATHER’S TWENTIETH CENTURY by Margaret Talbot. This blog is more about pictures and some good unabashed opinions then books and how they are written so I will not be going into the specifics of the volume. Suffice it to say that it was a very interesting, easy summer read that even went with me on a recent trip. It is basically a story of Lyle Talbot, character actor, never quite a star yet made hundreds of pictures, television shows, plays and radio. The type of actor that you have seen many times in many things yet perhaps would not recall his or here name or face till you say him and went ‘Oh that guy. I have seen him or her somewhere before.”
Hollywood is filled with those types of people in pictures and in real life. Those that toil behind the scenes and in the scenes that never get shown or have their names be a brief flash on the screen at the end. Today those names are rolled by with the thousand or so effects people, second, third and fourth units, foreign units and like the role call of a small city census. So many to make so little sometimes. I thought of the many faces we see in pictures we have watched over the years that we miss then see again.
Lyle Talbot was one of these people in these pictures, sometimes a leading man more then anything he would be the tough hood, the do -gooder, the buddy, the trusted friend who populated a story and made it interesting. Supported players are often acted upon by the leads or add color, texture to bring out a section of story. Without them there is is no world except in NOIR where they are the world sometimes along with the leading man and of course female. Talbot was never a large star yet he was known by many, paid good solid money,partied with them, worked all the time except perhaps toward the end of his career. Scored it big in early television with FATHER KNOWS BEST and at the same time got to do Ed Wood’s Glen or Glenda. Talbot even had his own fan club with fan produced newspaper called THE TALBOT TIMES. He also found the time to be one of the central figures in the creation of the SCREEN ACTORS GUILD along with many others meeting in secret out of fear. Yet he was never a “star” as his own daughter puts because he lacked in intangible that you cannot teach …charisma. In fact his contract was not renewed because of this fact sending him out to the new and what was the second class world of Television.
One other famous face we have all seen and I am sure loved is that of ELISHA COOK JR or as he became known the “eternal fall guy” He would usually be the over zealous henchman, the guy that goes to the wrong place at the wrong time doing the wrong thing. Countless films and TV appearances. I personally saw him for the first time in the ORIGINAL STAR TREK EPISODE ..COURT MARSHAL where he played the “Luddite” attorney Samual T. Cogley. I saw him years later in MALTESE FALCON and later may other roles as bar tenders, messengers, small time crooks, car driver on capers. Read somewhere that he lived away from Hollywood on a lake, tied his own fishing flies and had no phone. If you wanted him for a role you had to drive out into the wilderness.
As I saw him he became like an old friend because you knew what he was doing was effective if not brief. For that split second when he came on screen with those Elisha Cook eyes and distinctive slightly high pitched voice no matter what character he was, whatever part of the story I went and perhaps you thought ” Hey that’s Elisha Cook” and smiled.
These and others color the world of a picture and give the world substance and depth. Film Noir makes them more conspicuous with absence yet when a scene shifts to a Diner or tavern or night club with others present then placement and actions stand out even more. Many examples of this in film as we know and have seen which all again adds to the all important atmosphere of the story. A good example of this would be on the stage you have an empty room that never becomes truly empty until you put one object in it that is noticed by the audience.
One of the most effective use of crowds and action within in my opinion is the railway station group scenes in William Wyler’s 1946 picture THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES. It is brilliant film that is very under rated today. One of my all time favourites all you have to do is watch the faces and the gestures in the below clip. Next time you see the full film watch the train station scenes closely and you will see little dramas of life being played out by the people’s faces and movements. You see joy as one rushes to find a loved one, frantic searching for another who may not have come home, expectation, regret, rapture, sadness and comedy all in a few moments as the camera captures it. A sea of post war experience in which the three stories of the main focus are played out giving them placement in the larger world of events that in fact was going on around the audience when the lights went up.
When you watch sometime take a moment to notice the background people that you see blur by you today (I hope you stay for credits, I do) You will see names in “Classic Hollywood” films of any genre that you will have seen before and will see again like old friends. Many of them made entire careers out of being policemen, judges, bartenders, taxi drivers. Some even became Directors, Editors etc. again not all “A” list films. Many however were never noticed at all became ignored or forgotten.
Like an old male or female character actor out late at night in a bar looking up at the TV and seeing a film they were in years ago. Having the time flow away and they remember with perhaps slightly moist eyes when they were younger, fitter, full of ambition and perhaps absent friends and lost loves. That actor could truly say ‘Hey I never made the big time but I was in that scene”.
Salute them vocally in your home or silently if you can while out… don’t disturb the others in the theatre.