English professor Maureen Corrigan discussed old Hollywood and current life at The New Yorker with staff writer and author of “The Entertainer: Movies, Magic and My Father’s 20th Century” Margaret Talbot Tuesday evening.
In her discussion with Corrigan, Talbot spoke about the history of the American film industry. “The Entertainer” is a journalistic account of Talbot’s father’s acting career and the American film industry from the 1930s to 1960s. Talbot’s father, Lyle, who was a founding member of the Screen Actors Guild, had roles in movies such as “Three on a Match” and TV programs such as “Leave It to Beaver.”
Though most well-known films of the mid-20th century adhered to strict codes regulating language, depiction of adultery, the triumph of good over evil and other moral quandaries, according to Talbot, movies in the early 1930s ignored these rules before they were strictly enforced.
“The producers were trying to get around [censorship],” Talbot said. “It was the early years of the Depression, and they were trying to lure people to the movie theaters. They pushed back as hard as they could against this censorship regime, and you get a lot of movies, called ‘pre-code,’ that are quite different. They are racier, more cynical and harsher.”
Talbot also spoke about the strenuous hours actors faced during the period before the formation of the Screen Actors Guild.
“All the studios were really cranking out as many movies as they could,” Talbot said. “That was their response to the Depression.”
As a result, actors worked long hours and worked on multiple movies simultaneously.
Talbot also discussed her career in journalism and offered advice for students interested in the field.
“I think it’s easy to get your voice out there,” Talbot said. “But I think it’s hard to get people to hear you.”
As a staff writer for The New Yorker, Talbot writes longer-form pieces that she researches and writes for over a year. She offered her insight into the value of these long articles and essays in a digital age where most journalists have limited time to develop a story.
“I think sometimes in this kind of fever to … cater to all of our very short attention spans these days, we sort of forget that actually, a story well told — or even an essay that does all the work it needs to do and may take its time to get there — is actually something that people still value,” Talbot said.