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Jim McKee: Brainard's favorite son is star
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Jim McKee: Brainard's favorite son is star

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Brainard native Lyle Talbot is shown here with co-star Mary Astor in a still from a 1936 movie, one of Talbot’s 170 motion pictures.

Anyone may be forgiven for assuming Butler County was named for Nebraska’s first state governor, David Butler, the only governor to be impeached. He is also the only one to serve simultaneously with another.

Just before statehood was finalized, he served in tandem with Alvin Saunders, appointed by the U. S. president as territorial governor. David Butler had been elected by the people as state governor.

In fact, Butler County was named for William Butler of Kentucky, who was appointed as territorial governor by the president but declined, giving Francis Burt the title of Nebraska’s first territorial governor.

Although over 30 have ultimately been discontinued, over 40 Butler County cities with post offices have existed since 1856 when Susquehanna was born along with the county.

Brainard was established in 1877 but not platted until the next year. Named by the railroad for a New York missionary to the American Indians, David Brainerd, the town’s name was mysteriously misspelled with an "a" instead of the correct "e."

One Butler County historian apologized for Brainard as having “no decisive battle ... nor the discovery of gold ... or an army base or bomber plant” and seemingly downplayed a very popular movie and TV personality, known at one time, by virtually everyone.

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Florence and Edward Henderson, both of Brainard, were in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 1902 when their son Lisle Howard Henderson was born that February. A few months after Lisle’s birth, the family returned to Brainard, where his mother died.

Lisle’s grandmother, Florence’s mother, Mary Talbot, whose maiden name was almost prophetically Holywood, legally adopted him and changed his name to Lyle Florenze (an adaptive spelling of his mother’s name) Talbot when he was 13. At that time Mary Talbot owned and managed the Talbot Hotel in Brainard, which was later renamed, sold, and ultimately razed in the early 1980s.

At about the age of 15, Lyle and his father moved to Omaha where Lyle attended high school and about 1919 moved to Tennessee, where he entered show business with a traveling carnival act.

In 1929 Lyle established his own traveling company, the Talbot Players, and even hired his father and stepmother who performed as a comedy act. Lyle married his first wife in 1930, ultimately marrying four, or possibly five, times, and moved to California as movies were transitioning from silent to sound films.

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There he began a movie career with Nebraska-born Darryl Zanuck, who signed him to a long-term contract with Warner Brothers. At Warner Brothers Talbot frequently played the “bad guy” with a few films as a leading man. Despite the typecasting role as a villain, Talbot was known off screen as a mild-mannered gentleman. On screen he played with dozens of stars, including Humphrey Bogart, George Raft and Shirley Temple.

In 1933 Talbot joined the Screen Actors Guild, just as it initially formed and was elected to their first board of directors. Unfortunately, because he became known as an activist in the SAG, his contract with Warner Brothers was cancelled. This led to his returning to the theater in the 1940s then, in the 1950s, entering television as it began developing.

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During the 1950s and 1960s, Talbot appeared in hundreds of TV programs including the Lux Video Theatre but primarily in comedies. He became a regular on the Ozzie & Harriet and Bob Cummings shows with recurring spots on many others including the Beverly Hillbillies, Green Acres and Charlie’s Angels. As a tribute to his ability to play diverse roles, he also appeared on “Saint Elsewhere,” the “Lone Ranger” and the “Gene Autry Show on TV and in theater performances of “The Odd Couple” and “South Pacific.”

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In 1989 Talbot moved from Los Angeles to San Francisco and was able to break his addiction to alcohol. Lyle Talbot died of natural causes in 1996 at the age of 94. Four children, born from his 1948 marriage to Margaret Epple, survived him. Daughter Cynthia Talbot became a physician in Portland, Oregon, while his other daughter, Margaret Talbot, wrote for the New York Times and became a staff writer for “New Yorker” magazine. Son Stephen Talbot became a TV documentary producer and was associated with “Frontline,” while son David Talbot was successful as a historian, journalist and founder/editor-in-chief of “Salon” magazine.

Brainard, which in the last census had a population of 330, declared June 14, 1992, as Lyle Talbot Day, a tribute to the favorite son who had appeared in over 170 films, on scores of radio shows and dozens of theatre performances.

Historian Jim McKee, who still writes with a fountain pen, invites comments or questions. Write to him in care of the Journal Star or at


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