- Leftwing documentary film producer with close ties to the Public Broadcasting Service
- Brother of Salon webzine founder and former Mother Jones editor David Talbot
- Brother of former New Republic editor and New York Times Magazine writer Margaret Talbot
- Son of eccentric labor union activist and co-founder of the Screen Actors Guild
- As child actor he appeared in more than 50 episodes of Leave It to Beaver
Born in Los Angeles on February 28, 1949, Stephen Henderson Talbot is the son of the late movie and television actor Lyle Talbot (1902-1996), who is best remembered as the character “Joe Randolph,” neighbor of Ozzie and Harriet on that popular television series (1956-66). Stephen’s father was also a left-wing labor activist who co-founded the Screen Actors Guild and sat on its Board of Directors alongside Ronald Reagan. Stephen’s younger brother is David Talbot, and one of his sisters is Margaret Talbot.
In his youth, Stephen Talbot was a child television actor, appearing from 1958-63 in more than 50 episodes of Leave It to Beaver as the character “Gilbert.” He also made guest appearances on episodes of The Twilight Zone, Perry Mason, The Lucille Ball Show, Sugarfoot, Lawman, and Wanted: Dead or Alive.
Talbot graduated from Wesleyan University in 1970. In an article he wrote many years later for Salon.com, titled “Living Down Beaver,” he reminisced about the bygone days of what he characterized as his “New Left self” in the Seventies:
“When Richard Nixon ordered U.S. troops to invade Cambodia in April 1970, I was standing in front of the New Haven, Connecticut courthouse, surrounded by National Guard soldiers who had been issued live ammunition. Like every other young radical on the East Coast, I had come to New Haven to protest the arrest of Black Panther leader Bobby Seale [who was on trial for the torture-murder of fellow Panther Alex Rackley, whom the Panthers had accused of being a “police informer”]. We were smoldering with discontent…. When Tom Hayden suddenly announced what was happening in Cambodia, 20,000 of us decided in a burst of participatory democracy to return to our campuses and organize a national student strike. Forget New Haven, we would paralyze the country! At my own nearby college the next day, my friends and I kept interrupting a Grateful Dead concert to urge our fellow students to boycott classes for the rest of the semester.”
After completing his formal education, Talbot pursued a career as a left-wing documentary film producer. In 1980 he produced his first major PBS documentary, Broken Arrow, about purported nuclear weapons accidents. In an article titled “Repressed Memory Syndrome,” bestselling author and social critic David Horowitz notes that Talbot “made films into the ’80s celebrating Communist insurgents who were busily extending the Soviet sphere in Africa.” Through most of the Eighties as well, Talbot was a staff reporter and producer at the PBS television station in San Francisco, KQED, and he also did occasional reports on PBS’s national MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour.
By the early 1990s, Talbot was co-producing documentaries for the PBS series Frontline in conjunction with the San Francisco-based Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR). Among these were Public Lands, Private Profits (1994); Rush Limbaugh’s America (1995); The Long March of Newt Gingrich (1996); and Why America Hates the Press (1996). He also produced the 1999 documentary Justice For Sale with Bill Moyers, on how campaign money was influencing judicial elections. All of these films gave a decidedly left-wing view of the topics they discussed.
Talbot’s 1998 documentary, titled 1968: The Year That Shaped a Generation, lionized radical figures of the Sixties including Students for a Democratic Society members Todd Gitlin and Tom Hayden. Talbot left no doubt as to whom he had sided with during that earlier era. For example, his personal narration in the film told viewers that one particular sentence — purportedly quoted from a cover of the radical Sixties magazine Ramparts — “captured how I felt.” That sentence, said Talbot, was this: “Alienation is when your country is at war and you hope the other side wins.” But in fact that was a misquote. As Ramparts‘ former editor David Horowitz has noted, the original cover line had actually said: “Alienation is when your country is at war and you want the other side to win.” Moreover, Horowitz points out, that same cover featured a photograph of a young boy “holding the flag of the Vietcong, America’s enemy in Vietnam.”
From 2002-08, Talbot was the series editor of PBS’s Frontline/World, a co-production of WGBH Boston and KQED San Francisco. He helped to launch and manage both the TV program and website, commissioning and supervising more than 100 broadcast and online videos while also producing his own reports from places like Lebanon and Syria.
From 2012-14, Talbot was the senior producer for video projects at CIR; these included feature news stories and short documentaries for PBS NewsHour, Univision, KQED-TV, and The New York Times. Also at CIR, Talbot led the editorial team that created The I Files, which was YouTube.com‘s first investigative news channel.
Since 2015, Talbot has been the senior producer for documentary shorts at ITVS / Independent Lens (PBS) in San Francisco.
In addition to his aforementioned pursuits, Talbot also spent some time teaching television reporting and production at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. Moreover, he has written articles for such publications as Salon.com, the Washington Post Magazine, The Nation, Mother Jones, Rolling Stone, the San Francisco Chronicle, and the Los Angeles Times.
Over the course of his media career, Talbot has won two duPont Awards and three George Foster Peabody Awards. He also has received two national Emmy Awards, four local (San Francisco) Emmys, three Golden Gate Awards, three Thomas M. Storke International Journalism Awards, a George Polk Award, an Edward R. Murrow Award, a First Prize TV Award (from the Education Writers Association), a National Press Club Arthur Rowse Award, and an Edgar Allan Poe Award (from the Mystery Writers of America).