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Adios To A.C. Lyles

Leonard Maltin By Leonard Maltin | Leonard Maltin October 1, 2013 at 12:56PM

Hollywood won’t be the same without the smiling presence of A.C. Lyles, who loved show business and the people in it. He never missed an opportunity to make a speech or salute an old friend.
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Linda Darnell helps A.C. welcome Richard Arlen’s portrait to his wall of fame at the time of the 1965 production "Black Spurs." I’m sorry I don’t know the identity of the woman at left.
Linda Darnell helps A.C. welcome Richard Arlen’s portrait to his wall of fame at the time of the 1965 production "Black Spurs." I’m sorry I don’t know the identity of the woman at left.

Hollywood won’t be the same without the smiling presence of A.C. Lyles, who loved show business and the people in it. He never missed an opportunity to make a speech or salute an old friend. A.C. died on Friday at age 95, and spent most of his years proudly working for Paramount Pictures—as a messenger, office boy, publicist, producer, and finally “good-will ambassador.” 

When one of his closest friends, Ronald Reagan, was elected President of the United States, he became the White House’s unofficial Hollywood liaison and used his bulging Rolodex to line up guests for state dinners on a regular basis.

Young A.C. with an even younger Shirley Temple.
Young A.C. with an even younger Shirley Temple.

I spent a number of years on the Paramount lot, and it was a memorable experience to chat with A.C. in the parking area near the front gate, where he kept his immaculate 1950s Thunderbird and made a point of greeting everyone who came by, usually by first name. I’m sure some of them didn’t know much about him or his background, but they appreciated the friendly gesture of a Hollywood veteran who still had the good grace to dress in a suit and tie every single day. (The only time I saw him otherwise attired was at a Western-themed event like the Golden Boot Awards or the S.H.A.R.E. dinners, which his wife Martha was so much a part of.) He always inquired after my wife and asked about her by name.

If you were to judge A.C. by his screen credits alone you might not be impressed. His main producing credentials were clustered in the 1960s, when he made a series of Western programmers on the Paramount lot, in color, with titles like Law of the Lawless, Stage to Thunder Rock, and Town Tamer. But these modestly-budgeted films all made money (and continued to yield worldwide profits for decades). More important, they gave work to a galaxy of Hollywood veterans who were no longer at the top of the heap and grateful for the work: Rory Calhoun, Howard Keel, Linda Darnell, Marilyn Maxwell, Lon Chaney Jr., Kent Taylor, Broderick Crawford, William Bendix, John Agar, Virginia Mayo, Scott Brady, Terry Moore, Dana Andrews, Barton MacLane, and many, many others.

During World War II, A.C. and his good friend Freddie Bartholomew catch up with each other while serving Uncle Sam. He told me they used to double-date.
During World War II, A.C. and his good friend Freddie Bartholomew catch up with each other while serving Uncle Sam. He told me they used to double-date.

A.C.’s greatest allegiance was to Richard Arlen, the handsome star of Wings whom he met when he first came to work on the Paramount lot in the 1930s. Arlen was kind to him, and the young office boy promised that someday he would produce movies and feature Arlen in them. He made good on that promise over and over again.

A warm relationship with Paramount stalwart Jerry Lewis several decades later enabled A.C. to get the comedian to sing the title song for his 1960 Allied Artists release Raymie.

Friendship and loyalty were A.C.’s stock in trade. A bachelor-about-town in the 1940s who dated many starlets, he finally settled down with his wife Martha and they shared their happiest moments with two other couples: the James Cagneys and the Ronald Reagans. Cagney gave A.C. his first full producing credit on the only film the actor ever directed, Short Cut to Hell, in 1957. And when Lyles needed someone to narrate his 1968 Western Arizona Bushwhackers, the retired Cagney agreed to do it.

This article is related to: Journal, A.C. Lyles