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Adios To A.C. Lyles

by Leonard Maltin
October 1, 2013 12:56 PM
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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.

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  • Jim Beaver | October 4, 2013 3:12 AMReply

    I got to talk to A.C. every day on the Deadwood set, and it was one of the biggest thrills for me of a project which remains the greatest thrill of my career. To be on a show of that astounding quality as part of the core cast, and then for a film buff of my devotion to have A.C. Lyles to talk to every day will forever be one of the great blessings of my life. A.C. was so good, so personable, so generous, and so warm. I will miss him all my remaining days.

  • Tom Haigh | October 3, 2013 12:53 PMReply

    A wonderful and heartfelt tribute to a real Hollywood legend Leonard. I too treasured everytime I was lucky enough to cross AC's path, and stop for a moment to enjoy his classic smile and conversation. A true Golden Era treasure to be remembered, and missed.

  • Christy From Texas | October 3, 2013 8:19 AMReply

    I was lucky enough to meet him and chat with him at one of the Turner Classic Film Festivals, and found him to be an endearing, charming sweetheart of a man who shared many wonderful stories about his fascinating life.

  • Brian | October 3, 2013 1:13 AMReply

    A.C. Lyles was always a welcome sight in many documentaries over the years on Hollywood, the studios, the stars, the moguls -- he was there in the middle of it during those years and often knew the people concerned personally. I used to see him, filmed usually in his office, looking like a true ambassador -- I'd often think 'why hasn't THIS guy got his own show?' as he was class personified.

    I like how you mentioned Leonard about those 1960s westerns he produced -- I remember seeing the ads for these in newspapers (on microfilm), usually on the second half of a double bill, but as you said, they always had great stars in them and when you see them on television, even though they seemed low budget, the movies themselves and the performances are top notch.

    I don't know if he ever wrote a book or a biography, but if not, perhaps this might be a good idea to have a book written about someone who should be remembered, certainly for his work in continuing the legacy of his collegues and friends by sharing stories and work ethics, and as a living source of film history. A book on Paramount and A.C. Lyles - a trip through time with both -- would certainly make interesting reading.

  • Max Fraley | October 3, 2013 12:38 AMReply

    Over the years when attending various functions of cinema I've enjoyed the opportunity to talk with AC Lyles. He was the epitome of friendliness with smile and grace. He obviously loved the business he represented. I remember when I disclosed to him my favorite films were SHANE and THE WILD BUNCH he smiled and shared with me a necklace and pendant he wore that was a gift from Alan Ladd whom he considered a fine actor and true gentleman. The movies are certainly better off because of AC Lyles. I doubt if there will ever be a better friend to the business.

  • ron reid jr | October 2, 2013 4:05 AMReply

    When I came out to Hollywood hear about the business and visited Paramount Studios. I got to see the bench of FOREST GUMP and got to talk to one of the cast- from the STAR TREK TV SERIES. But my highlight was hearing AC Lyles. He spoke on never giving up and showing people you want to succeed despite all odds. He wrote a letter a week from a young age to the Studios to hire him and didn't stop until they did. What an amazing man. His words hold true. You can't give up if you want to succeed. I haven't become famous yet but I have kept on making films (100 postings on youtube and many awards (14+)). Thank you AC Lyles, you made a young man's dream real. Ron Reid Jr filmmaker/actor

  • Bruce Crawford | October 2, 2013 3:49 AMReply

    A.C. Lyles was one of the most remarkable people I have ever known.
    His knowledge and story telling ability of old Hollywood is unequaled . He was a guest of mine 3 times and never once did he disappoint in any way. Most of all he was a lot of fun to be around and had a most positive outlook on life. I will miss him dearly.

  • mike schlesinger | October 1, 2013 7:07 PMReply

    I met him when I came to work at Paramount in 1989 and we instantly bonded. Whenever I could, I'd take a break to go over to his office and listen to his tales of the old days and marvel at the staggering array of photographs that lined his walls. He returned the affection--often gently chiding me during the time I wore a beard--and was always there for me, as he was for everyone. People always use the cliche "end of an era" whenever a major star passes away, but in this case I think it's just about right.

  • Nat Segaloff | October 1, 2013 6:16 PMReply

    It takes one veteran to know another. Good work, Leonard, for a beautifully personalized piece about a remarkable spirit.

  • Boyd Magers | October 1, 2013 5:03 PMReply

    He was a friend to me for 20 years or more. He never turned down a request for help on a project...and he usually went the extra mile on his own.
    Some people pass on and we think of them...others are truly missed. A.C. will be more than truly missed by all of us, whether you knew him or not.

  • James Knuttel | October 1, 2013 4:18 PMReply

    Nice tribute, Leonard. I meet A.C. several times over the past 15 years. He was indeed a very nice man.

  • Michael Mallory | October 1, 2013 4:15 PMReply

    A.C. was one of the nicest men, most gracious men I ever met. Visiting him in his office, he made you feel like you were the star. He was truly the last of the Hollywood gentlemen.

  • J.C. Vaughn | October 1, 2013 3:46 PMReply

    Leonard -

    What a nice piece about someone who sounds like a really good guy. Our culture tends to celebrate the loud rather than the good, so a thanks particularly for telling me about a man I doubt I would have heard about otherwise.

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