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
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.
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.