by PETER BESAS
Lyle Stuart, born as Lionel Simon in Manhattan, probably the oldest surviving ex-mugg, died in Englewood, N.J. on June 24th, aged 83. Stuart served a stint on the old Variety in 1946 as a cub reporter. After leaving the company he published a book called “God Wears a Bowtie” a thinly-veiled novel which uses its author’s experiences on the paper as the armature for a first-person assault on Abel Green’s venality. At the time the book came out, it supposedly was read “under the desks” on West 46th Street.
When interviewed for “Inside Variety” on Jan. 4, 1994 in the Manhattan offices of his publishing company, Barricade Books, Stuart denied that he had any kind of grudge against Abel at the time. “Abel … always treated me very gently. I was young. I guess he thought I was more innocent than I was”.
Stuart claimed the book went into three printings and was also published in England and Australia. Abel refused to buy a copy of it. He read someone else’s.
Aside from his relatively-brief time at Variety, Stuart was largely known as a publisher of renegade titles. For years he clashed with columnist Walter Winchell and then published“The Secret Life of Walter Winchell” in 1953, which caused the famous radio commentator to send over a few of his “boys” to beat up Stuart, rather like the character based on Winchell in the film “The Sweet Smell of Success” was wont to do with those he didn’t like.
Lyle Stuart was an iconoclast and made no bones about calling a spade a spade, which on occasions got him into hot water. The most notorious book he published was William Powell’s “The Anarchist Cookbook”. Later Stuart knowingly published one of the most sensational literary hoaxes of the time, a best-seller called “Naked Came the Stranger” in 1969, purpotedly written by a Long Island housewife, but actually penned by 25 reporters from Newsday just to prove that a piece of shlock with the right ingredients could be made into a best-selller.
More recently, Lyle periodically sent out a personalized newsletter to all friends and clients called “Hot News!” which informed its readers not only of his new publishing projects, but also included paragraphs grinding his pet peeves and giving his personal views on politics and religion, or commenting on people he met during his travels.
The last “Hot News!” received by us came in the mail in early July. We quote from this last issue, numbered 553:
“Lyle was a man of great principles and appetites.
“His fervent crusade to protect the First Amendment was unceasing during his lifetime.
“His belief in the power of the written word led him to publish books popular and unpopular. Lyle didn’t have to agree with – and often didn’t — what he published. He did feel it was imperative that people receive information…”
The newsletter ends with tributes from some of the authors Lyle published. Paul Krassner, satirist and author, wrote: “Lyle was my oldest friend – we met in 1953 – my journalistic mentor and my first publisher. He died last night. The only compensation is that he lived such a full and purposeful life. An outspoken freethinker and uncompromising literary revolutionist…”
And Don Bain, author of more than 80 books wrote, “…The world has lost a courageous man who lived what he believed and spoke the truth”.
The last time we saw Lyle was at the Sardi’s dinner last September, which he attended with his long-time wife and collaborator, Carole, who survives him along with his children Rory, Sandra Lee and Jennifer. We are sad to see him go, for he was a true believer in the old Variety, who had known Johnny O’Connor, one of the original group that started Variety with Sime, and who shared our enthusiasm for the old sheet as it used to be.