A.C. Lyles – producer, publicist and one of the last links to Hollywood’s early years – has died at the age of 95. He was 10 years old in 1928 when he handed out fliers at a Paramount owned theater in Jacksonville, Florida and 20 when he had saved enough money working as an usher to take the train to California and arrive at the Paramount gate expecting to get a job. He got one in the Paramount mailroom.
In a career at Paramount that lasted more than 80 years, he moved from the mailroom to the publicity department to the producer of low budget westerns to a role as Paramount’s unofficial ambassador. Immensely likeable, he knew everybody during the golden days of the studio system and in 1988 was awarded his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Andrew Craddock Lyles, Jr. was born on May 17, 1918 in Jacksonville, Fla. In an interview with National Public Radio in 2011, he reminisced about the Hollywood of the 1930s. He described Gloria Swanson arriving at the Paramount gate with two young girls who held baskets of rose petals. “She got out of her chauffeur driven car, and the young girls would walk in front of her and toss rose petals for her to walk on,” he said. Lyles, a high school graduate, said that Paramount was his university and director Cecil B. DeMille and studio head Adolph Zukor his teachers. One of the things Zukor taught him was how to dress. He would quote the saying: “Dress British but think Yiddish.” And Lyles became immaculate in Savile Row suits.
The first movie he produced, “Short Cut to Hell” (1957), a remake of the classic 1942 film “This Gun For Hire,” was directed by James Cagney. According to an interview cited by Wikipedia, when his first western, “Law of the Lawless” (1964) did well, Paramount asked him how many he could produce in a year and he answered, “Five.” From 1964 through 1968 he produced 13, starring, among others, Jane Russell, Dale Robertson, Dana Andrews, Rory Calhoun, and Yvonne De Carlo. His 24 credits as a producer also include the science fiction movie, “Night of the Lepus” (1972) in which giant mutant rabbits terrorize the countryside.
He told NPR that he thought western movies would survive because “The Western is the most moral story you can tell — good against evil, with the good always winning out.”
In a 2006 interview with “Cowboys and Indians,” Lyles spoke of his pride in his western movies. “I had a wonderful rhythm of making westerns — sometimes four a year. Sometimes I wrote the stories. And I did all the casting. It was like a one-man studio within a studio… And the pictures were well done, if I do say so myself. We never went over-schedule, never went over-budget… We never had a picture that lost money. And that is quite a remarkable record, one that I’m very proud of.” He added that John Ford, the famous director of westerns, once came to him and asked why Lyles had never asked him to direct one of his movies. Lyles’ answer: “Because I couldn’t afford you.”
Among his friends was a young actor who arrived in Hollywood at about the same time, Ronald Reagan. When his friend was in the White House, Lyles served as an unofficial advisor. He, himself, was an actor only once. He is credited as “Advisor #1” in the 1990 thriller, “Hunt For Red October.”
Although his last years were spent mostly as Paramount’s ambassador, he did have one final job – as a consulting producer on the HBO western television series, “Deadwood,” in 2005-2006.