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A.C. Lyles: "Mr. Paramount" Passes at 95

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Posted: Wednesday, January 8, 2014 7:19 pm

A.C. Lyles passed away at the age of 95 on September 27, 2013. His wife of 58 years, Martha Lyles, said A.C. died at their hilltop home in Bel Air, California. A.C. had been in failing health for over a year. Presently, no funeral services are planned. A private, invitation-only memorial service for family and close friends will be held at a later date and location to be determined.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made to the Motion Picture and Television Fund Retirement Home & Hospital (23388 Mulholland Drive, #220, Woodland Hills, CA 91364). Please note your donation "In Memory of A.C. Lyles" with your name and address so a card may be sent upon receipt.

A. C. is survived by his wife of 58 years, Martha Lyles, and their niece Wendy Johnsen and family.

A.C. and Martha Lyles were married on May 3, 1955 at the Little Brown Church in Studio City near the Sportsmen’s Lodge. In attendance were Ronald and Nancy Reagan and Mr. and Mrs. James Cagney. A.C. recalled, "During the ceremony I heard someone sniffling. I thought it was probably Nancy [Reagan]. When I turned to look, it was Jimmy [Cagney]!"

A.C. once explained his relationship with the Reagans and Cagneys: "Jimmy [Cagney] told me he was going to introduce me to a friend of his [Ronald Reagan]. He [Cagney] said, ‘When I do, we are going to be like this from now on.’ Jimmy [Cagney] held up his three middle fingers close together as a symbol of how close we would be." And so it was for the rest of their lives.

On May 17, 2013, A.C.’s last public appearance was at his 95th birthday party at a luncheon at Musso & Frank’s restaurant in Hollywood. The day was proclaimed "A.C. Lyles Day" in Los Angeles. Councilman Tom LaBonge, who represents the Hollywood area, spearheaded the proclamation. LaBonge presented A.C. with a City Council Proclamation at the luncheon. LeBonge said, "Every day is A.C. Lyles Day," before a star studded congregation of more than 60 stars, family and friends. LeBonge also added proclaiming the day in honor of A.C. Lyles was a unanimous decision by the Los Angeles City Council.

In attendance were such notables as Rhonda Fleming, Jane Withers, Anne Jeffreys, Buzz Aldrin, and Mickey Rooney. During his remarks A.C. got a great laugh from guests at the expense of a good-natured Rhonda Fleming. A.C. said Fleming asked him to give her eulogy [when the time comes]. Always ready with a quick-witted response, A.C. said, "Let me get my date book!"

Andrew Craddock Lyles, Jr. was born on May 17, 1918 in Jacksonville, Florida. On his tenth birthday, A.C. went to work at the Paramount-owned Florida Theatre. His job was to distribute handbills and bumper stickers promoting the theatre. He was paid in movie passes. For a young man who dreamed of being a Hollywood producer since seeing Wings in 1927, it was a good starting wage.

Ever ambitious, A.C. became a Page Boy three months later after talking the theatre manager into adding the position to the usher staff. A.C. worked seven nights a week, Saturday and Sunday afternoons, plus a midnight show on weekends. For the 35 hours, while still attending school, he was paid $2.50 per week.

Always thinking and working toward his goal of becoming a producer, A.C. wrote a letter to Paramount founder Adolf Zukor the day he was hired at the theatre. Four years later he was an usher, and also interviewed visiting celebrities for the Jacksonville Journal newspaper. A.C. was fourteen years old when Zukor visited Jacksonville. Their meeting would be a life-altering event for the young usher. After telling Zukor that he wanted to be a producer and make movies, Zukor said to finish high school and "keep in touch." To A.C., keeping in touch meant writing a letter every Sunday without fail.

Two years went by with no response from Zukor. A.C. would not give up, and continued to write the letters. When he was tipped off that Gary Cooper, who appeared in Wings, would have a 30-minute layover in Jacksonville on the way to Miami, A.C. managed to meet him. He told Cooper he would soon be working at Paramount (Cooper’s studio) for Mr. Zukor, and that he wrote to Zukor every Sunday. Cooper was amused, and asked young A.C. what he would be writing about that week. A.C. said, "I’ll tell him about meeting you." Cooper asked for pencil and paper and wrote: "Dear Mr. Zukor, I am looking forward to A.C. Lyles being with us at the studio. Regards, Gary Cooper." That week, A.C. included Gary Cooper’s note with his letter to Mr. Zukor.

As A.C. said, in large part because of Gary Cooper’s note, he heard from the office of Adolf Zukor for the first time. Zukor’s secretary, Sydney Brecker, wrote that the weekly letters had been received. She also added the studio mogul felt "you don’t have to write every week—every two or three months would suffice." A.C. continued the weekly letters to Zukor, as well as one to the secretary.

After graduation from Andrew Jackson High School, A.C. convinced the theatre and newspaper to send him to Hollywood to do a week of columns on Shirley Temple. A local department store which sold Shirley Temple dresses gave A.C. a suit, two shirts, two ties, and a pair of shoes in exchange for a published photo of him with Temple in the paper, while wearing the store’s clothing. Armed with a one-way day coach train ticket, two loaves of bread, two jars of peanut butter, a sack of apples, and $28 pinned securely inside his pocket, A.C. departed Jacksonville for Hollywood.

On his first day in Hollywood, dressed in his new suit, A.C. caught a bus to Twentieth Century-Fox Studio for the meeting with Shirley Temple. A.C. got the photo and interview with Shirley for the Jacksonville Journal, and made a friend for life. (Years later, A.C. would be best man at the wedding of Shirley and John Agar. A.C. commented "Jack and I were still in uniform then.")

A.C. then went to Paramount Pictures and announced at the gate, "Mr. Zukor is expecting me." The gate guard was not convinced until A.C. quickly showed him the letter from Zukor’s secretary. Remembering the four years of letters, Zukor allowed the 18 year old on the lot, and allowed him to fill in for a mailroom boy who was on vacation.

After only two weeks on the lot, A.C. made friends with some of the biggest stars at the studio. Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, Dorothy Lamour, Gary Cooper and others asked Zukor to keep him on. And so it was, that the young man with a big dream became a permanent fixture in the Paramount mail room. Zukor even took a personal interest in A.C. and assigned him to his office. A.C. spent his time hosting studio guests of Zukor, Cecil B. DeMille, and movie stars under contract at Paramount. Before Zukor transferred to New York, he introduced his young friend to the new studio boss, Y. Frank Freeman. The friendship between Zukor and A.C. continued until Zukor’s death at the age of 103.

Under Y. Frank Freeman, A.C. was promoted to the publicity department. He handled such actors as William Holden, Susan Hayward, Alan Ladd and other promising young stars of the day. At the age of 19, a unit was formed to produce a program of features for the studio, and A.C. was named Director of Publicity. Over the next 12 years he worked on more than seventy features. In 1954 A.C. was again promoted, this time to Associate Producer on the Spencer Tracy picture The Mountain.

A.C. earned his first producer credit on a film with one of his two best friends, James Cagney. In lieu of pay, Cagney agreed to not only star in, but also direct the picture out of his personal friendship with A.C. Shortcut To Hell was the only film Cagney ever directed.

A.C. formed his own production unit at Paramount in 1956, producing features and television programs. He is said to probably hold the record for the largest number of motion pictures ordered from a producer in a single contract; a minimum of ten features in two years.

When Paramount wanted A.C. to learn to produce Westerns, they loaned him to CBS for the television series Rawhide which would make a star of a young Clint Eastwood. A.C. was Associate Producer on the first nine episodes of the series in 1959. After that, a long list of western features for the studio was to follow. A.C. gained a reputation for making his highly successful pictures "on budget and on time."

Honors bestowed on A.C. are too numerous to mention. One of his many personal favorites came in 1966 when he and close friend John Wayne were each presented the prestigious Golden Spur Award; Wayne for being the most popular western star and A.C. as a producer for keeping the alive the spirit and tradition of the Old West in his films. Presenter Barbara Stanwyck (Missy to A.C.) said, "Duke and I have loved A.C. ever since he was a mail boy at this studio." To which John Wayne quickly added, "And he’s fulfilled what we all expected of him." Anyone who ever visited A.C.’s office saw his Golden Spur Award he so proudly accepted from and with his two great good friends. In 2001, A.C. became an Honorary Board Member of the Birthplace of John Wayne in Winterset, Iowa.

A.C. received the George Washington Award of the Freedoms Foundation, presented by President Ronald Reagan in the Oval Office at the White House in 1984. Pres. Reagan and A.C. were close friends for over 65 years. In the A.C. Lyles-produced 1988 Conversations With The Presidents, Pres. Reagan commented, "A.C. Lyles is as close to a member of the family as anyone can get." The series featured Presidents Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, and Ronald Reagan.

In 1983, Pres. Reagan appointed A.C. to the President’s White House Advisory Council on Private Sector Initiatives. In 1986, he was sworn in by then Vice President George H.W. Bush to the Presidential Board of Advisors on Private Sector Initiatives. A.C. was also appointed to the national board of ACTION, the federal volunteer agency.

During the Reagan Administration A.C. flew all over the world with President and Mrs. Reagan. During both the Reagan and Bush 41 administrations, A.C. functioned as celebrity liaison by getting his celebrity friends to attend or entertain at White House and other Presidential functions.

A.C. Lyles had the longest resume in Hollywood with his beginning at Paramount’s Florida Theatre in Jacksonville to his years at Paramount in Hollywood, running from 1928 to 2013 for an astounding 85 years. In honor of his contributions to the motion picture industry, A.C. received his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1988. His star is in front of the El Capitan Theatre (once owned by Paramount) and across the street from the former Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. Also, a building on the Paramount lot was named after him, complete with plaque reading "The A.C. Lyles Building."

Proclaimed by columnist Army Archerd as "Paramount’s Ambassador of Goodwill," and appointed by former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger by proclamation as "Hollywood’s Ambassador at Large" A.C. lived up to the honors. He was a well known and sought after speaker, as well as on-camera commentator to documentaries about celebrities and the entertainment industry. A.C. was also a United States Army Air Forces veteran, serving three years during World War II. As a Lieutenant, he was assigned to the headquarters of Admiral Chester Nimitz at Pearl Harbor.

Well into his 80s A.C. kept active in the industry, and he maintained his office at Paramount until his passing. The office itself once belonged to Fred Astaire when he was on the Paramount lot. In 2004 when David Milch called and asked A.C. to come on board as a Consulting Producer on the award winning HBO series Deadwood, A.C. answered with a yes.

Former First Lady Nancy Reagan said she was "deeply saddened" to hear of A.C.’s passing. "He was a Hollywood studio legend in every sense of the word—from mail room assistant and errand boy to movie and television producer, writer, publicist, advisor, distributor, studio ambassador, the list goes on and on. More than that, A.C. was a dear friend to both Ronnie [President Reagan] and me for over 50 years. He served on the White House Advisory Council on Private Sector Initiatives and along with his wife, Martha, gave back to the community and this country in so many ways. I will miss him and his colorful and truly memorable stories of Hollywood in her heyday."

Paramount Chairman and CEO, Brad Grey in a memo sent to studio employees called A.C. "A man of great talent and elegance, and a legend in our industry. Proud to be referred to as ‘Mr. Paramount,’ A.C. was the longest-serving employee in our studio’s history and a direct link to one of Hollywood’s most storied eras. For a remarkable 85 years, A.C. made Paramount his home, made us one of his family and always took a moment to share a story that reminded us just how fortunate we are to do the work that we do here."

A.C. was always positive in his way of being—never negative. He would be humbled by the love and devotion bestowed upon him by everyone from kings and princes, and the galaxy of stars he called friends, to the everyday person striving to make a living. His mantra was "never give up." Thank you A.C. for being such a big part of our world, and, on a personal note, we know you will be happy to see all your old friends again in Heaven.