Ken Leighton 5:01 p.m., Nov. 24
New Year's Eve, 2001, the first year I ever rang out the old in a warm climate. Who says I'm not connected? While on vacation in Hollywood, a friend of a friend who worked in the Paramount mailroom had arranged for a drive-on for three friends and I.
Given the day, the lot was deserted. We had the run of the place, sneaking from soundstage to soundstage, stopping long enough to contemplate in awe the Marx Bros. Building.
We found our way to a glass trophy case that contained the Oscar Audrey Hepburn took home for her performance in Roman Holiday. A strong, masculine voice from behind broke the spell.
"She was quite an extraordinary lady," he articulated in undeniably familiar tones. "It was a delight just to be in her presence." It was a voice made familiar by many a testimonial in Hollywood documentaries. I turned, gazed up at the 6 foot 5 inch frame before me, and stammered, "You're A.C. Lyles!"
"You know of me?" he asked with genuine surprise in his voice.
Did I know of him? In my mind the man was as much a part of the studio as the fabled Bronson Gate!
A few hopelessly superficial observations based on 15 minutes spent in the company of Hollywood royalty. First off, compared to Lyles, Todd Gloria looks like a bleached albino. What a tan on that man! His blindingly white -- it practically glowed in the dark -- uniformly-manicured_-at-all-times hair was the perfect complement to the bronze skin below. (What I wouldn't give for a shot of Lyles together with Cesar Romero!) And I wish I had in my wallet what he shelled out for the suit. You could cut a filet mignon with the crisp crease in his French cuff. It was tough to resist the urge to run his lapel between my thumb and forefinger.
Andrew Craddock "A. C." Lyles, Jr. began his 85 year association with Paramount Pictures at the tender age of 10 when he started passing out promotional leaflets for the studio's theatre chain in his hometown of Jacksonville, Florida.
He moved to Hollywood where he quickly found employment in the Paramount mailroom. He worked publicity for the studio's second feature unit and in 1956 became Eddie Dmytryk's assistant producer on The Mountain.
Lyles first took full producer's credit on Shortcut to Hell directed by and starring his old pal, Jimmy Cagney.
Apart from acting as preeminent witness to our times, Lyles is best remembered among film diehards for a string of a dozen or so low budget westerns he produced for the studio between 1960 and 1968. They were honest, old fashioned, and most enjoyable genre programmers designed to round out a double-bill. All of them featured faded stars -- Dana Andrews, Pat O'Brien, Jane Russell, Linda Darnell, Yvonne DeCarlo, Lon Chaney, Jr., Brian Donlevy, Howard Keel, etc. -- eager to grasp hold of the last remaining threads of the studio system.
In a brief and uncharacteristic move, Lyles ventured outside the Paramount arch in 1972 long enough to produce the giant-killer-rabbit epic, Night of the Lepus, for M-G-M. The result: a staggeringly bad instant cult classic.
It was back to Paramount Television where he acted as executive producer on Here's Boomer and as consulting producer on the cult cable classic, Deadwood.
By the time we were fortunate enough to have met him, A.C. Lyles had become the Joe Louis of the Paramount backlot, an official greeter, historian, and goodwill ambassador. He spent 15 minutes walking us around his "office," occasionally interrupting the anecdotal remembrances of Cecil B. DeMille, John Wayne, and Alfred Hitchcock long enough to highlight points of interest.
Towards the end of our tour, Mr. Lyles asked what brought us inside the hallowed gate. What response could possibly have topped the thought of a personal tour by a Hollywood giant?
A.C. Lyles died of natural causes in Los Angeles on September 27, 2013. He was 95. Thanks for the use of the backlot, Mr. Lyles, and the unforgettable moments spent in your company.
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