AC Lyles: Film producer who worked in Hollywood for 75 years


AC Lyles, who died on 27 September at the age of 95, rose from mail boy to producer at Paramount Pictures and became the studio's longest-serving employee during a tenure that lasted more than three quarters of a century. He was 18 when he arrived in Hollywood from his native Florida to work in Paramount's mailroom in 1937. There, as the person who delivered fan letters, the outgoing Lyles became friendly with most of the major stars of the era, including Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Dorothy Lamour and William Holden.

His celebrity contacts were invaluable when Lyles started producing such Westerns as The Young and the Brave, Stage to Thunder Rock, Apache Uprising and Johnny Reno in the 1960s. He persuaded friends such as Joel McCrea, Randolph Scott, Jane Russell and Dana Andrews to appear in his films, even talking Cagney into directing one of them, the gangster movie Short Cut to Hell.

Studio executives had recognised Lyles' breezy manner years earlier and promoted him to the publicity department. Soon he was named publicity chief for Pine-Thomas, Paramount's B-picture arm. After Pine-Thomas folded in the 1950s, Lyles convinced Paramount bosses he could produce saleable films with well-known if slightly faded stars on low budgets. He was also credited as associate producer on nine episodes of the hit TV series Rawhide. His last producer credit was for the 2005-06 HBO series Deadwood.

As Paramount's ambassador of goodwill, Lyles appeared regularly in his later years at festivals, colleges and nostalgia conventions to talk about the studio's legacy and its current product. He also welcomed visiting notables to the studio and conducted tours of the Paramount lot.

Lyles worked well into his nineties, operating out of a suite once occupied by Fred Astaire and bedecked with photographs of the many stars Lyles had been friends with. Until the past year he would arrive at the studio every day in his mint-condition 1955 Ford Thunderbird. "I love my job," he said in a 1998 interview. "If the studio was open on Saturday and Sunday, I'd be there on those days, too."

Lyles said he went to work for Paramount aged nine, distributing bumper stickers for the company's theatre in his hometown of Jacksonville, Florida. He left for Hollywood as soon he graduated from high school. Throughout his life, Andrew Craddock Lyles went by the initials AC, explaining that it was an old Southern tradition.