Lyle Stuart: death of a Renegade

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He was one of New York's most colourful journalists and publisher of both books and magazines. He loved giant-sized ice cream sundaes to his doctor's dismay. A Rabelaisian figure, weighing over 240 lbs, he once, to celebrate a book sale, led a congo-line of his employees around Trafalgar Square. For years he feuded with America's most famous columnist Walter Winchell. But his most headline-making publishing caper was a book called "Naked Came the Stranger", supposedly written by a New York housewife, with a cover photo of a nude woman her hair cascading down her back.

After it came out it was revealed to be the joint work of 25 reporters on Newsday, each of whom contributed a different chapter. Its publisher Lyle Stuart, who died this week at the age of 83, wanted to prove the public would buy anything. Before the hoax was exposed the book had in fact made the Best Seller list. The cover photo, it turned out, had been ripped out of a Hungarian nudist magazine. That was Lyle Stuart, the renegade journalist-publisher. As a young journalist he founded a muck-raking magazine called Expose and a monthly tabloid called The Independent. His feud with Winchell started when the noted New York columnist ridiculed singer Josephine Baker in his column and used a racial joke that upset Stuart. In retaliation Stuart devoted an entire issue of The Independent to attacking the famous columnist – who he called the cheapest tipper in New York. Winchell, not unexpectedly, struck back.. The feud ended in a court case, with Stuart suing for libel, – and winning an $8,000 judgement, which he used to launch his book business. He published books which were controversial, including The Rich and the Super-Rich, The Sensuous Woman and Kitty Kelley's sensational Jackie Oh! At the height of the Cold War he supported Fidel Castro and in 1970 published, over the objections of his staff, a book entitled The Anarchist Cookbook, which included instructions on making bombs and home-made silencers for pistols, just at the time when anti-war and anti-establishment protests were beginning to grow. Even the author later disavowed the book (he was only l9 when he wrote it, he admitted, and was angry at being called up for military service) but Stuart, who held the copyright, continued to publish it. A big spender who was good to his employees, he was known to fly his entire publishing staff from top executives to shipping clerks, to Europe for parties at the Frankfurt Book Fair. He was also a big gambler. One night he came to a party at my home. Telling me he was on his way to the airport he handed me a suitcase. "Take care of it" he admonished. When he left he confided he was on his way to Las Vegas – then opening the case, revealing it to be stuffed with $50 and $100 bills -perhaps running into thousands. "I have a date at a casino" was all he said.

 

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