Lyle Stuart, 83; Published 'Jackie Oh!,' 'Inside the FBI' and Other Sensational Books

Times Staff Writer

Lyle Stuart, the maverick book publisher best known for such sensational fare as "The Sensuous Woman," "Inside the FBI" and "The Anarchist Cookbook," has died. He was 83.

Stuart, who died Saturday after suffering a heart attack at his home in Fort Lee, N.J., preferred to think of himself as the "last publisher in America with any guts."

Lyle Stuart Inc. was launched in 1956 with $8,000 -- from a settlement that Stuart won in a libel suit against gossip columnist Walter Winchell, with whom he had a lengthy feud. The publishing company operated under the basic policy of releasing books that mainstream companies wouldn't touch.

Stuart helped launch the trend in sex-related books in the late 1960s and early '70s by publishing "The Sensuous Woman" and "The Sensuous Man."

His small firm also published the autobiography of porn star Linda Lovelace ("Ordeal") and scandalous biographies of J. Edgar Hoover ("Inside the FBI") and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis (Kitty Kelley's bestselling "Jackie Oh!) -- as well as such books as "The Last Chance Diet" and "The Rich and the Super-Rich."

Stuart said he published "The Anarchist Cookbook," a 1970 guide to making bombs by William Powell, "against the wishes of everyone in my office."

"I liked it, but nobody else did -- and, of course, no other publisher would touch it," he told the Washington Post in 1978. "You know, it tells you how to make Molotov cocktails and blow up police stations.

"I went out on the road to promote that book, because the author was 21 and nervous, and then I went into court to defend it. One judge in Denver announced in court that the book would be given a fair trial even though he had received a bomb threat a few days earlier."

A 1985 story on Stuart by the Chicago Tribune stated that he was, "depending on whom you talk to, either America's most courageous publisher or its most crassly exploitive."

When Random House recalled C. David Heymann's biography of Barbara Hutton, "Poor Little Rich Girl," because of its inaccuracies, Stuart picked up the rights for a modest $5,000.

"It was like an apple falling from a tree," he said of the book in the Chicago Tribune interview. "All I had to do was wait for it to land in my hands. When you have a reputation as a madman, the controversial ones always do. 'Call Lyle Stuart,' they say. 'He's the only one crazy enough to publish something like this.' "

The book that has been described as Stuart's "promotional masterpiece" was "Naked Came the Stranger," the bestselling 1969 novel by Penelope Ashe about the sexual adventures of a suburban housewife.

Dubbed "a demure Long Island housewife" on the book's dust jacket, Ashe appeared on numerous TV talk shows. It turned out that the novel was a literary hoax, however, and a woman had been recruited to portray Ashe. The book had actually been written by 25 staffers at the Long Island, N.Y., newspaper Newsday. Each wrote one chapter--a revelation that did nothing to remove the book from bestseller lists.

Despite his reputation for publishing such titles as "Sun-Warmed Nudes" and "The World's Best Dirty Jokes," Stuart also published serious books, including Norberto Fuentes' "Hemingway in Cuba," with an introduction by Nobel Prize winner Gabriel Garcia Marquez; Alan Abrams' "Special Treatment," an "untold story" of the Holocaust; and the CIA exposes "Dirty Work" and "Dirty Work 2."

Stuart, a member of a pro-Fidel Castro group during the Cold War, also published the Cuban revolutionary's "History Will Absolve Me" in 1961.

In 1989, Stuart sold his company, which included Citadel Press and University Books, for more than $12 million. A year later, he launched Barricade Books and continued to stir controversy.

In 1996, he published a paperback edition of "The Turner Diaries," a 1978 novel about a Los Angeles electrician who joins an underground militia that, among other things, blows up federal buildings in an attempt to create a whites-only America.

"The Turner Diaries" was written and self-published by Andrew Macdonald, the pen name for William L. Pierce, head of the National Alliance, a major white-supremacist organization. The book, which had previously been available through mail order and was said to have been read by Oklahoma City bomber Timothy J. McVeigh, created a furor among human rights groups.

Stuart, a self-described atheist of Jewish ancestry, warned readers of the book's contents on the cover in bold red letters: "THIS BOOK CONTAINS RACIST PROPAGANDA. THE FBI SAID IT WAS THE BLUEPRINT FOR THE OKLAHOMA CITY BOMBING."

In his five-page introduction, Stuart argued that people should know what "the enemy is thinking."

" 'The Turner Diaries' is a bigoted book," he wrote. "For that reason alone, should it be suppressed? ... Is the disease that it contains so infectious that anyone reading it will catch a dose of bigotry and hatred?

"I don't think so, and I hope not."

As he told the Washington Post at the time: "I'm a nut on just a few things in life. I've always tested the limits of the 1st Amendment. I'm a great believer in letting anybody publish the most outrageous, unpopular things there are."

Leonore Fleischer, a columnist for Publishers Weekly, once said of Stuart: "He has done some very sleazy publishing. But I think he has integrity. His principles may not agree with yours or mine, the world may not like his principles, but he acts on them, he will stand by them, whatever they are."

The son of a salesman and a secretary, Stuart was born Lionel Simon in New York City on Aug. 11, 1922. Stuart, whose father committed suicide when Stuart was 6, dropped out of high school in Brooklyn just shy of graduation. After encountering anti-Semitism while in the merchant marine during World War II, he changed his name.

Starting his career in journalism as a news service reporter in 1945, Stuart spent the next few years working as a reporter for Variety and serving as editor of Music Business magazine. In 1951, he started Expose (later known as the Independent), a monthly newspaper that published controversial articles. In 1952, he became business manager for MAD magazine.

Stuart also was a contributor to Walter Winchell's newspaper column and in retaliation for Winchell's ridicule of singer Josephine Baker with a racial joke, Stuart wrote the 1953 book "The Secret Life of Walter Winchell."

Stuart's Barricade Books was forced into bankruptcy in 1997 after casino owner Stephen A. Wynn (the subject of an unauthorized Stuart-published biography) won a $3.1-million libel judgment over a line of catalog copy that linked him to organized crime. Stuart continued publishing, and the judgment was later reversed.

Although he was known for being tight-fisted with authors' advances and reviewers' copies of his books, Stuart provided expense-paid vacations for as many as 40 of his employees to Puerto Rico, Europe and other destinations.

Stuart, who was known for carrying a $25,000 bankroll in a suitcase during junkets to casinos in Atlantic City, N.J., and Las Vegas in the '80s, wrote several books on gambling: "Casino Gambling for the Winner," "Lyle Stuart on Baccarat" and "Winning at Casino Gambling."

Stuart's first wife, Mary Louise, died of cancer in 1969. He is survived by his second wife, Carole; a son, Rory; a daughter, Sandra Lee Stuart; a stepdaughter, Jennifer Kern; and three grandchildren.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
60°