Novelist, founder of Palm Springs Film Noir Festival

Times Staff Writer

Arthur Lyons, who wrote a number of detective novels set in California and co-founded the Palm Springs Film Noir Festival, died Friday. He was 62.

A former Palm Springs city councilman, Lyons died at Desert Regional Medical Center of pneumonia and complications from a stroke, according to Janie Hughes, a director of the Palm Springs Walk of Stars.

Lyons helped launch the film festival with Craig Prater in 2001, after writing crime novels in the style of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler for more than 25 years. His protagonist, Jacob Asch, was a cynic with a sense of integrity and a genuine concern for others.

Starting with Lyons’ first novel, “The Dead Are Discreet” in 1974, he delved into California cults, rebellious youth (“Castles Burning”), pornography (“Hard Trade”) and other seedbeds of criminal activity. Critics admired “the pungency of his style, the neat planning and the avoidance of hokum,” according to a 1975 article about Lyons’ novels in the New York Times.


“Castles Burning,” set in Palm Springs, was made into a television movie renamed “Slow Burn,” starring Eric Roberts as Asch, in 1986.

As the host of the annual film noir festival, Lyons wore “gangster” suits and fedoras that encouraged audiences to dress up like gun molls and mob hit men.

“I try to make it a happening,” Lyons said of the festival in a 2003 interview with the Desert Sun newspaper.

The schedule included three days of movies and interviews with Old Hollywood actors, including Rhonda Fleming, and writers, among them Mickey Spillane.

Photography exhibits, displays of vintage cars and a temporary “noir” bookstore rounded out the program.

The festival was held most years at the Camelot Theatres in Palm Springs, with a screening schedule heavy on lesser-known B crime movies from the ‘40s and ‘50s.

There were a few classic films on each program, starting with “Double Indemnity” (1944), a pinnacle of the genre. More obscure titles included “The Brasher Doubloon” (1947) starring George Montgomery, screened at the festival in 2003. The movie, about a quest for a coveted gold coin, is based on Chandler’s detective novel “The High Window.”

Lyons featured collectors at the festival who screened films from their private holdings.


He also added “neo-noir” films, including “Pulp Fiction,” the 1994 movie directed by Quentin Tarantino.

“He started working on the festival at least 10 months ahead,” said Pam Chandler, senior operations manager at Camelot Theatres, this week. “It was labor intensive, but of all the film festivals held at the theater, people had the most fun at the noir film festival.”

Lyons was born Jan. 5, 1946, in Los Angeles and moved to Palm Springs at about age 11.

His father, Arthur, and uncle David became partners in a Palm Springs restaurant.


Lyons graduated from UC Santa Barbara in 1967 and then worked in the family business.

Along with his novels, he wrote several nonfiction books, including “Death on the Cheap: The Lost B Movies of Film Noir,” in 2000.

He was a community activist and served on the Palm Springs City Council from 1992 to 1996.

Lyons was married twice. He is survived by his second wife, Barbara, and his uncle David.


This year’s film noir festival will go on as planned, May 29 through June 1.