Maverick publisher Lyle Stuart died a year and a half ago, June 2006. I worked for him beginning twenty years ago, until he sold the company, Lyle Stuart Inc., to Steven Schragis and Carol Publishing in 1989. Lyle and I shared a warm relationship over the next 2 decades and I wrote this remembrance to honor him when he passed.
Lyle Stuart’s accomplishments are myriad. Several bestsellers, many more free speech battles, and even more lawsuits and feuds. He loved a good fight, and was not afraid to take an unpopular stand, as his FBI records obtained by the Freedom of Information act could attest. He supported Castro during the revolution and published The Anarchist Cookbook. The bumper sticker on his company car stated in bold type “Question Authority.”
He was my boss, the first to hire me as an in-house art director in 1987. He was also my friend. Everything about him was oversized: his bulk, his features, his outrageousness, his generosity. By the time I came on board the elaborate all expenses paid trips for the entire staff were a thing of the past: China, Cuba, even one to a nudist camp out west. Legend had it when The Sensuous Women hit and hit big in the 1960s, he gathered up the entire company, stock workers and all, and took them on a tour of Europe. The phone was ringing off the hook at the office from booksellers trying to place orders, but there was no one there to receive the calls.
When I came along these outings were relegated to trips to Atlantic City. More than once he would stop work mid week and everyone would line up outside his office. There, in single file, they would be handed an envelope. Mine contained $100 in small bills. Once, when my wife tagged along, she received the same.
We then boarded one of two large buses, led by a black limousine carrying Lyle and his wife Carole. On board, we could drink (there was a bartender in tow) or watch movies. When we arrived in Atlantic City and debarked, Lyle stood by the door and handed us each a coupon for $15 of free tokens and a free lunch. Following him to the suite upstairs that he rented, which was fully catered (in case anyone didn’t want to spend their time in the casino) he unsnapped the brown valise he was carrying. In it was what I estimated to be $10,000 in cash. Story was, if you were losing money and followed Lyle around for the day, he would refresh your supply.
Lyle was a gambler. He gambled with books, the more controversial the better. He gambled with personal wealth, starting a new publishing company when most his age were entering retirement, and gave away much of what he made to his loyal staff when he sold his old one. One time, when I was working into the evening, Lyle returned to the office from a private trip to Atlantic City, buoyant. He had won and won big. A timid gambler myself, I asked him if over the course of his lifetime he won more than he lost. I now regret the question. He paused a moment and answered in his usual forthright manner: lost. Thinking back, on that instance, and his passing, I realize he was wrong.