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Controversial Publisher Lyle Stuart, 83

By Matt Schudel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Lyle Stuart, a maverick publisher who built his career on best-selling books on sex, scandal and radical politics that others thought too hot to handle, died June 24 at a New Jersey hospital after a heart attack. He was 83 and lived in Fort Lee, N.J.

Mr. Stuart, who proudly called himself a "First Amendment fanatic," developed his reputation by snapping up controversial titles that most publishing houses refused to touch. A cheerful iconoclast often pilloried as a purveyor of sleaze, he published books that revealed government secrets, exposed the private lives of celebrities and became how-to guides for the radical left and the radical right.

As the owner of Lyle Stuart Inc. and later Barricade Books, Mr. Stuart had an eclectic portfolio that defied all categories except his own interests. Gambling guides -- which Mr. Stuart wrote -- appeared alongside biographies, sex manuals and books about the FBI and CIA.

One of his most notorious titles, 1970's "The Anarchist Cookbook" by William Powell, was essentially a field manual for radicals.

"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."

In 1996, he republished William L. Pierce's "The Turner Diaries," a white supremacist fantasy written in 1978 about bombing federal buildings and killing blacks and Jews. Mr. Stuart agreed to publish the "Diaries" -- which Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh once sold at gun shows -- only if he could write an introduction, in which he pronounced it "ignorant" and "a dreadful book."

"I've always tested the limits of the First Amendment," Mr. Stuart told The Post in 1996. "I'm a great believer in letting anybody publish the most outrageous, unpopular things there are."

Early in his career, while Mr. Stuart was an editor for Mad magazine, he founded a tough-minded investigative paper called Expos?, which became the Independent. In 1978, he battled the Justice Department to win the right to publish Philip Agee's "Dirty Work," about clandestine CIA operations overseas. Never bothered by contradiction, he published the autobiography of Fidel Castro in 1984, a year after Arthur Milton's "A Nation Saved: Thank You, President Reagan."

In 1953, after popular columnist and radio host Walter Winchell made derogatory racial comments about dancer Josephine Baker, Mr. Stuart wrote a scathing biography, "The Secret Life of Walter Winchell." On his radio show, Winchell threatened that "anyone selling the filth of Lyle Stuart" could end up in jail. Mr. Stuart promptly sued and won a settlement, which he used to bankroll his fledgling company.

In the 1950s, he published books by psychologist Albert Ellis on sexual liberation, including "The Case for Sexual Liberty" and "Sex Without Guilt." He showed frontal nudity long before Playboy and Penthouse and in 1969 had a bestseller in the pastiche "Naked Came the Stranger," a sex spoof written as a lark by 25 journalists at Newsday.

In 1978, Mr. Stuart published Kitty Kelley's first book, "Jackie Oh!" When Kelley left him for more lucrative publishing houses, Mr. Stuart commissioned "Poison Pen: The Unauthorized Biography of Kitty Kelley."

Six years later, when Random House withdrew C. David Heymann's mistake-riddled biography of Barbara Hutton, "Poor Little Rich Girl," Mr. Stuart could hardly believe his luck.

"All I had to do was wait for it to land in my hands," he told the Chicago Tribune. "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.' "

Mr. Stuart, whose name at birth was Lionel Simon, was born Aug. 11, 1922, in New York. He dropped out of high school, joined the Merchant Marine and served in the Air Transport Command during World War II. He worked for the International News Service, Variety and other publications before founding his own publishing concerns.

A garrulous raconteur, Mr. Stuart had a wide circle of friends, admitted to a lively sex life and was fond of gambling. His books on gambling are still in print, and in his 1978 interview with The Post, he boasted that he'd won $166,505 in his past 10 visits to Las Vegas.

In 1995, he was sued by casino tycoon Steve Wynn over allegations in a Stuart-published book that Wynn had connections to organized crime. Mr. Stuart initially was ordered to pay $3.1 million and went into bankruptcy. After nine years, the judgment was overturned, and the case was settled out of court.

Mr. Stuart's first wife, Mary Louise Stuart, died in 1969.

Survivors include his wife of 23 years, Carole Livingston Stuart; two children from his first marriage; and a stepdaughter.

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