By William Wolf


I wish Leonard Lyons could be alive to see the loving and spirited book his son Jeffrey has written honoring him. In "Stories My Father Told Me" (Abbyville Press, $35), with a foreward by Charles Osgood, Jeffrey Lyons has culled material from the syndicated New York Post column, “The Lyons Den," that his father, Leonard Lyons, wrote for 40 years (1934 to 1974), a total of 12,479 columns, each 1000 words long. He has also provided some of his own interviewing that helps mold the book into a unique father-son enterprise.

To my knowledge there has never been a book collection of as many anecdotes about so many of the famous. On occasion I watched Leonard Lyons make a columnist's rounds on the Manhattan nightclub scene in the years when the legendary nightspots flourished. It was where he spoke with the celebrities of the times, and one could read the results in his popular quote-packed columns.

Unlike some other columnists, his approach was not to try to be bitchy and scandalous, but to pick up interesting stories about the celebrities and their activities. He sometimes also would get material from movie company junkets to film locations. Leonard Lyons was one of the prime press people of his day and Hollywood companies would eagerly seek his participation.

It was on one of those trips that I met Jeffrey, then a youth whom his father took along to show him the ropes, as he did on various assignments, which gave Jeffrey remarkable opportunities to meet the famous in experiences that were to serve him well in his own career. During the trip we sat together on a plane and chatted. I could see how enthusiastic and inquisitive he was. Subsequently he matured into his multi-faceted career as a renowned television critic and host, a prolific author and educator conducting a popular, long-running movie preview class.

His own abilities are reflected in this blend of a book, and although the spotlight is on his father and the stories he told in his columns, Jeffrey’s additions bring anecdotes up to date. Within these pages you can read stories about such diverse celebrities as Albert Einstein, the Marx Brothers, Bob Hope, Garbo, Chaplin, Ty Cobb, Picasso, George Bernard Shaw, The Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Tallulah Bankhead, David Ben-Gurion, Ingrid Bergman, Winston Churchill, Joe DiMaggio, Helen Keller, Gypsy Rose Lee, Harry Truman and Orson Wells.

A further sampling: Marc Chagall, Salvador Dali, Ernest Hemingway, Audrey Hepburn, Alfred Hitchcock, Marilyn Monroe, Laurence Olivier, Frank Sinatra, Richard Burton, Lyndon Johnson, Jack Kennedy, Sophia Loren, Billy Wilder, Michael Caine, Clint Eastwood, George Carlin and Jay Leno.

There are many, many more. The anecdotes come with machine-gun rapidity. I won’t relay any of them—you’ll have to read the book--except one in the introduction that really sets the scene.

“One day when I was in the fifth grade,” Jeffrey Lyons writes, “the members of my class were asked to stand in turn and tell what their fathers did for a living. (Back then there were few working mothers.) I remember hearing ‘lawyer,’ ‘doctor.’ ‘investment banker,’ ‘painter,’ ‘musician.’ Then came my turn and I said, ‘columnist.’ No one seemed to know what that meant, so I said, ‘My father writes about your fathers.’”

The book is replete with photographs, including of Leonard Lyons with his wife (Jeffrey’s mother). There are many striking shots showing the columnist with notables whom he had met and interviewed.

“Stories My Father Told Me” not only pays warm tribute to a father by his son, but recalls a particular time in our history and the people worth chronicling. Reviewed November 25, 2012.


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