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Lyle Stuart, Publisher of Renegade Titles, Dies at 83

Lyle Stuart, Publisher of Renegade Titles, Dies at 83

Anthony Ramirez, New York Times

Lyle Stuart, a renegade journalist and publisher whose picaresque life included clashes with Walter Winchell, the publication of Naked Came the Stranger and the decision to print The Anarchist Cookbook, died on Saturday at Englewood Hospital and Medical Center in Englewood, N.J. He was 83 and lived in Fort Lee, N.J.

The cause of death was a heart attack, said his wife, Carole.

In his first career as a journalist in the 1940's and 50's, Mr. Stuart clashed with the powerful columnist Walter Winchell and supported Fidel Castro. In his second, as a publisher, he was notorious for The Anarchist Cookbook. Written by William Powell, the book, which included instructions on making bombs and homemade silencers for pistols, was first released in 1970 at the height of antiwar and anti-establishment protests. Web sites inspired by the book are still proliferating.

Mr. Stuart published the book against his own staff's wishes. "I liked it, but nobody else did — and of course no other publisher would touch it," he told an interviewer in 1978. In 2000, the author, Mr. Powell, told The Observer of London that he disavowed the book, written when he was 19; later, in an open letter on Amazon.com, he called it "a misguided product of my adolescent anger at the prospect of being drafted." But Mr. Stuart, who held the copyright, continued to publish it.

He courted controversy again in 1996 when he reissued The Turner Diaries, an anti-government novel self-published by a neo-Nazi in 1978. It is said to have been a favorite of Timothy J. McVeigh, executed for killing 169 people with a truck bomb in Oklahoma City in 1995.Mr. Stuart was also famous for knowingly publishing one of the most sensational literary hoaxes of the time: Naked Came the Stranger (1969), a sex novel written by "a demure Long Island housewife," the dust jacket said. It was actually written by 25 reporters from Newsday, intent on proving the public would buy anything, in a kind of relay race of bad prose. The book became an immediate best seller before the hoax was revealed and stayed on the list long after.

A raconteur of the roundabout school, Mr. Stuart once began a conversation, "Well, I was in a nudist colony in California ... ," before eventually explaining how he obtained the cover art for Naked Came the Stranger, a photograph of a nude woman, back to the camera, brunette hair cascading to her waist. He ripped it out of a nudist magazine from Hungary, he recalled. (The surprised model and photographer later demanded payment, and received it, he said.)

Mr. Stuart was named Lionel Simon when he was born in Manhattan, the son of a salesman and a secretary. His father committed suicide when the boy was 6.

As a teenager, he dropped out of James Madison High School near Gravesend, Brooklyn, and joined the merchant marine. He later changed his name to Lyle Stuart, in part because he liked the ring of it but also because of the anti-Semitism he encountered in the Merchant Marine.

At 22 he married Mary Louise Strawn, started a family and began founding small muckraking publications like Exposé and a monthly tabloid called The Independent. But it was his fight with Winchell, one of the most powerful newspaper columnists in the 1940's and 1950's, that first won him notoriety.

A contributor to Winchell's column, Mr. Stuart would recall later that he was incensed when Winchell ridiculed the entertainer Josephine Baker in his column, using a racial joke in dialect. "I wrote eight tabloid pages about Winchell, the entire issue," he said in 2003. "I knew him very well. I knew who the No. 1 girlfriend of the moment was — oh, yeah, he was married; where he was renting a love nest for $30 a month; that — next to Rudy Vallee — he was the cheapest tipper in New York."

Winchell struck back, and the exchanges grew more furious until Mr. Stuart sued for libel and won an $8,000 judgment. He used the money to start Lyle Stuart Inc., whose first book, on allergies, was The Pulse Test (1956). At the height of the cold war, Mr. Stuart supported Fidel Castro and published his History Will Absolve Me (1961). When the State Department barred him that year from visiting Cuba, it declared with unusual bluntness, "You are not a bona fide newsman." (He was later allowed to visit.)

After publishing books like The Rich and the Super-Rich (1968), The Sensuous Woman by "J" (1969) and Jackie Oh! by Kitty Kelley (1978), he became a multimillionaire. After his first wife died of cancer, he married his secretary, Carole Livingston.

In 1990, Mr. Stuart sold his publishing company and started a new one. He had agreed not to compete as a publisher for three years, but the accord did not apply to books the new owner did not want. Mr. Stuart named his new company Barricade Books, and one of its first products was a reissue of The Anarchist Cookbook.

But a $3.1 million libel judgment won by Stephen A. Wynn, the casino owner, after Mr. Stuart published a biography of Mr. Wynn — with catalog copy that linked him to the Mafia — forced Barricade Books into bankruptcy in 1997. Mr. Stuart continued to work, and the judgment was later reversed.

Peter Osnos, the founder of PublicAffairs, a publishing house, said Mr. Stuart was "in a business of gentlemen and gentle men," like Alfred A. Knopf, the publisher of W. Somerset Maugham and Jorge Amado. "Lyle Stuart saw himself as a figure on the outside who could break the rules," he said, adding, "In today's world, he'd be fussing at people from a blog."

Mr. Stuart was financially generous to friends, relatives and employees. He once flew his publishing staff, from executives to shipping clerks, to Europe for parties and the Frankfurt book fair. Celebrating a book sale, he once led a conga line of employees around Trafalgar Square in London.

At 5-foot-9 and more than 240 pounds, he was a man of Rabelaisian appetites who gloried in ice cream sundaes of great size and complexity. In recent years, however, he struggled on crutches, having broken his legs several times in falls.

In addition to his wife, Mr. Stuart is survived by a son, Rory John, of Pomona, N.Y.; a daughter, Sandra Lee Stuart of Denver; a stepdaughter, Jennifer Kern of Manhattan; and three grandchildren.