A veritable storm of outtakes from Leonard Lyons’ “Lyons Den” society column from the New York Post, which dazzle rather than titillate.
Lyons wrote his column for exactly 40 years, from 1934 to 1974—six columns a week, tallying 12,479 at 1,000 words each—about people in the public eye. He would leave for work as the sun went down, heading for a variety of hot spots—Toots Shor’s, Downey’s, Sardi’s, El Morocco, the Stork Club, the Little Club, or all of them—gathering choice items for his readership. “Leonard Lyons genuinely admired the people he wrote about,” writes Charles Osgood in the foreword. “And knowing this they would open up to him and tell him the colorful stories that were his bread and butter.” Here, his son, TV and movie critic Jeffrey Lyons, sews together pieces from his father’s columns into vest-pocket profiles of the famous, from Irving Berlin to Shelly Winters. For those who have never dined on Lyons’ work, this collection is a treat: Lyons was a champion at getting telling quotes, material as pithy and vivid as the Algonquin Round Table—e.g., Lauren Bacall’s response to whether she would curtsy to Prince Philip: “If he curtsies to me, I’ll curtsy to him. In this world, you get what you give.” Or Joe DiMaggio: “Never wake a ballplayer on a rainy morning.” There are terrific comments from a stunning range of characters—Einstein, Rocky Marciano, Groucho Marx, Chagall—and if Lyons can seem a bit eager and star-struck (“There was never anyone like Oscar Levant”; “Orson Welles…the most amazing person you’d ever meet”), he takes such obvious pleasure in the telling that readers will be swept along with him.
An intoxicating selection of snippets from a columnist that journalist Pete Hamill called “an ornament to the profession.”