Jeffrey Lyons: ‘Stories My Father Told Me’

Jeffrey Lyons had quite a role model: his father. Leonard Lyons wrote “The Lyons Den” column for the New York Post from 1934 to 1974, and it was syndicated to more than 100 newspapers worldwide. The column chronicled the lives of the famous and often glamorous people that Lennie Lyons — as he was known among the smart set — encountered, mostly in New York’s night life.

Jeffrey Lyons has compiled a number of his father’s anecdotes in a new book: Stories My Father Told Me: Notes From “The Lyons Den.” He joins us on Chicago Tonight at 7:00 pm to share some of these stories.

Read a few anecdotes from the book and check out a photo gallery below.

Marilyn Monroe

When Monroe was a child, shunted from foster home to orphanage and back, her mentally troubled mother suddenly appeared one day and took the girl to a newly purchased home. The furnishings were meager, but it was their home at last. Her mother then attended an auction of the actor Frederic March’s household effects and bought a white piano for the new home. But that brief time of tranquility in young Norma Jean’s childhood soon ended when her mother collapsed and was taken away.

When Marilyn became a movie actress and was able to save her first $1,000, she tracked down that white piano and bought it back: a symbol of one of the few happy times in her childhood. March never knew why she held him in high esteem.

Marc Chagall

In December 1955, my father and Truman Capote were named “group historians” for the touring company of Porgy and Bess for its tour of Russia. It was the height of the Cold War, and few Americans were allowed into Soviet Russia.

The night before he left, my father was with Chagall and told him he was traveling to Chagall’s native land. “You must visit my home town of Vitebsk,” he said. “How will I know it?” asked my father, smiling, no doubt, and handing Chagall his small pocket notepad.

And so Chagall drew a sketch of his village and presented it back to my father, thus making our family possessors of The World’s Smallest Chagall.

Sophia Loren

Thinking the desert in Libya [on the set of Legend of the Lost] would be steamy, even at night, she hadn’t brought any warm clothing, and fainted in the cold. My father had come prepared with woolen pajamas, and after Sophia hinted she could use such garments, he presented them to her in a mock ceremony his last morning on the set.

Sophia told my father she’d be there for forty-eight more nights. Seven weeks later, she returned my father’s pajamas in New York.

Ernest Hemingway

My father had a special relationship with the great writer, forged over years of sharing a table at Toots Shor’s or El Morocco or other New York nightspots, plus visits to the Hemingway home in Cuba and frequent correspondence. The famous author trusted my father as he did no other journalist.

In 1952, when I first met Hemingway, I was eight. We were houseguests at his finca, his farm, outside Havana in San Francisco de Paola. We’d flown to Havana in a rickety, gray Cubana Airlines DC-3 for the short hop from Miami. Fulgencio Batista ruled Cuba with an iron fist, but left Hemingway alone.

[My brother] George asked the ultimate question: “Mr. Hemingway, how do you write a novel?” As my parents looked on in disbelief, the greatest novelist of the twentieth century began: “You just put everything you’ve ever known about people in your characters. Then write the sentences as if they’re being tattooed on your back.” When he saw we didn’t quite understand the analogy, he continued: “That’ll keep your sentences short and to the point.”

To see more photos of Leonard Lyons with his family and other celebrities, check out the photo gallery below:

The Lyons Den

Click image to view photo gallery

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One Response to “Jeffrey Lyons: ‘Stories My Father Told Me’”

  1. Linda Andrews says:

    When I was a little girl, “The Lyons Den” column ran in The Buffalo Evening News, right alongside the comics. I always read the comics, but one day, when I was maybe eight years old, I decided to check out the contents of this column with the clever pun in its title. To my amazement, I knew who some of the people were, and I genuninely enjoyed the little stories. From that day forward I was hooked. “The Lyons Den” was the first “adult” item I read in the newspaper, and for me, a little girl growing up on a farm out in the country in Western New York State, it opened my eyes to a broader world.