Leonard Sucher grew up in a large family of Jewish immigrants from the town of Horodenka in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. His father Moses, a tailor, died when he was six. His mother sold cigarettes and candy on the Lower East Side. He graduated from the High School of Commerce, where his classmates included Lou Gehrig. He graduated from the City College of New York and was in the first class of graduates from St. John's University School of Law. He was admitted to the New York State bar in 1929, and practiced law for five years.
As a side activity, Leonard Sucher began a weekly column for the English-language page of the Jewish Daily Forward, called "East of Broadway". He applied for a post as a Broadway columnist with the New York Post, and won the job. The editor of the Post gave Sucher an alternative last name, Lyons, for professional use, and thus he became "Leonard Lyons", an alliterative name reminiscent of Walter Winchell, another noted newspaper columnist of the day. Lyons' first column appeared May 20, 1934, under the banner of "The Lyons Den", a name devised by Walter Winchell. Lyons worked on "The Lyons Den" 6 days per week, producing as many columns per week, covering theater, movies, politics and art, a total of approximately 12,000 columns. He was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. Carl Sandburg once said of Lyons:
"Imagine how much richer American history would have been had there been a Leonard Lyons in Lincoln's time.."
He travelled the world and sent back daily columns, sometimes giving his column to New York-bound travelers with a request they contact the paper upon arrival. He avoided writing about scandal in his column, and thus earned the trust of the many figures he met. One characterisation of his column was as follows:
"Lyons.....never breaks a confidence, and except for a few personal feuds, notably with Walter Winchell and Bennett Cerf, never spits venom in his column.
The column became a New York institution, and was syndicated nationally first by King Features Syndicate. In 1941, the McNaught Syndicate took over syndication of the column. Lyons received an honorary degree from Wilberforce University and was a Pulitzer Prize nominee.
By 1974, the circulation of "The Lyons Den" had diminished to 18 columns, and Lyons retired with his last column on the exact 40th anniversary of the column, 20 May 1974. New York Mayor John V. Lindsay invited him to City Hall and presented him with a medal and a proclamation honoring him. On the 100th anniversary of his birth, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg issued another proclamation in his name.
Lyons and his wife Sylvia were married in November 1934. Their marriage lasted until Lyons' death, and produced four sons: George, a stock broker, Warren, a theatrical producer and singing coach, Jeffrey, a film and theatre critic, and Douglas, a criminal defense attorney. Leonard Lyons' grandson and Jeffrey Lyons' son is the television personality Ben Lyons. Both Jeffrey Lyons and Ben Lyons have continued to use the name "The Lyons Den" in their respective media outlets for their work.
- Alden Whitman (1976-10-08). "Leonard Lyons Dies; Columnist 40 Years; His Anecdotes About Broadway's Notables Were Carried in More Than a Hundred Newspapers". New York Times. Retrieved 2009-01-15.
- "No. 1 Name Dropper". Time. 1954-03-15. Retrieved 2009-02-13.
- "See Lennie Run". Time. 1970-02-23. Retrieved 2009-02-13.
- "The Gentle Gossip". Time. 1974-06-03. Retrieved 2009-02-13.
- "Celebrity Chronicler". Time. 1959-05-25. Retrieved 2009-01-15.
- "Lyons' New Den". Time. 1941-06-30. Retrieved 2009-02-13.