By Bruce Edwin
A History of Cinema
No form of art has had more impact on the world than the motion picture. Through film and television, countries have been swayed, elections have been won, wars have been waged, and morals have been shaped and changed, molded or destroyed. It was through film that the Nazi psychiatrists and Hitler indoctrinated their propaganda of a master race, igniting World War II, and it was with the same method, film, that the U.S. used to bolster just hatred for the Nazi ideology. Film, like a hammer, is merely a tool. In the right hands, it can build monuments of iron and gold and lift life up. In the wrong hands, it can help destroy, kill, or subdue. It enables its makers to reach hundreds of thousands, even millions with its images, sounds, and ideas at once. And today, with the Internet, its genesis morphs yet again in to a limitless new horizon to affect change and create or destroy culture.
Eadweard Muybridge helped usher in the creation of film with the first fast motion still camera of a horse running in 1878. Thomas Edison helped expand it with his kinetograph and kinetoscope, and the Lumiere Brothers expanded it further with their cinematograph. Edison popularized the new nickelodeons, which cost a nickel for short peepshows, traveling city to city, and Georges Melies and Eastman Kodak progressed it further. Louis B. Mayer emerged to found what is now MGM with help from Samuel Goldwyn. Carl Laemmle founded the Universal Film Manufacturing Company, which became Universal Studios, and four brothers; Harry, Sam, Albert, and Jack Warner started Warner Brothers in 1918.
Yet a man named Adolph Zukor, also with the help of Samuel Goldwyn, and Jessse Lasky, beat them all to the race first, as the founder of Paramount Pictures first incarnation as the Famous Players Film Company in 1912, and later Paramount Pictures in 1914. And it was Paramount's Cecil B. DeMille and D.W. Griffith who helped usher in the lady who would be called the most famous actress in the world, Mary Pickford, who later helped found United Artists and the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, with a Paramount silent film named 'Wings' getting the Academy's first ever award hand out of Best Picture. Adolph Zukor, known as a humble, even self-deprecating gentleman, despite his power and prestige, lived to be 103, passing away in his Century City flat of natural causes.
An Obsession for Hollywood and Paramount
It is Mr. Zukor, his studio Paramount, and that silent motion picture called 'Wings,' that would influence and inspire a young boy from across America, at a mere 10 years of age, to watch that film twice, and become 'obsessed' with working for one of the founders of the motion picture industry, and its first major studio, Paramount. Less than 7 years later, at a mere 17, that young boy traveled alone by train coach across country, leaving Florida, and heading to Hollywood, California, the land of dreams. That boy would go on to be taken under the 'wings' of Adolph Zukor and Cecil B. DeMille themselves.
Friend of the Stars
He would grow up to fulfil his dream as producer, and became friends and confidant to the greatest film legends and stars in the world, all of Paramount's own contracted 'famous players' including Claudette Colbert, Kay Francis, Gary Cooper, William Powell, Carole Lombard, W.C. Fields, the Marx Brothers, Marlene Dietrich, and Mae West among more. When he wasn't clubbing with Marilyn Monroe keeping keeping her away from trouble, the handsome young man would grow his phenomenal social circle to become best friends with John Wayne, James Cagney, and a man named Ronald Reagan, who he urged to go knock on doors to run for governor. That boy who pursued his dreams with no doubt, is the man that just days ago when this was first written, stood before me in his impeccable, custom tailored European suit, with cuff links that once belonged to his friend, President Reagan. That man is the legend himself, called Mr. Hollywood, and Mr. Paramount by some, the giant of a legend who is as humble as his mentor Zukor was himself. That man is Mr. A.C. Lyles.
The King of Paramount
His is the stuff legends are made of. The biggest legends of all time. He had no back up, no Plan B. Failure was never an option. He came, he saw, he conquered. If the words ‘greatness,’ and ‘living legend’ mean anything at all, it is defined by this man known as A.C. Lyles. The writer, producer, and studio publicist who handled and helped launch the careers of the biggest superstars in the world including Clint Eastwood among many, many more.
Known often as the official spokesman for Paramount Pictures and Hollywood to the rest of the world, A.C. Lyles, born Andrew Craddock Lyles on May 17th, 1918, in Jacksonville, Florida, used to regularly travel on Air Force One with his best friend and then President Ronald Reagan. He used to have his own office in the White House for eight years. He counted Kings and Queens of countries, and even Prince Charles as one of his good friends, and has been friends with the biggest movie stars in the world that ever walked the Earth, including John Wayne and Marilyn Monroe. Husband to the lovely Martha Vickers, and, before that, boyfriend to other such screen goddesses as Barbara Payton, Ginger Rogers, and Joan Crawford among more, Mr. Lyles lived the life most can only dream of. If Hollywood would ever have a King, he would have presided over its towering throne.
If you ever had the pleasure and honor to meet Mr. A.C. Lyles, you would have realized that he gave you 100% of his attention, treated you as if you are the only person at that time that exists, and were the most important person in the world. Once as I was leaving Mel’s Diner, I ran into A.C. as he was exiting a commemorative event at the Hollywood Museum honoring Marilyn Monroe, where he spoke of his friend Marilyn that he used to go clubbing with. As we exchanged pleasantries, a homeless man interrupted us to ask for a dollar. Mr. Lyles at once pulled out his wallet, looked in to the man's eyes with care, and handed him money, patted him on the back, and said he hoped it would help. Several minutes later, the man returned when we were still talking, and interrupted us again. Again, Mr. Lyles gave him another dollar. That is the kind of person A.C. Lyles is. And that is why Hollywood publicist Michael Levine, who has represented over 200 Academy Award ® winning stars, stated, “A.C. Lyles is known as the gentleman of the West, and for good reason. He is the most charming man I know.” Without a doubt. Now, without further ado, The Hollywood Sentinel® is proud to introduce to you Mr. A.C. Lyles.
A Visit with Legend A.C. Lyles at Paramount
As a driver drops me off at the legendary gates of Paramount, I announce to the guard who I am here to see. ‘A.C. Lyles?’ Really? He confirms. ‘Boy, you sure are! A.C., he’s sure quite a guy.’ The guard confirms to me his studio and film history knowledge, and respect. ‘He sure is. I agree. He’s the best.’ The guard continues, ‘A bit of trivia for you,’ he warns slyly, as he hands me my pass and points me in the right direction, ‘you are about to go to what is said to be the most haunted of all buildings on lot at Paramount.’ Lisa Williams pops in to my head, as I wonder if A.C. read my interview with her and is messing with me, as chills shiver down my spine beneath the cool Hollywood wind. I grin and laugh and walk on to interview the most well connected film producer of all time.
Bella Lugosi's Dead
As I enter the basement level, I use the men’s room momentarily, and believe I see in the circular metal piping the reflections of two or more shadowy reflections, yet I am alone in the room. I get lost momentarily in the apparitions, think of Bella Lugosi, and wander quietly up the many stairs to the upper level. A partially open door is marked in gold lettering: A.C. Lyles. I knock and say hello to Mr. Lyles' assistant, and she welcomes me in the first room.
Friends in High Places
As I enter, A.C. Lyles walks out of his office with two other gentlemen. The secretary of Abdullah bin, King of Jordan, and his majesty the King's son, the royal Prince. A.C. graciously shakes my hand firmly, making eye contact, introduces me to the King's court, and has his assistant usher me in to his office as he shows the royals some more photos. The assistant pops in a tape for me on A.C.’s VCR, and Ronald Reagan comes on the screen, stating how his best friend A.C. Lyles is the finest American he knows, that embodies the greatness of Hollywood and our country. Clips of President Carter, Ford, and even Bush Sr.concur. Talk about references. I remember how his friend Reagan returned favors of helping getting him elected, by appointing him his own office in the White House which he had for 8 years, often jetting around with his friend on Air Force One, as America’s Ambassador of Hollywood around the world.
The Force of Power
Hundreds of photos of A.C. line the wall, in which he is photographed with legends including Clint Eastwood, Michael Jackson, Elizabeth Taylor, Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, John Wayne, and countless more. My head spins, and then suddenly, a force of nature whooshes in the room in a gusto. A.C. Lyles.
"I’m sorry about the wait. Can I get you get anything? Would you like something to drink? A coffee? Water?" He asks humbly. I tell him the apology is not necessary, the pleasure is all mine, and say yes to a water. In a matter of seconds, an assistant has a water in my hand, and is gone before I can even blink. THE TAPE ROLLS. The legend speaks. 'This is A.C. Lyles, Paramount Pictures, in Hollywood, California.'
An Obsession with Greatness
A.C. LYLES: On my 10th birthday, in 1928, I saw a picture called WINGS, the first picture to win the Academy Award, I saw it twice, and I fell in love with it, and I just wanted to work with Adolph Zukor and Paramount. It was at a Paramount theatre, called the Florida theatre, but it was owned by Paramount, and I got a job running errands (there), and I wrote Mr. Zukor a letter, and that day, I said ‘I’m now your employee.’ Well he came through Jacksonville by train, on his way to Miami, and I talked to him, I said, ‘I’m working for you, I’m sure you got my letters,’ and I said “will you teach me to make movies?” And he said O.K., you’re a bright kid, keep in touch.” SO I wrote him letters, and it came about where I got on the train, day coach, one way, and had to sit up four days and four nights then, and I had three jars of peanut butter, a big sack of apples, and three loaves of bread, and came out here, and Mr. Zukor gave me a job.
Bruce Edwin: That’s amazing. That’s great.
A.C. LYLES: So I’ve been with Paramount since 1928 when I with the theatres, then I came out here, I think I was just about to turn 17, and Mr Zukor, I became his office boy, and he and Cecil B. DeMille were my mentors, and taught me to make movies, and so it was Mr. Zukor and DeMille who really educated me, because when I was in school, I worked all the time, so I didn’t have much (formal) schooling, and when I’m asked about my education, I say, The University of Paramount 5555 Melrose Avenue, Hollywood California, and that’s about the truth of it, because next month, may, I will be 91 years old, and I’ll be 81 years at Paramount. So, my short resume, 1928 to 2009 at Paramount.
Bruce Edwin: Wow. That’s incredible.
A.C. LYLES: Yeah, it’s probably a record. I’m not sure.
Bruce Edwin: You put everything on the line so to speak, when you were young, to come out here. Did you have any doubt in your mind at that time, that it wouldn’t work? That Mr. Zukor wouldn’t hire you?
A.C. LYLES: Oh now, because at the time I wrote Mr. Zukor every Sunday, I knew he was waiting for me. Of course he was, he was getting my mail every week. No, I never had any doubts. I’ve never had any doubts at all in my life. I’ve always been a very positive person. I’ve always thought in big terms. When I was little, you know, the school, they thought me 2 +2 was 4. I didn’t believe it. It’s twenty two. And the bottle was always half full. I’ve learned that from my friend Ronald Reagan. I’ve just always been like that. And when I first moved here, I wanted to be aggressive without being intrusive. And I’ve never never ever used the word ‘if.’ That’s the thing. I’ve always said ‘when.’ I never said ‘if’ they make me a producer, I said ‘when’ they make me a producer. And they’d say when I was little, like they always say, “It’s who you know that counts,’ and you know, that’s not true, ‘It’s who knows YOU that counts.’ So that was I think, the three words in this business I learned; OBSESSION, OBSESSION, OBSESSION, and at the time since I was 10 years old, I was just obsessed with Paramount, and being at Paramount and making movies.
Bruce Edwin: Wow. What do you think instilled that level of confidence and attitude in you then, because I think that’s really perhaps unusual for that for a kid that age?
A.C. LYLES: I think it’s the desire of being obsessed, obsessed, obsessed obsessed. And nothing else mattered except going to get here and be with Paramount, and be with Mr. Zukor, and learn how to make movies. I’ve never had a desire or wanted to be in front of the camera, I’ve always wanted to be in back of it. Writing scripts, and producing things, producing movies, and doing that, that was my whole ambition. I think there’s a lot of boys and girls, the first thing they want to do in Hollywood is be an actor, or an actress, which you know, I think is wonderful, it’s very honorable. I just never had that desire, and its probably just as well, because I’ve been a very successful producer here, but I don’t know how I would have done had I tried to be an actor. I never thought about it.
Bruce Edwin: Well I think you would have certainly done well, you have the charisma to carry any thing.
A.C. LYLES: Thank you. I just wanted to make it as a producer. But I have great admiration for those who have that ability to be in the front of the camera. I have as much admiration for a good writer, director, producer, executive, camera man, art director, costumer, as I do for the biggest names in the business, because they all have great talent, and they all go together to make the product, and each is extremely important in making the movie.
The abridged part of this complete interview may be read in the Archives section of The Hollywood Sentinel, at the Table of Contents to the left. Further audio portions of this interview will be published in a future issue of The Hollywood Sentinel.
A.C. Lyles passed on peacefully at his home in bed on the morning of September 27th, 2013. He was 95. His wife Martha and several other loved ones were reportedly by his side. He is loved and missed by many, including this writer. During all of the times I spoke with A.C., he was always nothing less than as cordial, and kind, as one could be. Paramount Pictures shall hold a special memorial for A.C. during the month of November 2013. Special thanks to Paramount Pictures, A.C. Lyles, and Pam for helping to make this interview possible. I was told that A.C. loved this interview, as well as the introduction. Thank you A.C., we miss you.
Click the player below to listen to the audio version of this interview with A.C. LYLES.
© 2009, 2013, Bruce Edwin, © 2009, 2013, The Hollywood Sentinel. All world rights reserved. No part of this article or images herein may be reproduced in whole or in part, by any means whatsoever, without express written permission from the editor at The Hollywood Sentinel ® tel 310-226-7176.