A.C. Lyles: May 17, 1918 – September 27, 2013
Paramount Pictures held its exclusive memorial celebrating the life of producing legend A.C. Lyles this last month, on Monday, November 11th, 2013. I was honored to receive a phone call from Pam with A.C.’s office, and an invitation from Paramount in the mail, to this legendary event. Like it was for A.C., Paramount has always been my favorite studio, and driving through those famous gates on Melrose Avenue felt great. One of the last times I was here was to visit and interview A.C. in his office, and seeing his building (named after him) again and thinking of him gone was sad.
Massive Attendance for A.C. Lyles Memorial
The memorial here for A.C. Lyles itself was happy, celebrating his life, and was held in the magnificent Paramount Theater (pictured here), which reportedly seats nearly six hundred, yet it looked more like one thousand to me. Every seat in the house was full, with around a dozen late comers lined up standing along the wall. My friend Coral Rose, Stanislavsky acting coach who was the only acting teacher A.C. ever recommended to me, rode two and a half days on a train from Chicago for the memorial.
Stars from The Golden Age and Beyond
Hundreds of VIP’s, industry players, heads of state, friends, and stars lined up to sign the guest book and take their seats in the theatre on the famed Paramount lot, where A.C. Lyles reigned with his illustrious career. Many Hollywood legends of the Golden Era of Motion Picture attended, as noted by The Hollywood Reporter, which aside from The Hollywood Sentinel, was the one other major trade publication in Hollywood wise and fortunate enough to attend this event and take note. The Hollywood Reporter further did a commendable review. As they noted of the following list; classic stars in attendance included the talented legend Mickey Rooney (Love Finds Andy Hardy, The Black Stallion), as well as many beautiful and talented leading ladies including Terry Moore (Peyton Place), Ruta Lee (Seven Brides for Seven Brothers), Anne Jeffreys (the original Dick Tracy), and child star Jane Withers (Bright Eyes) among others.
A Presidential Welcome
Around one thousand Memorial Cards to A.C. for guests were placed in a basket, graced with the above image of A.C. Lyles, which were expertly made. After an array of speakers, the dark velvet curtains covering the motion picture screen closed, and then opened again, heralding back to the exciting early days of cinema going. Two films were shown; an excerpt of then President Ronald Reagan paying tribute to his friend (the complete video also includes video testimonials from former Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton), and next, part of a new documentary about Paramount that was screened, which consisted of about thirty minutes of digital video footage of A.C. on lot at Paramount, telling stories about the famous studio and its famous players, which was hugely fascinating and entertaining.
Failure Not An Option
Seeing A.C. on the big screen and hearing his voice was great. Hearing him speak of how he began and how his obsession fueled his will to succeed, was both inspiring and touching. A.C. refused to believe anything other than what he wanted when it came to getting a job at Paramount. He did not acknowledge failure, and did not ever once consider being told no was no when it came to his one and only great obsession; to work at Paramount, and become a producer. I look forward to seeing the complete film one day.
The Whose Who of Hollywood
The Memorial event began at 2pm, with the big screen silently displaying hundreds of beautiful, still photographs of A.C. with the biggest stars in the world including Shirley Temple, Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Malcolm McDowell, Michael Jackson, Mae West, Dick Powell, his good friends Nancy and Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush, Tommy Lasorda, Mickey Rooney, and many, many more. After playing this 12 or so minute loop two or three times, the C.O.O. of Paramount Pictures took the stage. Paramount President Brad Gray sent word that he was sorry he could not be present, but that he had a family issue to deal with. Former President of Paramount Pictures Sherry Lansing, who was out of town, sent a nice letter which was read to the audience, stating how dear A.C. was to her, and how he was such a great man, great friend, and was deeply missed.
C.O.O. of Paramount; Frederick Huntsberry
Around a half a dozen other speakers then took turns speaking, sharing their affections and memories with the man that many called, “Mr. Paramount.” Chief Operating Officer of Paramount Pictures, Mr. Frederick Huntsberry spoke for about fifteen minutes, giving a nice salutation to the audience and talking of the importance of A.C. to Paramount, Hollywood, and the world, stating how A.C. helped build the studio in to what it is today. A.C. Lyles was the assistant to the founder of Paramount Pictures himself- Mr. Adolf Zukor, and became the President of Publicity for the studio at just 19 years of age. Mr. Zukor and Cecille B. Demille personally mentored A.C. to become a producer. They told him to get a nice car; maybe a Cadillac, because he needed to be seen in something nice. They also told him to buy a home over in Bel Air, and Mr. Zukor funnily told him to “dress British, but act Yiddish.” He did all this, and more, becoming one of the most powerful men in Hollywood, and went on to coach three U.S. presidents, and countless stars, many of whom became his dear friends.
Academy President; Cheryl Boone Issacs
The President of The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences; Cheryl Boone Issacs gave a nice speech next about how she used to work in publicity at Paramount during the mid eighties, and worked there for fifteen years, rising to become President of world wide publicity. She mentioned how much Paramount meant to her, and how much A.C, who became a dear friend of hers meant to her, and how much he taught her. Ms. Issacs, as well as all of the other speakers, spoke about A.C.’s perfect grooming. She mentioned him meeting her with not a hair out of place, cuff links from President Ronald Reagan, his fine suits, and his always cordial disposition. A.C. did in fact have his suits custom made in London from the very same tailor used by Prince Charles, who was a mutual friend.
Writer Producer; Pamela Gibson
Pamela Gibson, A.C’s assistant for over seven years, and writer and producer spoke next, re-counting a funny story about how upset A.C. was one day because he had lost the gem in his treasured ring given to him by star Ginger Rogers. The gem, a black Onyx, had supposedly fallen out in one of Paramount’s theatres that has black carpet. Pamela mentioned how she felt it was a hopeless situation, didn’t want to search, but did anyway, stating that “No one said no to A.C.” Armed with a flashlight and searching the carpeted floor, Pam felt like it was a needle in a haystack type of scenario, yet to her amazement, she happily found the precious and sentimental gemstone belonging to her boss, Mr. Lyles. Pam said that at this moment, she thought to her self how A.C. Lyles was the luckiest person she ever knew. A.C. couldn’t believe his ears until he saw the gem with his own eyes, and was so happy and proud, Pam stated that he went around that whole day telling everything about how great and incredible she was, and reciting the story. A.C. did in fact tell me on numerous occasions how wonderful Pam was, and how lucky he was to have her work for him. And he meant it. Pam stated how honored and fortunate she was to work for A.C., and I know she meant it too. Pam is currently working on completing the editing of the autobiography of A.C. Lyles that he started.
Earl Lestz; Former President of Paramount Studio Group
Earl Lestz spoke next. As former President of the Paramount Studio Group, one of the divisions within Paramount Pictures, Mr. Lestz told us of the story about how his first day on the job consisted of a board meeting in which a number of men welcomed him aboard, and then began telling him how his new division was in shambles, a total mess. He said he left the office feeling terribly low, and wondering what he was doing there. At that time, this area of the studio was rapidly losing money. (That is no longer the case). Mr. Lestz then mentioned how after this depressing meeting for his first day on the job, a man walked up to him, dressed to the nines, and knew his name, and all about him. He was shocked that anyone even knew who he was. He recounted how this man, A.C. Lyles, went on to tell him how Adolf Zukor was such a fine man, who gave them all this wonderful studio, and how Paramount was the greatest studio in the world, how such a great person the president of the studio was, and how lucky they both were to be there. Earl said that he went from feeling depressed, to feeling really happy after talking with A.C., and that he carried that happiness with him during his time there.
Meeting Ronald Reagan
Earl Lestz also told us of a great story about how A.C. asked him to mark his calendar one day for someone he wanted to introduce him to. He said the date was a month out, and he later heard from the Secret Service that President Reagan was going to be visiting the studio that day. Earl said that he figured the President was meeting then President of Paramount Sherry Lansing, but that it was an odd coincidence, and he wondered who this person was A.C. was going to introduce him to. Earl went on to tell us that studio operations guys were pretty dumb, and that he still didn’t get it. The audience laughed, but certainly, they aren’t, and Mr. Lestz himself is far from dumb. Earl Lestz went on to transform the studio operations division of Paramount from several million dollars of declining statistics muddled with debt, into a $50 million per year profit leader, as Paramount is to this day. As the day arrived that he had marked down on his calendar, Earl’s friend A.C. Lyles walked in to the Paramount Commissary where he was dining, and walked up to Earl who was sitting at his usual spot a few tables down from Sherry Lansing. He introduced him to his friend, President Reagan.
The biggest things everyone will recall about A.C. is that he loved his job, he loved Paramount, he loved to work hard, and he knew everyone who was anyone in Hollywood. And most importantly, he was always the kindest, most charming person one could ever meet, treating everyone from all walks of life as though they were the most important person on the planet. A.C. Lyles was the definition of the word ‘gentleman.’ He will be greatly missed.
To read the rest of this edited story, visit The Hollywood Sentinel at the link below and click on the Paramount tab on the table of contents to the left of the screen.
Acting Coach to the Stars
Coral Rose of Screen Actors Academy leads actors in the teaching of Stanislavski.
Areas she teaches include; Acting techniques, Reacting to the camera, Voiceover, earpiece, Reading for auditions, Speech and Diction, Blocking, scene study, Pictures and marketing, Cold reading, commercial copy, Being creative, taking risks and developing an individual style.
Coral Rose is the Golden Halo Award winner of The Southern California Motion Picture Council for outstanding contribution to the entertainment industry for three consecutive years.
“I’m not an actor- thank goodness, but if I was, I would train with Coral.” – A.C. Lyles, (legendary producer, publicist, Paramount Pictures)
Coral teaches all levels in the Chicago area, or in Hollywood, California. She may be reached now at: 815-230-5795 or 815-342-5943.