Monday, May 19, 2014

Happy 95th, A.C! You were great in the Oscars' memorial

One good thing about Facebook is that birthday reminder function—and last Saturday, up popped A.C. Lyles on mine. He would have been 95.

It was a great reminder that I had meant to regale you all after he rightfully turned up in the Oscars' memorial reel (right) ... after I let his actual passing last Sept. 27 get by without getting wistful about A.C., this living legend of Paramount and yet another piece of the Treklander tapestry—if not an unlikely one.

“A.C.”—no one ever called him Andrew Craddock or Junior—never worked on any Star Trek per se, but as a former theater usher boy-turned-producer emeritus and goodwill ambassador for Paramount, you can bet he overlapped Star Trek in all kinds of ways.  For one thing, his last office for decades had been in the Hart Building, where all the spinoff Star Trek writers and assistants over the years were officed—including Gene Roddenberry himself. More on that later…

What’s more, A.C. was a publicist in the postwar days at the studio when among others he helped promote one young Jackson Deforest Kelley as the studio’s latest contract player—and later stood up as his best man when De and Caroline got married in 1945.

A.C. must have been good at it—he was also best man to another actor you may recall: Ronald Reagan and wife Nancy, in 1952. That’s why, along with roles as the unofficial or official Hollywood liaison to Washington under four presidents, of course it’s A.C. who’s guiding The Gipper during his post-presidential tour of the Next Generation set in this iconic series of pics (right), during the shoot of season finale “Redemption” on April 18, 1991 (with Michael Piller (left), Patrick Stewart and Rick Berman).
Yep, A.C. was Paramount’s ambassador to every event where regaling was in order, happy or sad—and “regale” is the verb that best comes to mind when you have that many decades of stories you can recount first-hand—or perhaps stretch a bit.  I saw him both crack jokes or roast raw about honorees at Pacific Pioneer Broadcasters award luncheons since 2007 (at left, meeting student PPB visitors in Sept. 2011) ; Mike Westmore asked him to speak at the dedication of the Westmore family’s Hollywood Walk of Fame star in 2008 (below), and he did the honors for De Kelley at his old friend’s memorial program on the studio lot in 1999.

In fact, when I talked to A.C. for our De Kelley memorial issue for Communicator, the old softie confided he was shocked when De, whom he knew to be very ill with his stomach cancer at the time, just had to get dressed up and make it to the lot for A.C.’s 80th birthday party in 1998 — thankfully recorded in this snapshot (right). It was to be De’s last public appearance before his death just eight months later. 

Indeed, everyone eventually got a visit to A.C.'s fourth-floor Hart enclave, where among the sights were posters of his own produced movies AND a hand-crank silent-era camera used on Paramount’s landmark silent film Wings, the very first Best Movie Oscar winner from 1927—and the movie that enraptured young A.C. into his cinematic infatuation back home in Jacksoniville, Fla.  The most striking element of his office decore, though, were the dozens of framed, red-matted 8x10s of his friends in the biz from the Forties to the Aughts that lined the walls.
Who knows how many visitors he invited in for a photo with him before the massive wall o’pix… but it took until a random lot visit I made in June 2011, when something just told me I should check in on A.C. and say hi, before I took my turn in his chair. Something must have told me I’d better do it that day, for while I saw him later at Pacific Pioneer Broadcast luncheons and even helped introduce him to students there once or twice… I’d have no idea that office visit would be the last time I’d ever see him on the lot.

And even then, as he had for years—well after her five seasons on Voyager were up—A.C. always ended our visits with “And give your lovely wife a kiss hello for me, too.”

For the charm of A.C. was far more than knowing him as a spellbinding talker and a living Hollywood memory wall. Anyone and everyone who worked on the lot at Paramount knew A.C., because he made it a point every day to introduce himself to any face he did not recognize, no matter how low or how high on the totem pole it might appear to be sitting. And that new face, in turn, quickly learned several points about A.C. from colleagues—or the man himself:

—The fact that he knew everyone "in town," and had since Edison invented film… and had a story or two about them ALL;

—That he drove a gleaming, cream-colored '62 Thunderbird convertible, always smartly parked in the producer’s lot for all to admire;

—That he was the most dapper dresser you ever saw, every time you saw him, no matter where—made even sharper still against his eternal SoCal tennis tan;

—And that everyone was his friend. Especially the ladies.  Even tourists on the studio tour (right, in 2008), whom he loved to regale with impromptu stories when he happened to spot a group on the main promenade. Especially the ladies.

In fact, for the Star Trek writers—and especially their mostly female assistants—A.C.’s “good morning” and “good evening” look-in as he passed their open doors en route to the Hart Building’s tiny elevator were a daily rite of work. Especially so when his cologne tended to pre-announce his presence a couple of minutes beforehand!

And when A.C. stopped you, or tangented off with a typical “That reminds me of the time Ronald Coleman…”  … you listened. And tried to will yourself to etch it into memory.

Paramount hosted a celebration in that memory, to that memory, right on the studio lot Nov. 11 (left). The day was done up right: many of those legendary red-matted photos from A.C.'s were brought over to the back wall of the Paramount Theater lobby, his friends and colleagues over the decades spilling out to the lawn and some good eats afterward. Thankfully, Paramount has been doing us all a favor in recent years, and had set A.C. down and walked him all over the lot to record hours of his memories and tales on film—and at his memorial we were treated to parts of it.

My own thoughts were drawn, mistily, to that afternoon—could it already be 14 years now?—when they’d done the same thing for De… and now here, like A.C. that day, were others on stage to speak and laugh and share their awe of this icon’s wonderful life. Heck, that last photo of A.C. and De together was snapped in this same lobby as well.

They ended A.C.'s program with that sneak peek at a big chunk of his memory tales on film—where we all instantly realized that the top speaker of the day was, of course, the ol’ story spinner himself. A.C. was still the best show of them all.

And why not? It’s the old Hollywood maxim:

With some blockbusters, you just can't make a sequel.

All photos except Regan set visit tour  and De-A.C. 1999 are the author's; copyright and use reserved.

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