In1915, when a kitchen stove fire singed his sister Mabel's lashes and brows, Tom Lyle Williams watched in fascination as she performed what she called 'a secret of the harem'-mixing petroleum jelly with coal dust and ash from a burnt cork and applying it to her lashes and brows. Mabel's simple beauty trick ignited Tom Lyle's imagination and he started what would become a billion-dollar business, one that remains a viable American icon after nearly a century. He named it Maybelline in her honor. Throughout the twentieth century, the Maybelline company inflated, collapsed, endured, and thrived in tandem with the nation's upheavals-as did the family that nurtured it. Tom Lyle Williams-to avoid unwanted scrutiny of his private life-cloistered himself behind the gates of his Rudolph Valentino Villa and ran his empire from the shadows. Now, after nearly a century of silence, this true story celebrates the life of an American entrepreneur, a man forced to remain behind a mask-using his sister-in-law Evelyn Boecher-to be his front.
Stories of the-great-man-and-how-he-did-it serve as a traditional mainstay of biographies, but with the strong women's book-buying market, a resurgence of interest in memoirs that focus on relationships more than a single man and his accomplishments are more likely to be discussed in women's book groups. The Maybelline Story combines the best of both approaches: a man whose vision rocketed him to success along with the woman held in his orbit.
In the way that Rhett Butler ignored the criticism of his peers to carve his own destiny, Tom Lyle Williams shares similar grit and daring. But Rhett without Scarlet wouldn't be much of a story. Evelyn Williams provides the energy of an antagonist. Like Scarlet, we sometimes hate her and want to shake her, but sometimes, we must admit that we hold a grudging respect; we get a kick out of her and even occasionally, love her for her guts and tenacity, and certainly because she carved out a life for herself and insisted on having a voice, even if she was a fly in the ointment for others.
The Maybelline story provides other kinds of classic literary satisfaction. We are especially fascinated to slip vicariously into the lives of the rich and privileged yet cheer for the underdog who overcomes obstacles to astound doubters with his success. We are enthralled with the historical sweep of events whose repercussions live on to the present, all elements of The Maybelline Story-which reads like a juicy novel, but is in fact a family memoir, distilled from nine hundred pages of family accounts from the 1920's to present.
An engrossing and captivating saga that spans four generations and reveals the humanity, the glamour, and the seedy underside of a family intoxicated by the quest for power, wealth, and physical perfection. It is a fascinating and inspiring tale of ambition, luck, greed, secrecy-and surprisingly, above all, love and forgiveness, a tale both epic and intimate, alive with the clash, the hustle, the music, and dance of American enterprise.