Maybelline represents beauty but the life’s of the Maybelline family wasn’t always glamorous. The story behind Tom Lyle and his muse Mabel whose beauty recipe of coal dust and petroleum turned into an inspirational powerhouse cosmetic brand. Beneath the mascara also comes with a tall tale of ambition, glamour, power, wealth, greed and secrecy.
Carlos: What motivated you to write about your family’s billion-dollar Maybelline empire?
Sharrie: I think we all have a desire to write about that which we appreciate, and certainly I appreciate my legacy. At first I was resentful, because being born into this family caused the entire family a lot of pain, too. We were pretty warped in terms of our being our own persons. We were EXPECTED to look and act like a Maybelline heir at all times. That was really cumbersome, and not good for our creating an authentic sense of self on our own.
Carlos: What did you enjoy most about telling your family’s story to the whole world?
Sharrie: The story itself. It’s a huge story of a spirited family and the founding of the iconic Maybelline company.
Carlos: Did you have any fears in writing a tell all about your family’s private secrets?
Sharrie: Well, certainly telling the family secrets makes one vulnerable. Still, Tom Lyle isn’t known at all to the public, and virtually nothing was written about him… and it’s sort of weird to read the things that were written about him, because practically none of it is true. I’m sure that no one understands the dynamics of Tom Lyle creating such a huge and iconic company, and in relationship to his social life—which is also a big story. Throughout the 20th century Maybelline inflated, collapsed and thrived in tandem with the nation’s upheavals. And in this book, I tell of all that…the history in the book is quite stunning really. And yet, while glitz, glamour and scandal swirled from behind the gates of his Rudolf Valentino Villa, he launched the careers of Hollywood starlets including Betty Grable, Rita Hayworth, Jean Harlow, and Debbie Reynolds and other notables. He was “first” in many things, from holding the sole advertising contract for the Miss America pageant and to Grace Kelly’s wedding, the first to place an ad on TV! I mean, Maybelline became wildly successful, that the Feds investigated Maybelline as a monopoly!
And certainly no one knows the story of the Tom Lyle, his brother Preston (my uncle) and Evelyn (my grandmother).Tom Lyle revered women, none more than his brother’s wife, Evelyn who became his lifelong muse. Entranced by her “roaring charisma,” he called her the “real Miss Maybelline” and based his ads on her persona: beautiful, hard-boiled and daring. At age 76, Evelyn got a face lift, breast implants and opened the Maybelline Dinner Theater in Arkansas, with invited guests that included stars, dignitaries, and then Governor Bill Clinton. The next day Evelyn was dead, victim to an arson fire in her home; bizarrely, her 13 wigs lined up on the lawn nearby. To this day her death remains unsolved. So in this book, I “out” our views on that…because it was literally swept under the rug when she was murdered…so now it’s out there… I do hope the case will be reopened. Maybe it will now.
Carlos: What were some of the things that help contribute to your uncle Tom Lyle’s success?
Sharrie: Certainly it was because he loved, with a passion, the business. He was a born entrepreneur. And of course, his sister Mabel helped create his eureka moment, when in 1915 when a cooking fire singed her lashes and brows. Tom Lyle watched in fascination as she mixed petroleum jelly with burnt cork and coal dust in what she called a “secret of the harem” then applied it to her lashes. Inspired by Mabel’s simple beauty trick, Tom Lyle created what would become an iconic billion-dollar business, naming it Maybelline in her honor.
Carlos: Did Mabel have any financial ties with the company or receive any recognition for giving your uncle Tom Lyle the eyelash product idea?
Sharrie: She did a lot, and was always a part of Tom Lyle’s life. The two of them loved one another. She said he was the her “real soul-mate” and he called her the most impressive and beautiful woman in the world. The two of them always boasted of having a relationship “no one could ever come between.” He gave her a 2-carat diamond on the day she buried her husband, Tom Lyle’s brother! But Tom Lyle WAS the business.
Carlos: Why do you think your great uncle Tom Lyle thought he needed to be overly generous to his family members?
Sharrie: Because and they were all born in poor times…and in those days you did that. He brought the entire family into the business and they all ran the family as a family business for nearly 50 years…he was right to be generous with them. He gave his butler and housekeeper each a million dollars too. He appreciated people who helped him.
Carlos: What do you think started all the scrutiny against your uncle Tom Lyle?
Sharrie: the Hayes Codes and so…all encouraged “to rid society of those who are destroying good morals.”
Carlos: What caused your uncle to leave town away from his family? Do you think it could had been about his sexuality as well as the fortune and power that came along with the business?
Sharrie: His father suggested it, and he loved Hollywood….and there he was able to “be” himself and love his partner without scrutiny. But he was no doubt bi-sexual because he did marry and did father a son. And he loved actress Alice Faye for many years…and Evelyn, too.
Carlos: Your Grandmother Evelyn pressured your mother about vanity and the importance of beauty. Do you think this could had also contributed to your mother’s mental health?
Sharrie: Probably. But as well, post partum issues weren’t so well understood, or cared for…and then the doctors subjected her to shock treatments! She used diet pills for many years, and that deteriorated her too….and then there four kids..that’s a big load…she helped full time in the family dry cleaning business and raised four kids…and was married to a very social husband…and then there was Evelyn, who never felt she was good enough for her son!
Carlos: Why do you think your grandmother Evelyn had and obsession over vanity? Do you think she could have been unhappy with herself so that’s why she needed to perfect everyone and everything in her life?
Sharrie: She was born gorgeous, and was from a good family with a lot of money. So her expectations were set from the beginning—and then she came into the Maybelline family. Being with Preston—who was drop-dead gorgeous, unfaithful , a serious drinker and couldn’t take care of a pet hamster—that was a difficult journey for her. She was a dame! Tom Lyle called her the “real” Miss Maybelline, and fashioned all his products and ads after her…so she knew she was hot stuff! And she was!
Carlos: What did it feel like at age 5 having your grandmother put makeup on you for the first time?
Sharrie: Well it wasn’t the make-up, but the reaction I got from others around me. They treated me like I had suddenly become the center of the universe…and that felt pretty good!
Carlos: Were there any special advantages in growing up in the beauty industry?
Sharrie: Free cosmetics, of course! And being rich! And meeting all the stars and the important people Tom Lyle knew. Aside from that, it came down to family. We were a tight-knit clan…so much so that for many of us younger ones, we pretty grew up isolated. We were told never to tell anyone we were “Maybelline” for fear of being kidnapped… so that wasn’t fun. Most of lived in fear of being kidnapped.
Carlos: By you growing up in the beauty industry, did that ever encourage you to pursue a career in the same field?
Sharrie: Not so much, even though I wanted to. I pursued acting, and singing, but by time I was getting ready to be productive to Maybelline, he was thinking of winding down. I did field-tests on several products and help a bit with that, but he wanted us “all or nothing” in terms of the cousins etc to be involved.
Carlos: The lifestyle that surrounded you reminds me of Hollywood and the Modeling Industry. Did you ever get to do any normal activities as a child?
Sharrie: Striving to be “normal” and not keep secrets was what we missed out on …. We were expected to look special, act special, and so in a real way, “normal” wasn’t an option.
Carlos: Even though you are the heir to Maybelline, how come there is a second branding of cosmetics under L’Oreal called “Maybelline New York?
Sharrie: Maybelline was sold to L’Oreal.
Carlos: Since you are the heiress to the Maybelline legacy, do you have any children that will carry out the family name?
Sharrie: I do have a daughter, and small grandchildren.
Carlos: I find your family’s story very fascinating and insightful, filled with a pool of real life lessons. Do you plan on turning “The Maybelline Story” into a feature film?
Sharrie: Yes, my publisher is leading the charge on this, and we’ve got some things in the works!
Carlos: What is the one misconception that people probably have about you and your family?
Sharrie: I’d say the biggest is that even the younger generations of the Maybelline family is still engaged in the business. We aren’t, since Maybelline was sold in 1967.
Carlos: Besides overseeing the Maybelline fortune, is there any personal goals or projects you set out to accomplish?
Sharrie: I’m trying to create a life of serving others, of caring for my daughter and her family and enjoying my friends. I want to be involved in purpose-filled activities.