More than an American architect, Paul R. Williams was Hollywood’s architect, designing homes for the likes of Frank Sinatra, Barbara Stanwyck, and Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. The first Black member of the American Institute of Architects, he designed more than 2,000 buildings over the course of his career — from private residences to his work on landmarks like the Beverly Hills Hotel and the Los Angeles International Airport.
But more than 90 years after Williams became the first Black AIA member, Black membership in the organization was still less than 2%. And of the homes he created for celebrities of stage and screen, most were on land parcels with segregation covenants prohibiting Black people from actually purchasing them.
Williams left behind numerous physical testaments to his work and life, which have slowly been gaining more recognition since his death in 1985. And now with an award-winning documentary from Royal Kennedy Rodgers and Kathy McCampbell Vance, his story is reaching an even wider audience.
Kennedy Rodgers and Vance, creators of the film “Hollywood’s Architect: The Paul R. Williams Story,” will be discussing their documentary and Williams’ work at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 10 in the Hall of Philosophy, as part of the African American Heritage House Chautauqua Speaker Series.
The presentation from Vance and Kennedy Rodgers will feature imagery that — without screens in the Hall of Philosophy — Chautauquans in the audience will want to access on their internet-connected mobile devices. Audience members can go chq.org/slides, and scroll along with Vance and Kennedy Rodgers as they reference the images. Ushers will be on hand to assist if needed.
“Hollywood’s Architect: The Paul R. Williams Story,” was first broadcast on PBS stations in February 2020, and has won a Los Angeles area Emmy (Vance’s third), a Golden Mike Award from the Radio and Television News Association of Southern California, a Best Documentary Award from the LA Press Club, and a Silver “Telly” Award for General Biography. It’s a film eight years in the making; and for it, Kennedy Rodgers was also recognized by the NAACP with an Image Award Nomination for Outstanding Writing in a Documentary for Television or Motion Picture.
“We want to do more than just a biopic,” Kennedy Rodgers, who is the film’s co-director and co-producer, told the Los Angeles Times in 2020. “We talk about two of the biggest issues of today. One, the lack of diversity in the field of architecture, and also preservation is a big angle, because much of his work has been lost. There is a new focus in the African American community on preserving African American historic sites.”
Both Kennedy Rodgers and Vance have years of experience in television and broadcasting. Kennedy Rodgers is a producer, director and writer who began her career as a reporter for NBC television stations in New Orleans, Cleveland and Chicago. She worked as a Los Angeles-based correspondent for ABC Network News and was producer/correspondent for “Chicago Tonight” at WTTW, the PBS station in Chicago.
Vance is an Emmy Award-winning television producer and director, and a former TV executive. Currently an independent producer specializing in documentaries and short form productions, she spent most of her career at NBC4 Washington, serving as writer, producer, executive producer and ultimately director of programming, community affairs and broadcast standards. After leaving NBC as program director, she continued to produce special feature pieces for the station; fundraising videos for various non-profit organizations; and high profile interviews broadcast on BET Network, for Los Angeles-based Jesse Collins Entertainment.