a billy graham center archives exhibit
back to
Interview with Lionel Mayell by Dr. Lois Ferm on October 28, 1977. From Collection 141, audio tape T30; transcript in box 5, folder 20. Duration: 19:30 minutes.
Image from Collection 141, box 5, folder 20.

FERM: While we were getting ready to begin this tape we were talking about the fact that you have known Billy since way back in the 1940s. Is that correct?


FERM: Talk a little bit about how you first came to know Mr. Graham.

MAYELL: Well, I happened to be, at the time, on the board of directors of Christ for Greater Los Angeles, who put on...which put on a crusade every year about some outstanding evangelist, once a year in the entire city. We had something like fifteen hundred pastors of fifteen hundred churches that were involved in our organization. And I had to make many contacts with these pastors to sort of keep their interest up, etcetera, etcetera. The man that was...that had the greatest responsibility in our organization was Mr. [Claude] Jenkins who has been in heaven for many years. And...but anyway, Torrey Johnson, who was a very intimate friend of ours, had been one of our city-wide evangelists on one or two occasions, and we...he came out this year. Now what year was that, Dorothy, sweetheart? He came out in...what was it when we were going to Alaska?”

MRS. MAYELL: I don’t remember.

MAYELL: All right, it was in about 1940, came out to occupy our home for the summer with his family. [Probably was in 1946 or 1947] And we were moving out and he was moving in. We were going down to the plane and he was moving in and he said, “Lionel, I want to tell you something. As you know, I’ve just come from Europe and I’ve been in England for some time. And I happen to have been invited to a crusade [pauses]....”

FERM: That’s all right. Go ahead.

MAYELL: I believe it was in [pauses]...some of the names I forgot, it leaves my memory. It’s a...it's a city on one of the large rivers there. Isn’t that crazy. First time it's every forgotten.

FERM: That’s all right. Don’t worry about it.

MAYELL: All right. And a great crusade. There and a young guy was the...the evangelist at that crusade, his first crusade. It lasted, I think, eight days.” He said, “Lionel, he’s going to be the world’s greatest evangelist. I’ve never heard such fluency. I’ve never seen such Holy Spirit direction in any man in my life. And I sat under him and marveled at the power of God in a man’s life, realizing that a man is not great in himself, he’s great according to his devotion and surrender to the Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. His name was Billy Graham, twenty-four or five years of age, if I remember. And I want you to present his name to Christ for Greater Los Angeles that you are active in.” I said, “That’s great, I would be very happy to.” So, Torrey Johnson came to town. He had organized Youth for Christ across the nation and was president of Youth for Christ. And they asked me to handle a banq...a series of banquets in Los Angeles to introduce Torrey Johnson, the new director of Youth for Christ, which was going to be citywide in its activity, and to introduce him. And he had a very good friend and that would be his friend, Billy Graham, was coming out. So they wanted me to introduce Billy Graham and Torrey Johnson as the director for Youth for Christ. And he was going to open up and have a series of meetings in Los Angeles. So they said that I had had many banquets and “We want you to handle these banquets.” So, of course, it put ego on my throne and I’d take any responsibility that was given to me. I would take a dozen and couldn’t work out but one or two of them, but I would take them and I enjoyed it. And I loved Torrey Johnson and I met Billy Graham. I thought he was terrific. We had him in our home and in those days I had had a little reverse of business. And so I used to take Dr. Billy Graham each night when I...when I...while I...when I...while he was with us up about five or six blocks up the street off of...our home was on Wilshire Boulevard and June, a very beautiful $150,000 home, or more or less. And I would go up to La Ciente, go to the street of restaurants. And I had a favorite hot dog stand there that I would get chili dogs, the chili on them. So I’d walk Dr. Billy Graham (a young kid of about twenty-five years old) up to this hot dog stand every evening after a meeting or so and give him a hot dog. And that was very gracious of me, don’t you think so?

FERM: Oh, I think that was.

MAYELL: That was very gracious and so we did that.

FERM: And he enjoyed it too.

MAYELL: And he enjoyed it. And we learned to love him the more that we knew him because he had his feet on the ground. He was not a braggart. He was not affluent. He didn’t pride himself in any ability the Lord had given him. And...but he loved the Lord and he loved evangelism and any place he could be used he wanted to be used. So....

FERM: Well, let’s talk about the ‘49 crusade now. That was the first big event.

MAYELL: That’s the first crusade that introduced him to the world, from which he sprang forth in great exuberance with the Holy Spirit’s direction as no other man that I’ve known has ever been directed.

FERM: Now you were on that committee.

MAYELL: I was on the Committee. I finally became the Executive Vice President for many years. But I was on the Committee as a mere director at the time. All my friends were on it in their other positions and I had helped to organize it. But that was the end of that. So I went before the board of directors for Christ for Greater Los Angeles and said, “I want to present a name for our next evangelist.”

FERM: Oh, I jumped ahead, didn’t I? I'm sorry.

MAYELL: Yes. Our next....

FERM: I’m sorry.

MAYELL: It’s all right. Your...your jumping ahead is your privilege.

FERM: I’m sorry.

MAYELL: If you don’t skid...


MAYELL: ...but if you fall...skid and fall on your back, it will be too bad.

FERM: No, no, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have jumped ahead.

MAYELL: We don’t have any hospital in connection with our home. [both laugh]

FERM: Okay.

MAYELL: Anyway, I went before the Board of Directors of Christ for Greater Los Angeles. And...and I got up and told about Billy Graham, that Torrey Johnson had told me about him and recommended him, and that I had heard enough about Billy Graham in his crusade in Bristol, England, and so forth that I was completely sold that...to the fact...to the...my suggestion, that he should be the next evangelist in Los Angeles. To my great...my great consternation, three of the members of the board (they were the wealthiest on the board) said that if we had a man as young as Billy Graham (without any knowledge as to who he was or what he could do), he would fail in Los Angeles, and they would resign from the Christ for Greater Los Angeles if they went ahead and retained Billy Graham. So I said, “Well, don’t you think the Holy Spirit can lead a man, and direct it, and control the publicity and bring the people out without any known qualities of the man, if the Holy Spirit is in it and I know He is?” “Nope.” So we couldn’t lose three of our wealthiest men. They’re all dead now or I wouldn’t mention this. So they said, “No.” So I went down...I was also on the board of Youth for Christ [pauses] and...by reason of the fact that we had found Christ as Savior in Youth for Christ meetings. We went there to get our children off the streets of Hollywood, to get them in a...away from Hollywood as much as we could because our home was ten minutes away from the girl shows and everything else in Hollywood. So, I went to the board...before the board of Youth for Christ.... Would you shut that?

FERM: [laughs] We’re having pictures taken!

MAYELL: All right. Anyway, so I went to present the same thought, because every year we had one great meeting for Youth for Christ. [to his wife] (Now, listen here, Mother, you hit me on the foot and you’re going to pay for that, tonight! All right.) [Ferm laughs] So I went before the Youth for Christ Board, the Board of Youth for Christ, and presented the same thing.

FERM: Was Roy McKeown running Youth for Christ at that time?


FERM: Yes. Okay.

MAYELL: [whispers] I don’t know.

FERM: I think he was, yes...


FERM: ... because I interviewed Roy.

MRS. MAYELL: I remember him, uh-hmm.

MAYELL: All right. All right. Anyway, Bob Pierce was on the board too.

MRS. MAYELL: Uh? [indicating doubt]

MAYELL: Yeah, he was a director at that time.

FERM: Oh, that's all right.

MAYELL: All right, say no.

MRS. MAYELL: No, Roy was, darling.

MAYELL: All right.


MAYELL: I know he was...

FERM: Okay.

MAYELL: ...whether he was or not. [Ferm laughs] All right. Anyway, he was on the...he was on the board. And so we went before them and they took it more kindly. And I said, “Now, you're going in the Hollywood Bowl, the biggest...biggest annual meeting we've ever attempted. We were...the biggest we ever went to was Shrine Auditorium, but this year you're going...or next year you're going in the Hollywood Bowl, 20...23,000 plus in the Hollywood Bowl. And I think a man like Billy Graham could put it over. Young man, youth. Youth for Ch...where...Youth for Christ is youth, appeals to youth. And I think from everything I can find out that Billy Graham is a man that the Holy Spirit could use in a great and mighty way in the Hollywood Bowl.” It went over unanimous. And most of the board members of Youth for Christ were the same board members as Christ for Greater Los Angeles. So we planned our meeting in the Hollywood Bowl.

FERM: What year would this have been about?

MAYELL: This is about the sa...a year after when I first met him [1947].

FERM: Okay.

MAYELL: So we went...I don't what.... You don’t remember the year either, do you, Mother?

MRS. MAYELL: It was....

MAYELL: Call up Roy McKeown and ask him right now.

MRS. MAYELL: [unclear]

MAYELL: Get it so she has it accurate.

FERM: That’s all right.

MRS. MAYELL: It was before the...naturally before the...

FERM: ‘49.

MRS. MAYELL: ...big deal, before the ‘49...

MAYELL: A year before.

MRS. MAYELL: ...revival. It must have been ‘48.

MAYELL: ‘48.

FERM: ‘48.

MAYELL: It was ‘48.

MRS. MAYELL: That's when I [unclear]....

MAYELL: 1948 was in the Hollywood Bowl.

FERM: Okay, yes.

MAYELL: We did a good job of advertising. We had several banquets to introduce the people involved to hear Billy Graham. We had them all over the city of Los Angeles. Turn it off and I’ll tell you one story that's interesting.

FERM: Let me just....

[Taping stopped, then resumed]

FERM: Okay, we had been talking about...you had the advertising out for the Hollywood Bowl meeting.


FERM: And now you had...so what happened when you had the meeting?

MAYELL: It jammed out. The entire perimeter of the Bowl was crowded, against the law. Many were sitting down the stairs at the entrance of the different paths of entrance, sitting down on the different aisles that came down, against the law. And when the altar call...it was...you could have heard a pin drop had you been able to hear anything drop in Hollywood Bowl, so forth. And when it was over, I never in all my life saw such an influx to the...to the altar. I was sitting in one of the loges, the bottom of the...of the Hollywood Bowl right in front of the stage, right by the mike. I always picked out the best location because I was selfish and we, my family and I, sat there. They jumped over the little two-by-two railing around my loge. They even broke one or two of the railings. They went down to the altar, jammed the entire altar in ten minutes. I never saw anything like it in all my life. It was absolutely phenomenal. And the men...the newspaper people that were there were taking pictures and flashing lights constantly because it was such an...how the Holy Spirit had drawn the people in. Never heard his name four weeks before, now he’s...the Lord did that.

FERM: This was ‘48?

MAYELL: That was in '48. [the Hollywood Bowl rally was June 21, 1947]

FERM: All right.

MAYELL: So that was that. So, two weeks later we had a meeting of Christ for Greater Los Angeles. [chuckles] I again put up the motion because I was asked to. I made the motion that we use Billy Graham the next year after this one. And they used him in the great crusade as you know about. And the Lord blessed it, absolutely tremendous. And I’ll tell you one story along that line. The three weeks were over (his last three weeks) and we had the last Sunday night of the crusade that was originally arranged for.

FERM: The ‘49 crusade?

MAYELL: The '49 crusade. It was the first crusade.

FERM: At Washington and Hill Streets.


FERM: Okay, I just want it for the record.

MAYELL: Yes, for the record, the ‘49 crusade. So, the crusade had been a great success, but it had been the coldest (it was October and September) that we’d ever had that I’d been there for many, many years. I’ve been here now nearly seventy years. It was the coldest winter, or early...early fall, that I’ve ever witnessed in California, even to this day. You could see your breath. You know what I mean by that. So we ordered the flaps of the large Ringling Brothers tent to be nailed down so the great gusts of wind couldn’t come there and blow us to pieces, and the dust come in there and suffocate us. And I don’t think we had in those days...the fir...the crusade the first three weeks, more than maybe one or two exceptions, were it jammed it out. But outside of that, it was about two thousand people came to it and it held six thousand. We had a meeting. “Are we going to continue the crusade? Are we going to stop?” The meeting was s...st...scheduled for four o’clock, if I remember correctly. The evening meeting in the counseling roo...tent, the small tent at the side of the big tent where we were having this meeting, had to be vacated by at least 7:20 [p.m.] to get ready to go into the big tent and...for the crusade. And we had arguments. ”It will bankrupt us if we go ahead again.” “Billy Graham is willing to go ahead.” “He’s not urging to go ahead.” “He wants the Lord’s will to be done.” One guy got up and said, “I know Graham be...Graham.... Graham, the great evangelist in China. They had the same...the name is Graham. Paul Graham or something (anyway, everybody knew who he was) had just returned from China. He got up in this meeting in his big boisterous voice. He said, “I have three or four hundred sermons in my briefcase that I’ve used over the years. I brought them for my year’s mission in America (on his sabbatical leave).” And he said, “I will sit down with Billy Graham any time he has used all of his sermons,” which he said he had done. But he said, “The Lord will give me new sermons. I’m not worried about it. I’m offering my services if you want to have me.” So there were people that were opposed to it and said, “Well, Billy Graham hasn’t any more sermons and is going to be...not going to be as smoothly run as it has been. And I think we ought to say, ‘That’s a good job. Let’s forget it.’ Better close with a good job than to start over again and have a bankrupt proposition.” So finally it was...no, no decision made. Twenty minutes after 7:00 was there. Nobody had said, “Quit the crusade.” Nobody said, “Let’s go ahead.” And I was on the outside, because I never push myself forward. And I jumped up (and I was well-known and I was very successful in my business at the time)...and I jumped up and I said, “May I make a motion? It seems that the whole problem, the whole quandary that we are considering is on...is the weather going to remain impossible? And if the weather remains impossible, it might be very difficult and I might agree not to go ahead. But this is for the glory of the great God that we worship, for Jesus Christ our Savior. And not for us, and not for Christ for Greater Los Angeles. We’ve never had a failure and the Lord is not...never going to let us have a failure as long as we are marching in His will. So I make the motion that if by twenty minutes after 8:00 tonight, the God who is in control of the weather moderates the weather, and Billy Graham can be the judge and he can be authorized to say the meetings will continue from week to week.” And they were glad to get out of the meeting and I was the only one to stick my neck out to do it. And they voted unanimously that that would be it. If God would be...would bring a miracle. Now this has never been quoted in any story...

FERM: I have never heard it.

MAYELL: ...about Billy Graham.

FERM: I've never heard that.

MAYELL: Well, you see....

FERM: That’s why I’m doing this.

MAYELL: All right, well, let me tell you. You see, you find this. I was once a very dynamic young and great vision and the Lord blessed me in my ministry...I built...in my work. And I built the first condominiums in the world and I had built nearly a $100,000,000 worth of them. I had lived in a very beautiful home, a $100,000 home. I drove the most beautiful cars. I displayed my wealth. I entertained in our home, dinners all the time. And I was active in anything I was ac...I was asked to be active for, because I loved to be active and that was it. And I loved Billy Graham, and Ruth, and the whole doggone group of them. (You can leave out my profanity if you wish).

FERM: That’s all right.

MAYELL: And so forth. So I went through there at before twenty minutes after 8:00, believe it or not, all the old women and old men in the...in the tent began to fan themselves with anything they could find: papers off the floor, bulletins, or in the old woman’s purse she would get out an old fan that she used to have, and began to fan themselves. And Dr. Bi...Dr. Graham stopped his sermon and asked the ushers if they would open up the flaps of the tent on the west side of the tent. And they went up and pulled them out of there, where there were nailed, and opened them up to give them a breath of air. And...and God had performed a miracle and changed the...moderated the...the temperature. And from that time on we had no weather problems. And it went on for six weeks and tens of hundreds received Jesus Christ as Savior, miracle by miracle. First morning...first Sunday night after that meeting, I heard this straight from the horse’s mouth, Stuart Hamblen. The next morning, Monday morning, I got a phone call at 5:30 in the morning. I was in bed asleep. I got up and answered the phone. “This is Stuart Hamblen speaking. I want to tell you, Billy....” (He ought to have known by my voice I wasn’t Billy.) “I want to tell you, Billy, that the dogs wouldn’t chase the lions and...and so forth and we didn’t get a single beast and they all hid under the...the...under the trailer and we had a cold, freezing, horrible venture. And so I said, ‘God, if You'll get us out of this mess, I’m going home tonight, and get back home tomorrow morning and I’m going down to the tent and receive Jesus Christ as my Savior. And I’m coming tonight and I’m going to ask Jesus Christ into my heart as Savior.” “Stuart Hamblen,” I said, “you are not speaking with Billy Graham. This is Lionel Mayell. You don’t know me, I know you, but you don’t know me. And Billy Graham is down at a certain place, Langworth Apartments down near the Ambassador Hotel.”

FERM: What apartments?

MAYELL: I don’t remember...Mother will tell you.

FERM: Down in the what hotel?

MAYELL: Next to the Ambassador Hotel.

FERM: Next to the Ambassador Hotel.

MAYELL: Yes, because he was living at our home and everybody knew us and everybody came around and the doors were always unlocked. And they’d walk in and con...and conflab [sic] with Billy Graham night or day. And they had no peace, no privacy, and I said, “Billy, you can stay here no longer.” So we got them...well, I didn’t get them, somebody got them an apartment and he went down there and moved out. And Cliff Barrows was with us too, with their baby, Billie, and we had a babysitter for her. And they all moved out and went down...

FERM: Bonnie, you mean.

MAYELL: ...down to....

FERM: Bonnie would be their baby, their [the Barrows’] first baby.

MAYELL: Yeah. What did I say? Yeah...

FERM: Billie. Billie’s his wife.

MAYELL: ...was a pianist.

FERM: Yeah, Billie’s his wife. Yes, right.

MAYELL: That’s it. So that was the...that was the end of that crusade.

FERM: Isn’t that exciting!

MAYELL: And that’s never been published.

back to
© 2009
 Notice: This exhibit is for the enjoyment and education of the users of the BGC Archives Website.   Material in it is protected by copyright and any use, publication or copying is strictly prohibited   without written permission.