Al and Joanne, looking elegant and happy at the opening of the exhibit, Al Martinez — Bard of L.A. Of his wife of 62 years, Al said, “It’s been a walk in the sunshine. She watches over me, always has and I appreciate this woman, this friend, my love.”
For those riding the hired bus to attend the opening reception of Topangas beloved celebrity, Al Martinez The Bard of L.A, at the Huntington Library, the party started early.
The bus jostled its way out of the Canyon to the 118 and to the Library in record time, carrying members of Joanne Martinezs garden club, the Fanatical Botanicals, and a few Messenger staff. We managed to pour wine without spilling too much, passed cheese, crackers and assorted snacks forward and back with relative success only a few crackers fell on the floor.
Disembarking, all eyes searched for Al, who looked very Literati, every inch the contemporary bard that he is, not in tights or foppish garb, but distinguished, his white hair set off by a white turtleneck, acessorized with a scarf and jacket over khaki pants. Joanne, by his side, looked her usual elegant, beautiful self.
Topangan Ed Gutentag films Al Martinez at the Huntington for a documentary.
Inside Friends Hall, admirers, friends and colleagues from days long past, gathered to drink wine, nibble hors doeuvres and catch up with friends. Many Topangans were there, of course, neighbors who hadnt seen each other in ages, made the trek to the Huntington to see Al and, in between, filled each other in on their lives.
Thats what a Bard does: brings people together.
A camera crew was also moving around as inconspicuously as possible while maneuvering a bunch of cameras and microphones. Roger Pugliese enthusiastically explained, Were making a documentary about Al. Alexandra Snegoff was directing and interviewing while Ed Gutentag took photos. Apologies and thanks to the rest of the un-named, hard-working crew doing their job that night.
It was time to introduce Al before everyone strolled over to the exhibit.
Curator of Literary Manuscripts for the Huntington Library, Sue Hodson worked for months putting together the exhibit. Of her and her assistant, Natalie Russel, Al said, “They
were vacuuming up everything in the house!” Hodson calls him “a literary treasure. It is beyond the greatest joy I have ever imagined. If you can imagine getting e-mails
every day from Al that kept me falling off my chair laughing.”
Sara S. Sue Hodson, Curator of Literary Manuscripts, recalled the conversation with Al at the Librarys exhibit of L.A. Times political cartoonist Paul Conrads exhibit in 2008, that led to this one.
I asked, What about your papers? The rest is history, she said. I had my eye on Al and there was no escape for him.
The Speeches Were Short
Director of the Huntington Library, David Zeidberg, welcomed everyone, saying, We have had wonderful luck, especially with contemporary writers, and we are proud to count Al among them.
Hodson then took the podium and introduced Al, calling him a literary treasure. It is beyond the greatest joy I have ever imagined. If you can imagine getting e-mails every day from Al that kept me falling off my chair laughing. I almost said we should not get a paycheck because were having such a good time. Fortunately, that didnt happen.
Al and Joanne couldnt have been kinder, more generous and fun. He makes everything fun. He still e-mails me twice a day.
When it came Als turn at the podium, it was like hearing one of his columns:
Literary treasure? Bard of L.A.? Welcome to my resurrection!
"Its amazing how people will turn out for a little wine and a few crackers. Times are tough.
"I wont say much because Im used to writing in 800 words or less. I have a confession: All those columns that have occurred in the last 35 years ? Francis Bacon wrote them. It wasnt really me that the Times got rid of; it was this historical figure.
Nicole Martinez stands next to the ink-on-plywood portrait she painted of her grandfather. Imagine what it must feel like having your art displayed in the Huntington Library at age 24.
"I worked for 38 years and during the Times golden years, we all aspired to greatness. You wanted a good writer, a good editor and a good photographer. It was a great time and I love the Times. I appreciate the community support Im getting in Topanga; Joannes garden club, The Fanatical Botanicals; the Book Worms book club; and my own Topanga Writers workshop.
Some of my family has the flu and couldnt make it here. But its great to see my granddaughter Nicole, her husband, Adam, and my best partner, Cinelli. Weve been married 62 years and its been a walk in the sunshine. She watches over me, always has and I appreciate this woman, this friend, my love.
Al Martinez The Bard of L.A
Long-time friends of Al and JoanneMartinez, Sherry and Bob Jason, co-founded City Hearts: Kids SayYes to the Arts, and have been the subject of his columns over the year.
Upon entering the exhibit, one is struck by the reproduction of a large portrait of Al by artist John Robertson. The original, painted with housepaint on canvas, hangs in the Martinez home.
I knew when I saw that painting that was my title image, Hodson recalls.
In turn, Als image of Hodson and her crew collecting his papers, books and all for months, was: They were vacuuming up everything in the house!
The exhibit itself, appears small as it details five decades of the columnists lifes works. Its the tip of the archive iceberg that will be available for people to reference in perpetuity.
Columnist Al Martinez, the program reads, has for five decades inspired readers to think more deeply about the world around them and to see more clearly the qualities that bind people together in common humanity.
Topangan Gary Johnson looks at mementos from Al’s television days. He was a television screenwriter for 20 years penning scripts for series such as “Hawaii Five-O” and “Jigsaw John,” and won an Emmy for the television film, “Out on the Edge,” starring Rick Schroder.
Displayed are photos of his experiences, first as a Marine rifleman, then as a combat correspondent in the Korean War, that filled scores of letters written to his wife.
The exhibit chronicles, in letters, manuscripts and photos, his time as an award-winning reporter for the Oakland Tribune, his recruitment by the L.A By God Times, as he liked to call it, and ensuing books and telelvision scripts for series such as Hawaii Five-O and Jigsaw John, based on an L.A. detective he had profiled in a column. He won an Emmy for the television film, Out on the Edge, starring Rick Schroder.
Exiting the exhibit, another striking portrait of Al gives pause. It is an ink-on-plywood likeness that his granddaughter Nicole Martinez did in 2009.
By evenings end, Al is lingering somewhere between the exhibit and leaving, but gracefully accepts yet another hug.
Upon arrival, Katie Dalsemer insisted on taking a photo of the group that had come to honor the Canyon’s beloved bard to prove to the world and perhaps our progeny, that we had been there on this auspicious evening.
Im having an out-of-body experience, he says. Everywhere I look I see myself.
Al is the Everyman of journalism, said Susan Turner-Lowe, VP Communications for the Library. Its important to collect writers like him. He is still writing and still successful. He is a three-time Pulitzer Prize winner and is beloved.
The exhibit runs through June 25. There are related programs at the ]Library: A conversation with Al and Joanne Martinez, on April 4 that is free; a Curator Tour: Bard of L.A., led by curator Sue Hodson, April 19, 4:30-5:30 p.m.; and Wednesday Afternoons with Al: A Writing Workshop, May 30, June 6 and 13, 2-4 p.m. For more information: www.huntington.org.