Bill Boyarsky
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Al Martinez, bard of L.A.

Al Martinez’ friends came to the Huntington by the busload Friday night to honor him and his work as a columnist for the Los Angeles Times.

Actually, there was just one bus, loaded with fans from Topanga Canyon, where Al and Joanne Martinez have lived for many years. Many others came by car. Nancy and I watched the bus riders debark and then greeted Al and Joanne, who had driven to San Marino in their car. We’ve been friends with them since the 1950s, when Al and I worked on the Oakland Tribune.

Those days were brought back to me when another Trib refugee, John Dix, who became a Los Angeles Times editor, snuck up behind me and shouted something in a gruff voice, reminding me of one I hadn’t heard in many years. John, who had come from Colorado for the event, was doing an imitation of Stanley Norton, the tyrannical Tribune managing editor. I jumped, half joking but not quite. The terrors of one’s youth are never really forgotten.

The exhibit of Al’s work —entitled Al Martinez, Bard of LA—reaches back to when he was a Marine in the Korean War from 1950 to 1952 and through his career as a journalist, novelist and television writer. It is a trip though a tumultuous period of American life and shows how Al chronicled it through stories about people. He’s a great storyteller who can make a walk across the street feel like an adventure. If you are interested in Los Angeles history and journalism—and one of L.A’s great journalists—check out the exhibition, which runs through June 25.

We guests had wine and snacks. The Huntington, in respect for Al’s tastes, provided him with a martini. Martini nearby, Al spoke briefly. He talked of the honor of having his papers at the Huntington. He turned to his wife of 62 years, known to his readers as Cinelli, her maiden name. Life with Joanne, he said, “is still a walk in the sunshine…I appreciate this woman, this friend, this love.”

When Al’s column was killed by the Times in 2007, I wrote, “Of all the stupidities committed by the new owners of the Los Angeles Times, the dumping of Al Martinez is one of worst. A newspaper is supposed to reach out to its readers. Al has that unique gift.” Al wasn’t silenced and someone appreciated his gift. He’s now a columnist for the Daily News.

The evening, however, was to celebrate Al, not beat up on the Times. It’s taking enough of a beating from its own mistakes and the inexorable decline of print. The Martinez exhibit is a reminder of happier days at the Times and even at the Oakland Tribune.

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