After writer Al Martinez, a celebrated columnist for The Times from 1984 to 2009, died Monday dozens of readers wrote letters as they often do after someone of prominence passes, praising his work and expressing their grief. But many of the letters on Martinez told of a larger-than-life literary figure who remained accessible to his readers. Several shared memories of regularly receiving replies from Martinez to their letters on his columns. A few recalled personal interactions with the "Bard of L.A."
Beverly Gladstone of Sherman Oaks recalls sharing her home with Martinez:
I was very sad to learn of Martinez's passing.
Many years ago I wrote to him about one of his Times articles, a note that both he and his editor thought was very clever. I subsequently invited Al and his wife, Cinelli, to a rib-eye steak and martini dinner at my house (which was his and my favorite meal), and he accepted the invitation. He told me it was the only invitation of this kind that he had ever accepted (must have been for the steak and martini — he drank two).
We had a wonderful time, and Al left us with a copy of a book of his writings and another book about the final journey of his dog.
He will be very much missed. My condolences to Cinelli.
Redlands resident Carmen Wisdom says Martinez took the time to engage with his readers:
Al Martinez was not only gracious in column inches, but also generous in emails with devoted readers.
This "Bard of L.A." responded to my little missives with thoughtful responses and questions of his own; I treasured those conversations with a man so rich in life and love and insight.
Palmdale resident Roberto Cruz shares a similar memory:
I seldom missed Martinez's newspaper column and always looked eagerly to see what he would write about. He was a creative and very imaginative writer, and I grew so fond of his work.
Whenever I wrote to him he always responded; it made me feel like he was my friend. I missed his column when he retired, and now that he is gone I will read his books.
Steve Carey of Burbank says Martinez was an example to other writers:
I was very sad to learn of the passing of your former columnist Al Martinez. I once wrote him regarding a contentious issue, and his fair and balanced personal reply remains with me to this day.
Perhaps other Times columnists can take a cue from Martinez and craft articles that are thoughtful and yet won't alienate others with their bias.
Luís Campos of North Hollywood recalls sharing his inventions and poetry with Martinez:
I met Al at my house about 30 years ago; he drove up in a small, classic car. He had heard about an invention of mine and was following up on it.
I would send him my poems, and if he saw one he liked, he would let me know about it. I intend to search my computer files to try to find those messages, to preserve the memories.
I'm sure Al's up there right now with the likes of Damon Runyon and Ernie Pyle, trading stories and having a tough time explaining the Internet.
Simi Valley resident Margie Roblin says Martinez's death bookends a bad week for journalism:
First the tragedy at Charlie Hebdo, and now Al Martinez.
What a sad time this is for journalism — and for all of us.