Albert Maysles, Life Changer

David and Al Maysles. Photographer unknown.

David and Al Maysles. Photographer unknown.

I heard that Al Maysles passed away yesterday at his home in Manhattan. I was just talking about him last night. As a kid, the first thing I watched on our new betamax (!) was his film, Gimme Shelter.

I met Al in an elevator when I first moved to New York. My life was very much in the dark and I was confused, unaware and afraid and there was Al. I don’t recall what I said although it probably was something about Salesman, Gimme Shelter, and Grey Gardens and his hometown of Brookline, where as a teen, I had worked in a video store.

He turned and peered at me through his glasses and said in his Massachusetts accent,

“Donna, what are you doing here?”

Without thinking I blurted, “I don’t know.”

He told me to come to his office, scribbling down his info and handing it to me. It took me awhile because I was intimidated and afraid (and he was one of the least threatening people on earth), but I did. He sat me down and gave me that talk that I so badly needed.

Al insisted I go to college. I did, and went on to get my Master’s. I’d stop by his office and tell him of my progress, sitting perched on the corner of his desk while we made each other laugh. He changed my life in ways I could have never imagined. If I wasn’t on his desk, I’d sit on a stool as he was cutting and we’d talk for hours about Boston and swimming in lakes and Bailey’s (of Boston, now gone) ice cream and families and life. He’d show me Little Edie’s letters which had the oddest handwriting I’d ever seen –  all circles, squares, and triangles on rose paper. 

Bailey's Ice Cream Boston MA 1988Best sundaes in town.

When I graduated, I sent him a thank you and I still have his reply. He called me a “treasure” and I cried. He urged me to write my book and I’m pretty sure I thanked him in it.  What a great friend and true guidance counselor he was. I feel lucky to have known him.

“There are daily acts of kindness, generosity and love that should be represented on film.”

-Albert Maysles


Donna Lethal

About Donna Lethal

Donna Lethal is the author of "Milk of Amnesia" and writes for her own blog (Lethal Dose), Hair Hall of Fame, Dowager Quarterly, Find A Death, & the Valhalla Cemetery chapter in "Weird Hollywood." A native of Lowell, Mass., she's lived in Boston, NY and London before settling here. When not writing, she's hiking, soaking in a Korean salt room or in the high desert with her pit bull.
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2 Responses to Albert Maysles, Life Changer

  1. Donna Wolfe says:

    You made me weep. I know you paid it forward .

  2. Beautiful. The guides are out there when we are courageous enough to say, “I don’t know”.

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