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Also Known As: Al Maysles, Albert H. Maysles Died:
Born: November 26, 1926 Cause of Death:
Birth Place: Boston, Massachusetts, USA Profession: director, producer, documentarian, cameraman, director of photography, salesman, professor of psychology

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Alongside his brother David, Albert Maysles became one of the chief exponents of the cinema verité school of documentary filmmaking. After starting his documentary career with films about mental health in Russia and student revolt in Poland, the Maysles brothers joined forces with Richard Leacock, Robert Drew and D.A. Pennebaker to make a series of films, most notably "Primary" (1960), which followed the Democratic primaries between John Kennedy and Hubert Humphrey in Wisconsin, and revolutionized the way documentaries are made. Turning to music, he directed "What's Happening! The Beatles in the USA" (1964) and later made the controversial Rolling Stones film, "Gimme Shelter" (1970), which documented the band's headlining performance at the violence-plagued Altamont Free Concert and captured the fatal stabbing of a concertgoer. In the following decade, the Maysles courted more controversy with "Grey Gardens" (1976), a disturbing look at co-dependency between a mother and daughter that was later turned into a Broadway musical and an Emmy-winning HBO film. Following the death of brother David in 1987, Maysles earned an Oscar nomination for "LaLee's Kin: The Legacy of Cotton" (2001) while making cable...

Alongside his brother David, Albert Maysles became one of the chief exponents of the cinema verité school of documentary filmmaking. After starting his documentary career with films about mental health in Russia and student revolt in Poland, the Maysles brothers joined forces with Richard Leacock, Robert Drew and D.A. Pennebaker to make a series of films, most notably "Primary" (1960), which followed the Democratic primaries between John Kennedy and Hubert Humphrey in Wisconsin, and revolutionized the way documentaries are made. Turning to music, he directed "What's Happening! The Beatles in the USA" (1964) and later made the controversial Rolling Stones film, "Gimme Shelter" (1970), which documented the band's headlining performance at the violence-plagued Altamont Free Concert and captured the fatal stabbing of a concertgoer. In the following decade, the Maysles courted more controversy with "Grey Gardens" (1976), a disturbing look at co-dependency between a mother and daughter that was later turned into a Broadway musical and an Emmy-winning HBO film. Following the death of brother David in 1987, Maysles earned an Oscar nomination for "LaLee's Kin: The Legacy of Cotton" (2001) while making cable films covering everything from abortion and hospice care to Paul McCartney's 9/11 benefit concert in New York City, solidifying his status as one of documentary filmmaking's most celebrated pioneers.

Born on Nov. 26, 1926 in Boston, MA, Maysles and his younger brother David were raised by their Russian immigrant parents, Philip, a postal worker, and Ethel, a schoolteacher. Developing an early interest in photography, Albert purchased his first camera when he was seven years old and sparked a lifelong fascination with images. Later in life, he entered World War II and served with the Army tank corps, before earning his bachelor's degree from Syracuse University upon his return. Maysles moved on to earn a master's from Boston University and spent the next three years teaching psychology. In 1954, he went to the Soviet Union to study their mental healthcare system and shoot photographs inside their mental hospitals. Although he was unsuccessful in selling those pictures, he managed to obtain a movie camera from CBS the following year and on a return visit, shot his first documentary, "Psychiatry in Russia" (1955). While no network touched the finished product, he did find an outlet at Boston's public television station WGBH which aired the documentary. Meanwhile, he and his brother David shot footage of a student revolt in Poland which aired as "Youth of Poland" (NBC, 1957).

Shortly thereafter, Albert and David met D.A. Pennebaker, who in turn introduced them to Drew and Leacock, and the filmmakers formed Drew Associates, a co-op where they shared both manpower and resources while collaborating on a number of films. One of his most significant contributions was serving as cinematographer and director of "Primary" (1960), a landmark political documentary that focused on the 1960 Democratic primaries between candidates John Kennedy and Hubert Humphrey in Wisconsin. The film was a huge breakthrough in documentary filmmaking because of their use of mobile cameras and lighter sound equipment, which allowed for greater intimacy and revolutionized the way documentaries were made. After "Primary," the Maysles were selected by Grenada Television to shoot the U.S. arrival of a British rock-n-roll phenomenon, The Beatles, resulting in "What's Happening! The Beatles in the USA" (1964). Although there was interest in studio distribution, the band's contract to make "A Hard Day's Night" precluded any widespread showings. Meanwhile, CBS purchased a shortened version and aired it with narration provided by Carol Burnett.

Hired by 20th Century Fox to film Marlon Brando to promote "Morituri" (1965), the Maysles pieced together the footage for their own film, "Meet Marlon Brando" (1965), an intimate look at the enigmatic actor that covered everything from his women and celebrity to the plight of Native Americas. Often collaborating with director-editor Charlotte Zwerin, the Maysles produced one of their best known works, "Salesman" (1968), a look at door-to-door Bible sellers in Boston, which for various reasons also did not gain widespread exposure until a 1994 airing on PBS. From there, they made arguably their greatest and most widely popular documentary, "Gimme Shelter" (1970), a controversial look at the disastrous Altamont Free Concert, the West Coast's answer to Woodstock. Filmed in December 1969 at the Altamont Speedway in Northern California, "Gimme Shelter" spent much of its focus on one band, The Rolling Stones, who headlined and organized the event, which also featured Santana, Jefferson Airplane, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, and others. Mired by violence in part fueled by the Hells Angels, who were hired by the Stones as security, Altamont took a tragic turn when concertgoer Meredith Hunter pulled a gun during a melee in front of the stage and was stabbed six times by Hells Angels members, resulting in his death. Caught on film by the Maysles, Hunter's death stirred controversy over the filmmaker's status as detached observers, but more importantly helped mark a symbolic end to the days of peace and love.

Meanwhile, the Maysles received their sole Oscar nomination in 1973 for the first of several collaborations with the artist Christo, "Christo's Valley Curtain" (1973), which explored the artist hanging a nine-ton orange nylon fabric across 400-meters of Rifle Gap, CO using steel cables, iron bars and 200 tons of concrete. After a failed 1971 attempt that was destroyed by wind and rock, Christo managed to successfully hang a cloth the following year, only to watch as 60 mile-an-hour winds destroyed the fabric less than 30 hours later. . As with "Gimme Shelter," the Maysles' next full-length documentary effort, "Grey Gardens" (1976), sparked controversy for their portrait of the Beales, a mother-daughter duo living in seclusion in a rundown East Hampton mansion who were distantly related to Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. A pathetic, but ultimately human look at two women who share their home with a multitude of felines, the film was a fascinating depiction of co-dependence and resentment, with particular emphasis on the mother-daughter dynamic. At the time of its release, "Grey Gardens" divided critics, some of whom praised it as one of the year's best films, while others found it tasteless and exploitative of two obviously mentally ill women living in both filth and in their once glamorous pasts. But the subject proved popular for other mediums, resulting in a 2006 Broadway musical and an Emmy-winning 2009 HBO movie starring Jessica Lange and Drew Barrymore. Also at the time, Maysles served as a camera operator on "The Grateful Dead Movie" (1977), which documented the band's five-night stand at San Francisco's Winterland Ballroom in October 1974 before their 19-month long hiatus.

After directing "Christo's Running Fence" (1978), which documented the artist's attempt to erect a 24-mile long fabric fence along ranch land in California, the Maysles turned to the sports world with "Muhammad and Larry" (1980), which explored the rivalry between heavyweight boxers Muhammad Ali and Larry Holmes. With his brother serving as director, Maysles shot "Vladimir Horowitz: The Last Romantic" (1985), a private look at the life and career of the late piano virtuoso. After collaborating on "Ozawa" (1986) and "Islands" (1986), Maysles lost his brother David to a stroke in 1987 and subsequently partnered with Susan Froemke on a series of made-for-cable documentaries, including "Abortion: Desperate Choices" (HBO, 1992) and "Letting Go: A Hospice Journey" (HBO, 1996). Following his chronicle of the development of the Los Angeles Center in "Concert of Wills: Making the Getty Center" (1997), Maysles significantly slowed down his output, but earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Documentary with "LaLee's Kin: The Legacy of Cotton" (2001), which followed the hardscrabble life of a poor, illiterate descendant of slaves whose life is dependent on the cotton industry. He went on to direct "Rufus Wainwright - Milwaukee at Last" (2009), which documented the making of the singer-songwriter's seventh album, and "The Love We Make" (2011), a look at Paul McCartney's October 2001 benefit concert in New York following the 9/11 attacks that was released for the 10th anniversary of the events.

By Shawn Dwyer

VIEW THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Filmographyclose complete filmography

DIRECTOR:

2.
  Gates, The (2008)
5.
  Umbrellas (1993) Director
6.
  Christo in Paris (1990) Director
7.
  Islands (1987) Director
9.
  Running Fence (1978) Director
10.
  Grey Gardens (1976) Director

CAST: (feature film)

1.
 Wild Blue Yonder (2008)
2.
3.
4.
 Tell Them Who You Are (2004) Cast
6.
7.
 Wild Ride of Outlaw Bikers, The (1999) Interviewee
VIEW THE FULL FILMOGRAPHY

Milestones close milestones

:
Raised in Brookline, Massachusetts
:
At age seven, purchased first still camera
:
Worked as salesman
:
During WWII, served with Army tank corps; after discharge enrolled in college
1952:
Taught psychology at Boston University
1955:
Went to USSR to study mental health care; began making films
1955:
First film (made solo), "Psychiatry in Russia"; aired on WGBH the public television station in Boston
1957:
First film made with brother David, "Youth of Poland"
1959:
Co-shot D.A. Pennebaker's "Opening in Moscow"
:
With Pennebaker, Richard Leacock and David Maysles, became member of Drew Associates (founded by Robert Drew)
1960:
Co-directed an examination of the Democratic campaign for president "Primary"
:
Formed Maysles Films, Inc.
1962:
First Maysles Brothers collaboration with Charlotte Zwerin, "Showman"; also first Maysles Films Inc. production
1964:
Helmed the documentary short "What's Happening! The Beatles in America"; never released theatrically; aired instead on CBS with narration by Carol Burnett
1964:
Photographed Godard's segment ("Montparnasse et Levallois") of omnibus feature, "Paris vu par/Six in Paris"
1969:
Co-directed with brother and Charlotte Zwerin, "Salesman" a portrait of bible sellers in Boston; withheld from audiences for 25 years; finally aired on PBS' "POV" in 1994
1970:
Garnered widespread acclaim for "Gimme Shelter" chronicling the Rolling Stones' 1969 US tour
1973:
Shared Academy Award nomination for "Christo's Valley Curtain"; also first of several film collaborations with the artist Christo
1974:
Worked as cinematographer on Leon Gast's documentary "When We Were Kings" about the Muhammed Ali and George Forman 'Rumble in the Jungle'; film not released until 1996
:
In early 1980s, worked on film profiles of musicians Seiji Ozawa and Vladimir Horowitz; earned Emmy Award for "Vladimir Horowitz: The Last Romantic"
1990:
Last feature collaboration with brother David, "Christo in Paris"; released three years after David's death
1992:
Co-directed (also produced) the award-winning HBO documentary "Abortion: Desperate Choices"
1994:
Filmed "Conversations With the Rolling Stones" (broadcast on VH-1)
1996:
Produced, shot and co-directed the award-winning HBO documentary "Letting Go: A Hospice Journey"
1997:
Co-directed with Susan Froemke and Bob Eisenhardt the documentary "Concert of Wills: Making the Getty Center"
2001:
With Froemke and Deborah Dickson, filmed "LaLee's Kin: The Legacy of Cotton"; premiered at Sundance before airing on HBO
2001:
Profiled directors Martin Scorsese, Wes Anderson, Robert Duvall and Jane Campion in the TV specials "With the Filmmaker: Portraits by Albert Maysles" (PBS)
2005:
Founded the Maysles Institute, a nonprofit organization that provides training and apprenticeships to underprivileged individuals
2007:
With Antonio Ferrera, documented a site-specific art installation by Christo and Jeanne-Claude, "The Gates" in NYC
2008:
Joined Martin Scorsese to directed "Shine a Light"; the film documented two 2006 performances that took place during rock and roll band The Rolling Stones' A Bigger Bang tour
VIEW ALL MILESTONES

Education

Brookline High School: Brookline , Massachusetts -
Syracuse University: Syracuse , New York -
Boston University: Boston , Massachusetts - 1953

Notes

"People sense--from the way you handle the camera, even the way you introduce yourself--if you're going to intrude on them or hurt them. They sense when you are really paying attention. To attend means to wait. That perfectly describes what we do." --Albert Maysles quoted in THE NEW YORK TIMES, February 13, 1994

"As a child, I didn't speak. It wasn't a deformity. I was just extremely quiet. No one knew if I was broght or dumb, so I had to repeat kindergarten. But my personality made me an avid listener, which served me well." --Albert Mayseles quoted in AMERICAN CINEMATOGRAPHER, January 1998

"We couldn't have made all of those films without each other. There was no sibling rivalry because we weren't in competitive roles. We worked as a filming team, with me behind the camera. David also took control of postproduction, and we both found stories and made decisions. But above all, we held ourselves subservient to our subjects and the quality of our films." --Maysles in AMERICAN CINEMATOGRAPHER, January 1998

Companions close complete companion listing

wife:
Gilian Walker. Married on September 14, 1976.

Family close complete family listing

mother:
Ethel Maysles. Schoolteacher. Died c. 1974.
father:
Philip Maysles. Postal clerk. Russian-Jewish immigrant.
sister:
Barbara Maysles. Artist. Older.
brother:
David Maysles. Filmmaker. Younger; born in 1932; died of a stroke in 1987.
daughter:
Rebekah Maysles.
son:
Philip Maysles.
daughter:
Sara Maysles.
VIEW COMPLETE FAMILY LISTING

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