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Famed photographer found nirvana in Ashland

Lucie Scheuer is a widow now, and her Ashland home is bedecked with scores of pictures taken by her husband, famed celebrity photographer Cyril Maitland, who died Aug. 16. He was almost 91.

For Maitland, a working-class Scottish boy trying to survive the Nazi bombing of Clyde shipyards in World War II, the world changed when his parents gave him a Kodak box camera.

He set up a darkroom, fell in love with black-and-white photography and soon was making money shooting for the Scottish Daily Mail, then the London Daily Mail. He caught his big break with a 1965 photo of Winston Churchill’s funeral procession as he passed by a giant poster of the WWII prime minister that seemed to gaze down with historic solemnity on his own body.

His love of black-and-white photos never left him, and he went on to a brilliant career capturing great moments of movie stars, royalty, the Beatles and other rock-and-roll legends of the ’60s and ’70s, boxer Muhammad Ali, President Richard Nixon with the first returning moon astronauts, and historic events such as the tragic thalidomide trial, and the Guyana cult of Jim Jones just before its tragic mass suicide.

“Cyril said he couldn’t wait to get out of there, out of Jonestown. He said you could feel something terrible was going to happen, but no one would listen. It was his pictures that got Congressman (Leo) Ryan to go there to investigate.” Ryan and his staff were killed in the mass murder-suicide there in 1978.

Scheuer tells of meeting Maitland in the 1980s when they lived in Hollywood, and she, the daughter of a Los Angeles Times film critic, was a nightclub singer.

“We started out as friends in this funky little nightclub called Theodore’s. He’d come in and buy me Courvoisier. It was a love we grew into. We were very immature. We liked to say we grew up together.” They married in 1993.

His celebrity shots were widely published in newspapers, magazines and on TV. In Hollywood, says Scheuer, he snapped Fred Astaire, Sean Connery, Barbra Streisand, Natalie Wood, Jane Fonda, Jack Lemon, Julie Andrews, Sammy Davis Jr., Jane Seymour, Roger Moore, Jack Lemmon, Steve McQueen, Robert Redford, Ed Asner, Shirley McLaine, Sam Shepard, Frank Sinatra, Clint Eastwood, John Wayne, Julie Harris, Princess Margaret and others.

Maitland sold pics of immortal singer Judy Garland in a recording studio with bandages over slash marks on her wrist, quite apparent as she emoted in song. Infuriated, she tried but failed to halt their publication, says Scheuer.

In the world of music, he captured the big singers and rock groups of the day: the Beatles, Crosby, Stills & Nash, the Byrds, Paul Revere & the Raiders, Chad & Jeremy, the Monkees, Peter & Gordon, Diana Ross, Herbie Hancock, Della Reese, Sarah Vaughan, Michael Jackson — and a famous pic of the forlorn John Lennon in 1974 Los Angeles, about to give up his drunken ways and return to wife, Yoko. The two men were close, and Lennon, she notes, called him “Scotty.”

Scheuer holds one curious shot of George Harrison checking in for an acupuncture session, back when few knew what it was. Not many people can say they have an unpublished shot of an immortal Beatle, but Scheuer casually notes, “This one has never been published.”

Alcohol and drugs were de rigueur on shoots with stars and rockers back in the roaring ’60s and ’70s, she notes. Beach Boy Brian Wilson even told Maitland he wouldn’t allow photographs unless the previously unstoned Maitland toked a doobie first. He did, says Scheuer. But they finally chose the clean and sober path in 1983.

“Before that, he drank with everyone he photographed,” she says.

Finally tired of earthquakes, the Rodney King riots in Los Angeles and being held hostage in a “traumatizing” armed home invasion, the couple retired to Ashland in 1998.

Here, Maitland “had enough of photography” and expanded into another visual medium, becoming a noted local landscape artist, adoring the south valley’s natural colors, which he rendered in impressionistic tones, he said, as “soundless music.”

Maitland would sell his paintings at the Lithia Artisans Market and was president of its board. Like many here, he became interested in holistic healing, she says.

“He loved Ashland. It reminded him of Scotland, which he left because of its dreary weather. He loved this smaller town, far from Hollywood,” she said. “It was nirvana for him. He was a special person, a treasure. We meditated together. He couldn’t imagine a more wonderful place to paint.”

Scheuer reflected on how her husband had a beautiful tenor voice, sang in the Rogue Valley Peace Choir, emulated Dylan Thomas and would gather friends around at the holidays to recite “A Child’s Christmas in Wales.”

Maitland’s photos graced covers of TV Guide “countless times.” Some are in the public domain. Scheuer says they will be given to the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences.

After Maitland died, Scheuer posted a colored slide of him, the consummate artist of black-and-white images, on Facebook, to let the world know. As she hit the “post” button, she says, it strangely turned to black-and-white, “an appropriate, beautiful ending, a period at the end of the sentence.”

Scheuer says she will continue living in Ashland and plans a celebration of Maitland’s life in the spring.

John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

Cyril Maitland died Aug. 16. Courtesy photo