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Unusual Items from Here and There


The memorial to author Thomas Wolfe at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill was the brainchild of Armistead Maupin when he was senior class vice-president in 1966. The stylized bronze angel is inscribed with a quotation from Wolfe’s most famous novel, Look Homeward Angel: “O lost, and by the wind grieved, ghost come back again.”

Armistead’s friend Tammy DeTreaux, the inspiration for Maybe the Moon, was one three performers who played E.T. in the movie of the same name.

The anagram that reveals Mrs. Madrigal’s secret in More Tales of the City was completely unintentional on Armistead’s part. One of the readers of his newspaper serial pointed it out to him.

Armistead wrote the original dialogue for “Beach Blanket Babylon,” the longest-running musical revue in theatrical history.

Armistead’s chief “spy” for the women’s music festival portion of Significant Others (1987) was his friend Kate Clinton, the legendary lesbian comic.

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Armistead’s real-life chance encounter with Olin L. Cobb, a former merchant seaman who lived in a hidden lean-to above the old seawall at the base of Telegraph Hill, was the initial inspiration for “Luke” in Further Tales of the City (1982). Cobb was forced to leave in the early eighties when condo developers objected to his makeshift home.

In 1971, when Armistead was a young conservative Vietnam veteran, he was invited to the Oval Office by President Nixon in an effort to counteract the anti-war efforts of future Presidential candidate John Kerry. Over three decades later, Kerry’s biographer, Douglas Brinkley, found the White House tapes of Armistead’s chat with Nixon and remarked that Armistead’s memory of the meeting had been surprisingly accurate.

In Sure of You (1989) landlady Anna Madrigal travels to the Greek island of Lesbos where she visits the family seat of Presidential candidate, Michael Dukakis. Four years later, Michael’s first cousin, Olympia, was hired to play Anna Madrigal in the television miniseries.

The last book Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis ever read may have been Armistead Maupin’s Maybe the Moon. The novel was given to her in the hospital in 1994 by actress Daryl Hannah, who had optioned it for a film, with an eye to the role of Renee, and wanted Jackie’s opinion in the matter. The actress was dating Jackie’s son, John Jr., at the time.

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Tennis legend Jim Courier, then ranked number two in the world, scandalized sports writers by reading a book during changeovers at the World Championships in Frankfurt in 1993. The book? Armistead Maupin’s Maybe the Moon. Almost a dozen years later Courier told a British reporter: “So many people ask me about that book that maybe I should have it bronzed, at the very least.”

Robert Jones, Armistead’s editor for The Night Listener at HarperCollins, died of cancer in 2001, so Armistead flew to New York for the memorial service. He was offered two possible return flights to San Francisco the following day – September 11 -- and chose the later one, since he didn’t want to get up early. The flight he declined was United 93, the one that crashed in Pennsylvania. Armistead, rising late at the Soho Grand Hotel, had an unobstructed view of the other two planes as they hit the twin towers.

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Thomas Wolfe Memorial, Chapel Hill NC

Tammy DeTreaux, top, with the other performers who played E.T.

Beach Blanket Babylon
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A wild parrot near the former site Olin Cobb’s lean-to

Isle of Lesbos

Jacqueline Kennedy
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Tennis champion Jim Courier