Chip off the Old Block

“MICHAEL ENDED UP TAKING HIS PARENTS TO THE Cliff House. It was the straightest place he could think of.
It was also far enough away from the Halloween madness of Polk Street that roller-skating nuns were not likely to invade the family circle again.
The nuns, he explained as cavalierly as possible, were “some crazy friends of Mona’s.” And, yes, they were men.
“Herb!” Michael’s mother dropped her fork and glared at her husband.
“Well, what the hell do you want me to call them?”
“That’s not a very nice word, Herb.”
“Why not? I’m a citrus grower, Alice. We raise fruits!” He laughed raucously.
“You just shouldn’t talk that way about people who can’t help themselves.”
“Can’t help themselves! Who the hell can’t help skatin’ down the middle of the street dressed up like a goddamn nun?”
“Herb … don’t raise your voice. There might be Catholics in the room.”
Michael looked up from his plate, speaking as offhandedly as possible. “It’s kinda like Mardi Gras, Papa. There’s lots of crazy stuff going on. A lot of people do it.”
“A lot of fruits.”
“Not just … them, Papa. Everybody.”
His father snorted and reattacked his steak. “I[…]”

Excerpt From: Armistead Maupin. “Tales of the City.”


Happy Halloween everyone!

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Netflix’s new “Tales of the City” will bring us diverse queer and trans stories in 2019

By Nick Adams, Director of Transgender Media & Representation
October 16, 2018

Today Netflix announced even more queer talent involved with the upcoming series Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City, including Murray Bartlett (Looking), Jen Richards (Mrs. Fletcher, Her Story), Daniela Vega (A Fantastic Woman), and RuPaul’s Drag Race winner Caldwell Tidicue aka Bob the Drag Queen. They join previously announced out actress Ellen Page and a host of LGBTQ newcomers. Showrunner, Executive Producer, and writer Lauren Morelli and Producing Director, Executive Producer Alan Poul, who are both part of the LGBTQ community, have assembled an entirely queer writing team and brought in several queer directors for the 10-episode series.

Armistead Maupin’s much-beloved novel, Tales of the City, first came to television on PBS in January, 1994. Set in Mrs. Madrigal’s bohemian San Francisco home at 28 Barbary Lane, the series centered LGBTQ stories and characters in a way that was completely unheard of for the time. (Showtime’s Queer as Folk didn’t premiere until December, 2000.) Tales of the City won a Peabody Award, garnered multiple Emmy nominations, and received a GLAAD Media Award. But anti-LGBTQ activists mobilized against it, sending a 12-minute clip reel to conservative members of Congress and creating a flyer that said “Your Tax Dollars Used to Air Pornographic, Profane, Homosexual TV Series.” PBS caved to anti-LGBTQ pressure, backing out of its commitment to fund and air the sequels. Thankfully Showtime stepped in and aired More Tales of the City and Further Tales of the City in 1998 and 2001.

The new Netflix series is inspired by the Maupin novels, but will bring us entirely new stories set in present-day San Francisco. Netflix already announced that queer fave Ellen Page will be playing Shawna, the estranged daughter of Mary Ann Singleton, played once again by the brilliant Laura Linney. They will be joined by other cast members from the original series including Olympia Dukakis returning as transgender landlady, Anna Madrigal, and Barbara Garrick who plays heiress DeDe Halycon Day.

Today, Netflix announced that Murray Bartlett, a fave from HBO’s Looking, will be playing Michael “Mouse” Tolliver, and that Chicago Fire’s Charlie Barnett will be playing his (much younger) boyfriend, Ben.

Among the new residents living at Barbary Lane, Josiah Victoria Garcia will be playing Jake Rodriguez, a character first introduced in Maupin’s 2007 novel Michael Tolliver Lives. Jake is a transgender man and a caregiver for Anna Madrigal. May Hong will play Jake’s long-term girlfriend, Margot Park.

Recurring queer characters will include Jen Richards (Mrs. Fletcher, Her Story) playing a young Anna Madrigal; Daniela Vega (A Fantastic Woman) as Ysela, a trans woman who plays a pivotal role in Anna’s life; Caldwell Tidicue aka Bob the Drag Queen as Ida Best the manager of a burlesque club where Shawna and Margot work; Matthew Risch (Looking, Modern Family) as Mouse’s ex-boyfriend Harrison; Dickie Hearts (Grace & Frankie) playing Mateo, DeDe’s housekeeper; Benjamin Thys (The Meyerowitz Stories) and Samantha Soule (Godless) as a queer polyamorous married couple; and Juan Castano (The OA) as Flaco Ramirez, one of Ben’s co-workers.

The all-queer writing team that Morelli and Poul assembled is comprised of Andy Parker, Patricia Resnick, Marcus Gardley, Jen Silverman, Hansol Jung, and Thomas Page McBee; while the directors who are part of the LGBTQ community including Silas Howard, Sydney Freeland, Stacie Passon and Kyle Alvarez.

Since the series features two prominent trans characters, Morelli and Poul included trans creators behind-the-scenes to help tell their stories. Trans people involved in the production include Josiah Victoria Garcia, a non-binary trans actor who uses they/them pronouns and the name Garcia in daily life; Jen Richards, a trans woman who starred in and was a writer and producer on the Emmy-nominated web series Her Story, about dating as a trans woman; Daniela Vega, a trans woman and the star of the Academy Award-winning film A Fantastic Woman; writer Thomas Page McBee; and directors Silas Howard and Sydney Freeland.

Netflix also announced that Paul Gross (Due South, Slings & Arrows) will be returning to reprise his role as Brian, Mary Ann Singleton’s ex-husband. He will be joined by newcomers Michelle Buteau (First Wives Club) as Wren, Brian’s no-nonsense best friend; Ashley Park (Broadway’s Mean Girls) and Christopher Larkin (The 100) as twins Ani and Raven who are newer residents of Barbary Lane, and Michael Park (Dear Evan Hansen) as Mary Ann’s husband Robert.

When it premieres next year, this diverse LGBTQ cast and creative team will bring new queer and trans stories to 28 Barbary Lane, and introduce younger generations of LGBTQ people to Michael Tolliver, Anna Madrigal, and Mary Ann Singleton. Is it 2019 yet?

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Armistead Maupin’s ‘Tales of the City’: The Best Soap Opera in Book Form

Tim Teeman
09.04.18 6:15 PM ET

For anyone who reads Armistead Maupin’s Tales of The City, it doesn’t matter that 28 Barbary Lane in San Francisco is a fictional address. When you’re in the city, at least for the first time, you want to find it. You want to be there, and screw-fiction, find its occupants­­­­—landlady Anna Madrigal, and that first book’s golden group of tenants: Mona, Michael (Mouse), Brian, and Mary Ann­­­­­.

DeDe, D’or, Edgar, Beauchamp, Jon, Frannie, Mother Mucca, Thack, Shawna, Ben: sure it would be lovely to see them too. But really you want to see Mrs. Madrigal, sweeping the steps, fixing a stray wisp of her hair, and welcoming you, in her grandly mysterious way, to all the intrigues within.

Yes, Macondray Lane on Russian Hill exists, the nearest-as-heck approximation of where 28 Barbary Lane is. When I visited it it felt thrilling to be in its shadowy, leafy embrace. But 28 Barbary Lane felt even more natural, even more alive and pungent, in my imagination. That is Maupin’s great skill in the Tales series.

The chapters are short and episodic because Maupin wrote the story first of all as a newspaper column, first in the alternative weekly newspaper Pacific Sun, then the San Francisco Examiner.

These books are supremely engaging, moving, dramatic soap operas in book form, and they have rightly earned Maupin awards, acclaim, the devotion and thanks of his readers, and sales of the series in excess of six million copies worldwide.

It is no understatement to say that you disappear into Tales of The City. That is how immersive Maupin’s world is. You won’t surface for days, months. He takes you around every nook and cranny, he knows every nook and cranny; and he knows the city’s society – high, low, LGBT, straight – with equal sagacity.

Any interruption (any interruption) to reading Tales of The City (1978), More Tales of The City (1980), Further Tales of The City (1982), Babycakes (1984), Significant Others (1987), Sure of You (1989), Michael Tolliver Lives (2007), Mary Ann In Autumn (2010), and The Days of Anna Madrigal (2014), is an unwelcome one.

As those publishing dates intimate, the saga begins in the second half of the 1970s and continues through to the present day.

Maupin himself is a charming, generous man. I have been fortunate enough to meet and interview him, most recently in 2014. Last year, he published a brilliantly written memoir, Logical Family.

Tales has had a life away from the page. In the mid-1990s, there was a TV mini-series of the first and second books (this author watched it with a group of friends, our mouths agape at seeing the characters and locales of our imaginations made into 3-D and human form!). An adaptation of the third novel was broadcast in 2001. There has been a musical (with songs by Jake Shears of the Scissor Sisters) and BBC Radio 4 has dramatized the books.

Now Netflix are planning a ten-part series that will debut next year, presumably taking the story forward from Babycakes.

My love affair with Tales began with those first six books, as it did for so many people. I didn’t have the paperbacks, but (this was 1990), all six books in two huge hardbacks, three novels packed into each. These hardbacks were lent to so many friends and traveled with me so much, their covers grew ragged.

The first Tales follows Mary Ann arriving from Cleveland, her wide-eyed surprise at the free-and-easy San Francisco of the 70s; the fug of dope-smoke wreathed around 28 Barbary Lane; the mystery of Mrs. Madrigal; Michael’s desire for love; Mona’s bohemian roaming; and the adventures of Brian, a horny straight waiter.

Inside 28 Barbary Lane, we find a family not united by love, but friendship, intimacies, and deep bonds. We follow Michael as he wins the underwear contest at a gay bar, before welcoming his conservative parents to town (his cover almost blown by some rollerskating nuns in drag). His “Letter To Mama” remains a template for any child coming out to their parents.

Maupin’s contribution to contemporary LGBT culture has been huge, immeasurable. His gay, bi, and trans characters, his openness about gay life, was years ahead of its time.

Long before confident, honest portrayals of gay and trans people, Maupin brought them, in all their assertiveness and realness, to the mainstream. There was to be no hand-holding, or pleas for understanding in Tales of The City: you either get with the characters, and with the living, breathing, many-layered San Francisco Maupin imagines, or you do not. (My advice: get with it.)

You follow the ritzy DeDe as she slowly realizes how awful her husband Beauchamp is, her relationship with the model D’or, and their escape from death. Mary Ann’s ascent to TV stardom changes her and all the relationships around her. Someone is out to get Mrs. Madrigal, but who could it be; and just wait for the delicious line she delivers at that storyline’s culmination.

The Tales characters are not based on real people but “inner drives and aspects of myself,” Maupin once said: “Mary-Ann my ambition, Mona my world-weariness. Michael was a romantic, Brian the sexual predator. Mrs. Madrigal was the wiser me.”

Tales has its soapy excesses. But Maupin is just as adept at sketching the mess and magic of real life. The books follow the ebb and flow of political and cultural tides of the eras they are set in.

We experience the impact of HIV and AIDS and its cost, differing strains of feminism, LGBT liberation politics, lesbian parenting, sexual fluidity, and the worlds of characters with huge fortunes and those without. There is homophobia, pregnancy, intrigue, adultery, love, relationships blooming, relationships dying, ambition, shocks, twists, secret identities, and more secrets­—and a fatal incident involving a clip-on tie.

Maupin is as generous and ruthless with his LGBT characters as he is with his straight: Tales is an equal-opportunities sudsy rollercoaster.

We don’t just stay in San Francisco. In Babycakes, a typically complicated storyline unfolds in the U.K., and later on Michael, by now an older man with a younger partner (just like Maupin himself) heads to Burning Man.

Rock Hudson, unnamed, is the inspiration for a closeted movie star in one of the books (where that star’s name should go, Maupin uses a meaningful, anonymity-endowing hyphen). There’s a closeted fashion designer, who (at the time, seemed very much like another one), who earns a well-earned dressing-down from Michael for his hypocrisy.

With Sure of You, we thought Barbary Lane had disappeared from our lives forever, and then Michael Tolliver Lives appeared 18 years later. Maupin initially denied the 2007 novel was a sequel (its narrating perspective differed from the main body of novels), but Maupin eventually accepted that it was a continuation of Tales.

With the 2014 Mrs. Madrigal-themed novel, Maupin returned to “the beating heart of the story,” as he told me. “I really enjoyed the chance of surveying the full 75-year scope of her story. She’s my better angel. She’s the person I aspire to be. It was fun spending time in her presence and imagining her as a 16-year-old boy.”

This really would be the final Tales novel, he said.“I’ve been accused of ‘Cher’s last tour’ syndrome, and there’ll be another. But there really won’t.”

“It’s beyond thrilling,” Maupin recently told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution of the coming Netflix series. “I can’t tell you what goose bumps it gave me to go on that soundstage to see that three-story 28 Barbary Lane—an even more detailed version than it was before—and many of the cast members are coming back. And they all look so damn good, you can’t believe 25 years have passed [since the first TV adaptation].”

If Tales of The City, the book series, is really at an end, it is also never really over – not just because of Netflix, but because of every new generation of readers that discovers its epic magic. So, before the Netflix show airs, buy the books and disappear.

Join PBS’s nationwide vote to choose America’s best-loved book. Don’t miss this eight-part television series that explores and celebrates the power of reading, told through the prism of 100 novels, The Great American Read, Tuesdays at 8/7C on PBS.

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‘Armistead Maupin’s Tales Of The City’ Revival Gets Series Order At Netflix; Ellen Page Joins Cast

by Denise Petski
April 24, 2018 10:50am

Netflix has ordered a 10-episode limited series revival of Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City. Production is expected to start later this year for premiere in 2019.

As previously announced when the project was in development, Laura Linney and Olympia Dukakis will reprise their roles as Mary Ann Singleton and Anna Madrigal. Barbara Garrick, who played DeDe Halcyon Day in the original miniseries, also is set to return. Ellen Page joins the cast as Shawna, the daughter of Linney’s character, Mary Ann. Additional cast to be announced.

Based on the books by Armistead Maupin, this next chapter – Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City – follows Mary Ann (Linney), who returns home to San Francisco and is reunited with her daughter Shawna (Page) and ex-husband Brian, twenty years after leaving them behind to pursue her career. Fleeing the midlife crisis that her picture perfect Connecticut life created, Mary Ann returns home to her chosen family and will quickly be drawn back into the orbit of Anna Madrigal (Dukakis) and the residents of 28 Barbary Lane.

Lauren Morelli (Orange is The New Black) serves as showrunner/executive producer and writer. Armistead Maupin will executive produce; Alan Poul returns to direct and executive produce. Laura Linney also executive produces.

Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City is a Working Title Television and NBCUniversal International studios production for Netflix. Working Title’s Andrew Stearn, Liza Chasin, Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner also executive produce. Michael Cunningham will serve as a consulting producer.

Maupin is the author of eleven novels, including the nine-volume Tales of the City, which led to three Tales of the City limited series starring Linney and Dukakis. Alan Poul served as producer of the first three adaptations (Tales of the City, More Tales of the City, Further Tales of the City) which earned a Peabody Award and multiple Emmy Award nominations. The first aired in 1993 on PBS in the U.S., and the last two on Showtime in 1998 and 2001.

‘Armistead Maupin’s Tales Of The City’ Revival Gets Series Order At Netflix; Ellen Page Joins Cast

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“Tales of the City” and the Great American Read

This morning, PBS unveiled a list of America’s 100 favorite novels, chosen in support of The Great American Read, an eight-part PBS series (and multi-platform initiative) hosted by TV personality and journalist Meredith Vieira debuting May 22 at 8 p.m. with a two-hour episode on PBS stations nationwide.

The list of books, selected via a demographically representative national survey, spans five centuries, from Don Quixote (1603) to Ghost (2016). Authors from 15 different countries are represented, with genres ranging from beloved children’s classics such as Charlotte’s Web to modern bestsellers such as Harry Potter

The series will also feature interviews with celebrity superfans and everyday Americans who will discuss the way particular books have influenced them and their significance in American popular culture. Authors, celebrities and notable names joining the search for America’s best-loved novel include Diane Lane, George Lopez, Seth Meyers, Junot Diaz, Lauren Graham, John Green, Gayle King and George R.R. Martin

This morning, film actress Diane Lane talked about the power of books and why they matter so much to her.

“I’m more sentimental about books than movies,” said Lane, who called The Hobbit a favorite childhood read. “They’re so much more intimate.”

Armistead Maupin, a featured guest at this morning’s kickoff and a novelist best known for his Tales of the City series, says books are the ultimate way to transport yourself to a different time and place.

“People are figuring out that books are a marvelous escape from the current madness,” Maupin said. “As you read, you’re in your own space, you’re the director, you’re the cinematographer—it’s marvelously exhilarating.”

Actress Ming-Na Wen, currently appearing on ABC’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., added that being a mom to a 17-year-old and a 12-year-old has made reading all the more important.

“I always read to my children, and they’ve become avid readers,” she says. “Especially in this day and age of smartphones and streaming, it’s the best when I see my daughter holding a book. It’s such escapism—reading helps you gain so much growth as a human being.”

A big part of The Great American Read will be an extensive multi-platform digital and social media campaign designed to inspire Americans to read, vote for their favorite books and share their personal connections to titles on the top 100 list and beyond over the course of the summer. This includes an interactive website, links to local events, interactive video content, social share features and much more.

Until then, take a look at the full list of America’s 100 favorite novels, in alphabetical order by title. How many have you read?

A Confederacy of Dunces
A Game of Thrones
A Prayer for Owen Meany
A Separate Peace
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
The Alchemist
Alex Cross Mysteries**
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
And Then There Were None
Anne of Green Gables
Another Country
Atlas Shrugged
Bless Me, Ultima
The Book Thief
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
The Call of the Wild
The Catcher in the Rye
Charlotte’s Web
The Chronicles of Narnia
The Clan of the Cave Bear
The Coldest Winter Ever
The Color Purple
The Count of Monte Cristo
Crime and Punishment
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
The Da Vinci Code
Don Quixote
Doña Barbara
Fifty Shades of Grey
Flowers in the Attic
The Giver
The Godfather
Gone Girl
Gone with the Wind
The Grapes of Wrath
Great Expectations
The Great Gatsby
Gulliver’s Travels
The Handmaid’s Tale
Harry Potter**
Heart of Darkness
The Help
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
The Hunger Games
The Hunt for Red October
The Intuitionist
Invisible Man
Jane Eyre
The Joy Luck Club
Jurassic Park
Left Behind
The Little Prince
Little Women
Lonesome Dove
Looking for Alaska
The Lord of the Rings**
The Lovely Bones
The Martian
Memoirs of a Geisha
Mind Invaders
Moby Dick
The Notebook
One Hundred Years of Solitude
The Outsiders
The Picture of Dorian Gray
The Pilgrim’s Progress
The Pillars of the Earth
Pride and Prejudice
Ready Player One
The Shack
The Sirens of Titan
The Stand
The Sun Also Rises
Swan Song
Tales of the City
Their Eyes Were Watching God
Things Fall Apart
This Present Darkness
To Kill a Mockingbird
War and Peace
The Wheel of Time**
Where the Red Fern Grows
White Teeth
Wuthering Heights

**Denotes a series title

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The Party

“Michael picked up a tray of brownies in the kitchen. “Are these loaded?” he asked.
Mrs. Madrigal merely smiled at him.
“I thought so,” said Michael.
“Has Mary Ann come down yet?”
“Not yet.”
“What on earth could have…?”
“I can check, if you want.”
“No. Thank you, dear … but I need you down here.”
“Are you expecting any others?”
She checked her watch. “One,” she said vaguely, “though I’m not sure…. It’s nothing definite, dear.”
“Is everything … all right, Mrs. Madrigal?”
She smiled and kissed him on the cheek. “I’m with my family, aren’t I?”

When Michael returned to the living room, he almost dropped the brownies.
“In the firm but pliant flesh.”
“Hot damn! What happened to D’orothea?”
“She’s having a White Christmas with her parents in Oakland.”
“It’s snowing in Oakland?”
“It’s too long a story, Mouse.”
He set the tray down and flung his arms around her. “Goddammit, I’ve missed you!”
“Yeah. Same here.”
“Well, you don’t look any worse for wear.”
“Yeah,” she grinned. “Same ol’ Mona … smiling in the face of perversity.”

Merry Christmas Everyone!

Excerpt From: Armistead Maupin. “Tales of the City.”

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PBS visits Armistead Maupin

Mark you calendars and kick off 2018 with The Untold Tales of Armistead Maupin on PBS!  The award winning documentary premiers on PBS 1/1/2018.  Click here for a preview, and check you local listings for air-times.

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Tim Adams’s best biographies of 2017

The Guardian
December 3, 2017

“Chroniclers of other people’s lives do not always make the best memoirists, but there are exceptions to that rule. Armistead Maupin made his name with the episodic revelations of San Francisco’s gay culture before and after Aids in Tales of the City. His own coming out is the memorable epiphany of Logical Family(Doubleday £20), the story of how he overcame the bigotry of blood relations to forge an alternative loving community.”

Read the full article here

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“Logical Family” available today!

In this long-awaited memoir, the beloved author of the bestselling Tales of the City series chronicles his odyssey from the old South to freewheeling San Francisco, and his evolution from curious youth to ground-breaking writer and gay rights pioneer.

Born in the mid-twentieth century and raised in the heart of conservative North Carolina, Armistead Maupin lost his virginity to another man “on the very spot where the first shots of the Civil War were fired.” Realizing that the South was too small for him, this son of a traditional lawyer packed his earthly belongings into his Opel GT (including a beloved portrait of a Confederate ancestor), and took to the road in search of adventure. It was a journey that would lead him from a homoerotic Navy initiation ceremony in the jungles of Vietnam to that strangest of strange lands: San Francisco in the early 1970s.

Reflecting on the profound impact those closest to him have had on his life, Maupin shares his candid search for his “logical family,” the people he could call his own. “Sooner or later, we have to venture beyond our biological family to find our logical one, the one that actually makes sense for us,” he writes. “We have to, if we are to live without squandering our lives.” From his loving relationship with his palm-reading Grannie who insisted Maupin was the reincarnation of her artistic bachelor cousin, Curtis, to an awkward conversation about girls with President Richard Nixon in the Oval Office, Maupin tells of the extraordinary individuals and situations that shaped him into one of the most influential writers of the last century.

Maupin recalls his losses and life-changing experiences with humor and unflinching honesty, and brings to life flesh-and-blood characters as endearing and unforgettable as the vivid, fraught men and women who populate his enchanting novels. What emerges is an illuminating portrait of the man who depicted the liberation and evolution of America’s queer community over the last four decades with honesty and compassion—and inspired millions to claim their own lives.

Logical Family includes black-and-white photographs.

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Mr. Maupin, it’s time for your close-up

August 11, 2017 at 9:21 pm PDT
by John Paul King

For a certain generation of gay men and women, the name Armistead Maupin will always strike a deep and richly satisfying chord in the soul.

His serialized “Tales of the City,” which ran throughout the late ‘70s and early ‘80s in the pages of the San Francisco Chronicle (and later the San Francisco Examiner) before being widely published as a series of popular novels, captured the heady atmosphere of its exciting time, and through the intertwined sagas of its assorted characters – gay, straight, and in between – it encouraged its readers to embrace their own queerness and live an open and authentic life.

Nearly 50 years later, Maupin’s beloved stories are as relevant as ever. With three successful TV miniseries having brought them to an even wider audience (and a fourth reportedly in the works), the lives of Mary Ann, Mouse, Mona, and Mrs. Madrigal are as famous and familiar to many of us as our own – much more famous and familiar, in fact, than the life of their creator.

That may soon change.

Maupin has penned a memoir, “Logical Family,” which will be published in October. Around the same time, a documentary, “The Untold Tales of Armistead Maupin,” is due to hit screens after a tour of film festivals across the country – including a recent showing at Los Angeles’ own Outfest.

Directed by Jennifer M. Kroot (also responsible for 2014’s documentary, “To Be Takei”), the new film takes audiences on a tour of Maupin’s storied career, of course, but it also delves into the life he lived before becoming one of the foremost literary voices of the LGBTQ community.

Born into a North Carolina family with roots in the aristocracy of the American South, Maupin grew up in a deeply conservative environment. He became interested in journalism while attending the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and spent time after his graduation working for future U.S. Senator Jesse Helms, who managed a TV station in Raleigh. Subsequently, he served multiple tours of duty in the U.S. Navy (one in Vietnam) before returning to the states to begin the newspaper career that would ultimately take him to San Francisco.

He remained closeted throughout all this time. Though he knew he was gay from an early age, he never acted on it until he was 26 years old. The details of that encounter are among the many biographical anecdotes Maupin shares in interviews throughout Kroot’s movie.

A considerable portion of the film’s 90-minute run time, in fact, is made up of interview footage, but this never feels like a cop-out. This is largely due to the way Kroot pieces together her movie; instead of placing events in a chronological sequence, she separates them into sections devoted to particular subject matter, cross-referencing between time periods to make connections and underscore recurring themes in the author’s life and work – and by extension, in the history of the LGBTQ community.

This process is facilitated by the use of archival footage, a wealth of photographs capturing the rich history of San Francisco, and even animated sequences that serve as transitions between the movie’s various chapters. There is liberal use of excerpts from the televised adaptations of “Tales,” which astutely illustrate the parallels between the author’s real-life story and the events and characters in his writing.

Even so, the movie’s strongest appeal comes from hearing Maupin speak for himself, which he does with disarming wit and candor; his expansive persona comes across onscreen with so much easy-going familiarity that one walks away from the film with the impression of having spent the time with him in person – not as an audience member, but as an intimate friend.

It doesn’t feel like artifice, either.

Though he carries the air of a genteel “southern gentleman” (there’s still the slightest hint of that accent), and though he displays a well-mannered delicacy even as he talks openly about his own sexual exploits, there is no arrogance or pretense here. He comes across as the genuine article, a product of his past who approaches life with an open heart.

Though Maupin’s interviews form the bulk of the film’s “talking head” footage, there are a host of others offering their insights as well.  Appearances from Neil Gaiman, Amy Tan, Ian McKellen, Laura Linney, Olympia Dukakis, Margaret Cho, and several others help to illuminate the far-reaching impact made by the author – not just through his work, but through his connections and influence as a core figure in LGBTQ culture.  Though he maintains a tasteful humility, the film makes it clear that Maupin is as big an icon as any of the famous names with whom he has rubbed elbows.

As interesting as all this biographical information may be, though, Kroot’s film does not use it as an end in itself; rather, it helps her to impart a much deeper revelation about her subject. For by tracing Maupin’s path through the past five decades in the history of gay life, she shows just how much he has given back to the community that made him a success.

After all, he made his name by giving voice to the thoughts, feelings, and experiences of millions of his fellows; and in doing so he provided a touchstone for them all, a sort of emotional road map by which they could chart their own journeys through the changing social and sexual attitudes of the era.  Quite simply, he united them into a sort of extended family.

This point is driven home in what is perhaps the movie’s most memorable sequence, in which Maupin relates how he came out to his family through one of his most beloved characters. In “More Tales of the City,” Michael “Mouse” Tolliver writes a letter to his mother telling her that he is gay, in a chapter expressly written by the author with the intention that his own parents would read it and understand that it was his personal message to them. Kroot then splices together segments of the letter being read (and sung) aloud, powerfully illustrating how Maupin’s work gave words to the hearts and minds of an entire community – and providing an unexpectedly moving culmination to her film.

Powerful climax notwithstanding, “The Untold Tales of Armistead Maupin” is largely a light affair; though it necessarily travels down a few dark roads (after all, the author’s history runs straight through the middle of the AIDS epidemic), it is marked throughout by a tone of wit and positivity – fully in keeping with the good-natured personality of its subject.  It flies by and leaves you hungry for more, like a coffee date with an old friend with whom you can never spend enough time.  It will likely inspire you to revisit “Tales of the City,” or even better, to discover some of Maupin’s other writings.  Perhaps it will even inspire you to live more freely, like the denizens of 28 Barbary Lane.

Whatever it inspires you to do, you will find it to be time well spent.

Posted in Armistead Maupin, Documentary, Tales of the City, The Untold Tales of Armistead Maupin | Tagged , , | Comments