Armistead Maupin Makes a Quick Return to the Bay Area

By Dani Burlison
JAN. 16, 2015

Has it really been 40 years?

Longtime San Francisco residents and Tales of the City fans might find it hard to believe that the saga of 28 Barbary Lane turned the big four-oh last August. Author Armistead Maupin’s columns first ran in the short-lived San Francisco edition of Marin County’s Pacific Sun weekly in 1974 before being picked up by the San Francisco Chronicle in 1976. The series became a much-anticipated weekly read for many bohemians of the day, and was subsequently published as a series of nine novels before being adapted as a television series for PBS in 1994.

The Tales of the City series brought representation of San Francisco’s LGBT community to readers at a pivotal time in history, addressing issues of the early AIDS epidemic and highlighting the humanness of transgender people in an otherwise extremely homophobic and ill-informed era.

Readers looked forward to each installment of Maupin’s serialized tales, eager to see what situations Mona Ramsey, Michael Tolliver, Anna Madgrigal and the story’s naïve Midwest transplant, Mary Ann Singleton, would find themselves wrapped up in next.

Maupin’s ninth and final novel in the series, The Days of Anna Madrigal, brings readers the surviving cast of characters from the early days at 28 Barbary Lane, now set against the backdrop of a San Francisco overrun with techies, hipster cafes and Google buses. The novel doesn’t keep us in 92-year old transgender landlady Anna Madrigal’s apartment, however. The story carries readers out to Burning Man and beyond, including dusty Winnemucca, NV where Anna lived in his mother’s brothel as a young man, Andy Ramsey, before running away to San Francisco.

Much like the novel leading characters east and away from San Francisco in his latest work, Maupin himself left the city in 2012 and relocated to New Mexico with his husband, thus closing a chapter in his own life.

He can’t stay away long, though, it seems. Maupin visits the Bay Area this month on a book tour for the paperback release of The Days of Anna Madrigal. In fact, fans who have followed his career and the lives of the mythological San Francisco residents in his work have several upcoming opportunities to hear him read, at independent bookstores in San Rafael (Copperfield’s Books; Jan. 23), San Francisco (Kepler’s Books; Jan. 28) and Santa Cruz (Bookshop; Jan. 29).

Rumor has it that The Days of Anna Madrigal is the final installment of the decades-long saga of 28 Barbary Lane. One can hope that Maupin has something more up his sleeve—and if not, we can rest well knowing that this cast of characters lives on in his novels. Because as wise old Mrs. Madrigal once said herself: “When you get this old lady, you get her for life.”

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Show’s supporters come to Castro Theatre ‘Looking’ for additional

By Tony Bravo Updated 3:36 pm, Wednesday, January 7, 2015

When HBO’s “Looking” premiered at the Castro Theatre in 2014, it was one of the most anticipated new shows of the season, especially for San Franciscans eager to see the city onscreen in the locally filmed production.

Excitement was high on both sides of the red carpet as cast and creators awaited hometown validation from an audience ready to scrutinize both the portrayal of the city and the show’s take on the lives of gay men.

One year later, the “Looking” team returned to the Castro on Tuesday evening for the premiere of the first two episodes of season two and received a warm welcome from locals who have embraced characters Patrick (Jonathan Groff), Dom (Murray Bartlett) and Agustin (Frankie J. Alvarez) as neighbors.

“If you remember where we first saw Patty in the first episode of season one versus where we see him in the first episode of season two, you get a very clear picture of how his life has changed,” Jonathan Groff said of his boy-next-door character’s evolution. Groff, also known for his roles on “Glee” and in the animated children’s film “Frozen,” then proceeded to go into some HBO-appropriate sexual specifics suitable for mature viewers.

“It was great coming back for season two to our cast and family,” series creator Michael Lannan said of the return to the Bay Area. “It was a different experience filming around town, since the guys got stopped quite a bit more.”

“We went to the Folsom Street Fair this year, and you couldn’t walk down there without someone grabbing Jonathan for a picture or stopping us,” executive producer Andrew Haigh commented, adding that filming had also been interrupted in the Castro one day by fans of Groff’s who were screaming their admiration for his musical-theater prowess (Groff later hinted that there’s an “encounter with a karaoke machine” in an upcoming episode).

For Alvarez, it’s a season of redemption after his character’s downward spiral in season one.

“He starts to get things right,” Alvarez said, “You’ll be surprised by the new places he goes.”

After plenty of looking for Mr. Right Now, Bartlett was happy that Dom’s story arc involved a relationship in season two.

“It’s getting messier and going deeper,” Bartlett said. “As an actor, it’s amazing working with Scott (Bakula, who plays his character’s love interest), and I really love the complicated scripts they’ve given us after the sweet ending in season one .”

Supporting players are also getting more focus, with Lauren Weedman’s Doris emerging as a balancing element in the testosterone-heavy stories.

“Basically, I was born, and that’s when my research started,” Weedman joked about getting into character as the gal pal in a group of gay men.

Raúl Castillo, who plays fan favorite Richie, has been following reaction to the show via social media (primarily on his Instagram account, @OfficialRaulCastillo) and loves “the conversation that goes on around the show. I had the experience in September when my family came to visit of having a fan approach me about the show on BART, and it was a milestone for them to see that.”

Castillo is also keenly aware of the significance his role has, as a gay Latino in a media landscape where queer characters of color are still a rarity.

“I hope that Richie is a character people can identify with onscreen for those who haven’t had characters like them on television,” he said, adding: “It’s important that this is getting said and that there’s a demand for more representation. I love how the show handles the subject head on and that we have the discussion without a loss of any character’s humanity.”

Actor Daniel Franzese (best known for the cult hit “Mean Girls”) joins the cast this season as Eddie, the resident “bear” (a hairy, larger gay man), and loves that “until now, there haven’t been a lot of gay men who look like me on TV, but the creators approached me and wanted to go there. It’s exciting new territory.”

Following the screening, the audience adjourned to the after-party at Club Terra to mingle with the cast and share impressions of the new season.

“The writing is getting really interesting,” Teresa Tuan said, amid pink sequined pillows and drag performances. “There’s a certain kind of truth to the narcissism depicted onscreen.”

For author Armistead Maupin and husband Christopher Turner, both the stories and the scenery are hitting just the right notes while avoiding the usual cliches about life in San Francisco.

“I love the locations: It’s San Francisco without getting hit over the head with landmarks,” Maupin said. “And the ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’ quality of the first episode was a lot of fun.”

More importantly, though, Maupin found “the sex and the characters feel very real. It gets so boring if you’re only showing one experience. We’re so much more diverse than that as a community.”

It may be the same city Maupin has so famously written about, but with the new generation come different tales.

Tony Bravo is a Bay Area freelance writer who contributes frequently to The San Francisco Chronicle.

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Armistead Maupin Miniseries Cameos

Much like Alfred Hitchcock, Armistead Maupin has cameos in all three “Tales of the City” miniseries.  Here is a compilation from the three miniseries.

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Book wishes for 2015

Excerpted from The Star Online

Sunday December 28, 2014 MYT 12:00:00 AM

Our writers share their book-related wishes for 2015.

As the year draws to a close, most of us are in a reflective mood, looking back over the events of the past year while also wondering what 2015 has in store. Getting into the spirit of things, we asked our Reads writers, columnists and reviewers one question: When it comes to books, what is your wish for 2015?

Sharil Dewa

I wish to see the release of omnibus volumes of the works of two of my favourite authors. Armistead Maupin has had two omnibus volumes of his Tales Of The City collection released (comprising the first six novels); a third volume containing the last three Tales novels would be wonderful to see.

And I’d like to see an omnibus volume (or perhaps three) of the late Sue Townsend’s work released.

The collected works would make it so much easier to cart around (especially for those who still prefer to read printed books as opposed to electrical gadgets!).

I also wish to see the end of GST on books. Books, in my view, are gateways to knowledge, and knowledge should never be taxed!

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HOLLYWOOD: New Monograph Reveals Work of Portrait Artist Don Bachardy

Hollywood is the highly anticipated monograph of celebrated portrait artist Don Bachardy, with a Preface written by Armistead Maupin. With more than 300 original paintings and drawings, this stunning collection features the most famous actors and influential figures in Hollywood including directors, screenwriters, cinematographers, costumers, producers, and agents.

As the longtime partner of English novelist Christopher Isherwood, Bachardy had early access to Hollywood’s elite. Bette Davis, Ian McKellen, Fred Astaire, Rita Hayworth, Katherine Hepburn, Mia Farrow, Jack Nicholson, Brooke Shields, and Patrick Swayze are rendered in the most sublime way, with bold strokes of blue, vivid splashes of pink and red, or featherlike pencil and bold charcoal sketches.

A lifelong Hollywood native, Bachardy has been capturing stars for over five decades, always working with live sitters and never from photographs. Bachardy captures his sitter’s essence as he focuses on elements such as personality, physique, mood, and color. Curated by the artist himself, most of the portraits have never-before been seen and will captivate art and film aficionados alike.

About the Author

American portrait artist Don Bachardy was born in Los Angeles in 1934. He studied art at the Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles and the Slade School of Art in London. Bachardy’s drawings and paintings are in the collections of many major museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the de Young, San Francisco; the Fogg Museum, Cambridge, MA; the Smithsonian, Washington D.C.; and the National Portrait Gallery, London. He has published nine books of drawings, including two collaborations with Christopher Isherwood. Bachardy resides in Santa Monica, California, in the home he shared with the late English novelist Christopher Isherwood for over three decades.

About Armistead Maupin

Armistead Maupin is an American writer, born in 1944 who, famously, in 1976, launched his groundbreaking Tales of the City serial in the San Francisco Chronicle. Maupin is the author of nine novels with HarperCollins, including the six-volume Tales of the City series and, most recently, Michael Tolliver Lives. Three miniseries were made from the first three Tales novels, and his novel The Night Listener became a feature film starring Robin Williams and Toni Collette. Maupin lives in San Francisco with his husband, Christopher Turner.

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“Things Just Happen, And Sometimes You Get A Little Lucky:” Interview with Richard Kramer

Thursday, December 11, 2014
from Michael Denison

I was thrilled when Emmy and Peabody award-winning television writer, director and producer, Richard Kramer, recently introduced himself and sat down for an interview about his television career and debut novel, These Things Happen.

I started with:

You and I met on Twitter. When I initially read your profile, I thought we’d connected because we’re both writers. But one of the first things you mentioned to me was your passion for vintage beefcake. That’s obviously a passion I share with you and the fans of my vintage beefcake blog.

Maybe that’s because I am vintage beefcake. I grew up in New York, and I vividly remember the windows of the porn shops on 42nd Street, long before Disney came along. I remember the men in hats, smoking, the silences, sneaking in and getting kicked out because I was too young. You couldn’t show dick at the time, so everything was idealized, classical, pillars, posing straps. And of course this imprinted itself on my erotic consciousness in a way that the million-times more graphic porn of today can never equal. In vintage beefcake, there was mystery involved; you had to call on your imagination, write the story yourself. Just where did those crumbled pillars come from, anyway? On which mountaintop did that healthy male frolicking take place? What vanished civilization was this?

You wrote that the older gay male characters in your first novel, These Things Happen, enjoy vintage beefcake, while it’s of little interest to the gay teenager in the story.

That might be because Theo (the kid you reference) can just go online and see anything he likes, all the time. My old guys (all of them younger than me, by the way) had to connive, be furtive, worry about being caught, sweat a little. The way it should be. Theo’s parents would probably help him write a punchy Grindr profile; God forbid they should seem to be disapproving or intolerant, even if they actually are—which is one of the book’s subjects. I wonder about straight kids and gay kids … if the availability of the most graphic sexual images takes away some of the thrill of discovering sex for yourself. I hope not.

You are an Emmy and Peabody award-winning television writer, director and producer. These Things Happen is your first novel. It is a coming-of-age tale about fifteen-year-old Wesley Bowman in New York City. After living much of his life with his mother and her husband, he moves in with his gay biological father and his life partner. What is it about this story that made you want to tell it as a novel?

I always wanted to write a novel, and was always afraid I couldn’t. I don’t know why. I started out writing fiction, and was in The New Yorker at 21, which might sound glamorous but made me self-conscious and held me back. Then, happily, I did write a novel. The material led me to the form; I wanted to be able to enter the consciousness of an assortment of characters, to be with them on a moment-to-moment basis, where they were experiencing what was happening both externally—which is what you can do in drama—and internally, which is what you can do in fiction. I played with the material in different forms, and in the end it seemed it might work best as a book. Particularly, as I got into the heads of two characters who are, I suppose, at least on the surface, hard to like. I’m talking about the mom and dad. Being with them, sitting with them, listening to them, I came to respect them, even love them. And I hope readers can do that, too. Without spoiling anything, the dad is, for me, the key character; he comes the longest distance. It might seem tiny, at first, but it’s immense for him, and it pays off (that is: I hope it pays off) in the book’s final moments. And I can say, without spoiling anything, that until I wrote those moments, I had no idea what would happen in them. There it was. I thought “So that’s who you are. I would never have guessed. Thank you for letting me see that.”

Each chapter of These Things Happen is told in first person by one of the characters. There’s Wesley, of course. And his best friend, Theo, who comes out of the closet while giving a speech at school. And chapters by Wesley’s mother and her current husband. And by Wesley’s biological father, Kenny, and his life partner, George. As well as chapters by two other characters. Why did you chose to construct your novel this way?

Again, it wasn’t a conscious choice. I didn’t know I was doing it until I’d finished the first section, which is told from Wesley’s P.O.V., and began the next, which is told from George’s. When I first started to think about These Things Happen, I thought I’d write the whole thing from Wesley’s P.O.V.

I was wrong, but I didn’t know that until I came to the moment that ends the first chapter and I felt a kind of click, telling me it was okay to leave him at that point and to go check in with someone else. And that set the pattern for the rest of the book. I wrote until—the click, until the moment where I could leave one person and visit another.

As for the first person-ing, I think I used that as a safety net, because it’s what I knew. The whole long last section, though, is written in the third person. Again, that wasn’t a choice so much as an event, that I witnessed. Maybe I felt more confident at that point. Whatever the reason—I just followed it.

Which character’s voice was the hardest for you to pinpoint?

None of them. They’re all me. I used to say on thirtysomething [for which he wrote, directed and produced] I was all the characters, including the house. I’m everyone in These Things Happen, and I only saw that when I was done. I reconnected with an old tenth-grade friend not long ago. I sent him the book, and he told me Wesley was exactly who I was at fifteen. That stunned me. How had I not seen that? Maybe it’s what made him fun to write, though.

Was there a character you most related to? One whose point of you most enjoyed inhabiting?

I loved writing all of them! By which I mean I loved being all of them. They all surprised me, they all knew themselves better than I did. Sometimes when I was writing this book, I felt more like a secretary to the characters than the novelist who was bringing them to life. A writer friend said to me that you don’t write the book; the book writes you. I felt that all the time with These Things Happen.

Two characters are gay bashed in your novel. This terrible event is of course a major turning point in the story. Without revealing spoilers to anyone who’s not yet read your novel, what do you believe is the message of These Things Happen?

That’s changed, as I have. At this point in my life, I’d say—none of us can know ourselves, or others, completely. And every now and then, if we’re lucky, these things happen in our lives that show us something about ourselves we didn’t know, something with which we’re not comfortable, and would harshly judge in others. What do you do when one of those moments comes into your life? Do you hide from it? Do you fall apart? Do you acknowledge whatever it is you’ve seen as an integral part of who you are? Can you let yourself be loved for everything you are? I’ve written about that a lot over the years. I never know I’m doing it. But it seems to be a magnet for me.

I mentioned earlier you are a television writer, director and producer. In fact, you’ve worked on some of the most iconic, generation-defining shows of the last 30 or so years: thirtysomething, My So-Called Life, the American version of Queer As Folk, and Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City (the 1993 PBS television adaption of Maupin’s first book in the Tales of the City chronicles)—just to name a few.

And those are the ones I talk about! There were lots of duds and clinkers in there, as well. Lots of movies that didn’t get made, pilots that didn’t go to series. But that’s anyone’s career. I feel lucky to have worked on a couple of projects that impacted people’s lives. When the book was published, I worried that people would say, “Oh, he’s just some slick hack from TV,” but that didn’t happen. Wherever I went, people told me their favorite thirtysomething episode, or how sad they were when My So-Called Life got cancelled after its first season, or how important Tales of the City was to them. I don’t think a week has gone by in the twenty years since it was first on that someone hasn’t told me that it changed their life. I had an operation ten years ago, and when I was (briefly) in the ICU, I saw my male nurse had one of the Tales books in his bag. When I told him I’d worked on the show, he said to me: “Those books saved my life. Now let’s save yours.”

The first television show you wrote for was Family in 1978. How did you become a television writer and producer?

I started out, right out of college, writing for The New Yorker. I thought that was going to be my life, but it seems my life had ideas of its own, and laughed at the ones I had. I wrote a spec script for Family while I was working on a cruise ship as a singles host. I sent it in cold, didn’t hear anything, and forgot about it. A year later, I got a letter, because they had letters, then, telling me they wanted to buy it and bring me to California. So I went and, it seems from the available evidence, I stayed. One thing leads to another, some things don’t lead to anything. But enough things lead to other things so that, finally, you’re in your story, and you realize that nothing happens for a reason. Things just happen. Which is maybe what I should have called my book. Or, maybe, Things Just Happen, And Sometimes You Get A Little Lucky. I feel that way.

Have you always been out as a writer, director and producer in Hollywood?

I love this question. It’s caused me to look back and remember that it was the producers and executives who were twenty years older than me who made it comfortable for me to be out, and my peers who made it uncomfortable. Of course, you always collaborate a little with the discomfort of others, without realizing you’re doing it. That’s true to this day. How could I be more out? And yet it’s still not easy for me to jump in and say, “I’m gay, by the way.” I do it, of course, but I always feel a little worried, even a little ashamed, and then I’m ashamed of being ashamed. Some of which is woven into the book, most notably, in the character of the dad. Will I ever fully get over that? I doubt it. I don’t think that’s the goal. The goal is to see it; that’s how you start to get free. Note that I say start.

In the 1990’s, I was blown away by My So-Called Life, which stars Claire Danes as a 15-year-old dealing with her life at home and at school. Why do you think the show has retained its popularity?

Well, she’s got a lot to do with it, of course. I remember the day she walked in for the audition. None of us even knew what to say. We were almost afraid to say yes to her; she was so far outside the range of the typical television teen girl. She hardly even seemed human. But she was magic, and she caused us to rethink the whole show, to respond to what we saw in her, to mirror her rawness, her authenticity, her elegance. She came with a ladder which we all had to climb. And Winnie Holzman’s script, of course, was perfect. If it hadn’t been so good, I don’t think we’d have drawn Claire. And the show would have been just another teen show. I have a theory that if you write it, they will come. Write it right, that is. I believe the right actor finds you. That was certainly the case with the thirtysomething cast. And the Tales of the City cast. I don’t think it was the case with the Once and Again cast, although there were wonderful people in that, of course. As for the show itself, and why people love it—again, I have to nod to Winnie Holzman, who, of course, went off to write Wicked, which was no accident; Stephen Schwartz was a huge My So-Called Life fan, and could tell that Winnie had a rare understanding of the inner lives of teenage girls, witches and otherwise. And she led the way for us. She set a very high bar. Also, we did nothing to make it seem of-the-moment. We didn’t have a Teen Advisor; we wrote ourselves. My So-Called Life as a Middle-Aged Jew; that’s what should have been the title of the show.

In addition to both these projects being centered around teenagers, what do My So-Called Life and your novel These Things Happen have in common?

They’re both about authenticity, I think. Angela Chase and Wesley Bowman both fiercely insist on it. They’d make a nice couple. I hope they meet at Brown.

I am a massive fan of female leads in television and film. I happily binge-watched the entire first season of Bitten the day I found it on Netflix. I love watching Claire Danes now in Homeland. I miss Buffy and Veronica Mars. There’s a dearth of female-lead dramas and comedies on television and at the movies.

But that’s changing, right? I love Scandal. I don’t love Orange Is The New Black, but I think I get why people do.

I enjoyed the British and American versions of Queer As Folk, which centers around gay characters living in small towns next to major cities, where many gay characters typically appear in fiction.

What drew you to this television project?

The British version drew me. Period. There was something so muscular about Russell Davies’s story-telling. I’m not a fan of the American version. Maybe because I got fired from it!

As you know, I live in San Francisco. I was born here. I am deeply in love with almost all the characters in Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City chronicles.

How did you end up working with Maupin on the television adaption?

It goes back to ten years, at least, before the show went on the air. When I first met Armistead, I think that only the first two books had been published, maybe the third. When we first worked on it, it was going to be a half-hour comedy. We called it Mary Tyler Moore For The 80’s. I wrote a script. And now, neither Armistead nor I have any memory of that stage of the experience! I ran into someone recently who told me she had been the producer of that early version. You could have fooled me!

What message would you like your audience to take away from These Things Happen and the TV shows you’ve worked on?

None. On the TV shows, we ran in the other direction if we saw a message heading our way. It’s the same with These Things Happen. You throw some characters together, you watch what they do, you see what they want, and how they do or don’t get it. [Film and television writer, director and producer] Ed Zwick used to say the only message he wanted the shows to impart was to keep your hands inside the bus. The message is made by the audience.

These Things Happen has been picked up by HBO and HARPO Films for development into a half-hour comedy TV series. Richard Kramer is currently writing the pilot.

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Armistead Maupin in Conversation: The Days of Anna Madrigal

Armistead Maupin is celebrated as the creator of the Tales of the City series, which follow the exploits of the residents of a San Francisco apartment in the late 70s and early 80s. He joins writer Damian Barr to talk about his eagerly anticipated novel The Days of Anna Madrigal. The suspenseful, comic, and touching ninth book in the bestselling series, charts one of modern literature’s most unforgettable and enduring characters – Anna Madrigal, the legendary transgender landlady of 28 Barbary Lane – as she embarks on a road trip that takes her deep into her past.

In partnership with Gay’s the Word bookshop

To listen to the interview, visit the British Library’s webpage.

MP3 file, 1 hr 39 mins 57 secs, 40.04 MB

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