People often slow down in their 70s, but not Armistead Maupin.
At 73, the iconic gay writer has a new memoir, “Logical Family,” and is executive producing a revival of “Tales of the City” for Netflix. Plus, the documentary, “The Untold Tales of Armistead Maupin,” winner of an Audience Award at the 2017 SXSW Film Festival, is premiering on PBS’ Independent Lens, Monday, Jan. 1.
The film reveals Maupin’s wild life’s story, in his own words, on his staunchly conservative North Carolina upbringing, his service in Vietnam, his coming out in San Francisco, his relationship with closeted actor Rock Hudson and memories of the AIDS crisis — and explores the enormous cultural impact of the books and TV series.
Maupin has always been looked upon as a role model, brash and outspoken about LGBTQ issues. In an exclusive interview with the Los Angeles Blade, Maupin talked about the lack of support in North Carolina, noting that not much has changed since he lived there.
“I think they’re devolving and deteriorating. It’s a much meaner place that it was when I lived there. I can only draw that conclusion from their trans bathroom laws and their whole-hearted support of Donald Trump,” he stated.
“And as far as the remaining members of my family are concerned, they’re dug in very deep with that neo-conservative philosophy. That’s not to say that there aren’t good people in North Carolina. I know who they are. Some of them are actually family members. There are pockets of civility within the state, like Asheville and Wilmington, but they are few and far between.”
About the Documentary
Maupin was initially hesitant about participating in the documentary.
“I was a little nervous about it at first, because the prospect of being examined that closely can be daunting. But I liked director Jennifer Kroot so much and I had already admired her film about George Takei. (“To Be Takei”). So I came into it fairly certain that something good would come out of it.”
Maupin added: “We’ve known each other now for three years and are friends. When she brought on Bill Weber as co-director and editor, I was especially delighted, because I’ve known Bill for years and he’s got a real gift for storytelling. He knows how to pick the pieces and put them together and make it work.”
Maupin is the author of nine novels, including the six-volume “Tales of the City” series, “Maybe the Moon,” “The Night Listener” and, most recently, “Michael Tolliver Live.” A Three part miniseries starring Olympia Dukakis and Laura Linney was made from the first three “Tales” novels; the first aired on PBS in 1994 and the subsequent series aired on Showtime in 1998 and 2001. “The Night Listener” became a feature film starring Robin Williams and Toni Collette.
For Tales’ new installment, Laura Linney and Olympia Dukakis revive their characters, of course.
When asked to reflect on the original series, Maupin said, “I wish PBS had not been so afraid of the American Family Association and had allowed us to continue with the series under their auspices. We were forced to go to Canada and sometimes there are moments of cultural disconnect that happen when a story is told outside of the place where it’s happening.”
“The first miniseries was filmed in San Francisco and ‘More Tales’ and ‘Further Tales’ were filmed in French Canada. You can sort of tell the difference between them and the first one. I wish that we had been able to continue with the same company that did the first one.”
Yet he has no regrets.
“I think we pretty much knocked it out of the park, we were very lucky with that cast and some real magic happened on that set,” he said. “The director Alastair Reid really instinctively understood ‘Tales of the City.’ That’s been the challenge for me at every step of the way – to make sure that whoever is working on a new incarnation of ‘Tales’ is somehow capturing the DNA of the original.”
Maupin really lights up about Netflix, saying. “I think this is going to happen with the new series. They’re making every effort to do that.”
Maupin has received expert advice about the Netflix series from fellow writer, Amy Tan, known to millions as the author of “The Joy Luck Club.”
“I had dinner with Amy, who is an old friend. One of her famous works is being brought back to life in a modern way, and so many of our notes were the same. It’s very funny because things are written nowadays by a room full of people and you have to sit and be respectful of everyone’s ideas. Before, I was the only ‘room full of people’ I had when I constructed the story, which is a lot easier, I think. It is in a sense scarier because you’re having to make your own decisions about what happens and what doesn’t. but for the most part, I prefer it – having that control.”
The new Netflix television series is set in present day 2018.
“28 Barbary Lane will still be there on Russian Hill, Mrs. Madrigal will still be its landlady and Mary Ann will arrive from the East, now 50-something years old, with a whole new mystery to confront. Some of the original cast is coming back and there’s going to be a brand-new cast of young folks, refreshingly diverse. I am happy about it.”
About the Book
Maupin says the convergence of experience at this time of his life is “wonderful.”
“The funny thing was, through no plan of my own, the documentary and the memoir were falling into place at the same time, so that fueled the other. When my book editor, Jennifer Barth of Harper Collins, came to a screening of the documentary, she said ‘why isn’t that stuff about your father in the book?’ so I went right back to the book and told that story.”
The memoir process was a kind of a “multimedia” experience.
“I was writing short chapters of “Logical Family” and performing them on stage during Bear Week in Provincetown. I had a wonderful audience of largely drunken Bears listening to my stories as I was writing them and it helped me shape the story I wanted to tell. I’ve always ‘anecdotalized’ my life. I’m just one of those guys, I think it’s a Southern thing really, working up a good anecdote about something that happened to me.”
For his autobiography, Maupin wanted to be as “truthful” as possible.
“I tried to not imagine what anybody else was thinking. I didn’t want to ascribe motives to old lovers or family members. I always spoke for myself in that memoir and I think that provides a certain intimacy with the reader that’s powerful.”