Searching for a distraction I came across a new documentary about Armistead Maupin called The Untold Tales of Armistead Maupin. It originally aired early in January on PBS and now can be seen on Netflix. If you love books and the colorful stories about the authors behind them, try to catch this one.
I have not read any of Maupin’s books, but I knew his name, and wanted to find out what I was missing. Raised in Raleigh North Carolina with conservative roots, Armistead Maupin grew to rise as an LGBT champion. He created a controversial and beloved column called Tales of the City that captured the juicy underground culture and alternative lifestyles of San Francisco in the 1970’s. This was when thousands of young, gay, straight and trans flocked looking for a new “life” and “love” in a city where they could be themselves.
Tales of the City was first published in 1974 and the column ran through 1982 in San Francisco newspapers, first in the Marin County newspaper, The Pacific Sun and then in 1976 in the San Francisco Chronicle.
Armistead Maupin came out as a gay man the year after his column began and had a devoted following and anti-following that provoked frequent controversial comments from readers.
Tales of the City was the first of three books published by Harper Collins (then Harper & Row) Tales of the City, More Tales of the City and Further Tales of the City and have sold more than six million copies.
The weekly television series was developed from the column with Laura Linney playing a young woman who came to San Francisco to find romance, and Olympia Dukakis as the eccentric and maternal landlady. The series, first aired on cable and PBS TV until enraged homophobic viewers and readers forced PBS and the San Francisco Chronicle’s management to discontinue the show, and the column. There is footage of politicians (like Jesse Helms whom Maupin worked for early in his career) and others criticizing Public Television for airing a series on LGBT life with taxpayers’ money.
The column resumed but unfortunately the show didn’t, but there have been discussions about a new program continuing where the original left off.
The Untold Tales of Armistead Maupin recounts the devastating AIDs epidemic. Comedian Margaret Cho makes an appearance to tell a story of her family’s San Francisco paperback bookstore and how their entire clientele and staff passed away from the disease.
The documentary includes Peggy Knickerbocker a popular food writer, the actor Ian McClellan who credits Maupin for giving him the confidence to come out and even covers the beloved Rock Hudson outed by Maupin without his permission.
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