Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Armistead Maupin Tells Tales

Tuesday was pronounced Armistead Maupin Day in San Francisco in honor of the publication of a late installment in the long-running "Tales of The City" series called "Michael Tolliver Lives."

In the evening, he was at the Opera Plaza Books Inc. for a book signing and a meet-and-greet with his many fans.

I read the whole series when they were first appearing in the daily newspapers as a Monday through Friday serial in the late 1970s, first hidden in the back pages of the Women's Section of the "San Francisco Chronicle" (I believe it was called the "Living" Section at the time, but can't be sure) and then in the San Francisco Examiner. Rereading the series about ten years ago it was a pleasure to note that they held up exceedingly well, with their convoluted Dickensian plots and dozens of colorful characters involved in the minutiae of their times, which roughly coincide with the huge middle-class Gay Liberation explosion in San Francisco followed by the terrifying onset of the early years of AIDS. As somebody who lived through it all, it's amazing to see how many details Maupin got right. If you haven't read them, I can't recommend the series highly enough.

There was a question-and-answer period which gave the author a chance to use his Southern raconteur's ability to tell brilliantly funny stories about the celebrated and not so celebrated, such as a relative who insisted on wearing a bag over her head whenever she had a cervical exam at the gynecologist.

I asked Maupin if he had kissed and made up with Pat Montandon, the socialite mother of Sean Wilsey who wrote "Oh The Glory of It All!" and the real-life basis of Prue Giroux, a satirical character in "Tales of The City." This set the author onto a series of hilarious anecdotes, including one about the infamous "Gone With The Wind" costume party Montandon gave in the late 1970s at her Napa home. This was when her best friend Dede Wilsey arrived with Pat's husband Al with Dede dressed as Scarlett and Al costumed as Rhett, just before Dede walked off with Mr. Wilsey and his fortune permanently. "My favorite detail," Maupin continued, "was that Pat had invited Belva Davis, a pioneering black newswoman in the area, to come to the party dressed as a slave. When that idea apparently offended Belva, Pat's reaction was on the order of, 'Well, Alex Haley can do it, why can't I?"

"I was indiscreet enough to tell that story to somebody at The New York Times about a year ago and they printed it," Maupin continued, "and Pat called me up and said, 'How could you, I'm not a racist,' and it's true, the woman doesn't have a racist bone in her body. She's just what we'd call a little clueless at times. But she's a wonderful woman, and yes, we had a number of dinner parties at my house during the 1990s when she moved to the poor part of town, and we did kiss and make up."


greg said...

I saw the display in the bookstore a while back and was so glad to see it...I'd always enjoyed Maupin's books (and even the PBS made miniseries of the first book) and was hoping to hear an update on what ever happened to his characters, since the last we'd heard of them was just before the Loma Prieta quake in '89.

I can't believe he was actually recruited by Nixon to be the pro-war counterbalance to John Kerry in the 70s, is that wild or what?

Del4yo said...

you mean Prue Giroux really exists? My goodness, I found the character a bit exagerated...It gives a new light to the series!

I read the serie once in French when they where published and then once again later to get the whole view...when I was a teenager they were a wonderful and very exotic escape from the life of a catholic schoolgirl in a very bourgeois Paris.

The number of very good writers who lived in San Francisco (from Stevenson to Maupin...)is part of the reasons I choose to move here!

Now that I'm able to read English I think I will reread the whole series in original lanngage before reading the sequel.
It will be a whole new feeling.