Sunday, October 3, 1976

Newspapers starting their own soap operas

Newspapers starting their own soap operas
Associated Press Writer

SAN FRANCISCO (API)— It reads like a script from "Days of Our Lives" gone moddy-bopper: "MARY ANN SINGLETON, 25, a newcomer to San Francisco, is the secretary of EDGAR HALCYON, an advertising tycoon who has learned he is terminally ill, but has told neither his alcoholic wife, FRANNIE, nor his unhappy daughter, DEDE. Coincidentally, the Halcyon family dog, FAUST, also has only months to live."

Meet San Francisco's newest heroine: Mary Ann Singleton, coming to you five days a week on the pages of the San Francisco Chronicle. "No other newspaper in the country would have printed it." giggles Armistead Maupin, writer of Tales of the City, a soap opera in print inspired in part by television's Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman.

Maupin, 32, laughs a lot lately as he considers the contract he's negotiating with the Chronicle, the possibility of a book version, and the television series his new Hollywood agent is talking about.

Meanwhile, Mary Ann is recovering from a"crummy affair" with DeDe's cocaine snorting husband, and trying to accept the homosexual next door —"He likes boys. Got it?" she tells her horrified mother in Ohio.

She's also getting over the shock of learning that her high school classmate, Connie, was a victim of the "Tinkerbell" strangler who likes to leave his victims sprinkled with blue glitter. And she's working at the Bay Area Crisis Center, talking down would-be suicides and trying to understand a one-eared masochist named Vincent.

"I think it's just trash," says Ed Bayley, dean of the School of Journalism at the University of California at Berkeley. "It's sort of imitation pornography. "I can remember when newspapers used to run novels in serial form," he added. "Some of them were good. Some of them were nothing. None of them were this bad."Maupin says his editors have balked at some bedroom scenes: "In cases where I've had two men in bed I've had to imply it and not say they were actually under the sheets together," he says.

Gordon Pates, managing editor of the Chronicle, said the decision to run the serial was based on "a belief that certain readers are attracted by a story of this kind rather than by news.

"I have no illusions that what your critics like are what your readers like." he added. The readers' verdict on Tales of the City is not in yet. Pates said. "Maupin says everybody in the city is reading it. I hope he's right, but I just don't know. My seat of the pants feeling is that it's widely read,"

"Nobody really wants to admit they like it but everybody does secretly," agrees Sharon Stack,a San Francisco health educator and loyal reader. "It glorifies San Francisco. It has to do with the San Franciscan's desire to hear about himself. "1 can't say it's great literature. But it only takes about 30 seconds to read, so how could it hurt you?"

Pates says editors of a dozen newspapers around the country, thinking about getting into the soap business themselves, have asked him about Tales. The New York Post is running a daily summary of the television travails of Mary Hartman, and at least one other newspaper has begun a serial of its own.

"Bagtime" is the Chicago Sun-Times' first person story of Mike Holiday, a supermarket bagboy who lives in Old Town with his cat, Helen. Chay, his ex-wife, is involved in a bisexual thrillring with members of the Chicago White Sox and the Chicago Bears. In a recent episode. Holiday was mugged by a thug disguised as John Cardinal Cody.

The writers are reputed to be top reporters Bob Greene and Paul Galloway. Editor James Hoge, citing columnists like Art Buchwald, said he views entertainment as a necessary function of a newspaper."It really isn't impinging on other things in the paper," he said, adding that as long as that holds true and "as long as it's kept in the proper perspective, it will continue."

Both Hoge and Pates said they have received few complaints about the sometimes spicy content of the serials.

Maupin said the only heat he has taken has been from women's groups who say Mary Ann and most of the other female characters in Tales of the City are insipid and promote damaging stereotypes.

"Mary Ann had to be a dingbat at the beginning because she's a foil." Maupin said. "It isn't a political tract. It's intended to be funny." Maupin came to the city four years ago from North Carolina as a reporter. He said he first created Mary Ann when he was trying to freelance an article about a Marina district supermarket reputed to be a "body shop," where singles go to meet singles.

"Obviously no woman who goes to the grocery store to pick up a man is going to tell you about it." Maupin said. So he made up Mary Ann. He'll keep on writing about her, he said, as long the readers like her. "Right now. The readers are like hungry lions waiting to be fed." he said, paused, and added with a grin, "Raw meat."

Sunday, October 3, 1976

Monday, May 24, 1976

She's 25, single and mad for S.F.

She's 25, single and mad for S.F.
Tales of the City
Armistead Maupin
Tuesday, May 1, 2001
This is the first installment of the original "Tales of the City," which ran on May 24, 1976

Mary Ann Singleton was 25 years old when she saw San Francisco for the first time.

She came to the city alone for an eight-day vacation. On the fifth night she drank three Irish coffees at the Buena Vista, realized that her Mood Ring was blue, and decided to phone her mother in Cleveland.

"Hi, Mom, it's me."

"Oh, darling. Your Daddy and I were just talking about you. There was this crazy man on 'McMillan and Wife' who was strangling all these nice young secretaries, and I just couldn't help thinking . . ."

"Mom . . ."

"I know, it's just your silly, old mother, worrying herself sick over nothing. But you never can tell about those things. I mean, look at that poor Patty Hearst, locked up in that closet with all those awful . . ."

"Mom, this is long distance."

"I'm sorry, sugar, I'm such an old worry-wart. You must be having a grand time!"

"Oh, Mom, you wouldn't believe it! The people here are so friendly. I feel like I've . . ."
"Have you been to the Top of the Mark like I told you?"

"Not yet, but . . ."

"Well, don't you miss that. You know, your Daddy took me there when he got back from the South Pacific. I remember he slipped the bandleader five dollars,
so we could dance to Moonlight Serenade and I spilled Tom Collins all over his beautiful, white Navy . . ."

"Mom, I called to tell you something."

"Of course, dear. Just listen to me rambling on. Oh, one thing, before I forget it. I ran into Mr. Lassiter yesterday at the Ridgemont Mall, and he said the office is just falling apart with you gone. They don't get many good secretaries at Lassiter Fertilizers."

"Mom, that's sort of why I called."

"What do you mean, honey?"

"I want you to call Mr. Lassiter and tell him I won't be in on Monday morning."

"Oh, Mary Ann, I'm not sure you should ask for an extension on your vacation."

"It's not an extension, Mom."

"What? I don't . . ."

"I'm not coming home, Mom."

For a moment, the line seemed to go dead. Then, dimly in the distance, a television announcer began to tell Mary Ann's father about the temporary relief of hemorrhoids. Finally, her mother spoke: "Now you're being silly, darling."

Mary Ann tried to stay calm. "I'm not being silly, Mom. I really feel comfortable here. I mean, it seems like home to me already."

More silence.

"Mom, I've thought about this for a long time."

"You've only been out there five days."

"I know, Mom, but I'm really sure about this. It's got nothing to do with you and Daddy. I just want to start making my own life, have my own apartment . . ."

"Oh, that. Well, of course you can, darling. As a matter of fact, your Daddy and I thought those new apartments out at Ridgemont might be just perfect for you. They take lots of young people, and they've got a swimming pool and one of those sauna things, and I could make some of those darling curtains like I made for Sonny and Vicki when they got married. You could have all the privacy you . . ."

Mary Ann's voice was gentle but firm. "Mom, you aren't listening to me. It isn't the privacy or living with you and Daddy or . . . any of that. It's just me. I love it here. I'm grown up now and . . ."

"Well, you certainly aren't acting like it! I've never heard such a thing! You can't just run away from your family and friends to go live with a bunch of hippies and mass murderers!"

"Oh, Mom, that's just a lot of TV crap!"

Her mother lowered her voice reproachfully. "Don't you talk nasty to your mother, Mary Ann . . . and it's not a lot of TV . . . stuff. What about those Giraffe Killers?"


"Well, whatever. And what about those earthquakes? Your Daddy took me to see that awful movie, and I nearly had a heart attack when Ava Gardner . . ."

"Mom. I've made up my mind about this. Will you just call Mr. Lassiter for me?"

Her mother began to cry. "Something terrible is going to happen to you. I know it."

"Now who's being silly? What could possibly happen to me, Mom? San Francisco is a lot safer than Cleveland, and the people are are so mellow."

Her mother stopped sobbing for a moment. "What does that mean?" she asked suspiciously.
WHEN IT WAS OVER, Mary Ann left the Buena Vista and walked through Aquatic Park to the bay. For several minutes, she stared at the Alcatraz beacon, drunk with the prospect of an undefined future.

"What could possible happen to me, Mom?" The words came back to her on a chill wind, nibbling uncertainly on a corner of her mind.

Back at the Fisherman's Wharf Holiday Inn she looked up Connie Bradshaw's phone number. Connie was the only person she knew in San Francisco. Mary Ann had heard that she was a stewardess for United, but hadn't spoken to her old high school friend since 1968.

"Oh, God, I can't believe it!" squealed Connie, when Mary Ann identified herself. "How long are you here for?"

"For good," said Mary Ann, savoring the words.

"Oh, super! Have you found an apartment yet?"

Mary Ann decided to be direct. "Not yet. I was wondering if I might be able to crash at your place for a couple of days. My savings account isn't holding out too well."

"Sure," said Connie, without hesitation. "No sweat. That is, if you don't mind an occasional sleep-in."

Mary Ann was thrown for a moment. "Oh . . . you mean guys?"

Connie uttered a throaty laugh. "Do I ever, honey!"