Newspapers starting their own soap operas
By MARY GANZ
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