Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas

Christmas Eve, 32 years ago tonight, Mrs. Madrigal held a Christmas Eve party with all of her Children. Michael gave Brian "an ornament" to hang on his tree. Mona showed up at the last minute after a disastrous "White Christmas" with D'Orthea. Mary Ann arrived a little disastrous after losing track of the time. Norman Neal Williams was never seen again.

I hope everyone has a great holiday!



Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Suddenly Home

The following is from Armistead Maupin's old website. (

Armistead wrote this short story in 1990 for a musical called "Hearts Desire." The show was based on stories by four American authors writing about love in four American cities. "It was an interesting process," Armistead says, "informed by many sources. I wrote the story for the musical, and then it was adapted by the composer, Glen Roven, who put in all the songs. Then it was polished on stage by actors, Peter Gallagher was one of them, and I began to rewrite to make the dialogue work better. In the end I rewrote the story to make it conform with what had worked on stage. And I changed the name from ` Land's End' to `Suddenly Home,' the name of one of Glen's songs."

"Hearts Desire" was workshopped in several places before landing at the Cleveland Playhouse. It opened and closed in Cleveland. Mary Ann's revenge?

"Suddenly Home" could be considered a sort of prequel to The Night Listener since Will and Jamie are characters in Gabriel's fictional radio show, "Noone at Night," and they are loosely based on Gabriel and Jess, who are loosely based on . . . yeah, we're confused, too. Here's an excerpt from The Night Listener that might clear things up. Or not.

Suddenly Home

by Armistead Maupin

Tess felt bloated and jumpy, unbelievably PM-essy, when she spotted her brother in the waiting throng at the United terminal. To make matters worse, Will's other half was nowhere in sight. She hadn't expected a welcoming party as such, but she'd counted on Jamie being there to keep things civil, since she knew from experience that Will didn't nag as much when Jamie was around.

Her brother stepped forward with a sleepy, lop-sided grin, hugged her clumsily and reached for her carry-on. He looked tanner than the last time, maybe a little grayer, annoyingly content. "How was your flight?"

"Not bad." Already expecting the worst, she fixed her eyes on the distance and strode toward the moving walkway. "The flight attendant slipped me his phone number." Will looked amazed. "Really?"

She nodded.

"A straight flight attendant?"

She shot him a nasty glance. "Yes, a straight flight attendant. Where's Jamie? He said he was coming with you."

"He's at Nordstrom's."

"Shopping?" She couldn't help but sound cranky about this.

Will shook his head, apparently amused by her reaction. "They fired a clerk with HIV. There's a big demonstration this morning and . . . You know Jamie."

She felt a tiny pinprick of anxiety. Outside of the call arranging his visit she hadn't talked to Jamie for at least a month. "He's OK, isn't he?"

"Fine." Will looked believably nonchalant. "His T-cells are way up."


He glanced at her sideways, narrowing his eyes. "So, what's going on?"

No way, she thought. Not until we're home and Jamie's with us and you've had at least a couple of joints. "Hey," she said, feigning jovial indignation, "Do I require an invitation?"

"No. But this is awful sudden."

"Well, I do things suddenly."


"Look," she told him, "I'm going right back to Charleston."

"Stop. Why are you so edgy?"

"I'm not edgy. You're just in one of your picky moods." She led the way on to the moving walkway. They cruised past big Lucite boxes, like upright coffins, each displaying a different piece of California "chair art". A chair made of Coke bottles, a chair made of cow bones, a Styrofoam chair . . .

"So," said Will, "how's the shithead?"

How like him to take the offensive. "His name is Alec, Will."

"You called him that first."

"Once," she said. "After a fight. You're the one who made it official."

"Why didn't you bring him along?"

She studied his face for traces of snideness and decided the question was in earnest. Maybe, she thought, Will and Alec would learn to like each other if they spent some time together. "He's been on business in Philadelphia. I'm meeting him tomorrow, though. In Maui."

Her brother's face clouded over. "So this is just a stopover."

She rolled her eyes. "We'll have a whole day. I thought we could go to the beach or something, have a nice long talk. In person, for a change."

"About what?"

"Does it have to be about something?"

"No, but . . ."

"God, the men in this city! Look at the arms on that guy."

This was a cheap diversionary tactic, but it worked. Her brother's gaze swerved and locked on the beauty in question: an off-duty marine, she guessed, with ivory biceps and a shrimp colored T-shirt that said SHIT HAPPENS.

"Big deal," said Will.

"Well, excuse me, Mr. Married Man."

He looked at the marine again. "He has a tattoo, for God's sake!"

"Really? Is it misspelt? I love it when they're misspelt."

She hooked her arm through his as they headed toward baggage claim. He was wearing one of his favorite shirts tonight, a pale blue baggy-sleeved thing which he probably thought made him look like Lord Byron. Trini Lopez was more like it.

Gazing up at him, she counted the grey hairs in his moustache, and noticed with affection that his jaw stored fat in the same place as hers.

Will and Jamie's house on Twenty-first Street was not quite the way she'd remembered it. There were two or three new parchment-shaded lamps and they'd put up team siding - or something meant to look like it - on one wall of the living-room. Over the past decade or so she had watched Will's taste shimmy from rustic to Deco to high tech to rustic again.

When they arrived, Jamie was perched on a stepladder in the living-room, wielding a paintbrush. "Well," she said, "home from the wars, huh?"

"Hi, Tess! God, you guys missed something! Three hundred of us took over the escalator at Nordstrom's - this incredible spiral thing that goes on for ever. It was like Tiananmen Square meets Busby Berkeley!"

Will chuckled.

"Really," said Jamie, "it was amazing. A whole store full of us chanting, "We're here, we're queer, and we're not going shopping.""

She laughed and held out her arms. "Can I please have a hug?" Jamie scooted down the stepladder and embraced her, his fingers climbing her spine until they found the knots at the base of her neck. "Hey," he said. "Tough flight, huh?"

Will said: "The flight attendant had major hots for her."

"A straight flight attendant?"

Will shook his head at Jamie. "Don't."

Jamie released her. "I'll give you a good shoulder rub. Soon as I clean up."

She peered up at the ladder and noticed for the first time that the ceiling above their heads looked dangerously damaged. "What were you doing up there?"

"Just painting."

"Shouldn't you fix that huge crack first?"

Jamie seemed proud as a new parent. "I painted that huge crack."


He shrugged. "We didn't get any good ones during the earthquake, so we're painting our own. How long can you stay?"

"Till tomorrow."

Jamie looked crushed. "Stay till Valentine's Day, at least. It's our second anniversary."

"She has to be in Maui," Will announced sullenly. "For some reason."

She ignored him, keeping her eyes on Jamie. "You met on Valentine's Day? You never told me that!"

Jamie smiled sheepishly.

Will said: "He was passing out condoms at the ACT-UP booth on Twenty-fourth Street."

"How romantic."

"Well . . ." Her brother looked affronted again. "The condoms were heart-shaped."

She had one hell of a time picturing this. "The wrappers were heart-shaped," Jamie explained.

"Thank you," she said.

Jamie laughed with her, and something about the tilt of his head, the tenor of his laughter, reminded her exactly of Will. He was five years younger than her brother -- thinner, blonder and already balder -- but on the phone she found it increasingly harder to tell them apart. They claimed not to notice this, of course, pretending to be horrified by what it suggested, but any fool could see what had happened.

Will fixed iced tea, which the three of them sipped on the deck. The air was warm and lemony with a neighbor's verbena, and half-a-dozen seagulls were making languid loops above the little valley. For Tess the scene felt oddly like a homecoming.

"How's the travel agency?" asked Jamie.


"And Alec?"

Will shot his lover a look.

"He's great," she said, determined to get on with it. "He sent you both his best."

Will grunted, but Jamie ignored him, remaining pleasant. "Are you guys still . . . together?"

"Oh, yeah. Three or four nights a week." She smiled at him, grateful for his interest. "He's still got his own place, but he's not in it much."

"Awright," said Jamie.

"Of course," she added wryly. "Daddy says I'm a slut."


"Oh . . . you know, because we aren't married. And Barton and all."

"Fuck him," said Will. "Barton is fifteen years old."

"Thank you. I know."

"It isn't any of Daddy's goddamned business whether you're married or not."

"We live in the same town, Will. I can't just dose the door like that. He's Barton's grandfather. He isn't gonna be around much longer."

"Fuck that. He's been saying that for ever. He was saying that before Mama died." He fumed silently for a moment. "When did he call you a slut?"

"It doesn't matter."

"When, Tess?"

"At Barton's confirmation."

"At church?"

"No." She smiled at that. "Afterwards at the party. It was more like a brunch, really."

"Great. He called you a slut at brunch. Was the shithead there? What did he even . . . ?"

"Will . . ." Jamie was pissed now. "Stop interrogating her."

She gave him an appreciative glance before continuing. "Everybody was full of wine and making these dumb toasts. Daddy didn't mean it. It's just that he likes Alec so much."

"Figures," muttered Will.

"He's right, actually. Not about the slut part, but . . . I've been dodging the issue way too long."

"What issue?"

She shrugged. "We're getting married."

The silence seemed interminable. It was Jamie who broke it, reddening noticeably. "Well . . . that's great, Tess. Congratulations."

"When?" asked Will.

"Tomorrow. Well . . . day after tomorrow, really."

"In Maui?" asked Jamie.


Will wrote in the air with his finger. "Mr. and Mrs. Alec T. Shithead.

" Jamie frowned. "Will . . ."

"Believe me," she said, "I've thought about this long and hard." Her brother threw up his hands. "Fine. Great. Terrific. What do you need us for?"

"I don't know. I thought your blessing might be nice."

Will sighed histrionically. "This isn't Lourdes, Tess."

"Tess . . ." Jamie proceeded carefully, measuring his words. "Do you think you might be . . .?"

"She's obviously made up her mind."

"You're right," she said quietly, looking at her brother. "I have." "Fine," he said, picking up his drink again. "Go for it."

She showered off the grime of her flight while Will and Jamie packed a picnic lunch in the kitchen. She could hear their voices dimly through the wall and for a moment tormented herself with what they must be saying. When she returned, though, they were chipper and smiling, absorbed - or pretending to be, at least- in Jamie's bogus earthquake crack.

At Will's suggestion they drove out to Land's End in the VW. They parked in a dust-choked lot above Seal Rocks and, toting their lunches, set off on foot through the gnarled cypresses. A sudden shiver of deja vu made her realize why Will had chosen this spot. He was trying to tweak her memory, to make her nostalgic for the halcyon days of her bachelorhood.

"I know what you're up to," she told him.

"What?" asked Jamie.

"He brought me here years ago," she explained. "After I signed my divorce papers. I was as free as I'd ever been. And I was so . . . intense."

Will smirked at her. "More like in heat."

She smiled at him. "We came here after the Gay Games. You'd just won a gold medal in something terribly butch."

"Badminton," he said.

Jamie hooted.

"We met this guy out here with a pigtail and the cutest butt and Will swore to me he was gay."

"Was he?"

"Now wait a minute . . ." Will instantly went on the defensive. "The guy was from LA. It threw me off."

She and Jamie both got a kick out of this. "Right," said Jamie.

"She was shameless," muttered Will.

Tess remembered every detail of it except the man's name: his baby-blue briefs, his Vangelis tapes, the rust-stained ceiling of his geodesic dome. "He was so . . . flexible," she murmured. "He was an importer."

"He was a coke dealer," said Will. "She disappeared for three whole days. You think I rated so much as a phone call?"

She batted her eyes demurely. "I was busy."

As usual, the guys loved this.

They left the noonday twilight of the cypress trees and hiked along a broad, sandy ledge above the sea. The path was hyphenated here and there with makeshift footbridges, and she could see for some distance, watch the picnickers as they made their way back and forth from the parking lot. They were all in pairs, she realized, every last one of them.

"Damn," said Will. "I forgot the blanket."

"Forget about it."

"We have to have the blanket, Tess. The ground is murder up there."

"Him and his blanket," said Jamie.

"You should've seen him when he was three," she said.

"He had a blanket then?"

"With a name no less."

"Tess!" snapped Will.

She smirked at him and fumed back to Jamie. "Flipper."

"Flipper?" Jamie was enjoying this as much as she was.

"Daddy wouldn't let him have a dolphin."

Will had had enough. "I'm getting the blanket," he said. "You'll be glad when you have it."

They found a bench and sat down, awaiting Will's return. "Do you think I'm making a mistake?" she asked.

Jamie hesitated, clearly uncomfortable. "That's not for me to say."

For a moment she pictured Alec in Maui, checking into some amorphous highrise, some soul-deadening place with a Benihana in the lobby and a volcano that goes off on the hour. He'd insisted on booking this one himself, on surprising her, which had seemed romantic as hell at the time, the closest a travel agent could come to being carried over the threshold. Now she wasn't so sure. For all she knew, she was about to be married by a Don Ho impersonator. Alec would think that was funny.

She raked her wind-tangled hair with her fingers. "He's not such a bad guy, you know. He's always been there for me. And he's pretty nice in the sack."

Jamie smiled. "Nothing wrong with that."

"He's not the world's best conversationalist, but I can always call you."

He gave her a look of disarming intimacy. "You'd better."

Embarrassed, she peered out at the flickering, blue flame of the sea, roughly in the direction of Maui. After a long silence she said: "I'm scared, Jamie."


"I don't know. I'm thirty-three and time is running out."

He nodded thoughtfully. "Tell me about it."

She realized her blunder instantly. "Oh, shit. I'm sorry."

"Hey . . ." He waved it off.

"You look wonderful, by the way." She hoped this didn't sound forced or patronizing, because he did look wonderful.

He snatched a pebble off the ground and hurled it down the slope. "Ever thought about moving?"



"Here, you mean?"

"Why not?"

"For starters," she replied, "I have this weird thing for straight guys."

"We have straight guys," he said, twinkling. "Especially weird ones."

She gave him a rueful nod. "I've noticed."

Jamie's eyes widened excitedly. "We could get arrested together. And gang up on Will."

"Right." This was much more of a proposal than she had ever received from Alec. For a moment, she was sure she felt herself blushing.

"He's just like your father," Jamie added. "Every bit as pigheaded."

"Noticed that, huh?" She threw him a quick sideways glance. "Don't tell me the honeymoon's over?"

He chuckled. "Let's just say the marriage has begun."

"Oh, dear."

"No. We're fine, really."

She brushed back her hair again and returned her gaze to the water. "Sure looks that way," she said.

Another phalanx of couples was plodding toward them up the hill. The ones in the lead were white-haired and ruddy-checked, puffed up like a pair of shore birds in purple-quilted polyester.

"These people," she said.

"What about them?"

"Two-by-two all over the place. You'd think they were headed for the goddamn ark."

He shrugged. "Lots of them are just friends."

No, she thought. They've all go that look. She couldn't quite pin it down, but lived-with was how she thought of it. Will and Jamie had it, too, of course.

Jamie slid his arm across her shoulder and gave her a gentle shake, apparently reading her mind.

She mustered a lame smile. "It's stupid to be jealous, isn't it?"

"Jealous?" Jamie's brow furrowed. "Of who?"

She abandoned her confession on the spot, uttering a labored sigh. "I don't know . . . these people . . . everybody."

The white-haired couple came to a full stop in front of their bench. The woman was beaming moronically. "Helloo," she crooned. Tess just wanted them to go away, to leave her the fuck alone.

"Hi," said Jamie.

"You look so sweet."

"Excuse me?"

"The two of you," explained the woman. "You make such a lovely sight up here."

Jamie's lip flickered, but otherwise he didn't betray a thing. "Thanks."

"I'm psychic, you know."


"She is," said the old man.

"I noticed your aura all the way up here. There's just one, you know. The two of you have one aura."

Tess cast a quick, sardonic glance at Jamie. Were people here still doing this shit?

"That's nice," said Jamie.

"You'll have a long life together."

Jamie gave her a guileless smile. "Even better," he said. "How long?"

"Jamie . . ." Tess realized what he was up to and it made her hideously uncomfortable.

"Now I've embarrassed her," the old woman said.

"Not really," said Tess.

"I just thought, maybe you could give me a rough figure." High on his own private joke, Jamie was milking it for all it was worth.

"Oh," said the old woman. "Four or five decades, at least."

"Hey. Awright."

"Jamie . . ." Tess rose, brushing off the seat of her jeans. "We've gotta meet Will, remember?"

He gave her a smile of surrender, abandoning the game. "Poor thing," he said, when they were finally out of earshot. "Not exactly batting a thousand, is she?"

Her depression escalated as the afternoon wore on. By the time they had trekked back to the house, wind-burned and empty-hampered, she was determined to get on with it. Showering again, she changed into dean sweats, then phoned the airline and changed her ticket to a night flight.

Will was a total jerk about it, pacing the room sullenly while she him about that.

"Look . . . all right . . . I know he's not perfect, but . . ."

"You sound just like Mama. Is that what you want? A lifetime of making excuses?"

She groaned. "I want to be married, Will. That doesn't make me a doormat."

"I understand that."

"Then why won't you say it's OK?"

The look he gave her was infuriating. "Because I'm not going to be one more man giving you permission."

She glared at him in glacial silence for a moment, then slapped the bag shut and began snapping the straps. "Don't flatter yourself."

"You're not going to marry him anyway," he said. "You wouldn't have come here if you were. Why can't you just deal with it? Why does it have to be a man's decision? Why can't it be you for once? I haven't got time for this petty shit."

She dragged the suit bag off the bed. "Right," she said. "I'll remember that. My life is petty."

"I didn't mean that." Suddenly enraged, she flung the suit bag into the hallway. "Then, what the fuck did you mean?"

Will regarded the fallen luggage for a moment, then sighed. "I meant . . . " He shrugged and turned away from her, gazing out the window. The fog had begun to spill into the valley, tumbling past the Monopoly-board houses, blurring their lights and softening their edges. "Last week," he said at last, "I went out and bought myself a suit just for funerals."

She sank to the edge of the bed, filled with dread and drained of all energy. It wasn't until she saw her brother's tears that she began to come apart. "Will, please . . ."

"You keep acting like Jamie and I have some sort of . . . happily-ever-after." He swiped at his eyes. "All we have is right now."

"I didn't . . ."

"That's all anybody's got, Tess. The future doesn't count for shit."

She picked at a loose thread on the comforter.

"You can't plan for happiness ever. You've got to figure out what makes you happy now."

Her faint, bloodless response seemed to come from somewhere else. "What if nothing does?"

He sat down next to her on the bed. "Something will, sweetie."

When she began to cry, he laid his hand gently on the back of her neck. She curled into his chest, feeling eight years old again, spilling big, ridiculous tears down the front of that ridiculous shirt.

Jamie came loping into the room with a plastic bag. "Hi guys . . . Oh. . . sorry."

"No problem," she said, yanking a Kleenex from the bedside table. "Come on in." She dabbed at her eyes, blew her nose noisily, cast a quick glance at Will. "Whatcha got?" she asked Jamie.

"Lethal Weapon One."


"I know," said Jamie "but we can always put it on hold and look at Mel Gibson's butt."

She laughed extravagantly, aglow with relief, giddy from the sudden, miraculous lifting of a terrible weight. "What's for dinner? Shall I make my lasagna?"

Jamie looked confused. "Will said you were leaving."

"He was wrong," she said.

Will just shrugged at his lover. "I was wrong."

After dinner, while Will and Jamie changed into their nightshirts, she skulked off to the bedroom, where she flopped on the bed, kicked off her shoes and phoned the number in Maui Alec had given her. Predictably enough, it turned out to be the Hyatt Regency, another atrium from hell with fiberglass waterfalls and resident flamingos.

There was no answer when they rang his room. She envisaged him down by one of the pools, ordering a Scorpion, hustling the cocktail waitress, bragging to anyone who'd listen about the major deal he'd just closed in Philadelphia. She left a message for him to call her in San Francisco as soon as possible, almost certain he'd know what that meant. For the first time in weeks she felt a little sorry for him.

END OF STORY, almost.

Armistead's sister Jane, the real-life inspiration for Tess, didn't marry The Shithead either. She married a nice guy named Joe, and a few years later they bought Terry and Armistead's house in New Zealand where they now raise llamas and run an amazing getaway: Kahikatea: A Country Retreat. There's no better place on earth to unwind. Check out their Web Site at

Copyright 1991-2001 Literary Bent LLC. All rights reserved. This tale is also included in The Faber Book of Gay Short Fiction.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

More "Tales" DVD Liner Notes - Alan Poul


I WAS PRODUCING a Rock the Vote election-year special for Propaganda Films in fall 1992 when I was approached by that company's head of television, Matt Loze, about producing Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City. I think I said yes before the words were out of his mouth. Like all gay men who came of age in the 1970s, I had read Armistead's books as a rite of passage, their characters and references having entered the subcultural vernacular of the day.

Already on board were Armistead and his partner Terry Anderson; producer Antony Root of Working Title Television, the UK company that owned the books' TV rights and was co-producing the film with Propaganda; and screenwriter Richard Kramer, who had just created the groundbreaking gay storylines on the series thirtysomething. Supervising everything was the UK's Channel Four, chiefly in the person of Peter Ansorge, editor of drama series for the innovative network.

The role Channel Four played in creating Tales cannot be overstated. Initially, the plan was to do a 13-hour adaptation that would be funded half by Channel Four and half by an American broadcaster. The American side failed to materialize - no network or cable channel would touch the material. Instead of backing out, Channel Four committed to fully financing a six-hour adaptation, even with no guaranteed American sale.

Channel Four shaped Tales not only with its bankroll, but also with its approach. Ansorge et al. were interested in a televised novel - not a liberally adapted reinterpretation for TV. This basic (but hardly American) principle of respect for a literary text was as significant as any other factor in making Tales such an original piece of entertainment.

Channel Four's one stipulation was that we hire a British director. We watched the work of many contenders, but the one film that stood out was Alastair Reid's Traffik. That this six-hour miniseries is now known chiefly as the basis for Steven Soderbergh's feature is an injustice. The way the series intertwined great scope and complex storylines while maintaining an almost painful sense of intimacy was indelible. After meeting Alastair and learning of his passion for Armistead's book, his fascination with magical realism, and his all-embracing love of the characters, we knew we had our director.

The other major contributor to the pre-production process was John Lyons. At that time, John was one of the best casting directors in features, whose work included all of the Coen Brothers' films since Raising Arizona. Our first major decision was the casting of Olympia Dukakis as Anna Madrigal, a unanimous choice. But with his roots in the New York theater world, John was also able to bring us actors we had never heard of, like Laura Linney, Thomas Gibson, Paul Gross, and Barbara Garrick, with the confidence that they would deliver. John has gone on to a successful producing career (Boogie Nights, Austin Powers in Goldmember), but his foresight and instinct were major factors in pulling together the Tales ensemble.

Casting was the first area where we had to grapple with degrees of literal faithfulness in visualizing the text. Though the book frequently describes Mary Ann as a brunette and De De as a blonde, we decided, after considerable hand-wringing, not to force Laura Linney and Barbara Garrick to change hair color. Similarly, until we found Billy Campbell, we had been searching only for a light-haired Jon because the book describes him as "blond." Our initial priority was to be faithful to the readers' collective imagination, but when it came to choosing performance over cosmetic detail, Armistead readily agreed that talent wins out.

The production was based in Los Angeles with exteriors to be shot in San Francisco. On our- first San Francisco scouting trip with Alastair and production designer Victoria Paul, we set out to locate the mythical Barbary Lane. We had assumed 28 Barbary Lane would be shot on small sets representing interior rooms and bits of staircase, with a real San Francisco exterior- to shoot for entrances and exits. But when Armistead took us to Napier Lane, one of the real-life walkways that had inspired him, we found apartment houses with exterior staircases leading up to landings outside each door. Alastair was struck on the spot with the inspiration to turn Anna Madrigal's house inside out and put the skeleton on the outside. Vicki completed the drawings as soon as we returned to L.A., and the three-story Barbary Lane courtyard set was born. This set is so closely identified with the series that it is hard to imagine now it was ever conceived differently.

Alastair survived a brutal shooting schedule with the aid of his meticulously notated script, in which he had drawn a few simple storyboard frames for each scene. This was his editing master plan, from which he could imagine each scene's place in the finished six hours, and thereby reduce shots. The actors returned Alastair's generosity and goodwill with a deep and implicit trust. Near the end of the L.A. shoot, we were filming a San Francisco bathhouse we had erected in the kitchen of the old Ambassador Hotel (on the site where Robert F. Kennedy was shot).There was a problem with the scene where Jon Fielding (Billy Campbell) enters the cubicle of Beauchamp Day (Thomas Gibson). We couldn't show Beauchamp's face, since his identity isn't revealed until a subsequent scene, and yet we had to make it absolutely clear that Jon was about to have sex. Billy Campbell didn't have a nudity clause in his contract, so we couldn't ask him to remove his towel before stepping in the room, even though that would make the scene work. Sensing the frustration, Billy finally turned to Alastair on the set and said simply, "Alastair, do you want my butt!" Alastair replied, "Yes, dear boy," and the scene (and the towel) came off without incident.

We scheduled the San Francisco location shoot at the end, meaning that by the time we were shooting exteriors, most of the matching interior sequences had already been filmed. That meant that had we encountered a lot of fog or rain, we would have had major continuity problems on our hands. We went to great lengths to secure weather insurance for the 12 days of location shooting, an expensive proposition in San Francisco. As it turns out, our shoot in June 1993 consisted of 12 days of unbroken sunshine. Then, of course, we worried that we didn't have enough fog. But ultimately I think the preternatural sunshine enhances the show's depiction of a magically good-natured world.

As for the American broadcast, our rescue arrived in the form of Lindsay Law, who was then executive director of PBS's landmark American Playhouse series. Even though we were well into production when the sale went through, Lindsay came on board with remarkable enthusiasm, and his efforts went a long way toward making the American premiere the sensational event it turned out to be.

Armistead MauPin's Tales of the City debuted on PBS on January 10, 1994, and ran two hours a night for three consecutive nights, garnering the highest ratings for a drama program in recent PBS history. In San Francisco, the show even beat out the three commercial networks. But thinking back, I can remember clearly that until the moment of the broadcast, we were never sure if we had gotten it right

Alan Poul is currently executive producer of the acclaimed HBO series Six Feet Under.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

"Tales of the City" DVD Liner Notes

THE OUTRAGE "Tales of the City" provoked when it aired on PBS in 1994 seems almost quaint these days. Apoplectic over the sight of two men smooching in a convertible and the pot smoke wafting through 28 Barbary Lane - lawmakers in Georgia, Oklahoma, and South Carolina passed resolutions fiercely condemning the miniseries. In Chattanooga, Tennessee, there was even a bomb threat that emptied the local PBS affiliate the first night the show aired. The Reverend Donald Wildmon of the American Family Association sent members of Congress a 12-minute bootleg videotape featuring what he regarded as the dirty bits of "Tales of the City". Since this included a shot of Norman Neal Williams (Stanley DeSantis) scratching himself in Jockey shorts, the less said about the Reverend's thought processes the better. I do want to thank him for the noise he made, for without it - and the subsequent lurid reporting by "Entertainment Tonight" - my life's work might never have attracted such a widespread audience.

Contrary to right-wing claims, "Tales of the City" was not funded by "taxpayer dollars." It was entirely the product of Britain's innovative Channel Four and the determined efforts Working Title Films and Propaganda Films. PBS acquired it the way it acquires many British programs cheaply and without risk - only to receive unprecedented ratings, critical raves, and a Peabody Award. So it was all the more galling when the network caved in to conservative pressure and reneged on plans to broadcast "More Tales of the City". I suspect they regret that now, if only because of the small-screen revolution that followed. "Tales of the City" forever changed the landscape of television, paving the way for the domestic lesbians of "Ellen", the straight girl/gay boy antics of "Will & Grace", the unapologetic promiscuity of "Queer as Folk", and the omni-sexual, multi-generational humanism of "Six Feet Under". PBS left the party just as it was getting interesting.

Frankly, I'm used to this sort of nonsense. Back in 1976, when "Tales of the City" began life as a daily serial in the San Francisco Chronicle, I often fought with editors who underestimated the tolerance and intelligence of their readers. To make my point, I took a brief break after the first year; 40,000 San Franciscans wrote to ask what the hell had happened to Mrs. Madrigal and her tenants. Three years later, when Warner Brothers bought the rights to the first of the six Tales novels. I learned what nervous nellies Hollywood executives could be. "Love that gay gynecologist," one guy told me with a straight face. "but I think he should turn out to be a serial killer."

The culture has grown up a lot since then. Freed from the burden of manufactured hysteria, "Tales of the City" can now be appreciated as the benign fable it has always been, a story about people being kind to one another, even under the oddest of circumstances. Alastair Reid's stunningly atmospheric production has emerged as a sort of "American Graffiti" for television: a showcase for a number of "unknown" actors who went on to achieve considerable fame. It's rare that such talent converges for a single project, and I'm grateful to everyone, on both sides of the camera, who made the miracle happen.

Armistead Maupin
San Francisco, August 2002

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Anita Bryant January 1977

Anita Bryant January 1977: the enactment of a gay rights law in Miami-Dade county mobilizes the ex-beauty queen's antigay campaign--as well as gays nationwide, including San Franciscan Armistead Maupin. (Gods & Monsters).

I actually read about Anita Bryant's Save Our Children campaign to overturn Miami's gay rights law directly from the news wires. It was quite clear to me that this campaign was going to have a galvanizing effect on the gay movement. There's really nothing like a good villain to start a revolution, and Anita filled the bill perfectly.

I know what the battle did for me: It forced me to confront my own residual self-loathing and stare it down once and for all by coming out.

I was writing Tales of the City as a serial in-house at the San Francisco Chronicle, and I was able to respond to news of Bryant's campaign in a matter of 24 hours, concocting a letter from [gay character] Michael's mother about their efforts to save Florida from the homosexuals. By the strangest serendipity, I had already established Michael as the son of Florida orange growers. Within a matter of weeks, Michael was writing a reply to his mother in which he comes out.

My parents were subscribing to the Chronicle in order to follow the series, and when they got to Michael's coming-out letter, they realized I was writing to them. And within a week they saw me described as a gay journalist in Newsweek when that magazine covered Anita Bryant.

About 10 years ago I was at an American Booksellers Association convention where Bryant was appearing, and she was still pissing and moaning about how the homosexuals had destroyed her career as spokesperson for Florida orange juice. The irony is, it wasn't the orange juice boycott that caused her to lose her job; it was the fact that she made herself forever associated with homosexuality. So in one way she was a victim of homophobia herself: Folks on the orange board didn't want people to think about queers when they bought orange juice.

Maupin, Armistead. "Anita Bryant January 1977: the enactment of a gay rights law in Miami-Dade county mobilizes the ex-beauty queen's antigay campaign--as well as gays nationwide, including San Franciscan Armistead Maupin. (Gods & Monsters)." The Advocate (The national gay & lesbiannewsmagazine). LPI Media. 2002.

Monday, December 15, 2008

A staged reading of Truman Capote’s A Christmas Memory


CONTACT: Susan Harloe (415) 626-0453 x128


(a program of THE Z SPACE STUDIO)


A staged reading of Truman Capote’s A Christmas Memory*
Directed by JoAnne Winter

Monday, December 15, 2008


Theatre Rhinoceros, 2926 16th Street (at South Van Ness, BART), San Francisco, CA 94103

Because the 7 PM show is completely sold out we are adding a second performance at 915 PM on Monday, December 15th. A reception will be held for both audiences in between the performances at approximately 815 PM.

In Truman Capote’s largely autobiographical story of seven-year-old Buddy and his much older cousin Sook, a trip to find fruitcake ingredients becomes a memorable adventure, told through the eyes of Capote’s seven-year-old self. A holiday offering for all ages!
THEATER RHINOCEROS (John Fisher, Executive Director), America’s longest running professional queer theatre, develops and produces works of theatre that enlighten, enrich, and explore both the ordinary and extraordinary aspects of our queer community.
WORD FOR WORD is the theatre company that transforms classic and contemporary fiction into great performance works for the stage. Word for Word believes in the power of the short story to provide solace, compassion, and insight into our daily lives.

THEATER RHINOCEROS and WORD FOR WORD will collaborate on a full production of short stories by Tennessee Williams, Gertrude Stein, and Armistead Maupin in May, 2009. This staged reading of “A Christmas Memory” is their first venture together.

WHEN: Monday, December 15, 2009: ONE NIGHT ONLY

WHERE: Theatre Rhinoceros, 2926 16th St. (at South Van Ness), San Francisco, CA 94103

TIME: 7 PM (sold out!) and 915 PM (Tickets available.)

TIX: (415) 861-5079, or; Suggested Donation: $20 (Nobody will be turned away for lack of funds)

INFO: Susan Harloe at (415) 626-0453 x128 or

*This production is dedicated to the memory of Robert Coffman, a much loved Theatre Rhino actor and donor. Robert performed a reading of “A Christmas Memory” at The Rhino each holiday season for many years.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Armistead Maupin's Guide for Living

Armistead Maupin's Guide for Living
from The Advocate 1985

1.Stop begging for acceptance. Homosexuality is still the anathema to most people in this country – even to many homosexuals. If you camp out on the doorstep of society waiting for 'the climate' to change, you'll be there until Joan Rivers registers Democratic. Your job is to accept yourself – joyfully and with no apologies – and get on with the adventure of your life.

2.Don't run away from straight people. They need variety in their lives just as much as you do, and you'll forfeit the heady experience of feeling exotic if you limit yourself to the company of your own kind.

Furthermore, you have plenty to teach your straight friends about tolerance and humor and the uncomfortable enjoyment of their own sexuality. (Judging from 'Donahue,' many of them have only now begun to learn about foreplay; we, on the other hand, have entire resorts built around the practice.)

Besides, it's time you stopped thinking of heterosexuals as the enemy. It's both convenient and comforting to bemoan the cardboard villainy of Jerry Falwell and friends, but the real culprits in this melodrama are just as queer as you are. They sleep with you by night and conspire to keep you invisible by day. They are studio chiefs and bank presidents and talk-show hosts, and they don't give a damn about your oppression because they've got their piece of the pie, and they got it by living a lie.

3.Refuse to cooperate in the lie. It is not your responsibility to 'be discreet' for the sake of people who are still ashamed of their own natures. And don't tell me about 'job security.' Nobody's job will ever be safe until the general public is permitted to recognize the full scope of our homosexual population.

Does that include teachers? You bet it does. Have you forgotten already how much it hurt to be fourteen and gay and scared to death of it? Doesn't it gall you just a little that your 'discreet' lesbian social-studies teacher went home every day to her lover and her cats and her Ann Bannon novels without once giving you even a clue that there was hope for your own future?

What earthly good is your discretion, when teenagers are still being murdered for the crime of effeminacy? I know, I know – you have a right to keep your private life private. Well, you do that, my friend – but don't expect the world not to notice what you're really saying about yourself. And about the rest of us. Lighten up, Lucille. There's help on the way.

4.Stir up some shit now and then. Last spring I wrote a commentary for the Los Angels Times on the subject of television's shoddy treatment of homosexuality. The piece originally contained a sentence to the effect that 'it's high time the public found out there are just as many homosexuals who resemble Richard Chamberlain as there are who resemble Richard Simmons.' The editor cut it. When I asked him why, he said: 'Because it's libelous, that's why.' To which I replied: 'In the first place, I'm not saying that Richard Chamberlain is gay; I'm simply saying there are plenty of gay men who resemble him. In the second place, even if I were saying that Richard Chamberlain is gay, it wouldn't be a libelous remark, because I'm gay myself and I don't say those things with malice. I don't accuse anyone of being gay; I state it as a matter of fact or opinion.' When the new city of West Hollywood assembled its council last month, the Associated Press identified the three openly gay members as 'admitted homosexuals.' Admitted, get it? Fifteen years after the Stonewall Rebellion, the wire service wants to make it perfectly clear that homosexuality is still a dirty little secret that requires full confession before it can be mentioned at all. If you don't raise some hell, that isn't going to change.

5.Don't sell your soul to the gay commercial culture. Well, go ahead, if you insist, but you'd better be prepared to accept the butt plug as the cornerstone of Western civilization. I am dumbfounded by the number of bright and beautiful men out there who submerge themselves completely in the quagmire of gay ghetto life, then wonder why their lives seem loveless and predictable. What the hell did they expect?

If you have no more imagination than to swap one schlock-heavy 'lifestyle' for another, you haven't learned a goddamn thing from the gay experience. I'm not talking about sex here; I'm talking about old-fashioned bad taste.

No, Virginia, we don't all have good taste. We are just a susceptible to the pitfalls of tackiness as everyone else in the world. Your pissing and moaning about the shallowness of other faggots falls on unsympathetic ears when you're wearing a T-shirt that says THIS FACE SEATS FIVE.

Not long ago I sat transfixed before my TV screen while an earnest young man told a gay cable announcer about his dream of becoming Mr. Leather Something-or-other. He was seeking the title, he said, 'in order to serve the community and help humanity.' he wore tit rings and a codpiece and a rather fetching little cross-your-heart harness, but he sounded for all the world like a Junior Miss contestant from Modesto. If our fledging culture fails us, it will be because we forgot how to question it, forgot how to laugh at it in the very same way we laugh at Tupperware and Velveeta and the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

6.Stop insulting the people who love you by assuming they don't know you're gay. When I began my book tour, a publicist in New York implored me to leave his name out of it, because 'my family doesn't know about my...uh, lifestyle.'

Maybe not, but they must be the dumbest bunch this side of Westchester County; I could tell he was gay over the telephone. When my own father learned of my homosexuality (he read about it in Newsweek), he told me he'd suspected as much since I'd been a teenager. I could've made life a lot easier for both of us if I'd had the guts to say what was on my mind.

7.Learn to feel mortal. If AIDS hasn't reminded you that your days are numbered – and always have been – then stop for a moment and remind yourself. Your days are numbered, Babycakes. Are you for living them for yourself and the people you love, or are you living them for the people you fear? I can't help thinking of a neighbor of mine, a dutiful government employee who kept up appearances for years and years, kept them up until the day he died, in fact – of a heart attack in the back row of an all-male fuck-film house. Appearances don't count for squat when they stick you in the ground (all right, or scatter you to the winds), so why should you waste a single moment of your life seeming to be something you don't want to be? Lord, that's so simple. If you hate your job, quit it. If your friends are tedious, go out and find new ones. You are queer, you lucky fool, and that makes you one of life's buccaneers, free from the clutter of two thousand years of Judeo-Christian sermonizing. Stop feeling sorry for yourself and start hoisting your sails. You haven't a moment to lose.

Monday, December 8, 2008



On December 18 at 12:30 AM EST, The "Frasier" episode with caller, Gerard (aka: Armistead Maupin) will replay on Lifetime Television. The episode is titled "The Friend" originally aired on 1-16-96.

Frasier admits on the air that he's not made one close friend since moving back to Seattle, though he would very much like to. Enter Bob, the barbecue loving guy in a wheelchair, who Frasier attempts to befriend, but just can't stand.


Set your Tivo's!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Actress and drama teacher Nina Foch dies at 84

Nina Foch played Frannie Halcyon in the PBS Miniseries "Tales of the City."

LOS ANGELES – Nina Foch, the Dutch-born actress who often played cool, calculating women in films, theater and television and was a respected coach of aspiring actors and directors, has died. She was 84.

Foch died Friday at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center of complications from the blood disorder myelodysplasia, her son, Dr. Dirk De Brito, told the Los Angeles Times. She became ill last week while teaching at the University of Southern California's School of Cinematic Arts.

Foch had taught at the school for 40 years. In her youth, she was a concert pianist and painter before taking up acting studies at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City.

After appearing in summer theater productions and touring companies, she moved to Hollywood and signed a contract with Columbia Pictures, where she made her movie debut in 1943's "Wagon Wheels West."

Although she never achieved star status, Foch became a distinguished supporting player, often as "the other woman" or figures of wealth and connivance. She was nominated for an Academy Award for supporting actress for "Executive Suite" in 1955.

Other film credits included "The Ten Commandments," "Spartacus," "Rich and Famous" and "Sliver."

On Broadway, she performed in "Tonight at 8:30," "A Second String," "Twelfth Night" and "King Lear," and on television she appeared in "Murder, She Wrote," "The Outer Limits," "Hawaii 5-0," "L.A. Law" and "Just Shoot Me." She appeared last year in an episode of "The Closer."

Foch was born on April 20, 1924, in Leyden, Netherlands, as Nina Consuelo Maud Fock. She was the daughter of conductor-composer Dirk Fock, who moved the family to New York when she was a child. Her mother, Consuelo Flowerton, became a well-known actress in New York, and Nina followed her into the theater world.

Foch said in a 1992 interview that she wanted to diversify her career by directing. She worked as an assistant to producer John Houseman and with directors George Stevens, Ron Woodward, and Randal Kleiser, but she eventually gave up that ambition in favor of teaching.

"I love them and they love me," she once said of her students. "I have one son, but I really don't. I have hundreds of children."

Foch's son is from her second marriage, to Dennis Brite. She married and divorced three times.

Gus Van Sant interview by Armistead Maupin

The following appeared in Interview Magazine.

Gus Van Sant's new film, Milk, tells the real-life story of Harvey Milk (played in the film by Sean Penn), who became the first openly gay person to be elected to a public office in the United States when he took his post on the San Francisco board of city supervisors in January 1977. Milk was a transplanted New Yorker who, at the age of 40, traded in his job as a Wall Street analyst for a gig working as a stage manager on the first Broadway production of Hair, and later moved to San Francisco where he and his partner opened a camera shop in the Castro district-then the flash point of the gay-rights movement in America. But Milk's political awakening with regards to his sexuality in many ways mirrored what the country itself was going through at the time, in the wake of free love and before AIDS. It was a moment when singer Anita Bryant's infamous state-to-state crusade to have laws repealed that prohibited discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation had inadvertently begun to crack open the proverbial closet door by inspiring an army of men and women to come forward and speak out against her. Though Milk had relationships with men in New York, he had shielded his personal life from his family and co-workers. But living in San Francisco, surrounded by people who were often much younger than he was-many of whom with stories much like his own-he very easily fell into the role of advocate, lobbying on behalf of the gay community both freely and loudly.
When Milk assumed his seat on the board of supervisors, it seemed a logical, even inevitable, next step in the sexual revolution of the decade. But his assassination just 10 months into his term, by former city supervisor Dan White-an early supporter of Milk's from an Irish Catholic, working-class neighborhood adjacent to the Castro, who shot Milk in his City Hall office minutes after shooting and killing Mayor George Moscone-only brought into even more stark relief the harsh, at times tragic, realities of America's continuing struggle with sex and sexuality.
For the 56-year-old Van Sant, Milk was a project nearly two decades in the making-one that went through multiple scripts and iterations. Writer Armistead Maupin, who, of course, lived through the Milk years in San Francisco, having so memorably captured them in his Tales of the City novels, recently spoke to the director who was at home in Portland, Oregon.

ARMISTEAD MAUPIN: Watching Milk was a very eerie experience for me because I've never been to a film before where I knew maybe six or eight of the major characters in real life. There must have been huge pressure on you with this project from the beginning, at least in part because it also belonged to somebody else for 16 years. The idea of making a film based on Randy Shilts's book, The Mayor of Castro Street, was floating around Hollywood for a long time. You were even at one point considered as a director for that project, and then, when [Dustin] Lance Black came up with the script for Milk-I guess in 2007-you had a whole other direction to run in, in terms of getting the thing made. If you hadn't succeeded, I suppose there would have been a serious shit storm.

GUS VAN SANT: I think I first heard about the film project based on Randy's book through Rob Epstein [who won an Oscar for his 1984 documentary The Times of Harvey Milk]. I might have been aware of the book, but I hadn't read it. At that time, there was talk that Oliver Stone was going to direct the film, but he sort of declared that he wasn't going to make another assassination project after JFK [1991]. When I first talked to the people who were involved with the film at the time, they mentioned that you had been contacted by Stephen Frears about making it, and that you had advised him against it. This was about 17 years ago. I think what I heard was that you had advised him against doing it because you didn't think he could ever show what actually went on in the Castro in the '70s.

AM: Well, no, that's not entirely true, but I did advise him against directing the particular script that he had. He never made an offer to me to write a script for him-if he had, I might have seriously thought about it. But what he showed me was extraordinarily cardboard and politically correct and uninteresting. It felt like a television biopic. He felt the same way about it, and, at that point, I guess he decided not to do it.

GVS: Oh, too bad you didn't write a version.

AM: I don't think I could have done any better than Lance Black did. It's astonishing to think that someone of his age could understand the permutations of San Francisco in the '70s, but he did. How did he come to you exactly?

GVS: Well, it had been a long time since I had thought of doing a story about Harvey. At one point, I'd thought of doing it in a sort of fictional fashion, where the character wasn't named Harvey Milk and where we'd shoot it in Portland, Oregon, and make it about a guy who owned a camera shop-just to get away from the biopic element where you had to show the real guy, which was sort of frightening. The biopic also wasn't a form that I necessarily believed in, because you can never really get it right, you know? It's also a form that's very popular-the straight-ahead biopic. So people were always sort of stirring the idea of what to do if they were to make a film about Harvey Milk. And then one day a number of years ago, Cleve Jones [one of Milk's associates] told me that there were these two guys-he called them angels-who knocked on his door and announced to him that they were going to make a musical about Cleve's life. One of them was Lance. Now, I had actually met Lance before at Bobby Bukowski's house-Bobby Bukowski is a cinematographer who I knew through River Phoenix. Sometime around 2001, during a dinner one night at Bobby's house, I had met Lance, who was introduced to me as a young, blond-haired film student who was working in commercials. Then, last year, Cleve called me again very enthusiastically and said that Lance had written a story. It wasn't the musical any longer-it was a story about Harvey, and they wanted to come up to Portland from San Francisco to show it to me. I was going to L.A., so we met there, and that was where I first saw the script for Milk. It was sort of like what we have as our final script, and its focus was on the politics of the time. The personal parts of the story were always kind of filtered through the politics, which I'd never seen done before, really. But I was completely engrossed. Then, I thought, "Well, this is all politics. It's going to be really tricky to make it work because the audience usually starts to tune out when there are too many political ideas." Yet the script didn't really make you do that. So we went ahead and had faith.

AM: How did you get the script to Sean Penn?

GVS: After I read Lance's script, we sort of conspired about who our favorite person to play Harvey would be, and we thought of Sean. These days, you can look up your actors on YouTube as you're thinking about them, and we found a lot of YouTube instances of Sean speaking in front of different groups of people. He is always so secure when he's speaking in public, which was one of the things that Harvey was really good at, and Sean, of course, is an amazing actor, so we thought we'd be well-served if he'd agree to do the film. So we just called him up. It was a very short phone call, as calls can sometimes be with Sean, and I said, "You know, we want to offer you this role playing Harvey Milk." And he just said, "I'm interested," which was pretty much positive, and then the next step was for him to read the screenplay.

AM: One of the things that struck me when I saw the film was how you caught that kind of gritty street thing that you did in Drugstore Cowboy [1989].

GVS: Well, that's what I'm always trying for, but I never know whether it actually happens. There are all kinds of ways that people present their films, but that's kind of a good feeling, if you can make it seem like the characters are really there.

AM: Especially since you had such a responsibility to a number of living people who remember the characters and the events that are shown in the film. I guess Bryan Singer was attached to one of the other Milk projects in development, right?

GVS: Yeah.

AM: I read somewhere that he wanted Kevin Spacey to play Harvey Milk and, at that point, I decided that he might not be the right director at all if he couldn't see the irony in that. [Van Sant laughs] But I think that was back when Bryan himself wasn't out of the closet. What was it like while you were filming? You were working out on Treasure Island [in the San Francisco Bay] part of the time, right?

GVS: We had a couple of sets out there. One of them was Harvey's apartment in New York City. There's a sex scene that takes place in that apartment, so we wanted to make it kind of rarefied in a sense. Treasure Island was a strange, very cold place. Was it a naval base at one point?

AM: I processed out of the Navy there in 1970.

GVS: You did?

AM: Yeah. My first glimpse of San Francisco was from Treasure Island.

GVS: That's so interesting. I didn't put it together while we were filming, but it makes a lot of sense. There was no heat, so it was kind of like working in a cave. But most of the rest of the film was shot on location.

AM: Well, with Harvey's camera store, it must have been a true rarity to be filming on the exact spot where something happened. You re-converted a rather stylish home-furnishing shop into his funky, old digs.

GVS: Yeah, we worked from a lot of pictures. There were scenes that took place at the camera shop during all these different periods of time, so we had the early-'70s look and then the more developed, mid-'70s look. Tom Randall and Gilbert Baker are a couple of the folks who helped us bring it back to its original state.

AM: I was extremely struck by your depiction of Dan White [the city supervisor who assassinated Milk in 1978]. Josh Brolin's performance was so sensitive-there are many times when you actually feel sorry for the guy, where you can see in his eyes some sort of envy for Harvey's sense of direction and his leadership abilities and his certainty about who he was. All of that is there in the performance, and it makes it truly into a Greek tragedy when the assassination occurs.

GVS: Oh, that's great.

AM: But another thing that struck me, I guess because of my advancing years, is the way you reflected the fact that Harvey was basically a middle-aged guy who landed in San Francisco and who had been quite conservative up to a certain point. He and I were both [Barry] Goldwater Republicans back in '64. We were both naval officers, and we both found a way out with the help of a theatrical troupe. In Harvey's case, it was the cast of Hair in New York City. But it was fascinating to see this guy, who might have felt that the more interesting parts of his life were over, finding himself with younger men in this new city leading a revolution.

GVS: I think Harvey always, at least in my understanding of the story, led a pretty gay life, but it was closeted in the face of his parents and in the face of his work-you know, there are all the stories of Fire Island in the early '60s and going out with Joe Campbell, who was one of the early Warhol Superstars. Harvey was conservative, but he was like a New York City conservative-he had a nightlife and a gay life. I think there are also stories of Harvey being rounded up in Central Park in the '50s. There was even a scene in one version of the script where Harvey, at a young age, had sex in the balcony at the opera in New York. So it's interesting that he always had a pretty well acknowledged gay life, yet technically he was in the closet. And it worried him that his boyfriends belonged to organizations that were leafleting people in his building. He felt that was too much. But then I also think that he got kind of swept up in the '60s when he burned his BankAmericard and made that switch from conservative Wall Street analyst to becoming a theater stage director for Tom O'Horgan when they made Hair. He even grew his own hair long. I think that was a transformative period for him. Then, when he got to San Francisco and got to be with a lot of other guys who had sort of gone through that, the whole idea was to be yourself and not be in the closet or conceal parts of your life-to be up front.

AM: He also had the good sense to know how to play the game politically. He got himself that little polyester suit that he could troop around in and look like a politician. He shaved his beard and made himself presentable in an effort to deliver a rather radical political agenda for the times. I think that early conservatism is something he maybe punished himself for a little bit, and it made him that much more adamant about people declaring themselves. His entire message was about coming out of the closet.

GVS: There was one little aspect I thought we missed in our movie. We didn't really get to comment on it, but there was a guy who told me that when Harvey shaved off his beard and put on a suit, the hippies really got on him for that. His friends who worked at his camera shop-some of them stopped working there -because they felt like he was selling out.
AM: But even though Harvey was learning how to play the game, he never, ever, compromised himself politically, which was tremendously satisfying to those of us who were coming out at the time. Anita Bryant was the impetus for me to come out-when she declared her anti-gay campaign, the next day in the San Francisco Chronicle I had my gay character hold forth on it. I think she may have launched Harvey's career and the entire modern gay movement.

GVS: She galvanized the movement.

AM: Did Brokeback Mountain [2005] help you a great deal in terms of getting this film green-lit? It must have, simply in terms of Hollywood's way of looking at things.

GVS: Yeah, I'm sure it did. It's hard to say, because Brokeback Mountain made money and was a critical success, and that always speaks to Hollywood. I was actually surprised to find that there weren't many gay projects in the works in Hollywood when we started our movie. I was always under the impression that there were a lot of them out there because of Brokeback Mountain, but I guess not. It definitely helped that our distributor, Focus Features, is the same studio that did Brokeback Mountain. I'm sure that they were encouraged by their own success with that film.

AM: So what for you was the biggest challenge in making Milk?

GVS: I was always trying to get Lance to write a scene where the characters were just kind of talking about something other than politics, which he was averse to doing.

AM: Well, our lives were politics back then.

GVS: But that was something that I was personally worried about, that the characters didn't just kind of lay back and talk about anything else. But it's interesting how that was one of my concerns-whether there was enough quote-unquote downtime. We didn't have a lot of scenes in bars-or any actually. There was one celebration we filmed which isn't in the final movie, so we never really see that side of the Castro, and I was always kind of afraid that would be a bad thing.
I just think the responsibility of making this movie-of representing an entire generation, an entire new class of gay men that existed in the '70s-was scary.

AM: Well, the way you showed the class division between gay men was very astute. I thought that the way you showed David Goodstein [then-publisher and owner of The Advocate] and his support for the Democratic candidate Rick Stokes, who was running against Harvey Milk . . . Most people don't know that Harvey ran against a gay man for city supervisor and that there was this sense of the good, respectable, suit-and-tie gay man and then the hippies in the streets who Harvey represented. Whose brilliant idea was it to cast Howard Rosenman [an executive producer of the Emmy-nominated documentary The Celluloid Closet, 1995] as David Goodstein?

GVS: That was my idea. I was always looking for somebody who looked a little bit like David Goodstein, at least in the photographs that I'd seen.

AM: Well, here's a loaded question: How was it working with Sean Penn?

GVS: Great. I think we were pretty well matched. We didn't know each other that well beforehand. Sean has a lot of stuff that he does to get ready by himself. He puts a lot of work into things on his own, and I think that's good in terms of allowing the actor to kind of bring what they've devised to the role . . . I was about to say something that I probably shouldn't say.

AM: Well, you could . . .

GVS: We talked about sex scenes because originally Lance had written a very elaborate one between Harvey and Scott [Smith, Milk's longtime partner] into the script. And then, as we sent the script out to different financiers and actors, we were afraid that the sex scene would put people off. But you kind of have to start big, you know, because otherwise-

AM: There's nowhere to come down from.

GVS: Yeah. You have to get people to jump in the water early. So there was this sex scene, but we took it out because we didn't want people to freak out and not read the rest of the script. So we sent the script to everybody without the sex scene. Sean read it, and then when we had our first big meeting with him, he said, "You know, we need a really big sex scene right up front." And we said, "Oh, we've got it!"

Friday, December 5, 2008

Capote's 'Memory'

If you can make to San Francisco, GET TICKETS and tell me about it!

Another holiday tradition gets reborn in a different format when Word for Word, the company that performs short stories verbatim, takes on Truman Capote's "A Christmas Memory." Readings of the Capote classic have been a regular Theatre Rhinoceros event for three decades, almost always performed by longtime company member Robert Coffman, who died three years ago. This year, Word is stepping in to revive the tradition with a staged reading at 7 p.m. Dec. 15 directed by company co-founder JoAnne Winter (suggested donation $20).

This first collaborative venture between the companies is also something of a warm-up for their full-scale co-production of stories by Tennessee Williams, Gertrude Stein and Armistead Maupin coming in May. Get tickets and more information on Rhino's season at (415) 861-5079 or - Robert Hurwitt

Date Lines: News from the Bay Area arts scene

If you can make to San Francisco, GET TICKETS and tell me about it!

Capote's 'Memory'

Another holiday tradition gets reborn in a different format when Word for Word, the company that performs short stories verbatim, takes on Truman Capote's "A Christmas Memory." Readings of the Capote classic have been a regular Theatre Rhinoceros event for three decades, almost always performed by longtime company member Robert Coffman, who died three years ago. This year, Word is stepping in to revive the tradition with a staged reading at 7 p.m. Dec. 15 directed by company co-founder JoAnne Winter (suggested donation $20).

This first collaborative venture between the companies is also something of a warm-up for their full-scale co-production of stories by Tennessee Williams, Gertrude Stein and Armistead Maupin coming in May. Get tickets and more information on Rhino's season at (415) 861-5079 or - Robert Hurwitt

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

"The Night Listener" trailer

Trailer for Armistead Maupin's "The Night Listener".

If you did not get a chance to see this film, and are in the mood for a good, psychological thriller, check it out. Of course, read the book first, no one tells a story like Maupin.

This is a link to the 20/20 segment about the true story behind "The Night Listener"