“The Untold Tales of Armistead Maupin”: biography of a gay “real writer”

The Untold Tales of Armistead Maupin”, directed by Jennifer M. Kroot, aired on PBS Independent Lens New Years Day, and in parallels yesterday’s film about Joan Didion as another biography of a “real” career writer.  Why does the title remind me of Nathaniel Hawthorne, “Tanglewood Tales” (and even “Twice-Told Tales“), and American literature in 11th grade English?

Armistead grew up around Raleigh, North Carolina in the shadow of conservative senator Jesse Helms.  He first learned southern plantation values, including saying “ma’am” and “sir” (something I found degrading before my own Army days) and a certain embed of segregationism.  He then worked as a journalist in Charleston S.C.  But his life changed when he got a job with the Associated Press in San Francisco in 1971 and personally discovered Castro Street.  He was born one year later than me, and his “coming out” occurred at about the same time as mine (Chapter 3 of my 1997 “Do Ask, Do Tell” I book).

He soon got an opportunity to write a series about San Francisco, “Tales of the City”, for a Marin County paper.  Eventually the series wound up being published by the San Francisco Chronicle. The series would morph into a series of novels, with situations involving both gay and straight characters, sometimes the boundaries of the straight world being breached, perhaps by bisexuality.

Armistead would meet Rock Hudson and eventually out him, when Rock was diagnosed with AIDS in the mid 1980s (and died). Gradually, the idea that some major Hollywood staples are gay would become evident.  Armistead would become involved with the gradual inclusion of gay material in mainstream television, and even its funding by PBS, which would enrage social conservatives over “family values”.

Armistead wrote his “Tales” at work on a typewriter.  In those days, that is more how writers actually worked (as in the Didion film).

I came to writing a totally different way, as I had an income-producing career in information technology.  So I wrote from my own narrative what I thought had to be said.  I may have been ego-centric or deluded, but when I was in the Army I thought my 1960 cursive diary “The Proles” (also DADT III Chap 7) was the most important expose in the world, even if it was my own world (of “chicken man”).

Castro district in San Francisco (wiki).  My most recent visit: Not since February 2002.  Need to get there again.  I remember going to a poetry reading at the bookstore (Dog Eared Books) shown in the film.

Name:  “The Untold Tales of Armistead Maupin”
Director, writer:  Jennifer M. Kroot
Released:  2017/3
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  PBS 2018/1/1, 10:30 PM
Length:  90
Rating:  NA
Companies:  PBS
Link:  PBS

(Posted: Tuesday, January 2, 2018 at 11:30 AM EST)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *