February 17, 2014

Armistead Maupin joins Christopher and Eric for an intimate and lively conversation about his latest novel, the final installment in his beloved TALES OF THE CITY series, THE DAYS OF ANNA MADRIGAL. Along the way Armistead answers questions from the Party People and shares witty, nostalgic tales of his storied career. Christopher and Eric agree; this episode is one of their finest.

I once wrote in a novel that Hollywood was a town where you could die of encouragement.



The Dinner Party Show Podcast — Ep. 61
Armistead Maupin Interview Transcript

{This transcript is the Armistead Maupin interview portion of Episode 61}
{This transcript is provided as a courtesy and was transcribed as best as possible. Any errors or omissions in the transcript are unintentional. The recorded audio file of the podcast episode is considered the master of what was said.}

Announcer: You’re listening to the Dinner Party Show with Christopher Rice and Eric Shaw Quinn, where the soup is hot, but the heads are hotter.

Christopher Rice: In 1971, Armistead Maupin was working as a newspaper reporter when he was assigned to the San Francisco Bureau of the Associated Press.

Eric Shaw Quinn: Thank goodness.

Christopher Rice: Just six years later, he launched his groundbreaking Tales of the City as a serial in the San Francisco Chronicle. The resulting series now spans seven volumes, and Armistead Maupin joins us today to talk about the latest. It’s called The Days of Anna Madrigal, and to the great sadness of many it is, he claims, the final installment in this beloved and groundbreaking series, which forever changed the way the world saw San Francisco, gay people, and Beach Blanket Babylon. Armistead Maupin. We are thrilled to welcome you to The Dinner Party Show this evening, and we want to tell everyone that we just got the news that the book debuted at number seven-

Eric Shaw Quinn: Congratulations.

Christopher Rice: On the New York Times bestseller list.

Eric Shaw Quinn: Congratulations.

Armistead Maupin: I just got it myself. I’m over the moon.

Eric Shaw Quinn: Here to celebrate.

Armistead Maupin: It’s never happened to me before. I’m 69 years old, and I’ve made the extended list and had that thing of hoping that the next week it would tip over.

Eric Shaw Quinn: Right.

Christopher Rice: Really?

Armistead Maupin: Uh-huh, because then you get to call yourself a New York Times bestseller…

Eric Shaw Quinn: Well, I’m so glad we could celebrate!

 Christopher Rice : Right, right.

Armistead Maupin: …if you make the extended list. But I’ve never gotten this high up. And I’m higher than… Well, she’s only been on the list for two years, Gillian Flynn.

Christopher Rice: Oh, Gone Girl. Right, right, right.

Armistead Maupin: Whose novel I absolutely love and gobbled down.

Christopher Rice: Uh-huh.

Eric Shaw Quinn: But it is really time. It’s just indiscreet to remain on the list this long.

Christopher Rice: I know, it’s-

Eric Shaw Quinn: It’s just rude. It’s time to go.

Christopher Rice: Well, do you remember children’s books used to remain on the list for years and years and years before people complained and they made a separate bestseller list for children’s books.

Armistead Maupin: A separate thing, yeah.

Christopher Rice: Well, that’s wonderful. Congratulations.

Armistead Maupin: Thank you very much.

Eric Shaw Quinn: That’s really… Well, we have champagne. We’ll crack it open if you’re in the mood.

Armistead Maupin: Oh, I’m happy with this little tea party going on here.

Christopher Rice: Good. We always get you tea.

Armistead Maupin: And I must say, I had no idea you had these lavish surroundings. It’s perfectly suited for something called The Dinner Party Show.

Christopher Rice:  Absolutely.

Eric Shaw Quinn: That was what we were shooting for.

Armistead Maupin: You have to walk into a sleazy motel to get to it.

Eric Shaw Quinn: Now, don’t give away all our secrets, Armistead.

Christopher Rice: We don’t want people to know exactly where it is.

Armistead Maupin:  Yeah. Yeah, it’s really funny.

Eric Shaw Quinn: Heaven forbid. Yeah, some of the neighbors are like, “Really? That’s right across the street? Well, great. Okay.”

Christopher Rice: Let’s just say the surrounding businesses are all businesses we don’t want to use as points of orientation when we give directions.

Armistead Maupin: Oh, okay.

Christopher Rice: So we have to say, “Go in the western direction on this boulevard.”

Armistead Maupin: Well, it’s also a very… I mean, I lived here, this is my old neighborhood. I lived here.

Eric Shaw Quinn: Is it?

Armistead Maupin: I lived at the Chateau Marmont for three months in 1979. So I wandered up and down the strip.

Eric Shaw Quinn: Right.

Christopher Rice: Mm-hmm.

Eric Shaw Quinn: And that really is the neighbor. That’s the monument we use, since it’s right there.

Armistead Maupin: Yeah. Yeah. My instructions said, “Just to the left of the Pink Taco.” I said, “A what?”

Christopher Rice: Right.

Eric Shaw Quinn: Yeah. That was one of those arrivals.

Armistead Maupin: I thought it was a strip club. Apparently. It’s actually a taco joint.

Christopher Rice: It was a tacos place.

Eric Shaw Quinn: The strip club’s across the street.

Christopher Rice: Yeah. Yeah. The neighborhood has changed a lot since you lived at the Chateau Marmont.

Armistead Maupin: Oh, man. But it’s still, the great success of the moment…

Eric Shaw Quinn: It’s the strip.

Armistead Maupin: …is heralded by whatever is painted largest.

Christopher Rice: Yes.

Armistead Maupin: I have the Girls billboard right in my…

Eric Shaw Quinn: Oh, yes. She is..

Armistead Maupin: …in my window at the Mondrian.

Eric Shaw Quinn: The Inescapable Lena Dunham. 

Christopher Rice:

Lena Dunham, yeah.

Armistead Maupin: Lena Dunham.

Christopher Rice: There’s certain apartment buildings where they should say, if you’re going to live here, you better really like what’s on HBO, because they own that billboard.

Armistead Maupin: You’ll be looking at it.

Christopher Rice: Out your window.

Eric Shaw Quinn: Giant eyes.

Armistead Maupin: When I was at The Chateau Marmont, I was in one of the… I don’t think they’re called bungalows, but the smaller freestanding things there. And there was the giant billboard for the Paul Schrader movie Hardcore.

Christopher Rice: Oh, right.

Armistead Maupin: And it said, “Oh my God, that’s my daughter.” That’s what it said over my bungalow. And I applied it very personally, because every night I wandered down Fairfax to Basic Plumbing, the sex club down on Fairfax. And…

Eric Shaw Quinn: I wonder if that’s still there. I think that’s…

Armistead Maupin: No, it’s not. It’s long gone.

Christopher Rice: It’s probably a Chinese restaurant.

Eric Shaw Quinn: It’s such a great… It’s like a name you’d make up for one of your…

Armistead Maupin: Oh, it was perfect.

Eric Shaw Quinn: …for one of your books. It’s better than any of the names I’ve heard.

Armistead Maupin: It was weird, though, because it was right next to the deserted Jay Sebring salon, so it had the ghost of the Manson murders right next door to it.

Eric Shaw Quinn: I love zoning in Los Angeles.

Armistead Maupin: Yeah.

Eric Shaw Quinn: It’s so exciting.

Armistead Maupin: Yeah.

Eric Shaw Quinn: And a children’s theater.

Christopher Rice: Right.

Armistead Maupin: And I would leave Basic Plumbing and walk back up to the strip and go and have tapioca at Greenblatt’s.

Christopher Rice: Oh, yeah. Greenblatt’s is still there.

Armistead Maupin: Yeah.

Christopher Rice: Greenblatt’s will always be there.

Eric Shaw Quinn: It’s still wonderful.

Armistead Maupin: Loved it. I don’t know what the tapioca thing was about on my part, but I…

Eric Shaw Quinn: It was a thing.

Armistead Maupin: Yeah.

Christopher Rice: Well, you know, were in good company. Celestially, at least, because apparently F. Scott Fitzgerald had his last meal from Greenblatt’s.

Armistead Maupin: Oh, I thought you were still talking about Basic Plumbing.

Christopher Rice: He also went to Basic Plumbing.

Eric Shaw Quinn: He may have had his last meal there.

Christopher Rice: He had to get away from…

Armistead Maupin: [inaudible 00:05:00] Really? His last meal was at…

Christopher Rice: He got away from Zelda at Basic Plumbing. No. Yes. Yes. His last meal was apparently from there. He was in bad shape, so he couldn’t go out, and so they brought him a meal from Greenblatt’s Delicatessen.

Armistead Maupin: Well, I loved it, because I could really wallow in the romance of Old Hollywood. I mean, the Garden of Allah was no longer there across the street from the Chateau, but I knew where it was. And I ate at Schwab’s every morning.

Eric Shaw Quinn: Oh. Schwab’s was still there.

Armistead Maupin: Schwab’s was still there.

Eric Shaw Quinn: Oh, wow.

Armistead Maupin: And one day I sat next to Hiram Keller, who was the cute brunette in Satyricon.

Eric Shaw Quinn: God, Satyricon. Fellini.

Armistead Maupin: Yeah.

Eric Shaw Quinn: Long time ago. I can vaguely remember that.

Armistead Maupin: I don’t think he’d worked since the Satyricon, but…

Eric Shaw Quinn: That would do it, yeah.

Armistead Maupin: But I would buy the Hollywood Reporter every morning. Tales of the City, my first novel, had been acquired by Warner Brothers, and I thought that meant any second now it would be a movie.

Eric Shaw Quinn: Oh, wouldn’t that be nice?

Christopher Rice: Right?

Eric Shaw Quinn: Oh, development.

Armistead Maupin: I know. I once wrote in a novel that Hollywood was a town where you could die of encouragement.

Eric Shaw Quinn: Yes, absolutely. I always said that…

Armistead Maupin: I lived that, I’m telling you.

Eric Shaw Quinn: I’m going to die from colorectal cancer from all the smoke that’s been blown up my ass since I moved here 24 years ago. Yeah.

Christopher Rice: Absolutely.

Armistead Maupin: You really don’t know when you come in. You’re all wide-eyed. If they have lunch with you, you think you’re home free.

Eric Shaw Quinn: Oh, and that means fuck off.

Armistead Maupin: They just have to have lunch.

Eric Shaw Quinn: Yeah.

Christopher Rice: But all of your memories of LA still seem very sort of sweet and rosy despite the fact that you know the truth about the place, as do we all.

Armistead Maupin: I still think you… When I come to town, I still feel like Lucy and Ricky arriving for the first time. I have this… I think it’s the distance that I keep from it, really. In the long run.

Eric Shaw Quinn: That would help.

Armistead Maupin: You could still come back and have a certain sense of wonderment about it.

Eric Shaw Quinn: A sort of newness. It is still Hollywood. And it is a wonderful place, because people bring their dreams here.

Armistead Maupin: They do.

Eric Shaw Quinn: There’s a certain atmosphere of like, yes, I’m a waiter… And I think there is less judgment of, I’m a waiter, but I have a screenplay. And one day, maybe…. Like this thing, the Dallas Buyers Club, I was just seeing was rejected 137 times. And now they’re…

Armistead Maupin: Really?

Eric Shaw Quinn: Now they’re Oscar contenders. For an artist, and for a writer particularly, that is such encouraging news. How many times rejection after rejection after rejection that you have to go through, and you just have to keep believing. And I like that there’s an atmosphere here of, we come here because we try and we collectively believe in ourselves until something happens.

Armistead Maupin: Until something happens.

Eric Shaw Quinn: Even when it doesn’t.

Armistead Maupin: And it could be a fluke.

Eric Shaw Quinn: Yeah.

Armistead Maupin: When you think about how people can get in now through the internet.

Eric Shaw Quinn: Right?

Armistead Maupin: Somebody told me that Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, the singing, rapping that song at the Grammy’s the other night, that that was a YouTube…

Christopher Rice: Wow. Yeah.

Armistead Maupin: …thing, initially. And here they are. All of Hollywood is standing in the room embracing the obvious, that it’s time to stop picking on gay folks.

Christopher Rice: Right.

Eric Shaw Quinn: Yeah. It probably was a couple of years ago, but certainly now. Mr. Putin, if you’re listening.

Armistead Maupin: Yeah. Yeah. Well, I mean in terms of allowing it into the culture, basically.

Eric Shaw Quinn: Right.

Armistead Maupin: That’s what blew me away. That it was right there in the room, and Keith Urban was crying, and…

Eric Shaw Quinn: They were getting married.

Armistead Maupin: They could have done better married with their selection of the officiant in terms of Queen Latifah. But I won’t go into that.

Eric Shaw Quinn: Well, you know. Maybe she’ll feel encouraged and finally…

Armistead Maupin: Exactly. Maybe the sight of all those people…

Eric Shaw Quinn: Maybe she’ll finally make the leap, right?

Armistead Maupin: Fulfilling their love will give her the courage to do what…

Eric Shaw Quinn: To own up.

Armistead Maupin: She knows what she needs to do.

Eric Shaw Quinn: Yeah. And maybe not.

Armistead Maupin: Maybe not.

Christopher Rice: But I think what we’re all saying is that life is not lived in a straight line. Which is going to bring me back to your story, because I want to ask you, when you were reassigned to the Associated Press Bureau out in San Francisco, were you saying, I’m going to write a serialized novel that will change the world?

Armistead Maupin: No way.

Eric Shaw Quinn: And yeah, you deserve a lot of credit.

Armistead Maupin: I was coming out. It was really the other way around. It was the coming out and the sexual exploration and the fun of having straight people who embraced me for who I was. And all of that was there to lift me up to the point where I would write this story, basically. Because I came in ’71 and I started Tales of the City in ’75. Even earlier than that, I was on one of those lists like you always get on, Chris.

Christopher Rice: The undateable list.

Armistead Maupin: Back in my cute days. They put me on the San Francisco magazine in ’73, put me on something called the 10 Sexiest Men in Town. Because it was not stylish to have bachelors back then, because everybody was supposed to be free. So it was the 10 eligible bachelor list. But I said I wouldn’t do it unless I could say that I was gay. So I sort of did that in ’73, and then it was…

Eric Shaw Quinn: Did they relent? Did they…

Armistead Maupin: No, yeah, it was there. And I got a lot of creepy people trying to track me down, let me tell you. It was not a…

Eric Shaw Quinn: But good for you.

Christopher Rice: It was like having a Facebook profile before everyone else was on Facebook.

Armistead Maupin: Yeah. Yeah.

Eric Shaw Quinn: Oh, dear God. But yeah.

Christopher Rice: Excellent. Well, we’ll be back here in just a moment with Armistead Maupin, the creator of Tales of the City.

Eric Shaw Quinn: And more tales of Armistead Maupin.

Christopher Rice: Yeah. Tales of every city he’s ever been, we hope. Here on The Dinner Party Show.

[comedy sketch]

Announcer: You’re listening to The Dinner Party Show with Christopher Rice and Eric Shaw Quinn. Let’s dish.

Christopher Rice: Hi, I’m Christopher Rice.

Eric Shaw Quinn: And I’m Eric Shaw Quinn.

Christopher Rice: And welcome back to The Dinner Party Show. Michael Tolliver. Anna Madrigal. Mary Ann Singleton. These are the names of some of the most beloved San Franciscans in English literature, and they’re all the creations of our guest this evening, Armistead Maupin. Armistead, thank you for being here.

Armistead Maupin: It’s so much fun. Really, it was very exciting when I heard you guys had booked me. I’ve enjoyed the show in the past and thought…

Eric Shaw Quinn: Oh my God.

Armistead Maupin: …they’re having fun.

Eric Shaw Quinn: There’s the quote.

Christopher Rice: We’re having fun.

Eric Shaw Quinn: There’s the quote.

Christopher Rice: That’s, I think… Yeah.

Eric Shaw Quinn: I don’t think we’d stop if we stopped having fun. I mean, there have been moments when it was like, okay, I’m going to kill everybody if this… But for the most part, we have a really good time, and that’s what we want to share with people when they come by.

Armistead Maupin: And it’s very old timey. They used to do this on radio in the old days, didn’t they?

Eric Shaw Quinn: Yeah.

Armistead Maupin: They had breakfast clubs and…

Eric Shaw Quinn: Breakfast With Les and Bess. I think of that. It was a play.

Armistead Maupin: It was a play.

Eric Shaw Quinn: Yeah, that I think of all the time.

Christopher Rice: It’s wonderful for writers, because it’s theater of the mind, right?

Armistead Maupin: Yeah.

Christopher Rice: We’re literally playing with words in somebody’s mind, and they get to imagine most of it. We do all of these specials now, like the Jordan Ampersand Experience and Live from Poison Creek, and it’s like writing a TV show, but the humor is more expansive because you can suggest.

Armistead Maupin: Anything.

Christopher Rice: You know? Right. Exactly.

Eric Shaw Quinn: And it’s limitless. There’s no budgetary considerations, because if we want to blow up a cathedral, well, we can just blow one up. Because that’s…

Armistead Maupin: Exactly.

Eric Shaw Quinn: There’s no price on it. We just… Brandon figures out what that would sound like, and it plays in the background, and Christopher and I run screaming in here.

Armistead Maupin: What fun. Just fluid storytelling. I was in love with the radio when I was six years old. My parents spoiled me to death.

Eric Shaw Quinn: Bless them.

Armistead Maupin: Put me in an upper bunk in the bedroom. I had an upper bunk and a little shelf up there where my radio went. And I would listen to Big John and Sparky, which is something you probably don’t know about.

Eric Shaw Quinn: I don’t know that one.

Christopher Rice: Don’t know about it.

Armistead Maupin: It was a show with a guy with a puppet, but there was no puppet. He just… He did the voice.

Christopher Rice: Because he was on the radio.

Armistead Maupin: They finally had to come up with a puppet that looked like him, and I looked him up, I Googled him, Googled Big John, and he’s just a flaming queen. It was really obvious why I loved Big John.

Christopher Rice: Yeah.

Eric Shaw Quinn: Yeah, that’s an interesting thing in later life, to look back on the shows that you were fond of when you were a kid and go, wow, everybody… The Wild Wild West was one I was crazy about when I was a kid.

Armistead Maupin: Oh yeah, those pants.

Eric Shaw Quinn: And oh my God, the Krylon Pants.

Armistead Maupin: The pants.

Eric Shaw Quinn: With no shirt, ever. And all of the villains are just screaming queens. I watched it as an adult and went, oh my God, no wonder I watched this show when I was six.

Christopher Rice: Right, right?

Armistead Maupin: I was always also drawn to our sisters, in a way. I guess you could call Tallulah a sister, she’s everybody’s sister in a way.

Eric Shaw Quinn: I think so.

Armistead Maupin: She had The Big Show, which was a radio variety show where she was just being Tallulah on the air. I didn’t know what she looked like, but I was completely and utterly in love with her voice.

Eric Shaw Quinn: Absolutely.

Armistead Maupin: And she ended every show singing. (singing) “May the Good Lord bless and keep you..” And she was like an angel to me.

Christopher Rice: That’s wonderful.

Eric Shaw Quinn: Tallulah singing. Wow.

Christopher Rice: Yeah.

Eric Shaw Quinn: We’ll have to find a recording of that.

Armistead Maupin: Singing religiously.

Eric Shaw Quinn: Yes.

Armistead Maupin: Blessing us all.

Eric Shaw Quinn: Right?

Christopher Rice: Wow. We have to, or maybe do our own Tallulah. We have some voices in our stable here at The Dinner Party Show.

Eric Shaw Quinn: That’s maybe the show we have the most in common with. I think we might want to listen back, get some ideas from Tallulah.

Christopher Rice: It was called, what, The Big Show?

Armistead Maupin: The Big Show.

Christopher Rice: With Tallulah Bankhead… It’s got to be online. It’s got to be an iTunes or something.

Armistead Maupin: It was variety acts and things. Yeah, it’s bound to be.

Christopher Rice: Absolutely. That’s wonderful. So I have to ask you some technical writer questions.

Armistead Maupin: Oh, sure. Sure.

Christopher Rice: Because we’re all three of us are writers here, but I’m always curious to know how much of a sense a writer has of where he’s headed when he starts. And with you, were you really headed towards six volumes? Or did you just think…

Armistead Maupin: No.

Christopher Rice: “Oh, I’ll just start with these people.”

Armistead Maupin: No. I was trying to get out the daily installment in the paper, initially, when it was serialized in the Chronicle. I just wanted to make something that had a shape. 800 words that had a shape. And then I started creating a cast, and then I started alternating them, and it kind of grew organically. I certainly didn’t think about that there were going to be a series of novels and that each of them had to be self-contained, and that now all nine of them would have to have a shape. I think it was just a wiring that developed over time.

Christopher Rice: Right.

Eric Shaw Quinn: The characters are very distinctive. Was there any reality to them? Were there people that you had met who inspired you at the time, with the characters that have become the stock and trade of the Tales?

Armistead Maupin: Some of them were. I mean, like there was kind of a hippie woman at the ad agency whose job was to be creative to impress the clients with her wacky creativity. So she had a Victorian toilet and a hookah in her office.

Eric Shaw Quinn:

In her office. Like you do.

Armistead Maupin:

Yeah. Yeah.

Christopher Rice:

Who doesn’t want a toilet…

Armistead Maupin:

And that’s Mona. Mona Ramsey did that. She sort of sold her wackiness, although she was kind of bitter about it because she really didn’t want to be working in an ad agency. I was the mail boy at the ad agency where that happened, and my boss was very much like the conservative guy that ran Halcyon Communications. Mary Ann Singleton had to hang out the flag every day on the front of the building. I did too. I raised the American flag. That was my first job of the morning.

Eric Shaw Quinn: Oh my God.

Armistead Maupin: Because this guy was like a retired admiral.

Eric Shaw Quinn: Right. Fire a ceremonial cannon.

Armistead Maupin: So bits and… It all came out of my life. But then to make them alive, I’m sure you both do this, you find something in yourself. You find some quality, good or bad, you go down some lane or another to give it emotional life.

Christopher Rice: Yes.

Eric Shaw Quinn: Yeah. They’re all you in the end.

Christopher Rice: Exactly.

Armistead Maupin: They’re all you in the end.

Christopher Rice: Exactly. And that’s why the question of which of your characters are based on real people is always impossible to answer, I think. Because they’re all me.

Armistead Maupin: Yeah, exactly. Exactly. It was a huge relief when Laura Linney and Olympia Dukakis played two of the major characters and became so indelibly attached to it, that suddenly I was… I hear Laura’s. When I wrote the Mary Ann character this time…

Eric Shaw Quinn:

I can’t imagine. Yes.

Armistead Maupin:

I hear Laura’s voice.

Eric Shaw Quinn:

Of course.

Armistead Maupin:

And that took the pressure off me, because I was always hearing my voice, and badly.

Christopher Rice:

Well, that’s a fascinating thing, because a lot of writers, that completely short circuits them. Thomas Harris has allegedly never seen the movie of Silence of the Lambs. He doesn’t want to.

Armistead Maupin: Ah.

Christopher Rice: He doesn’t want to associate those characters with those actors. But I would embrace the experience. I would think it would be fascinating. If they do a wonderful job.

Armistead Maupin: If they do a wonderful job.

Christopher Rice: As they did with yours. And they did do a wonderful job. I mean, I moved seamlessly from watching them into reading them, and there was no hiccup. I had the experience of, I could hear the characters and the actors together when I began to read the books apart from the miniseries.

Armistead Maupin: Yeah. Yeah, I was really lucky in that way.

Eric Shaw Quinn: And it was a very successful realization. I think nothing would be worse than a horrible realization of your work, and being stuck with those images in your head of like, “Not him. No, not him.”

Christopher Rice: Yeah. Right.

Armistead Maupin: It was eerie about Mary Ann, because there’s so much of me in Mary Ann Singleton, when Laura came along and understood this character so well…

Eric Shaw Quinn: So perfectly.

Armistead Maupin: We in turn understood each other.

Eric Shaw Quinn: I’m sure.

Armistead Maupin: It was the beginning of an amazing friendship, where…I won’t say we finish each other’s sentences, but we can look across a room and be thinking the same…

Eric Shaw Quinn: I would think.

Armistead Maupin: …usually wicked thing. Because we’re both trained to be polite. We have Southern backgrounds. We have sort of gracious… We believe in that.

Christopher Rice: Right.

Armistead Maupin: But at the same time, you do have those private thoughts, and I know we both know how each other thinks. Do you know… Oh, can I brag about my baby?

Christopher Rice: You can brag about anything you want.

Armistead Maupin: You know Laura had a baby two weeks ago.

Christopher Rice: No, I didn’t know this.

Eric Shaw Quinn: Yeah. I saw something in Entertainment…

Christopher Rice: I’m always the last to know.

Eric Shaw Quinn: Entertainment Weekly.

Armistead Maupin: Well, she very wisely and cleverly just kept it off the radar.

Eric Shaw Quinn: Yeah. It was the first time I’d heard of it. In fact, I was even thinking, well, maybe she hired a surrogate or something, because…

Armistead Maupin: No, no, no. I could personally vouch for that.

Eric Shaw Quinn: There was no sign of it. It was like, oh, bam.

Armistead Maupin: She Skyped me her stomach.

Eric Shaw Quinn: Oh.

Christopher Rice: Oh, but not the birth, just the stomach.

Armistead Maupin: No, no, no.

Christopher Rice: Okay, good.

Armistead Maupin: She called.

Christopher Rice: That would be an installment in Tales of the City.

Armistead Maupin: No, no. No, no.

Eric Shaw Quinn: Like, “Oh my God. Oh, dear God. I didn’t want to see that.”

Armistead Maupin: That was something I heard about right after she and Mark Shower, her wonderful husband, who my husband Chris and I have become very close to. We are like Lucy and Ricky and Fred and Ethel.

Eric Shaw Quinn: Are we saying who’s who?

Armistead Maupin: Yeah, I’m afraid I’m probably Fred. But the baby’s name is Bennett Armistead Shower. She gave the baby my name. The middle name.

Christopher Rice: Oh, that’s wonderful.

Eric Shaw Quinn: That’s such an honor.

Christopher Rice: That’s fantastic.

Eric Shaw Quinn: Wow.

Armistead Maupin: Yeah. I don’t think I’ve ever had such a gift. It was like…

Eric Shaw Quinn: Yeah, that’d blow you out of the water.

Armistead Maupin: Pretty amazing.

Eric Shaw Quinn: That’s quite an honor. Wow. So you are close.

Armistead Maupin: Yeah. Yes, we are. That’s what my husband said. He said, “I knew she liked you, but…”

Eric Shaw Quinn: But wow, yeah.

Christopher Rice: She really… And you were like Sally Field, you really, really like me. Yeah.

Armistead Maupin: Yeah, I said to her, I didn’t think you could top… I was her date for the Oscars when she was nominated for Best Actress.

Christopher Rice: Right, right.

Armistead Maupin: We were both sort of, well we were in between husbands, and…

Eric Shaw Quinn: Not sort of.

Armistead Maupin: So she asked me if I’d come with her, and so I had that amazing red carpet experience.

Eric Shaw Quinn: Right, that’s pretty great.

Christopher Rice: What was that like?

Armistead Maupin: She said before, it’s a giant traffic jam, as you know.

Christopher Rice: Yes.

Eric Shaw Quinn: Yeah.

Armistead Maupin: All these limousines waiting in line to get out and go up there. And she said, “The red carpet will be very, very weird, but once you get inside, it’ll be like a high school prom.” And that’s exactly what it felt like. The carpet was weird. They’re all shouting. I don’t know. I think they thought Laura was there with her father, justifiably.

Christopher Rice: Oh, they’re shouting at you when you’re on the carpet.

Armistead Maupin: There’s the bleachers there.

Christopher Rice: I thought this was after you got in, and they were shouting instructions, and you’re…I thought, oh God, the music dies and then it’s just like a mob scene, and during the commercial breaks.

Armistead Maupin: My job was to keep people from stepping on the train of Laura’s red Valentino, which just happened to be exactly the same color as the red carpet.

Eric Shaw Quinn: As the carpet. Oh, dear. Oh, dear.

Armistead Maupin: I stepped on it once.

Eric Shaw Quinn: But you were allowed.

Armistead Maupin: Well…

Christopher Rice: He was given three steps. And then she was going to take his eyes out.

Armistead Maupin: She was very gracious about it. And true enough, when we got inside, and because Laura has such respect from other actors, they were all sailing up and saying hello to her and…

Eric Shaw Quinn: Congratulations on her nomination and all that.

Armistead Maupin: Yeah, yeah. And yeah, it was great. It was like a gay boy’s dream come true.

Christopher Rice: I bet. I bet.

Armistead Maupin: It was pretty great.

Christopher Rice: That’s why I asked. Yeah.

Eric Shaw Quinn: Big. What did you wear?

Armistead Maupin: A tuxedo with a… I don’t know, I think it had some sort of little thing I’d bought in Paris that was a butterfly’s wing that had been from the 1930s that was set in a little silver… It was like a little…

Christopher Rice: Oh, it sounds lovely.

Armistead Maupin: …lapel thing. Just to dress it up a little bit.

Eric Shaw Quinn: Just enough. Just to set it off. Right.

Christopher Rice: Yeah, that’s fantastic.

Eric Shaw Quinn: It is the Oscars, after all.

Christopher Rice: Okay, well, speaking of famous ladies, my mother, Anne Rice sends her best wishes.

Armistead Maupin: Please give her my love.

Christopher Rice: You all met many years ago when we all lived in San Francisco.

Eric Shaw Quinn: Neighbors.

Armistead Maupin: Yeah, on Noe Hill.

Christopher Rice: Yeah, Noe Hill. Absolutely. We lived at 17th and Noe, and we left in 1988, and we watched the value of that house… We kept the house and rented it out.

Armistead Maupin: Oh my God.

Christopher Rice: And I mean, the .com thing happened right after we left, and the city was never the same after that.

Armistead Maupin: That’s right.

Christopher Rice: And this is part of what she wanted to ask you, she actually posted a question for you on our Facebook page.

Armistead Maupin: Bless her heart.

Christopher Rice: “Please ask Armistead if he is conflicted about leaving San Francisco. What is San Francisco like today as compared to when you first arrived?” She goes on to add that she was just looking at rents online and she couldn’t believe it, the cost of renting an apartment in the city.

Armistead Maupin: Oh, it’s horrifying.

Christopher Rice: Yeah.

Armistead Maupin: Actually, we do miss our friends there. We miss people.

Eric Shaw Quinn: Right. Like you do.

Armistead Maupin: And there’s a physical beauty to it that’s not going to go away anytime soon.

Christopher Rice: It’s just stunning, yeah.

Armistead Maupin: That’s why all the techies want to live there, and I can’t exactly blame them. If I were 30 years old and had a billion dollars, I’d want the cutest place in town.

Eric Shaw Quinn: Such a romantic setting. Absolutely.

Armistead Maupin: Yeah. But it has changed things, and artists have been driven out, basically.

Christopher Rice: Yeah. Right.

Armistead Maupin: Anybody. You just can’t chase that dream any more within the city limits. And I have to say, I’m one of them. Writers don’t make nearly as much money as people think they do.

Christopher Rice: No, they don’t. They really don’t.

Eric Shaw Quinn: Isn’t it funny the way they depict writers in movies and on television with these big lavish houses…

Christopher Rice: Oh, absolutely.

Eric Shaw Quinn: I always think, “What writer is this?”

Christopher Rice: Or the way they depict publishing houses in New York is like multimedia empires. It’s like, have you ever been to the offices of Simon and Schuster? They’re like the little cubicles and…

Armistead Maupin: Yeah, they barely have windows at Harper Collins.

Christopher Rice: Right. Exactly.

Armistead Maupin: Did you see Christopher and His Kind, the BBC version of that story, Christopher Isherwood’s story?

Eric Shaw Quinn: I haven’t seen it yet. I’ve got it on my Netflix.

Christopher Rice: I actually looked at… I tried to get it online, legally, of course, and I couldn’t get it because that beautiful boy who was on American Horror Story this season, I believe, is in it as well.

Armistead Maupin: Yeah. There’s some really cute people in it.

Eric Shaw Quinn: It’s on instant download on Netflix now.

Christopher Rice: Oh, I will… Gentlemen, I have to go. It’s been lovely.

Eric Shaw Quinn: It’s at the top of my queue,

Armistead Maupin: But it’s framed by the older Isherwood looking back on it, and he’s in this… I knew Chris Isherwood. Don Bachardy, his surviving partner, is interviewing me at Santa Monica Library.

Eric Shaw Quinn: Oh, perfect.

Armistead Maupin: And beautiful,  charming little cottage on the edge of Santa Monica Canyon that I treasure and that stays in my mind. But they had him in some place with 20 foot high windows.

Christopher Rice: Some palace, yeah.

Armistead Maupin: Crazy.

Christopher Rice: Yeah, absolutely.

Armistead Maupin: But anyway, to answer your mother’s question, yes, there’s an element of melancholy, but I don’t know what I’m missing now. The way it used to be, or the city itself. I love where we are, I love that we have an adobe house at the end of a dirt road, and that fulfills all sorts of crazy…

Eric Shaw Quinn: That sounds pretty fabulous.

Armistead Maupin: …fantasies in and of itself. But I would love to find a place, and I hinted at that on Facebook the other day, and a realtor got on there and asked me how much money I wanted to spend, and I told him for a rental.

Eric Shaw Quinn: And he laughed hysterically.

Armistead Maupin: He said, you may have to put out for this.

Christopher Rice: So there’s some of that old San Francisco in that realtor.

Armistead Maupin: Yeah. Oh, yeah.

Christopher Rice: We have another question regarding San Francisco from one of our loyal party people, Justin Simpson, who lives in the Bay Area. He wanted to ask you, “Which neighborhood, area, district of the city do you think has evolved for the best, and which one has devolved for the worst?”

Armistead Maupin: Oh, boy. That’s a real estate question. I couldn’t really tell you that, but…

Christopher Rice: I would think culturally is more the sort of… What’s really not like it used to be, what used to be…

Armistead Maupin: Well, Market Street has eight floor apartment houses on it that have just sprung up in the last year. It’s kind of like the strip out here. I mean, you’re seeing these things that are just zooming up and changing the look of it all. And I never thought I’d get all nostalgic about the kind of funky look of the strip, but that could be gone fairly soon.

Eric Shaw Quinn: I think it is really challenged right now. Yeah.

Armistead Maupin: Yeah. So I don’t know. I would love to be back in the Castro, just because it is a village. And there’s pedestrian life.

Eric Shaw Quinn: It still has that feel to it. Yeah.

Armistead Maupin: Yeah. There’s the movie theater and there’s your druggist, and it offers a lot of things that you get from a village, but it’s in a big city.

Christopher Rice: You can still do most of the things in The Castro that we did as a family in 1985 or 1986. We would walk up to the Castro Theater, and me and my mother and father would sit in the front row, and the organist would come up before the movie and we would watch him play. And we saw movies like The Wolfman, and Rebecca, and Ivanhoe, and that experience is still there for anyone to have.

Armistead Maupin: Yeah. Yeah.

Christopher Rice: So I’m glad to hear you say that about The Castro, because I do believe that about that.

Armistead Maupin: I think it’s in pretty good shape, actually.

Christopher Rice: It’s in good shape, yeah.

Armistead Maupin: It’s just way too expensive for many people. But I think the Castro’s held on. The stuff south of Market, all the new stuff, I sound like my grandmother used to sound. “I don’t know where I am anymore.”

Christopher Rice: Right?

Eric Shaw Quinn: But I know the feeling.

Armistead Maupin: I don’t recognize anything.

Eric Shaw Quinn: Right?

Christopher Rice: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely.

Eric Shaw Quinn: So let’s get to your book.

Christopher Rice: We have so many fascinating things we should talk about, but we should also talk about The Days of Anna Madrigal. Is this really the end?

Armistead Maupin: Yes, it is.

Christopher Rice: Wow.

Eric Shaw Quinn: Just you can’t do it anymore, or?

Armistead Maupin: I don’t want to fail at it.

Eric Shaw Quinn: And how perfect to go out as a bestseller, right?

Christopher Rice: Right? Absolutely.

Armistead Maupin: Yeah. Maybe it took that, I don’t know. I’m leaving, and I’m not coming back.

Eric Shaw Quinn: Like Mötley Crüe signing a contract.

Armistead Maupin: It’s the Cher technique.

Eric Shaw Quinn: Swearing that you’re not going to do it again.

Christopher Rice: Right, it’s your retirement tour, to get the ticket sales up, right?

Eric Shaw Quinn: Right? My farewell tour.

Christopher Rice: Absolutely.

Armistead Maupin: But I do mean it. I want it to ring true. I’ve got some younger characters in there that I know how to write, but if I bring too many more in, I’m afraid that I’d get that wrong because it’s always grown out of my own experience. And I certainly know how to write about older people, people in their sixties, and even Anna was not difficult. Once you pass 65, you’re basically in geezer land, and you can totally identify with a 92-year-old woman.

Eric Shaw Quinn: Sure. It’s all kind of in the same…

Christopher Rice: It evens out, as our guest last week said about…

Armistead Maupin: It evens out.

Eric Shaw Quinn: Yeah. I think it’s always worth pointing out to young people, you’re going to be old a lot longer than you were ever young, and so you might want to work on those skills.

Armistead Maupin: It’s not bad either.

Eric Shaw Quinn: No.

Armistead Maupin: I mean, it’s not bad in the… Physically, that stuff is harder, but it’s not bad to have less tension about everything in terms of how you’re looking and all of that.

Eric Shaw Quinn: What you’re going to accomplish, where you’re going…

Armistead Maupin: Yeah. What you’re going to do, what you’re going to put up with.

Eric Shaw Quinn: Absolutely.

Armistead Maupin: That’s a pretty good side of it. That’s the best report I can…

Eric Shaw Quinn: The upside.

Armistead Maupin: That’s the upside.

Eric Shaw Quinn: Yeah. And medical care is improving. That helps.

Armistead Maupin: Yeah, I’m on Medicare now, and hallelujah. There was a period there where I let my… I’m terrible at managing my own affairs, and I let my medical insurance drop.

Eric Shaw Quinn: Lapse.

Christopher Rice: Lapse, yeah.

Armistead Maupin: And I joined… I can’t remember what the initial is, but it’s the show business one, and that writers are a part of. If you’re a member of PEN, you can get it.

Eric Shaw Quinn: Oh, I didn’t realize that.

Armistead Maupin: But I paid $25,000 a year.

Eric Shaw Quinn: Oh my God.

Christopher Rice: Whoa.

Armistead Maupin: To hang on to medical insurance.

Christopher Rice: Wow.

Armistead Maupin: Because you must, basically. Especially if you’re older.

Eric Shaw Quinn: As you get on up there, yeah.

Armistead Maupin: So how did we get on the fact that I’m a geezer?

Christopher Rice: Well, I was going to ask you, did you know when you started writing this book that this was the end?

Armistead Maupin: Yeah. Yes I did.

Christopher Rice: This was planned to be the end. Okay.

Armistead Maupin: I did. And I knew the two skeins that I was going to thread together. I knew I wanted to write about Burning Man.

Christopher Rice: Oh, okay.

Armistead Maupin: Burning Man is where they end up in this novel. I’ve been there for the last two years. My husband dragged me kicking and screaming the first year.

Christopher Rice: You’d have to drag me kicking and screaming too. You’d have to drag this one screaming and screaming.

Eric Shaw Quinn: It takes place outside.

Armistead Maupin: Yeah.

Eric Shaw Quinn: That’s just out of the question.

Armistead Maupin: But once you get that sarong on.

Eric Shaw Quinn: Well, if it was flattering.

Armistead Maupin: You’d be surprised how easy it becomes.

Christopher Rice: Right.

Armistead Maupin: You have to let go, because there’s dust everywhere, there’s terrible dust storms. It’s really hot.

Eric Shaw Quinn: Oh my God.

Christopher Rice: Were you in a trailer?

Armistead Maupin: Yes. We took an RV.

Eric Shaw Quinn: Oh, thank God.

Christopher Rice: An RV, I meant, yes.

Armistead Maupin: But as soon as Christopher, my husband, was saying, “Okay, we’re going to need earplugs.” I said, “What are we going to need earplugs for?” Because it’s a rave that goes on all night long in some areas.

Christopher Rice: Wow.

Armistead Maupin: But it’s a real adventure. It’s wonderful.

Eric Shaw Quinn: And it seems like a perfect subject for you.

Armistead Maupin: Yeah.

Eric Shaw Quinn: Could so see you writing that.

Armistead Maupin: And it’s full of coincidence. It’s perfect for a novel, because anybody can meet anyone. There are no cell phones, so you just wander out into the playa and things happen. You see people, and you bump into people you haven’t seen for the longest time, and it’s pretty cool. This year at Christopher’s suggestion, I didn’t take a bicycle, I took an adult tricycle.

Eric Shaw Quinn: I think that’s great.

Armistead Maupin: Oh, it was fabulous. You can pedal out into the playa, and if you get exhausted, you can just sit there.

Eric Shaw Quinn: Right. You’re already in your chair.

Armistead Maupin: You’re already in your chair.

Eric Shaw Quinn: You don’t have to maintain your balance or anything. I think that’s genius. I might get one just to go around West Hollywood.

Armistead Maupin: It’s entirely different from riding a bicycle, so I had to master it, because it fell on me the first three times. That’s embarrassing, falling off your tricycle.

Eric Shaw Quinn: Yeah, that really does. I hope nobody saw.

Armistead Maupin: Yeah.

Christopher Rice: That’s wonderful.

Armistead Maupin: Oh, no, it’s… You don’t care. You really don’t care. And just crazy things happen. My friend Andy Greer showed up in some circus shorts or something. He’s 43, he looks fabulous in them, and told us that Madonna had just brought the rights to his book in her trailer.

Christopher Rice: Oh, wow. Wow.

Eric Shaw Quinn: Wow. That’s nice.

Armistead Maupin: And I thought, wow, it’s just it’s sort of nutty what happens to you when you’re there.

Christopher Rice: Right. It sounds like San Francisco used to be.

Armistead Maupin: It is. It is.

Eric Shaw Quinn: It’s where they all went.

Armistead Maupin: It is.

Eric Shaw Quinn: And it’s where the characters all go to sort of…

Armistead Maupin: They go. Anna Madrigal in this novel is heading to Winnemucca, her childhood home.

Eric Shaw Quinn: To see Mama. Or…

Armistead Maupin: To see…

Eric Shaw Quinn: Her source.

Armistead Maupin: There’s no one to see. That’s what they’re trying to figure out. Who is she going to go see after 75 years? Well, who could possibly be there? And that’s one mystery. And then the others are heading off further south into Burning Man, and I get to put it all my grumpiness about the experience into Michael. So there are autobiographical elements.

Eric Shaw Quinn: As there always have to be.

Armistead Maupin: Yeah. Yeah.

Eric Shaw Quinn: We can never be left out of what we write.

Armistead Maupin: No. No.

Eric Shaw Quinn: And why would we want to?

Armistead Maupin: And it would be flat and weird if we left ourselves out.

Eric Shaw Quinn: It is that revelation, I think, that makes… I think it’s what people have connected so much with the Tales is how incredibly personal it is. How very sort of revealing it is. People can connect with those people because they’re very real and very honest and very-,

Armistead Maupin: Well, don’t you find if you do that and then somebody says, “I love that part where you talked about this. I do that too.”

Eric Shaw Quinn: Yeah.

Christopher Rice: Right.

Armistead Maupin: You feel better.

Christopher Rice: Right.

Eric Shaw Quinn: Yeah. Absolutely.

Armistead Maupin: You could put the most embarrassing things about yourself in there.

Eric Shaw Quinn: Good, I’m not quite as insane as I thought.

Armistead Maupin: Yeah.

Eric Shaw Quinn: Yes.

Christopher Rice: Absolutely.

Eric Shaw Quinn: Yes, I was watching a special about Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger.

Christopher Rice: J.D. Salinger, yes.

Eric Shaw Quinn: And that was his experience, where he wrote this book that he was revealing his insanity, and everybody connected to it. Everybody was like, “Oh, yeah, that’s totally how I feel too.”

Armistead Maupin: Exactly.

Eric Shaw Quinn: And he was like, “Really? I’m not crazy after all. This is how everybody thinks.”

Christopher Rice: Yeah.

Eric Shaw Quinn: Yeah. I think that is enormously supportive.

Christopher Rice: Well, I hate to say that we’re running out of time.

Eric Shaw Quinn: No.

Christopher Rice: We could keep you here all night, but you’re a busy man, and you’re on a book tour, so we’re going to hit you with one more question from one of our party people before we let you go. This is Samiko Saulson, also a Bay Area resident. She says, “Mr. Maupin is a ground breaker. Does he think things have gotten better since back in the day when Tales of the City prompted a bomb threat in Chattanooga?”

Eric Shaw Quinn: Lord.

Christopher Rice: “I realize we have a long way to go, but are they better?”

Armistead Maupin: Oh, yeah, they’re better. I mean, the very moment that bomb threat was happening, there was an Oklahoma legislator condemning me and Tales of the City on the steps of the legislature. And now we have a federal judge there saying that marriage equality is the thing of the…

Eric Shaw Quinn: You can’t amend your constitution to discriminate against people. That that’s not okay. Yeah.

Armistead Maupin: Yeah. And I thought about that when it happened. Yes, of course they’re better.

Eric Shaw Quinn: Yeah.

Christopher Rice: Right.

Armistead Maupin: Much, much better.

Eric Shaw Quinn: And I have to say they’re a lot better because of the bravery of people like you.

Christopher Rice: Indeed.

Armistead Maupin: Oh, I think you.

Christopher Rice: Indeed. Indeed. Indeed, thank you.

Eric Shaw Quinn: Thank you. Thank you for standing up and saying what needed to be said and letting people know that everybody’s just people, that nothing’s queerer than folk, right?

Christopher Rice: Yeah. Absolutely.

Armistead Maupin: Yeah. Yeah. And we all believe that. And my friends have always believed that, and I knew it was a matter of time, really, if we put ourselves out there and…

Eric Shaw Quinn: Once they meet us, they’ll know that we’re not so bad.

Christopher Rice: The power of Tales of the City, for me, was that it showed how well people could love each other in the absence of those traditional pseudo-Christian frameworks that people believed were essential for taking care of each other. It was about how they showed up for each other in this deliciously lawless, I’m putting in air quotes “environment.” That was what I loved so much about it.

Armistead Maupin: Thank you. Well, that’s what Mrs. Madrigal refers to as your logical family as opposed to your biological.

Christopher Rice: Absolutely. Absolutely.

Eric Shaw Quinn: Yes. That’s brilliant.

Armistead Maupin: It could be members of your biological family who are also part of your logical family.

Christopher Rice: Right. Absolutely.

Eric Shaw Quinn: Yes.

Armistead Maupin: You have one I can think of immediately.

Christopher Rice: Right. Absolutely. Totally. Not cutting her out.

Armistead Maupin: Yeah. Yeah.

Eric Shaw Quinn: Right. Absolutely. Absolutely. But yes, the logical family that evolves from just participating in your own life.

Armistead Maupin: Yes.

Eric Shaw Quinn: And leading it honestly and truthfully.

Armistead Maupin: Yeah. Yeah, yeah.

Eric Shaw Quinn: Yeah. And I think you’ve given so many people the courage to do that.

Christopher Rice: Absolutely.

Armistead Maupin: Thank you. That’s really nice to hear…

Christopher Rice: And you’re another check mark on our Dinner Party Show bucket list. Another dream realized.

Armistead Maupin: I’m staying here and eating the finger sandwiches all afternoon.

Christopher Rice: You’re welcome to say as long as you want.

Eric Shaw Quinn: And come back anytime you want.

Christopher Rice: Yes, any time you want.

Eric Shaw Quinn: Whenever you’re in town. Let us know and —

Armistead Maupin: Oh, thank you so much.

Eric Shaw Quinn: Come by, we’ll have whatever you want. We’ll have Beef Wellington if you want.

Christopher Rice: Absolutely.

Eric Shaw Quinn: Do whatever.

Christopher Rice: You’ve been listening to our interview with Armistead Maupin, this is The Dinner Party Show, I’m Christopher Rice.

Eric Shaw Quinn: And I’m Eric Shaw Quinn.

Christopher Rice: And we’ll be back in a minute.

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