TALES OF THE CITY FEATURE
shot entirely on location in San Francisco. What is remarkable is that it took the involvement of a British company, and the brave commitment of $8 million by Channel 4 to ﬁlm what is a singularly American story. It’s the culmination of a decade’s worth of frustrating negotiations for Maupin with would-be American producers, some of whose suggestions horriﬁed the writer.
‘One that sticks in my mind was a dinner with a potential screenwriter who concluded that the gay gynaecologist should be a serial killer,’ he remembers. Others suggested trying to play down the homosexuality, to which Maupin has a stock reply: ‘Taking the gays out of Maupin is like taking the poor out of Dickens.’
By 1986 the writer had accepted that America was unlikely ever to do justice to his creation, and began to look to Britain for interest, impressed with the British reputation for sophisticated. and relatively radical drama productions. ‘The thing that the Americans couldn’t appreciate was the casualness of it all,’ he says, ‘they would object to the nudity, and the dope-smoking, because it was done in such an everyday way, and usually with some humorous intent. They couldn’t relate to that at all. I knew that the British, and particularly Channel 4 had this reputation for innovation and classiness. If there’s a drama on US TV with a classy reputation, it’s inevitably a British import. So my idea of heaven was having a British company adapt my work.’
tlrirtysomething writer Richard Kramer adapted the stories for TV, and, with that touching American lack of irony says, ‘I view Tales OfThe City as a fairy-tale, a realistic fairy- tale for people where boundaries and differences are dissolved. It’s a dream of the future really, set in the past.’ The past is something Reid has emphasised (cleverly, given the vogue for all things 70s). ‘The intent of the six-hour adaptation is to frame the 70s,’ says the director,
but she is the reliable, if exotic, fulcrum for the ups and downs of her young tenants.
laura llnney is Mary Ann Singleton, the Cleveland girl with a lot to learn.
‘Maupin’s vision of that time is one of innocence, joy and limitless possibilities.’ Maupin claims he ‘couldn’t be happier’ with the ﬁnished product. and plans are already afoot to start work on a second series. It’s not difﬁcult to understand his satisfaction. The dramatisation follows the book slavishly, reproducing dialogue almost line-for-line and only occasionally adjusting the action to make a scene run more smoothly. The minor changes that have been made have been the result of legal rather than artistic pressures, Safeway being unhappy to be associated with the Wednesday evening supermarket pick-up scene, and Jon Fielding turning out to be the name of a real-life West Coast gynaecologist who wasn’t too chuffed to have as a namesake the predatory gay character paraded on-screen. The character’s
in the city...
A bluﬂer’s guide to the principals gathering in or around Mrs Madrigal ’5
house on Barbary Lane, Russian Hill.
The marijuana-growing matriarch of the house, Mrs Madrigal’s secrets won’t be fully revealed in the ﬁrst series,
MARY All]! SINGLE“!!!
Straight outta Cleveland with a yearning for romance and adventure, the naive Mary is going to grow up a hell of a lot in the course of six episodes.
A feisty advertising copywriter whose life as a cynical fag-hag is disrupted by the arrival of her friend D’Orothea from New
BRIAN HAWKIHS (Paul Gross).
;, 14, conquests remain sadly unsatisfactory.
BEAUCHAMP [MY (Thomas Gibson).
A liberal lawyer who has moved to San Francisco because there’s less competition trying to pick up chicks. His
The smooth, sexually-insecure son-in-law of Edgar, married to frustrated social climber De De. Beauchamp’s attempts at seduction have rather more style
NORMAN NEAL WILLIAMS
The mysterious middle-aged
name has been changed to Jon Fielden.
As fans of the book will testify, probably the most vital piece of casting was the role of Anna Madrigal, the warm-hearted landlady with an inexhaustible supply of marijuana and dark secrets. Maupin, who just managed to stay aloof from the casting process, was delighted that his original choice, Oscar winner Olympia Dukakis accepted the role (Maggie Smith and Vanessa Redgrave were among the other actresses considered). ‘There’s a lovely irony about it, actually,’ he says, ‘as in the sixth book Anna fulﬁls an ambition to visit Lesbos and a local offers to show her the place Michael Dukakis’s family came from.’ ‘l’m hoping to stick it out to the very end, just so I can play that scene,’ adds the actress, whose claims that she ‘fell in love with the character’ are given substance by the delicacy and humour she brings to the role. ‘She’s survived herself,’ she says, ‘that was something I could relate to.’
Whether Channel 4 ever get to the stage of ﬁlming that sixth book remains to be seen, but certainly Maupin’s style is a screenwriter’s dream, heavy on dialogue that zips with gags, punchlines and idiosyncracies without surrendering that impression of being very real. ‘I was brought up on the movies,’ explains Maupin, ‘on those snappy lines. So when l was writing, I’d practise all the scenes in my room. Terry, my lover, would come in and ﬁnd me gesticulating at the word-processor and wonder what the hell was going on.’
What was going on was the creation of a warm and witty look at the traumas of relationships that has a resonance regardless of the fn'pperies of its period. ‘I have no political agenda,’ Maupin says. ‘My work has succeeded because it reﬂects the way people, not just gays, actually live.’ Apart from the bell-bottoms that is. C] Tales Of The City begins on Channel 4 on Tuesday 28 September at 9pm.
salesman living in the attic room who befriends Mary Ann. What’s his hidden agenda?
Mary Ann’s boss at the advertising agency. He has six months to live, and wants to spend most of them with Anna Madrigal.
(Harem D’Arnico). Everybody’s favourite gay romantic searches the clubs and bars for his Mr Right. “All he ever ﬁnd a decent guy (preferably with Labrador and butcher-block kitchen).
The List 24 September-7 October I993 7