Tonight: 'Untold Tales Of Armistead Maupin' Launches Frameline Festival

On Thursday night, Frameline 41 kicks off at the Castro Theater with a screening of "The Untold Tales of Armistead Maupin," director Jennifer Kroot's new documentary about the San Francisco author.

Maupin and Kroot—herself a San Francisco native who, until recently, taught film at the San Francisco Art Institute—will appear at the screening for a Q&A with the audience. Kroot received widespread acclaim for her previous film, Being George Takei. 

"I was always a fan," Kroot told Hoodline, recalling that her parents were Maupin readers when she was a child. "I knew there was this exciting fictional world that I was too young to read."

Armistead Maupin signs books at SXSW. | Photo: The Untold Tales of Armistead Maupin/Facebook

More than 40 years ago, author Armistead Maupin captured life in San Francisco when "Tales of the City," his serialized novel, first made its debut in the San Francisco Chronicle. 

At first, the paper was hesitant to publish stories which included gay men searching for love, like Michael Tolliver, a young, warm-hearted gay man who found love in all the wrong places. 

In what was considered a groundbreaking depiction, Maupin's Tales also included a transgender woman who was not only a landlady to her tenants, she was the person they could always turn to for comfort, a cup of tea, or a joint. That character, Mrs. Madrigal, has become part of LGBT folklore. 

Readers loved "Tales," and the column eventually became a series of best-selling books.

In "The Untold Tales of Armistead Maupin," Kroot turns her camera on the author to explore how Maupin's own life and story found its way into "Tales of the City."

In Kroot's film, Maupin recalls his life before he moved to San Francisco's Castro neighborhood, where he still lives after a stint in Santa Fe. He grew up in a conservative family, one where virulently anti-gay Senator Jesse Helms was a family friend.  

After Maupin became famous, his dad and Helms remained friendly. "The senator was too polite to mention my name," he said with a bit of a laugh.

For him, his years in the closet were the unhappiest years of his life. "So many kids keep suffering because of the evangelicals," he said. "The more time you waste in the closet the more you waste your life."

One of the film's most moving segments is when Maupin reads a column from "Tales of the City" during its Chronicle days. Known as "Michael's Letter to Momma," it was presented to readers as a coming-out letter written by the character Michael Tolliver to his parents. In reality, the words used were from the actual letter which Maupin wrote to his own parents. 

Armistead Maupin (center), Jennifer Kroot (Maupin's left) and Frazer Bradshaw (cinematographer) with some of Armistead's actual neighbors. | PHOTO: THE UNTOLD TALES OF ARMISTEAD MAUPIN/FACEBOOK

"People have asked me if I'm an activist," Maupin told Hoodline. "I always reply, 'Have you read what I've written?'"

"I hope people will get a sense of acceptance," Kroot said when Hoodine asked her what she hopes people will take home with them after watching her film. "If they're struggling, I hope they'll see that they can change."

Kroot's camera also takes viewers with Maupin and his husband Christopher Turner as they live their day-to-day lives in the Castro. 

"This is still the most beautiful place in the world to me and where I want to be," he says in the film. "It still has an enchanted feel to it. I am fucking lucky to be alive—that's what I keep coming back to."

"I don't have friends who could be here with me to have the luxury of complaining about the Google buses," he continues, reflecting on the legacy of the AIDS years. "They are long gone. So I try to live my life for them."    

The Untold Tales of Armistead Maupin will screen Thursday night, June 15th, at 7pm at the Castro Theater. Both Maupin and Kroot will appear for a Q & A as well as a meet-and-greet.         

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Tonight untold tales of armistead maupin launches frameline festival