Thursday, April 30, 2015

Birthday: Paul Gross (born 1959)

The fine Canadian actor/director Paul Gross, well-known for playing a Mountie in the series Due South, was one of the original ensemble for the great 1993 mini-series Tales of the City, which I still think is one of the best television productions I've ever seen. Unfortunately, when it finally became possible to film Armistead Maupin's sequels More Tales of the City and Further Tales of the City a few years later, Gross was not available to reprise the role of the womanizing Brian. Marcus D'Amico, Chloe Webb, Cynda Williams, and Donald Moffat were not on hand anymore either; OK, Moffat's character had died, but the recasting of the other key parts was injurious to the two subsequent series, despite the welcome returns of Laura Linney, Olympia Dukakis, Barbara Garrick, and others. There was an even worse acting loss, however: In the original series, San Francisco played itself, brilliantly; in the two follow-ups, Montreal played San Francisco, badly.

More re Maupin: Of the six original Tales of the City novels that appeared between 1978 and 1989, I think that the finest as a novel is the fifth, Significant Others. Oddly, it is also the one that is farthest off to the side of the main action of the series. Maupin was really developing as a novelist at this point; he had kind of reached a point of diminishing returns with the original format of the series by the time he finished Further Tales of the City; the fourth novel, Babycakes, was an ambitious move in a new direction, and Significant Others fulfills that promise. The sixth novel, Sure of You, is strikingly sour and makes an odd ending to the original cycle.

I have not yet caught up with the three further novels in the series that Maupin published between 2007 and 2014, nor with two novels that are "independent" but still tied into the series by virtue of sharing characters, Maybe the Moon and The Night Listener.

Although Maupin says that the ninth Tales of the City novel, The Days of Anna Madrigal, will be the last, he has made those noises before; I wouldn't count on that being correct. However that turns out, I think it needs to be insisted at the risk of sounding pompous that Maupin is a significant American novelist, not just a "gay novelist," and along with Frank Norris, perhaps the best chronicler of San Francisco. It is no exaggeration to say that what Charles Dickens was to mid-19th Century London, Maupin is to late 20th Century San Francisco.

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