Actress Olympia Dukakis was born on this day in 1931 (she died just last year, which I criminally let slide by because I was working on something else at the time.) She deservedly won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role as long-suffering Italian-American wife and mother Rose Castorini in 1987's Moonstruck. As good as that movie is--one of the best films of the '80s in my opinion--I'd like to focus on an equally memorable character of hers, middle-aged, free-spirted San Francisco landlady Anna Madrigal, and that beings us to the dude right next to Dukakis, writer Armistead Maupin. Starting in 1974, Maupin took a page out of Charles Dickens and began writing a series of interconnected stories that appeared first in the Marin County-based Pacific Sun, and when that paper folded, the San Francisco Chronicle. Once Maupin had enough material, he did a bit of rewriting, and in 1978 came out with this:
The humorous and sometimes poignant adventures of a collection of straights and gays living in the City by the Bay, it proved to be a best-seller and has been followed by many sequels in the decades since. The television rights to the book was picked up by HBO, with hopes of turning it into a weekly sitcom. But the novel's casual attitude toward casual sex (particularly among gay men) made it seem less like a sure bet as Reaganites took over of the country and the AIDS pandemic began taking its deadly toll. So the rights were dropped, but then quickly picked up by...
...4? The rights were picked up by a number? Actually, it's Channel 4, a British network, and rival of the BBC, that came into existence in 1980. Tales of the City, the miniseries, made its television debut in the United Kingdom in September 1993. Four months later, it crossed the Atlantic, ending up...
I doubt if too many Americans watching PBS' American Playhouse in 1994 realized they were viewing a British production since the whole thing seemed as American as Ernie and Bert. The following is the trailer for the 20th anniversary DVD box set, but if you were around back in the day, try to imagine seeing it for the first time during the early years of the Clinton administration:
British production notwithstanding, all those American accents would have sounded a bit odd on Masterpiece Theatre, don't you think? Of course, the nudity would have made it odder still.
You saw a few seconds of it during the trailer, but here's the scene in its entirety of the first meeting between Laura Linney's Mary Ann Singleton and Olympus Dukakis' Anna Madrigal:
Mary Ann Singleton is from Cleveland, as am I, and neither one of us can tell you what the hell that...
...Tennyson poem has to do with anything. Maybe if I google it:
Hmm. It sez here it's a poem about "mariners."
Olympia Dukakis, great actress and human being. I had no idea the Village People had their roots in literature.ReplyDelete
Not only that, Mitchell. but "YMCA" is said to be a reworking of Robert Frost's "The Road Not Taken"Delete
Of course! How could I have missed that?!?Delete
I'm leaving in a few minutes for a medical appointment, but wanted you to know that I read your post. Coincidentally, two days ago, Mrs. Shady watched the 1989 Olympia Dukakis film Steel Magnolias for the umpteent time. I have watched it twice with her. Olympia appeared in many high quality films from the mid 60s until last year when her career ended with Not To Forget. I love Laura Linney, having just finished watching her starring in Ozark, my pick as the greatest TV series ever. I can't wait to watch Tales Of The City which also cast budding stars Thomas Gibson and Billy Campbell. This morning I also appreciated learning about writer Armistead Maupin.
Happy 91st birthday in heaven to Olympia and thanks for the interesting essay on Tales, good buddy. Have a great week!
Oh, gee, Shady, you could have gone to your appointment. I would have waited. I hope everything checked out OK.Delete
Couple other people to look out for in Tales of the City. She's featured in the trailer, but her name wasn't mentioned: Chloe Webb, who so memorably played Nancy in Sid and Nancy, as Linney's hippyesh neighbor. Donald Moffat (Lyndon Johnson in The Right Stuff) is terrific as a dying millionaire who has an affair with Dukakis' character. And Barbara Garrick (whom 1980s One Life to Live fans might recall played the foremost loony devotee of cult leader Mitch Lawrence) is very funny as Moffat's neurotic daughter.
Your post got me so interested, that Mrs. Shady and I began watching the 1993 Tales miniseries last night. We only watched the first episode because we want to savor each one and discuss as we go along. It boasts top tier writing, acting, set design and directing. Laura Linney is magic in every scene, and her favorite thing to do at night while the rest of SF is engaged in debauchery is to watch Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman on TV. I also shouted aloud to Mrs. Shady "There's Lt. Col. Henry Blake from M*A*S*H!" when McLean Stevenson appeared in a scene in the role of Booter Manigault.
I also noticed that Netflix has a 2019 sequel to Tales Of The City which brings back Olympia, Laura Linney and Barbara Garrick with a guest appearance by Molly Ringwald. "Mary Ann Singleton returns to 28 Barbary Lane in San Francisco after a 23-year absence for the 90th birthday of her former landlady, Anna Madrigal."
We're going to watch that one as well. Thanks for turning me on to this fine miniseries, good buddy!
I'm glad I got you interested, Shady. I see Ozark is very well-regarded. I'm going to have to find some way to watch that.Delete
I loved "Tales of the City," both the books and the TV series. But I didn't know the original series was made by the BBC! The series made me a huge fan of both Olympia Dukakis and Laura Linney too.ReplyDelete
Debra, the expression on Linney's face as Dukakis quotes Tennyson is priceless.Delete
Although at this point, she may be better known for other things, Mary Ann Singleton (being from Cleveland, you'd think her last name would be Singletonsky) was a breakout role for Linney.
We saw it at the time but I can't remember who broadcast it here. I had no idea it was an English production.ReplyDelete
Mrs Madrigal reminds me of our late rich widow friend who would not have a straight man in her accommodation. I refer to her as Dame M and she had three flats within her home and always had gay or dyke tenants.
What a great backstory to a treasured memory of a tv show. Thank you.
Andrew, the reason I so emphasized it being a British production is because as I noted in the post it premiered here in the United States on PBS. Masterpiece Theatre (lately hosted by the aforementioned Laura Linney but in the past most famously by Alistair Cooke) is a PBS mainstay that's features British miniseries (currently Downton Abbey) so by all rights should have shown Tales of the City, but it was, understandably, American Playhouse instead. I just found the whole thing ironic, that's all.Delete
Can't say I know her. Channel 4 was way ahead of its time in the 80s and 90s for sure. Interesting fact (or maybe not) Channel 4 premiered Michael Jackson's Thriller video over here in 1983 late at night!ReplyDelete
Ananka, if nothing else, watch Olympia in Moonstruck, which also has Cher (another Oscar winner) and Nicholas Cage. I'm sure you've heard of THEM.Delete
And, yes, I do find it interesting that Thriller premiered on Channel 4 instead of the much-more established BBC. I myself first saw it on MTV. Vincent Price rocks!
I love Tales! I remember watching it on HBO when it first came out. I was so intrigued by it. And then of course later, much later by Cinemax's "Queer As Folk". I believe either Netflix or Hulu had the limited series of More Tales? It had updated and showed the characters today. In fact, I'm gonna watch some, rather re-watch some of it this weekend!!ReplyDelete
JM, there were two miniseries sequels: More Tales of the City, and Further Tales of the City (both books first) that were made within the first ten years of the original miniseries. Then, after an 18-years absence, a third Netflix sequel again simply titled Tales of the City. I've seen the first three miniseries, but I'm afraid not the latest.Delete