For One Night I Was Important Again. Thank You Armistead Maupin

I was important at the cast party for "The Untold Tales of Armistead Maupin, San Francisco, June 15, 2017. Barbara Falconer Newhall and Jonathan Groff of TV show "Looking." Photo by Jon Newhall

At the cast party for “The Untold Tales of Armistead Maupin,” I was important enough to score quality time with actor Jonathan Groff. Photo by Jon Newhall

By Barbara Falconer Newhall

I was popular. No, it was better than that. For one magical evening, I was important. Important! People were coming up to me wanting to talk. They wanted to hear what I had to say. I told my jokes, dished out my opinions, and people listened. They took me seriously. It seemed I was important, somebody who mattered.

I had forgotten what it’s like to be important.

I know what you’re thinking. Authentic self-esteem does not depend on externals like the New York Times best-seller list or other people’s willingness to talk to you at a party. Everybody can and should lay claim to a healthy sense of self-worth because — just because. Everybody is important. Every human life matters. Every person, young and perky or old and rickety, is a thing of beauty.  Blah. Blah. Blah.

movie titles at a Screening "The Untold Tales of Armistead Maupin" for 1400 people at Castro Theater, San Francisco, June 15, 2017. Shotes of Armistead Maupin and "Tales of the City."Photo by Barbara Newhall

Titles for “The Untold Tales of Armistead Maupin” at the Castro Theater screening. Photo by Barbara Newhall

And I’m telling you, it’s not like that. Not when you and your body have moved into life’s final quarter. You’ve left the job market. The kids have moved to London, New Zealand, Romania. (I’m serious. I’ve seen it happen.) The world out there doesn’t depend on you any more. Not like it used to.

You blend into the background now, and so does your body. Your bust line blends into your waistline, which merges with your hips, which can’t be distinguished from your thighs. And you in general kinda disappear as all the important people in the room chat each other up with a vigor that you’d rather not have to summon, thank you.

The only person who notices whether you’ve gotten out of bed in the morning these days is your spouse.

If you’ve got a spouse, that is. And I recommend having one. Here’s one good reason why: I slept in till 11 a.m. the other day, thanks to an over-enthusiastic antihistamine. Jon was alarmed, so much so that he finally peeked into the bedroom to make sure I wasn’t dead. Jon was not overreacting. He was astutely playing the odds. When you’ve got 75 years to your credit and you’re still out flat at 11 a.m., odds are you aren’t sleeping off the previous night’s excesses. There’s a good chance you’ve breathed your last.

Spouses can come in handy in situations like this. Who wants to be dead and stinky for weeks and weeks before the neighbors notice and call the health department?

A Soirée for Armistead Maupin

But back to that magical evening when I was so, so popular and to that soirée of cool people who folded me cheerfully into their glamorous circle, if only for a night.

  • People like Armistead Maupin, in whose honor this party was being held in San Francisco’s Castro District. It would be followed by a screening at the Castro Theater of the prize-winning documentary, “The Untold Tales of Armistead Maupin.” Armistead greeted me with hugs and smiles and listened to the latest gossip about
    I was important at the cast party for "The Untold Tales of Armistead Maupin, San Francisco, June 15, 2017. Armistead Maupin and Barbara Falconer Newhall. Photo by Jon Newhall

    That’s me with Armistead, having a good old time. Photo by Jon Newhall

    our former colleagues at the San Francisco Chronicle. It was at the Chronicle that, back in the 1970s, he composed in daily installments — and I copy edited — the first of his “Tales of the City” novels.

  • People like the adorable Jonathan Groff of TV’s “Looking” fame. (Also “Glee,” “Hamilton” and “Frozen”). This cool young actor actually wanted to hear about my wrestlings with God. Who won the match, he wanted to know? And how? Imagine that.
  • People like the director Jennifer Kroot, who had come to my house to interview me for the documentary. Also, the film’s editor/co-director Bill Weber, who watched endless iterations of Jennifer’s interview with me, and decided not to leave me weeping on the cutting room floor.
  • People like the very congenial Amy Tan, who chatted away in the Castro Theater’s green room before the screening — not with me exactly, but with the aforementioned attentive spouse. Jon, a novelist wannabe, plied the famous author with writing questions for a full ten or fifteen minutes. Meanwhile, I had the fun of visiting with Amy’s debonair husband, a tax attorney, Louis DeMattei.

You get the picture. It was a convivial evening. I felt appreciated and acknowledged for

I was important enoiugh to be in the cast and crew photo of Jennifer Kroot's documentary about Armistead Maupin. Army with magenta scarf. His sister Jane in red. Jonathan Groff, front left. Barbara F Newhall in orange sweater. Also pictured Bill Weber, Amy Tan. Photo by Jon Newhall.

Front row Jonathan Groff, cinematographer Shane King, Army’s husband Christopher Turner, Armistead, his sister Jane, editor Bill Weber. Amy Tan in back at right with monocle. I wore polka dots and an orange sweater that night to keep from blending into the background. Photog Jon Newhall offers apologies to the unsuspecting guy in the plaid shirt.

a night. But here’s the take-away: years have gone by since I last held down a job or dropped a 12-year-old off at choir practice. I had not noticed how unimportant I had become — to think I was. I had gotten used to fading into the background at social events, at conferences, at the gym, the supermarket.

For quite a number of years, in my youth and middle age, I was important. As a newspaper reporter I’d had some clout in the world; my phone calls got answered. As the mother of small children, I laid down the law on matters large and small — Coco Puffs vs. Cheerios, football vs. soccer. As my body and I slid into life’s final quarter, however, I gradually forgot what it’s like to be — OK, to feel —  important.

I Was Important That Night. Or Was I?

Later that evening, over at the Castro Theater, an audience of 1400 assembled to see “The Untold Tales of Armistead Maupin.” After the movie, Jennifer introduced the cast and crew. I went first, and when I stood up, hundreds of

I was important one night in the Castro District of San Francisco at a screening of "The Untold Tales of Armistead Maupin" for 1400 people at Castro Theater, San Francisco, June 15, 2017. Photo by Barbara Newhall

The Castro District of San Francisco where an audience of 1400 took in the documentary “The Untold Tales of Armistead Maupin” at the Castro Theater on June 15. Photo by Barbara Newhall

people turned in their seats to get a look at me. They applauded. I’m not kidding. They applauded.

I loved it. I was important. Was I more important than I had been on the day I slept till 11 a.m. with no one but my husband to notice? Was I just getting an ever-so-fleeting high from all those eyes looking at me like I was somebody?

Was I important, really? I didn’t know and I didn’t care. I loved it.

More about Armistead Maupin at “I Landed a Bit Part in a Real Movie. Thank You, Armistead Maupin.”  Also, “The Man Who Wrote the Quintessential San Francisco Novel on a Newspaper Deadline.”

I was important at the screening of "The Untold Tales of Armistead Maupin" at the Castro Theater, San Francisco, June 15, 2017. The documentarians had interviewed me for their film. Photo by Barbara Newhall

That’s me and my bit part up on the screen at the Castro Theater. Photo by Barbara Newhall




  1. Harriet Swift says:

    Dear Barbara, I don’t know how I missed this when it first posted. I love Armistead Maupin and was completely addicted to ‘Tales of the City’ in th 1980s. It was the first thing I read in any newspaper — but tried to hide that from our Trib colleagues. I also don’t know how it escaped me that you had edited Maupin & his tales! I interviewed him a couple of times and was completely charmed, like everyone. He had a big part in the actor Ian McKellan coming out publicly as gay. I wrote a long piece about it in advance of McKellan’s ‘Richard III’ American tour in the early 1990s. Maupin gave me a wonderful interview and when I had my five minutes via overseas telephone with McKellan (supervised by the PR people in London) he instantly went Real Person when I brought up Maupin. On opening night in San Francisco, I was reviewing, sitting in my usual aisle seat. Maupin walked past me, turned around, and said, “Harriet?” I almost died of joy — I was amazed that he remembered being interviewed by me, remembered my name. How wonderful for you to know him and work with him as Tales began and to reconnect. And to be applauded at the Castro! I add my applause — well done! Well done!

  2. Loved this…funny and honest

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