Conversations: Armistead Maupin

Armistead Maupin on hoaxes in literature and blow jobs in movies.

Published August 2, 2006 8:59AM (EDT)

Before JT LeRoy, before Stephen Glass, there was Tony Johnson. Passing himself off as a 15-year-old boy with AIDS who'd grown up with parents who regularly sold his body to pedophiles, Johnson published a memoir in 1993 called "A Rock and a Hard Place" about his terrible childhood. "Tales of the City" author Armistead Maupin was just one of many media personalities Johnson reached out to for support of his book -- others included Mister Rogers and Keith Olbermann -- and the two became very close before Maupin began to suspect Tony was a fraud, a personality concocted to elicit sympathy and attention by a deeply disturbed woman. Maupin's novelized version of the experience, "The Night Listener," has been turned into a film, starring Robin Williams and Toni Colette, due out on Friday. While he now says he's fully convinced that Vicki Johnson, "Tony's" adopted mother, was always the voice on the other end of the line, it took him a long time to reach that conclusion: "I remained afraid that there really might be a kid out there and I really might be destroying his life by revealing his identity. I would have nightmares that this one-legged, one-lunged, one-testicled nightmare wretch would step forward and accuse me of being the worst man in the world." Maupin co-wrote the screenplay for the film with ex-partner Terry Anderson and director Patrick Stettner, but says that some of the subplots from the book had to be cut out to fit the conventions of film: "There's no room for euthanasia or blow jobs in films. It tends to stop the action cold!" (Click here to listen.)

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By Salon Staff

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