Masters of Sex creator talks vintage dildos, wedding bells and being gay in 1950s
Masters of Sex creator, Michelle Ashford, describes herself as a "prude" and claims she doesn't like watching graphic sex. We thought that seemed odd considering how much sex is on the screen. We asked what inspired her to create a show about Masters and Johnson.
Photo credit: Chyna Photography
We caught up with Masters of Sex creator, Michelle Ashford (above, right), at the Hollywood Radio and Television Society's Hitmakers Luncheon in Beverly Hills. The HRTS is an industry organization that provides information and forums to address issues in television and other media.
Ashford said that before she read the biography on Masters and Johnson, written by Thomas Maier, she didn't know very much about them. But it was what went on behind the scenes of Masters and Johnson's research that had her hooked.
"Their personal life was the most unusual love story I'd ever read. When you're trying to tell a love story, it's hard to find a fresh take. But theirs was so peculiar and compelling, I got so excited and said, 'There's a TV show.'"
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At the end of Season 1, Virginia Johnson (Lizzy Caplan) is left at a crossroads. Ethan (Nicholas D'Agosto) proposes marriage just before Masters (Michael Sheen) confesses his love for her. We wanted to know if there will be wedding bells for Virginia in Season 2.
"Not next season," said a coy Ashford. Of course, Masters and Johnson did eventually marry, but it was much later in their lives.
We asked if we'll ever get to see them married. Ashford said it depends on how long the show continues. "If we have a long life, we intend to go the whole length of their lives together. There's a lot to be done." To us, it sounds like they're keeping the plot pretty close to the actual history.
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One exciting character being brought back for Season 2 is the bisexual prostitute, Betty DiMello (Annaleigh Ashford). We asked what we can expect to see from her in the new episodes and if the Broadway star gets to show off her vocal chords.
"We left Betty where she married a wealthy man, the pretzel king. She comes back as a wealthy member of society and we watch her navigate that marriage. It goes in a different direction. And, yes, she does sing."
We're excited about that! But, if you've been watching the show, you've noticed some pretty unusual sexology medical devices, from circuits to vibrators and glass dildos. We wanted to know where the show got all that stuff.
"That's a remarkable thing about our show, our prop man, Jeff Johnson, has the task of recreating everything [Masters and Johnson] used in real life. The thing is, they destroyed their records, they destroyed their films and they destroyed their equipment. For example, the craziest thing we have is this prop, Ulysses, which is a big dildo that had a camera in it. This had to be completely designed and made from scratch. There are no pictures of it, but they did describe it very clearly in their writing."
Photo credit: Showtime
We asked about one of the most compelling relationships on the show — the marriage between Barton Scully (Beau Bridges) and Margaret (Allison Janney). In Season 1, Scully admits to his wife he's a homosexual and is willing to try electroshock therapy as a potential "cure" for what society then viewed as a "disease." It's a truly heartbreaking scenario, especially since Scully and Margaret seem to really love each other so deeply. We asked Ashford if Scully is going to undergo shock therapy.
"I just came from the set, where they are shooting right now. Margaret is there, Scully is there and their daughter, Vivien. I can't exactly say what is going on, but I will say we didn't shy away from the reality of what it was like to be a gay man in 1958."
In real life, Masters and Johnson ran a homosexual conversion program for six years. We asked if the show was going to get into that controversial part of their work.
"Not for a while. The whole Scully story is planting that seed. In real life, Masters did know someone who was living a closeted life. I think it really affected him, seeing people suffering and really trying to come up with an idea that would help."
Masters and Johnson made a huge impact on the way Americans view sexuality. We asked Ashford if she felt she was part of their legacy.
"In an odd way, I do. When we tested the pilot around the country, only one person out of 100 knew that Masters and Johnson were real people. They had enormous impact, but they've also been sort of forgotten. In an odd way, I'm actually thrilled to be talking about them because they were so significant."
Masters of Sex Season 2 begins July 13 on Showtime.