Steve McQueen and Bullitt History – Part 3 by Tony Piazza
My first meeting with STEVE McQUEEN at San Francisco General Hospital is documented elsewhere https://authortonypiazza.wordpress.com/2012/01/16/the-day-i-met-steve-mcqueen-by-tony-piazza/ and not wanting to be repetitious will not bother retelling it here. However a story that I would like to add regarding this location concerns actor GEORG STANFORD BROWN. He played a doctor amongst the real personnel in the Emergency Room. During the intense examination sequence he was doubled by a real doctor (surgical mask hiding a fair portion of his face) who stated later that he was almost ready to actually use the scalpel on the actor on the table. He really got into that role!
Georg Stanford Brown as the emergency room doctor (Background).
Later the action switches to Chalmer’s residence which was located in Pacific Heights at the corner of Vallejo at Divisidero. On this high end real estate with magnificent views of the bay and Golden Gate Bridge you will find some of San Francisco’s most impressive mansions, and the one used in the film was no exception. Chalmer’s was a sleazy politician played by ROBERT VAUGHN, and his portrayal of the character was so “dead on” that it killed his real life aspirations of going into politics. Prior to this role he was actually contemplating a run for office, but the Chalmer’s image finished that. I visited that location, but as mentioned in another post, Vaughn was not an easy man to approach. This was the one disappointment that I came away with from this production. He was the one actor that I didn’t get to meet. A bit of trivia: amongst some of the extras at the “tea party” was the actual owner of the mansion- a very elegant lady who did a silent bit as Chalmer’s mother and host. Interestingly, as I view the scenes today I can put names to some of the guests- fellow “extras” I got to know well just a few years later as I started working in the industry.
Scene at entrance to Chalmer’s mansion (Vallejo at Divisidero).
I described earlier Bullitt’s apartment, but one detail I forgot to mention was that in visiting the location I happened upon JACQUELINE BISSET. Even at thirteen I found her attractive (what can I say, I was advanced for my age). I watched her from a few paces away as she talked with director Peter Yates. There was something angelic about her…the flawless skin and slightly upturned nose set between those remarkable blue eyes, and she had that trace of an accent that seemed so intriguing to me back then. However instead of wasting words (who could accurately describe a Botticelli), I’ll let you see for yourself from the photos I included. They illustrate what a beautiful and talented actress Jacqueline is. She was also definitely the perfect choice for the role as Cathy- a normally cool architect who becomes unhinged when she comes face to face with boyfriend, Frank Bullitt’s cruel, hard world. Regarding that scene following her seeing the woman’s body in the Thunderbird Hotel room (this hotel near the airport later became the Clarion and has since been torn down and a parking garage taking its place)- Peter Yates stated in a documentary that that dramatic scene of conflicting worlds (played out off the highway near the marshes) probably would have worked better without dialogue. That pantomime would have best conveyed the emotions that each were feeling. He used a similar effect earlier in the film at the Coffee Cantata (Now the Betelnut restaurant on Union Street in Cow Hollow) where he set the camera outside the restaurant looking in through a partition and shot vignettes of eye exchanges, casual conversation (pantomimed), and gentle caresses between McQueen and Bisset. A montage of gestures, minus the dialogue attempting to relay to the audience glimpses into their relationship . Lalo Schifrin’s wonderful score as performed by the trio in the coffee house dominating the soundtrack. This was another instance where Yates effectively applied European fimmaking techniques to the shooting of this movie.
Tender moment shared between Cathy (Bisset) and Frank Bullitt (McQueen).
MORE BULLITT STORIES to follow in Part 4 including how DON GORDON and FELICE ORLANDI ended up having a real home cooked Italian meal!
Bisset and McQueen in Bullitt.
Publicity photograph of Jacqueline Bisset.
Tony Piazza is author of the 1930s Hollywood murder mystery novel; “Anything Short of Murder,” which had its roots on the TCM fan website. His next novel, “The Curse of the Crimson Dragon” has just been released. He was an actor/extra during the 1970’s and worked with such legends as Steve McQueen, Paul Newman, and Karl Malden.