Tag Archive: Don Gordon


  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.

Steve McQueen and Bullitt History Part 2 by Tony Piazza

As the film opens the credits appear over the action backed by a wonderfully jazzy score by composer Lalo Schifrin. The setting is the interior of a modern office somewhere in Chicago. Mob hit men are after a desperate character hiding behind an office desk. The killers are uplighted in the shot and shown eerily in partial shadow. Suddenly they crash through a plate glass window as their prey tosses a smoke grenade in their direction. Even though this is supposed to be Chicago, as indicated by an inserted stock shot, the office was in actuality a set built on a soundstage at the Warner Brothers lot. It was the only scene that was not shot on location. How do I know? I asked my father when we first viewed it together at the theatre. The subsequent chase through the interior of the garage however was done in San Francisco (even though we were still supposed to be in Chicago-three cheers to movie magic). This was located in the Sutter Medical Building, and the alley from which the car emerges from the garage is off of Bush Street between Stockton and Powell. Next we switch scenes and are finally (plot wise) in San Francisco. Here we are introduced to a sleepy Frank Bullitt (STEVE McQUEEN) and his partner, Delgetti (DON GORDON) at Bullitt’s apartment- a real SF location filmed inside and out, on the corner of Taylor and Clay Streets. McQueen does some nice, subtle acting in this scene as he tries to spoon out instant coffee from a nearly empty jar, as his partner helps himself to some orange juice from the frig. One commentator made a remark about Bullitt’s pajamas in that scene…that it took a real man to be caught in such gimpy sleepwear. I’ll leave you to your own judgment regarding his wardrobe, but remember this was the sixties and some of his later outfits were pretty cool, and calculated by the wardrobe department to be timeless in fashion- the jammies may have slipped through the cracks however.

Bullitt apartment, corner of Taylor and Clay Streets.

Don Gordon and Steve McQueen.

In this scene Frank learns that their assignment is to keep a witness against a mob boss alive through the weekend until he could testify at a hearing. Earlier this witness is seen at the classy Mark Hopkins Hotel atop Nob Hill asking the desk “if there were anything for a Johnny Ross”, but later is held in protective custody at the Daniel’s Hotel, a flop house on the waterfront. Obviously, even though he had high hopes, the Daniel’s lodging was the best that the SFPD could afford. Regarding the Daniel’s; this was an actual dive called The Hotel Kennedy. It was located on the Embarcadero. Today it has been transformed into a chic hotel, but in those days it was lodgings for alcoholics, drug users, and near destitute with a few prostitutes thrown in for good measure.

Mark Hopkins

Director PETER YATES loved the atmosphere of the place. He said if they were to build this on stage, it would lose its character. For one thing, they would construct the hallways too wide (thinking of the camera) and it would look artificial. To his thinking there was nothing like reality to lend to the believability of a story. Remember, he came from England and was use to the European school of filmmaking. There they shot on location long before it became a regular procedure in Hollywood productions. This was the first location I went to visit, and although I didn’t go inside, I did work with a television company (QM for “The Streets of San francisco”) that used this location some ten years later. It was small, cramped, and dirty. The rugs were worn and threadbare and the smell of dust, stale cigarette smoke, vomit, and urine pervaded the air everywhere. Other than that it was a nice little place and the rent was reasonable! There was a tiny elevator (as seen in the film) that opened into the scuffed linoleum floored lobby (as I recall of a sickly green color), but we didn’t trust it and opted for the stairs.

Some visitors and crew members posing with my dad (officer, center)  outside The Hotel Kennedy during the filming of Bullitt.

Yates loved this location- especially the way the elevated Embarcadero Freeway ran behind the building (this section of roadway was torn down after the Loma Prieta Earthquake of 1989). He referred to it as artery or vein, and felt it leant a noir feel to the narrative. I remember visiting the location one dark night and looking up to the second floor window. The room they were filming in was easy to find. It was overly lit by production lights. In those days they didn’t have high speed film and lighting a set was a challenge. They normally threw everything they had on it. There was also a crane outside with a revolving lamp. It was to simulate the car’s headlights reflecting in through the window. Again, for more atmosphere.

Some stories come to mind regarding the hotel. Peter Yates over the years have been asked why the victim unlocked the door and let what turned out to be his killer in? His answer: “There wouldn’t have been a movie if he hadn’t!”

 The other had to do with that shooting. If the victim’s fall onto the bed from the blast of the shotgun looked real in the movie I have to tell you that it was. The harness holding the actor broke in the shot and actually dropped him onto the bed. He was okay however, just a few sore spots and a reluctance to sit on any hard stools for awhile.

When McQueen looks around the hotel room’s crime scene after the murder, there was some improvisation there. He knew what he was looking for, but the director didn’t tell him where the property and set decorator boys placed the items.

NEXT TIME: Part 3: More locations and stories from Bullitt.

Robert Relyea, Executive Producer and close friend of McQueen with my father on location for Bullitt.

———————————————-

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.

Steve McQueen and Bullitt History- Part One by Tony Piazza

 

   Earlier this year I was on live radio talking with the show’s host, Dave Congalton and  his other guest, Bob Whiteford- film buff, about the motion picture “Bullitt.” As with preparation for any show, I ended up doing a lot more research and memory prodding than was used during that hour of broadcast. Therefore I thought I would draw on that research for this blog series, and take my readers through the history of “Bullitt.” My approach will take you chronologically from its beginning- the novel, through the filming, and finally to its release. Obviously this cannot be done in one posting, so I will release them throughout the coming months in parts. Today’s blog looks at the background.

 BACKGROUND

    “Bullitt” was adapted from a Robert L. Pikes (aka Robert L. Fish) novel, “Mute Witness.” The novel was very different from the film’s screenplay that was written by Alan Trustman and Harry Kleiner for which they won an Edgar Award (“Best Screenplay”). The original novel told the story of a cop named Clancy who was to protect an underworld boss that was ready to testify against the mob. He was to keep him alive throughout the weekend until his appearance at a hearing of the New York Crime Commission the following Tuesday. It was a nice mystery, but very different from its celluloid incarnation and lacked the film’s signature moment- the chase. The property was originally bought by Warner Brothers for Spencer Tracy, but his death shelved it until it found its way into the hands of producer Philip D’Antoni. A chase was not in the original concept, but added later, and the location changed from Los Angeles to San Francisco at the suggestion of Peter Yates, the film’s director. Yates felt that there were too many cop shows being filmed in the city of angels at the time, and he didn’t want to stand in line for shooting  permits and then end up tripping over another production company also filming  near the same location. He felt San Francisco (with its scenic views from seven hills) would be an ideal location and the over-the-top cooperation they were promised by San Francisco’s Mayor Alioto finally cinched the deal.

    “Bullitt” was the first picture that Steve McQueen’s company Solar would produce with Warners, and assisted by Robert Relyea, executive producer and close friend of McQueen they would select Peter Yates, a British filmmaker to come to America and direct. Yates had just completed a film in England entitled “Robbery” and both McQueen and Relyea were impressed with it- and particularly its chase scene, so he was selected.

THE MYSTERY OF THE SCRIPT

     Back in 1968, my father was assigned to “Bullitt” as a liaison between the City of San Francisco and the production company. He worked closely with Mr. Relyea and Mr. McQueen in the making of the film. He had a script from the film which I read 44 years ago. In my recollection- I remembered being disappointed- the details of the chase were missing from its pages. In fact I believe it only said CHASE in that portion of the story where it was supposed to occur. Recently an on-line script came to light that goes into incredible detail of the chase, and I found that puzzling. Being a writer of mysteries this discrepancy bothered me and it set me to thinking. Three possibilities came instantly to my mind: 1) my father had an early working version of the script. 2) The script on-line was the FINAL version, or the details were added later by whoever posted the script or, 3) age has taken its toll on my memory. For awhile, I was starting to think (and worry) that it was the latter, but I am now relieved to say- thanks to a recent documentary- that I may have been correct. Actor Don Gordon (Delgetti) stated in an interview that his script only had the word CHASE and no details in it. Still, I have been searching frantically for this Holy Grail amongst my parent’s belongings… I’m talking about the script of course…but to the time of this writing, no luck. I’m not giving up however, and will take another look up in the attic when I find the time. Finding a proof that I can hold in my hand will (to my mind) bring this mystery to a satisfying conclusion.

 

NEXT TIME, I will discuss the shooting of the film…those locations that I visited, and give some inside information on those that I did not. I also plan to relate some personal observations concerning the actors.

HOPE TO SEE YOU BACK.

 Some quick facts: AFI had “Bullitt” at #36 of its list of thrillers. The film was selected for preservation in the U.S. National Registry by the Library of Congress. It received an Academy Award (Frank Keller) for best editing, and was nominated for sound.

 —————————————

  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 second 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.