Tag Archive: Karl Malden


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B’ Day Card Discovery! Famous Signatures by Tony Piazza

   Imagine searching through your parent’s memorabilia and coming across a birthday card to your dad from work. It is signed by all his co-workers with well wishes for his special day.  Now imagine that this job was with a television production…and those co-workers were celebrities and crew from that show. That is exactly what I came across this morning and am sharing with you today. The show was “The Streets of San Francisco,” and I worked with my dad on it through its run of five seasons.

 

It looks common enough from the cover, but when you open it up!

Look closely you will see Karl Malden.

And this page has Michael Douglas, Jill St. John, Zazu Pitts, and SF journalist Herb Caen amongst others!

Now that is one birthday card, wouldn’t you say!

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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 1970s and worked with such legends as Steve McQueen, Paul Newman, and Karl Malden.

A Special Tour through Disney Studios by Tony Piazza

   In 1967 we were given a tour of Disney Studios in Burbank, California. The tours were, and still are as far as I know, by special invitation only. Ours came through the head of transportation at Universal Studios, a man nick-named “Frenchie” who was a friend of my father. Visiting the studio was always a dream of mine, and I had hoped to someday work there as an animator. One of my talents was as an artist, and I had won awards for my artwork. I did not end up in this profession however, although as you probably know through my blog site, I did work for ten years in the entertainment business.

   Campus-like atmosphere of Disney Studios.

   We drove up to the guard at his post at the front gate of the studio. He removed his clipboard and scanned the names on the attached pages. Locating ours, he waved us through and indicated where we should park. The reception area’s interior design was still reflecting the 1940s in which the studio was built. The original studio was on Hyperion Avenue but closed in 1940 and the work transferred to this new studio on Buena Vista Street in Burbank.  As I sat on the couch, after we announced our presence to the pretty receptionist at the main desk, I glanced around the surroundings taking in one large wall that was covered by a montage of  Disney characters, movies, television shows, and theme park images. Each was placed artistically so they formed a pattern that stood out in a three-dimensional relief. Shortly, a guide introduced himself and we took off with two other men, guests as ourselves to a door that directly opened up to the start of the back lot.

   Disney Hyperion Sudios.

   The back wall of the administration building was fronted by false store fronts that could be seen in numerous Disney films as downtown “Medville”…any small town U.S.A., complete with a small grass park in its center. This tour didn’t provide trams to take us around. There were no need, the studio was very compact, and within a few paces we were crossing a college campus-like surrounding to the old Animation Building located near the center of the complex. The individual streets we crossed were named after Disney characters, and I was amused in passing signs announcing “Dopey Drive” and “Mickey Avenue.”

   Inside the Animation Building we were taken to the individual departments. Each room had a story to tell. Inking displayed the many different colors and categorized formulas that were crossed linked to the character’s complexions and costumes. A system set up to guarantee consistency of color schemes throughout the project’s animation process, or several if they were doing “shorts.” In the background department we were told of a woman who had worked all night detailing the background of Sleeping Beauty’s castle stone by stone, only to drop the illustration board and watch her paint flake off. She left in tears. We were also shown the Xerox mimeograph machines that revolutionized animation, and made 101 Dalmatians possible. However, the most fascinating of all was seeing the multiplane camera that was created in 1937 for the animated short, The Old Mill. It was still in use to create those three dimensional- like effects on their feature animations. Finally we were escorted into an animator’s office and were able to visit and watch him at work. The animator was Ken Anderson and he was working on The Aristocats at the time. His assignment was the old lawyer, and he showed us with simple line drawings how he was applying a routine used by comedian Dick Van Dyke to the movements of his character. The lawyer was old, so he used his cane (Van Dyke style) to uncurl his legs and help him stand. He flipped through a series of  these drawings which came instantly and convincingly to life. At his work station, one of the other guests commented on the fact that he did not have a mirror. Mirrors were common tools used by illustrators to capture expression- as the animators themselves usually were the actors. His was missing however, and Mr. Anderson said with a smile that it was in his closet, because the last thing he wanted to see first thing in the morning was his reflection!

   Entrance to old Animation Building.

Just as a side note; when Mr. Anderson was asked what animation projects were yet to come, he rattled off a number that eventually hit the screen years later.  They planned that far in advance! For example, Robin Hood (animated) and Black Caldron were two that he mentioned back in 1967.

Multiplane camera.

   After spending a half  hour to forty minutes with the animator we were taken to the theater used for screenings and also utlized by the music department for scoring. The control panels for sound mixing were incredible. The theater was not in use at the time, but aside from the orchestra area you could also see sections were actors could be posted for singing or dubbing.

Animator Ken Anderson

   Next we walked along the residential block back lot and I could pick out the homes of the Absent-minded Professor– complete with unattached garage where he discovered flubber, the home of the Shaggy Dog, and Pollyanna. The Zorro plaza came after, and then a wilderness area with stream and covered bridge.

   Zorro Set.

   The tour also included some soundstages where shooting was actually taking place. I remember seeing the interior cabin set, and an actor sitting off to the side in his chair. The film was Rascal and the actor who nodded to me as I gazed over in his direction was veteran character actor JACK ELAM.

  Actor Jack Elam

   It really was a special experience for me which I will never forget. Less than ten years later KARL MALDEN shared a private performance of his reverend character (his sermon speech) from Pollyanna.  He did his bit for me in between the shooting of The Streets of San Francisco. It’s funny how things seem to come around in life.

 

One last item: My father worked with Disney Productions during the filming of the 360 degree America the Beautiful attraction in Disneyland’s Tomorrowland. He even got in the film! In the San Francisco segment you would have seen him directing traffic at Fisherman’s Wharf.

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 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 1970s and worked with such legends as Steve McQueen, Paul Newman, and Karl Malden.

My Italian Buddy, Paul Sorvino by Tony Piazza

   Paul Sorvino and my mother in 1976.

   My Italian buddy, PAUL SORVINO (Goodfellas, Law and Order), and accomplished actor who has appeared in numerous roles on television and feature films. He was born in April of 1939 to an Italian American family whose descendants came from Naples. Raised in Brooklyn, New York, he  completed his schooling and eventually found a job in an ad agency. While attending the American Musical and Dramatic Academy he decided on a career in theatre.  In 1964 he appeared on Broadway and transitioned to films six years later in the motion picture “Where’s Poppa?” I’m behind the camera in this photo (above) of him and my mother (who stopped by for a visit). They posed for the picture just inside the studio entrance of Quinn Martin Studio’s soundstage.- a converted warehouse located on Kearny Street in San Francisco. One memory of this Italian actor that I have, has to do with Paul and I having lunch one day…he a salad (he was always on a diet), and myself roast beef, which he was eyeing with envy. I thought he was joking and laughed…only to realize to my embarrassment that he was serious! He was a good sport about it, but I can’t eat roast beef to this day without thinking about him.

   Paul now has his own line of food (notice the sauce).

   I should have added that this photograph was taken during the filming of the detective show “Burt D’Angelo Superstar”  (1976) in which he starred. It was a spin-off from “The Streets of San Francisco” and lasted just as a summer replacement. It wasn’t picked up by the network for the Fall season.It was a good show, but too much like “Streets”…in fact the police headquarters set was the same, just re-dressed. I was Bob Pine’s (Chips) stand-in on the show… he was Paul’s detective partner, much as Michael was Karl’s.

   My father (left) with Bob Pine (center).

   Paul also enjoyed singing opera…he would do so in-between takes. He wanted to do a bio. film on legendary opera stars Enrico Caruso or Mario Alonzo, but it hasn’t as yet come to pass. He shared that dream with both KARL MALDEN and myself during the filming of the pilot. He took voice lessons for 18 years, which I find incredible because he suffers from severe asthma.  He later started his own organization, The Sorvino Asthma Foundation to find solutions to combat the disease.

 

   His daughter MIRA SORVINO, is also an accomplished actress. I met her as a little girl back in the 70s. In 1995 she won Best Supporting Actress for her role in the Woody Allen film, “Mighty Aphrodite.” Paul was extremely proud of her.

 Paul and his daughter, Mira Sorvino.

   I was a good friend of Paul. Recently I was watching him in the film “The Brinks Job” with Peter Falk (another actor I knew personally) and suddenly remembered an amusing story that Paul once told me. When he was going to marry his first wife Lorraine, he told his Neapolitan family, and immediately uproar broke out amongst its members. You see, Lorraine was an Americano (definition of “Americano” is anyone who isn’t Italian), and it was considered very radical back then when an Italian married anyone who wasn’t also of Italian descent. During all the screams, protests, and tears, his grandfather leaned over and whispered into his ear, “Tell me, Paolo, is she economical?” In which Paul replied, “Yes, Nonno, she is.” The old man padded him on the arm, and then nodding his head stated, “Then you got my blessing!”

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   His first wife Lorraine was an attractive woman, and an excellent mother. I remember when she would bring the girls, Mira and Amanda onto the set. They were dressed like little ladies, in long wool coats, hats, and gloves! Very East Coast, but refreshing.

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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” was released this last January.  He was an actor/extra during the 1970s and worked with such legends as Steve McQueen, Paul Newman, and Karl Malden.

Karl Malden: Threatened for Not Leaving Home Without It! By Tony Piazza

 Did you know that KARL MALDEN actually got death threats because of that American Express commercial he did years ago? Some disgruntle user of American Express sent the company letters with inflammatory language and quite blatantly announced that they would like to kill the actor who said, “Don’t leave home without it!” We had gotten word on the set of “The Streets of San Francisco” and security was immediately beefed up. I could see the difference when I reported on location that morning…enough that it caused me to ask questions. I learned however that quite frankly from the start they were not taking it too seriously. Karl was alerted and didn’t seem too worried. Nevertheless they had to go through the motions. It seems this has happened before. In fact threats like these happened more often then one would think. It is pretty much understood by all concerned that if a celebrity becomes identified with a product, and that product doesn’t for some reason come up to the standards of the consumer, that celebrity would become the focus of their anger. And regarding the threat; it is usually the person who doesn’t advertise his or her intentions that are far more dangerous than those who do. Nine times out of ten the others are just blowing off steam. That was fortunately the situation in this case, and after a few days everyone relaxed on the set.

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 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.

A Snippet from “The Streets of San Francisco” by Tony Piazza

  

   In 1973, during the second season of “The Streets of San Francisco” I was offered a small speaking role. It was in the episode “Shield of Honor,” directed by Eric Till. In this scene I am addressing KARL MALDEN (Lt. Mike Stone), MICHAEL DOUGLAS (Steve Keller), and JOHN KERR (Gerald O’Brien) in Stone’s office (studio set). The episode was number 10 of this season, and written by D.C. Fontana of original Star Trek fame.

     Clip from “Shield” episode. My name was added for another presentation. 

   One interesting tidbit is that John Kerr was the actor who played Lt. Joseph Cable in the motion picture adaptation of the stage musical “South Pacific.” On “Streets” he played  the recurring character of San Francisco’s D.A.

John Kerr

   In my bit for this episode I was notifying them that I had the reports on the slug they found in their “hit man.” Another line cinched in two takes…Michael Douglas gave me a “thumbs up” after they cut! As I mentioned elsewhere, both Karl and Michael were very supportive of other actors.

Michael and Karl in the office set.

Some trivia:

 MARIETTE HARTLEY of the Polaroid commercials (late 70’s; she was JAMES GARNER’S sparring partner) was a guest star on this episode-  as well as ROBERT FOXWORTH (last husband to the late ELIZABETH MONTGOMERY), and PETER MARK RICHMOND (Dynasty).

Hartley and Garner for Polaroid.

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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.

A “STREETS OF SAN FRANCISCO” MEMORY by Tony Piazza

  

   RAY BRADBURY is a master at creating a nostalgic scene in one’s mind, like a fall setting, or an Indian summer. Perhaps I don’t quite have that gift, but it is what comes to mind when I remember back to that summer of 1975. “The Streets of San Francisco” was filming up in the mountains around Santa Rosa, California. It was very hot, extremely dry, and I can remember the scent of dust and pine needles in the air. The episode was “Trail of Terror” and concerned Steve Keller (MICHAEL DOUGLAS) and Nancy Mellon (MEG FOSTER) his prisoner being run off the road and fleeing on foot through the woods to avoid killers that were after them. I was photo-doubling Foster for the car crash, riding alongside the stuntman who driving, acted as Douglas. Donning a pink woman’s sweater and long wig was anything but comfortable… and I’m not talking about the heat…let’s just say that the crew had a field day with me. I guess you can imagine…cat calls, etc.  Michael Preece (formerly our script supervisor bumped up to director on this episode) and Al Francis was the cinematographer on this shoot. They had me, as Michael’s stand-in, running up and down hills all day long. Talk about grueling work! Don’t ask me about the glamour of film-making that day! Actually, we all worked up a sweat at that location and at lunch a bunch of us found a private spot at the nearby river and took a much needed, cooling soak. Michael Douglas, Eddie Marks (wardrobe master), myself and several other crew members played Tom Sawyer and just shot the breeze stretched out in the river for 45 minutes. On this episode I also learned that KARL MALDEN didn’t care for helicopters and his stand-in, Art, doubled him for those scenes. Another memory from that show…KENNETH TOBEY played a Sheriff…I remembered him from the 1950’s science fiction films, “The Thing” and “It Came from Beneath the Sea.”…a Ray Harryhausen film and friend of Bradbury…which brings us back full circle. So many wonderful memories of a unique summer experience.

Meg Foster

 Author’s note: Karl Malden and Kenneth Tobey were old friends. Karl was very generous that way- when it came to remembering older actors and getting them work on his show. Kent Smith, Jeanette Nolan, Maurice Evans, and Sam Jaffe were some of the other actors that Karl suggested for his show.

Kenneth Tobey

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 Tony Piazza is author of the 1930’s 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” is due out early 2012. He was an actor/extra during the 1970’s and worked with such legends as Steve McQueen, Paul Newman, and Karl Malden.  

BEHIND THE SCENES on “THE STREETS OF SAN FRANCISCO” by Tony Piazza

 

   QM Studios was located at the end of Kearny Street  near Bay in San Francisco. After the first season of “The Streets of San Francisco” it was decided that it did not make sense financially to fly the stars and crew to the Burbank Studio once a week to do interiors. Most of the show was filmed on location, but the police headquarters for reasons of logistics had to be filmed on a set. The production company found a warehouse at the end of Kearny(at the base of a hill) and rented it with the purpose of turning it into a mini-studio. “Construction” got to work quickly and converted a small portion of the empty building into offices for production and the greater space into a soundstage. A permanent police set was built which contained Mike Stone’s office, and they left other areas reserved for whatever a script called for; a hospital corridor, the D.A.’s office, an apartment, and the living room and kitchen of Stone’s home. Incidentally, the exterior of Stone’s home was a private residence on DeHaro Street in the Potrero Hill District. This location (Potrero Hill) was popular not only for “Streets”, but also for many other motion picture and television productions. It was the first choice of location manager’s because of its spectacular views of the city, as well as the good filming weather. As a side note- I dated briefly the daughter of the owner’s of the house. Returning to the studio, there was ample parking outside for the studio trucks, cars, star’s Winnebago, a large trailer we called the “Honey wagon”- combination dressing rooms and toilets, and the Cinemobile, a German built vehicle which carried the camera equipment. Security wasn’t the best at night, and one morning we came in to find that thieves had broke into some of the vehicles and stolen radios from the dash. Back to the warehouse; it was amazing how much could be packed into that limited space… office for the production secretary, Martha Yates, the production heads Dick Gallegly and Bob Beche, the assistant directors- first, second, and trainee, and the art department. This was only in the front section of the warehouse, just inside the door (posted with the red light and sign do not enter when lit) were the two dressing rooms of KARL MALDEN and MICHAEL DOUGLAS, and then the rest of the space for the permanent and rotating sets mentioned earlier.

One down side to the building is that it had a metal roof which drove the sound man, Ray Barons crazy when it rained!

   Well that was my two-bit tour of the show’s studio, and hopefully some insight behind the scenes of the making of a television classic.

   Just as a footnote, a few years ago I went back to my old workplace to discover that the area around the building had radically changed, and what was once the studio was now an exercise club.

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Tony Piazza is the author of the murder mystery “Anything Short of Murder”.  A classic whodunit set in 1930’sHollywood. It is available online at all bookstores. Also available March 2012…The adventure, “The Curse of the Crimson Dragon” will be published, starring a new hero who will fight forAmerica’s freedom!

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Lunch by Tony Piazza  

    During the fourth season of “The Streets of San Francisco” we did a two parter which was going to write MICHAEL DOUGLAS’S character, Steve Keller, out of the show and introduce RICHARD HATCH as detective Dan Robbins. This episode had a stellar cast which included, JOSEPH WISEMAN, BARRY SULLIVAN, PATTY DUKE, SUSAN DEY, DICK VAN PATTEN, DORIS ROBERTS, and NORMAN FELL, and was directed by Virgil Vogel. This two-part episode was clearly inspired by the Patty Hearst kidnapping, and the “family” of the story (comprised in part by Duke and Dey) was a fictionalized version of the S.L.A. In the screenplay a busload of jurors are kidnapped by these revolutionaries, who demand the release of their imprisoned cohorts. It is then up to Stone, Keller, and Robbins to foil their plot.

 

   My little contribution to this episode (aside from my stand-in duties for Douglas and Hatch) was to act as one of the members of a S.W.A.T. team that was called in to keep an eye on the “family.” They had a boat out on the bay, and we were set up at various locations along the dock. I was a sharpshooter on top of one of the warehouses, rifle in hand waiting for a signal to act. I never got that signal, and that is the basis for this story. To explain…I sat up there looking vigilant, gun at the ready, and waited, and watched…and waited…and watched…for a very long time. Meanwhile back at the main unit, the first assistant suddenly looks around and asks, “Where is Tony?” In response, the trainee assistant director jumps up in obvious panic to exclaim, “I forgot to tell him that we have broken for lunch!”

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Tony Piazza is author of the 1930’s 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” is due out early 2012. He was an actor/extra during the 1970’s and worked with such legends as Steve McQueen, Paul Newman, and Karl Malden.

The Day I Was Shot by Another Actor! by Tony Piazza

   A fun aspect about being on a television crew is that you were never sure from day to day what may be requested of you. I have already related a couple of instances where I was asked to photo double (in essence be a stunt man) for LARRY HAGMAN in a car crash, and MEG FOSTER in a car chase. It all came down to availability, and because you were there daily at the location on the set, you were logically an easy choice. Such an instance occurred on the episode, “The Cannibals”, season 5 of “The Streets of San Francisco,” directed by Walter (Wally) Grauman. During the course of my stand-in duties for MICHAEL DOUGLAS I was approached by the second assistant director, Tommy Lofaro and asked to go to wardrobe and put on a policeman’s uniform. An actor hired to do a silent bit in the episode had not shown up for his call, and he wanted me to be ready as a standby. I know this is terrible, but secretly I was holding my breath that he didn’t make a miraculous appearance the last minute- and my wishes paid off. He did eventually show up some hours later looking like he may have had a late night out the evening before…so, I’d say it was his own fault (atleast that was what I convinced by conscience). In any case, when the time came it was explained to me that I was to be writing a parking ticket and hearing a gunshot from a nearby alley (we were shooting in the Tenderloin District in SF…that occurrence wasn’t all that rare in real life!), I was to draw my gun and run toward the disturbance. As I reached the corner of the alley our guest star (ANDY ROBINSON…The Scorpio of Dirty Harry fame) would shoot me from his hiding place behind some crates, and I was to take a dive. We completed the filming of the first scene…out on the street, as I was writing the ticket…and then the crew moved down the alley for the rehearsal of what I call my mini stunt. Reaching the corner at a run and hearing the director shout, “gunshot!”, I threw my weapon into the air, hit the ground, and rolled down a small decline in the pavement (due to the momentum of the fall), eventually rolling to a stop. The director loved it, and asked where I learned to do that. I answered truthfully that I did it many times as a kid…no big deal. The prop man, Burt Wiley on the other hand was not thrilled. It was a real gun, and he wasn’t happy about it hitting the pavement! They tried to find a rubber version, but settled on a thick blanket (like they use on moving vans) for me to lob it on. After the rehearsal we went for the real shot, which was nailed in one take. Al Francis’s camera operator (Ron Francis) followed me with a handheld, which gave it that real footage look, and in a flash we were done. The final scene had me on a gurney (it was to open the next act of the show) next to an ambulance, with KARL MALDEN and MICHAEL DOUGLAS fussing over me, as they delivered whatever dialogue that was germane to the story’s plot. I guess this is a “Star is Born” type of situation, but it didn’t lead to fame and the Academy Awards. But, hey, who needs a little man for a door stop anyway…I have plenty of wedges at home. But, what I did get was fond memories…and I’d trade that in for a statue any old day!

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Tony Piazza is author of the 1930’s 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” is due out early 2012. He was an actor/extra during the 1970’s and worked with such legends as Steve McQueen, Paul Newman, and Karl Malden.