Tag Archive: Michael Douglas


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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 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.

On the Set with Brenda Vaccaro  by Tony Piazza

I knew BRENDA VACCARO through MICHAEL DOUGLAS. During the years that we filmed “The Streets of San Francisco” they were an “item”. There was a five year difference between the two; Michael being born in 1944 and Brenda in 1939. When they met, Brenda’s career was already well established. One of her more memorable works being “Midnight Cowboy” (1969), however even before that she had numerous productions on Broadway and television to her credit that date from the earlier part of the 1960’s. Michael on the other hand had less than a handful of films behind him when he started “Streets” and his star was just beginning to rise. Brenda was born in Brooklyn, New York, to  Italian American parents, and raised inTexas. She returned to New York to study acting, and debut in 1961 on Broadway in the comedy play “Everybody Loves Opal” for which she won the Theatre World Award.

She and Michael were very close during the years that I knew them. Often she would visit him on location. As most actors and actresses they try to remain incognito when out in the public, and Brenda was no exception. She would usually show up on the set with her hair tied up in a bun, no make-up, dark glasses, plain dress, and sandals. Once she almost got thrown off the set by security. Someone made a comment that a woman was bothering Michael, and luckily the officer recognized that it was Brenda before a fuss was made. Most times they would go off to the many wonderful restaurants in San Francisco for lunch, and return to share stories with the rest of us about their experiences. Brenda’s parents by the way were co-founders of a restaurant – “Mario’s” in Texas. Her mother particularly helped pioneer Italian cuisine in Dallas beginning in 1943. Brenda’s and Michael’s relationship hit the skids as Michael’s career started to take off on “Streets”, and particularly after an ‘Enquirer’ article came out reporting his womanizing activities while on location in SF.

Brenda guest starred on two episodes of “Streets”. On one she played a policewoman, who incidentally was driving my car in that episode. I had  (I know I will hear from one of you on this!) a powder blue Ford Mustang (It wouldn’t have been the color I would have chosen…it was used…and I got it at a reasonable price!) and Transportation hired it as a picture car for her to drive in the show. It was fun seeing it again in re-runs.

Brenda’s career has continued successfully to date. In 2010 she worked on the TV movie “You Don’t Know Jack” and won the Satellite Award for Best Supporting Actress- Series, Miniseries or Television Film. She also was nominated for a Primetime Emmy.

I can still hear her deep throated description of one restaurant they had visited, “It was Marvelous!” So are you Brenda!

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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 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.

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.

 Conversations with Stuntmen by Tony Piazza

  

   I had mentioned elsewhere that one of the greatest advantages about being a member of a film crew is getting to know and visit with co-workers who range from major actors to lesser known grips. And although directors were interesting to talk to, my favorite by far were the stuntmen, especially those who had spent years in the business- for they had many more stories to tell. For instance, we were shooting a “Streets of San Francisco” episode in an apartment off of Chinatown. The scene called for a character to fall down a flight of stairs. The stuntman- an older man- utilized for this scene told me that he use to do this for RED SKELTON in the movies he made back in the 1940’s. In another episode I rode with a group of stuntmen on a trip to our location in Fisherman’s Wharf, one was bragging how he’d broke the record for the longest dive when he leapt off a studio waterfall for the film “Our Man Flint.” One evening we were shooting at the QM Studios and during a break a television was wheeled in and the James Bond film, “Diamonds are Forever” was tuned in. As I watched the program with a couple of stuntmen, they revealed that they had worked on the film, and when it came to the chase through downtown Las Vegas I was given an inside commentary from them both about the shooting. One interesting note- during the Mint parking lot scene, the police car that slid sideways into the wall was not planned, but an actual accident on the stunt driver’s part.

 

   Speaking of accidents- on a local radio interview I had recently, the host asked if there had been mishaps on the set. My answer was that there had been some, but not many. It is the job of the stunt coordinator to make sure that it does not occur- most have it figured down to a science. Still, a notable incident, and one that made the local newspapers at the time, occurred on “The Streets of San Francisco.” A stuntman doubling for an actor falls from a speedboat into the San Francisco Bay; as the boat makes a second pass close to the man now treading water, the boat accidentally hits the swimmer. The mistake of the company was that they had the owner of the boat drive it, and not another stuntman. Both Ken Swor our first assistant director and MICHAEL DOUGLAS dove into the bay to save him. Ken reached him first, and got a hold of the unconscious body before he went under. Both Ken and Michael received an award from the Red Cross for their valor.

 

   Another incident occurred on the shooting of a television movie entitled “The Monk” starring GEORGE MAHARIS. The Bay Area Rapid Transit System (BART) was still under construction, and a tunnel leading down from the street was the location of the shoot. In the script, this was going to be the end of a car chase- as the speeding car flips over on its side and skids down into the tunnel. It was planned that a foot chase would follow, however the stuntmen had miscalculated by just inches the angle of a small wooden ramp they had constructed, and this combined with their speed sent the car completely over onto its roof. When the dust settled there was no motion from the two stuntmen inside- and as luck had it, both their wives were on the set which added to the pandemonium. On closer examination, both were unconscious- their seat belts had become loosened and they had hit their heads on the inverted ceiling. An ambulance took them off, but happily a few hours later they were both back on the set. The foot chase was scratched however, because on film it really looked like no one could walk away from the wreck.

 

  You really have to tip your hats to these guys- the stuntman.  Because we suspend our grasp on reality we believe that it is actually the actor out there risking his neck, but in truth- with a few exceptions- it is these men (minus the big marquee billings) that bring us all the thrills. I think now you can understand why I found their stories so interesting.

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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.

MY EXPERIENCES WORKING WITH STUNTS on “STREETS” by Tony Piazza

One of the greatest thrills I had on “The Streets of San Francisco” was getting a chance to work directly with the stunt men. I was involved in two stunts while working on the show- excluding the episode in which I was shot and had to roll down a driveway- both of which involved a car crash. The first took place in Santa Rosa, California, where photo-doubling Meg Foster (yes, and the outfit was embarrassing- wig and all) – we (stunt man for Michael Douglas and myself) were side-swiped by a car of thugs and slid into a tree trunk. The episode was “Trail of Terror” (1975).

Later that same summer, we were working on the episode “Dead Air” when I was approached at lunch time by the first Assistant Director, David Whorf and asked if I would be willing to do a stunt doubling Larry Hagman. It was scheduled for the next day (Saturday) and he explained further that it involved yet another car crash, only this time between a speeding car (of which I would be a passenger) and a parked vehicle. I instantly agreed (again chalk this up to youth) and anxiously awaited the events of the next day.

Karl Malden heard of the arrangement, and thoughtfully came up to me later in the day and asked if I really wanted to do this? He was afraid that I was being pressured, but when he was satisfied that it was truly my own decision gave me his blessings. He confessed at the time that he didn’t care for helicopters…felt they were death traps…and so avoided them at all costs (his stand-in, Art Passerella doubled him if any copters were involved in the plot).

Early Saturday morning the company arrived at the set; the location was at the foot of Broadway Street, just across from the restaurant- Victoria Station- (alas no longer there) and the actual filming of the stunt would not occur until after our lunch break. Earlier they had filmed the lead up to the crash; Larry Hagman gets into his girl friends’ car (a Mustang II) – slides into the front bucket seat next to the driver (Arlene Golanka) and they begin a conversation that is interrupted by a rifle shot. The sniper’s bullets hits the cars’ rear window, whereby Ms. Golanka’s character panics slamming her foot down on the accelerator, causing her car to careen across an intersection, and slam into a parked car. This segment (the lead up) was done under the shadows of the Embarcadero Freeway overpass (since removed during the 1989 earthquake) and our special effects man, Gibby, fired a special mixture from an air gun that splattered and simulated bullet impacts on glass.

Once all the principal photography was done we broke for lunch and then shortly afterwards I was sent to wardrobe to be outfitted in a duplicate of Mr. Hagman’s clothes and to hairdressing to be fitted with a wig. By the way, Larry Hagman himself was a blast… a very funny man. He kept the crew in hysterics by his crazy antics on the set….This was one episode I thoroughly enjoyed working on just because I didn’t know what “gags” he would pull during the course of the shooting. After changing my clothes, I happened to cross his path. He was talking to some other people when he spotted me wearing his outfit, and immediately called me over. He asked if I was going to do the stunt for him. I said “yes” and he laughed and responded, that “he wouldn’t!” Such words of comfort!

Finally, the time had come; Al Francis- the Cinematographer for the show that season had his crew set up a camera at the intersection- a rather low shot, which would pan as we rocketed by and hit the parked (studio) car at the curb. Now, the minute I started to get into the car, Virgil Vogel, the director came over and personally checked that every precaution was being taken. He was concerned that there were no chains holding my seat in place- these prevented the folding bucket seat from collapsing forward during impact…and held up production until they could be found and put in place (I really liked Virgil). Another delay came about when someone spotted a Lincoln parked in a lot behind our parked car and decided that it should be removed as a precaution before the shot. Eventually we cleared all hurdles, and the stunt driver R.J. and I started the “run- through” for camera. R.J, by the way also made sure I was prepared before we got started. He made sure I had my knee pads, and placed a furniture blanket between my knees and the dash. He also made sure that I had latched my seat belt (heavy duty ones installed especially for the stunt) and he very carefully explained every step of the set-up for the stunt. He would aim for the parked vehicles rear door- where there was the least resistance- the parking brake would be left off of the parked car- further dampening the impact, and detailed what speed he was aiming for, etc. A large crowd had formed by the time we were ready, which added more drama to the setting- but quite honestly, I had no fears because I knew I was in great hands. I also was having so much fun that I really didn’t give much thought to all the possible consequences. Interestingly, after all the waiting, it was over in a flash. With “action” we roared across the intersection, pushed the parked car aside, ran up on the sidewalk and came to rest after hitting the company car that had replaced the Lincoln that had been parked there. We had overshot our mark, and the precaution paid off! Aside from a feeling of heat that generated from my toes and traveled up my spine during impact, there were no ill effects from the ordeal- and as the crew came rushing up to check on us and I heard the applause from the crowd as we exited safely, I was thoroughly glad to have had accepted this assignment.

 

Back then, I was an elected board member to the Screen Extras Guild, and they had had a photographer there to capture the event for our newsletter- so happily today, I have both the pictures and the grand memories of an event in my life which I wouldn’t trade for a fortune in gold- even if I was asked to!

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.