Tag Archive: Peter Yates


For several weeks you’ve been reading blogs about my involvement with television and motion pictures, and one of the most popular subjects I noticed was that of STEVE McQUEEN and “Bullitt.”  Next year will mark the film’s 45th Anniversary! Can you believe it.  Earlier, you read something of my experiences, but it wasn’t the whole story, and so as Paul Harvey used to say, ” Now for the rest of the story.” Yes, I completed my tale, but it morphed it into an e-book…and best of all…100% of the profits will go to McQueen’s favorite charity, The Boys Republic, in Chino, California. It was the institute that turned him around, and he never forgot it! This e-book is priced extremely reasonably. In fact a cup of coffee costs more, and it is for  a very worthy cause. Why am I doing this?  Because Mr. McQueen was thoughtful and considerate to a thirteen year old boy, who has never forgotten his kindness!

Please do something for the boys at the Republic…who knows, there may be another Steve McQueen out there looking to be saved!

Link is below. If nothing else, please look at what I have to offer and consider donating to this worthy cause.

http://www.bullittpoints.com/

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.

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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.

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.

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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” 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.

The Day I Met Steve McQueen by Tony Piazza

 

   Jacqueline Bisset (Cathy) and Steve McQueen across from S.F. General Hospital.

I met STEVE McQUEEN for the first time in the basement of San Francisco General Hospital during the filming of the motion picture, “Bullitt.” San Francisco General, an atmospheric old brick and mortar structure located in the Mission District was a popular filming location. It would later be used in the film “Dirty Harry” and the television series, “The Streets of San Francisco.” I was thirteen at the time when my mother and I had traveled to the set. They were filming the foot chase that occurs during the first quarter of the film. My father (as I’ve mentioned before was assigned by the SFPD to the film) met us outside and took us down to the basement. The filming site could only be reached through a labyrinth of passageways that were lined with electrical lines, water and heating pipes. It was a tricky journey. The set was “closed” to the public due to the closeness of the working area, but we were given special treatment thanks to my dad. It was hot in the basement because of the multitude of steam pipes that supplied heat to the hospital, and that, added to the motion picture lights made the environment extremely uncomfortable. The camera crew made a point of “saving” the lights  (in other words shutting them down) until they were needed to improve the conditions- but still it was hot and humid. Present, aside from the camera crew, were a handful of electricians, sound people, stuntmen, the director, PETER YATES and of course McQueen and the actor PAUL GENGE (the killer). My father called McQueen over and he seemed happy to meet us. There were no distractions from other on-lookers due to the “closed” set, so we had his full attention.

  Bisset and McQueen taking a break on a motorcycle.

Steve McQueen was dressed in a checked blue shirt, dark slacks, and a heavy brown sweater (which he had taken off in-between shots due to the heat). Still, he emitted that aura of “The King of Cool” and seemed every measure of it- even under such adverse conditions. After exchanging some polite comments to my mother he turned his attention to me. I think he knew his fans came from the younger generation, and so I think that was why he centered his attention on me. During the radio interview that I’d mentioned in an earlier blog I was also asked by the host, DAVE CONGALTON, “what made McQueen so cool to our generation?” We both decided that he had that “It” factor. And what was that “It?” That would be hard to define, but let’s say that here’s a guy who loved bikes, fast cars, and lived outside the conventional. I’d say that could explain it. Then, they also called him a rebel, although quite frankly I didn’t see it that day. A rebel to me is someone that is anti-social, distant, and brooding. You can tell that he was thoroughly interested in his fans- extremely social, and although stories said that he hated police, he really liked and respected my dad…he was sincere about that, I could tell. I think that he was labeled a rebel because he resisted conforming to the dictates of the studio system. And the executives were robbed of their power to punish him because he was so popular with the public. Or in their thinking, a big money maker. This was something they couldn’t argue with. But still it irked them because it denied them of their power. Sure he got into scrapes with the law, and he didn’t behave as the publicity boys would have preferred, but after all, that seemed to be what made him popular, and what was expected of him by his fans. Change that, and you change his appeal.

 McQueen liked to hit the hills in S.F. during breaks.

When McQueen talked with me, I have to admit that I felt somewhat intimated. Not that he meant to, in fact I’m sure he was trying to make me feel comfortable. He certainly was extremely down to earth and friendly. It was due in part to my reaction at meeting a star of his stature, and also a response to his intense way of questioning me about the mundane things in my life. I remember that he had placed one hand against a post and was leaning in towards me, his blue eyes unblinking, as he fired off a number of questions which he seemed very interested in hearing the answers to: “How old was I?” “Where did I go to school?” “What were my interests?” As I responded, at times not meeting him squarely in the eyes, he tilted his head, one ear slightly forward. It wasn’t until recently that I’d learned that he was partially deaf in one ear due to an infection he had as a kid, and realized that that could explain this intensity. When I mentioned that I enjoyed drawing as a hobby he invited me to come down and sketch on the set. He told me that he’d already allowed some students from the S.F. Art Academy to come down and do just that. As I said elsewhere, he really seemed interested in his fans, and enjoyed staying connected with them.

  McQueen in front of a flower stand on Stockton Street.

Here is an additional “tidbit” on McQueen. He was not comfortable in morgues. That became evident when it came to shooting his scenes in the S.F. morgue; he seemed extremely anxious to get it over quickly. He didn’t hang around in-between shots, and even expressed his feeling of discomfort to my father. It was no secret. I don’t think he’d feared death, otherwise he wouldn’t have taken the risks that he did with stunts and racing, but I believe it had to do with being in the presence of it. The atmosphere created an opportunity for reflection, and that was what made him feel uncomfortable- thinking about it. It is interesting though- Natalie Wood was nervous around water…and McQueen hated morgues- premonition?

  Robert Vaughn (Chalmers), Cinematographer (William Fraker), and Peter Yates (director) lining up a shot at Grace Cathedral, Nob Hill.

Some final thoughts on McQueen; as I mentioned a moment ago he liked doing some of his own stunts, and did them when allowed by the studio. Whether driving during the chase, jumping from a commercial airliner, or hunkering down as a jet rolled above him. He was cool in that way and I think that is what defined him. The likes of this “superstar” will never be seen again, and I consider myself very lucky that I got to meet him.

Author’s additional notes: I had visited the set numerous times afterward and in the future will share more stories (including my impressions on Jacqueline Bisset). I also worked with McQueen on “The Towering Inferno” and will be sharing that as well.

In my last post I included a letter that McQueen had sent to my father after they “wrapped”. What I didn’t mention was what it was attached to- a beautiful picnic basket from Abercrombie & Fitch. I have inherited it from my dad, and below is a picture of it.

Author’s trivia: The trauma unit doctors seen working on the victim shot by the assassin in the film were actual doctors and medical students. For realism, the director opted for them instead of actors.

(Above photographs were a rare find from the Piazza archives- these came from a S.F. Examiner article dated from 1968 and included a quote from my dad, as well as he given a credit with the production crew).

We  had the original script from “Bullitt” at one time. I’ve been tearing the house apart to find it, but sadly no luck so far. I will keep looking however.

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