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!
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.