Tag Archive: The Naked Gun

An Encounter with Ricardo Montalban- A Class Act by Tony Piazza

   We shared the same birthdate, but not the same year. He worked on radio, televsion, theatre, and film. So did I. His career spanned six decades, mine only one. He was a star, and I…a fan. His name, was RICARDO MONTALBAN and he was every inch a movie actor in the classic sense. Granted there were other actors that could project the charm, wit, and sophistication that he did, but somehow his performances always seemed to do it better. Perhaps it was because it was no act, but film capturing the real man. 

   Montalban with Herve Villechaize (Fantasy Island).

   RICARDO MONTALBAN… to most, he needs no introduction. From early MGM musicals with Esther Williams (whom I also met) to Star Trek, Fantasy Island, The Naked Gun, and Escape to Conquest of the Planet of the Apes…he has been a prolific actor that has brought us much enjoyment through many generations. This photograph (below) was taken in 1971 on location in SF for a televsion mystery movie called “The Face of Fear’, co-starring Elizabeth Ashley.

   Montalban- a class act!

  They were filming at San Francisco’s Aquatic Park, close to the boat club, a very dramatic scene that included both Ashley and Montalban. On screen it was a private conversation, but in life they were surrounded by lights, camera, reflectors, sound recording equipment, booms, and a couple of dozen people which included director and film crew. That is the reality of the movie industry; creating an illusion that will convince an audience to accept what is projected on the screen as life. I have to admit that working in film does rob you of some of that magic, but it also instills in you an admiration for a film when it is really done right. That is where the actors come in, and the concentration and intensity delivered by both Montalban and Ashley in this scene really sold it for me.

   Co-star Elizabeth Ashley.

   “The Face of Fear” production company shot for forty-five minutes at that location. I was there the entire time, watching with the crew- others, a much larger crowd of onlookers were roped off at a distance, but because my father worked with the company I was given a front row view. After the scene was completed , Mr. Montalban was whisked away to his car. My father took my mother’s hand and led her towards the parked limo, I in close tow. When we reached it, I saw him sitting in the front passenger side, exhaustion etched on his face. My father called his name and tapped lightly on the car door. Always the latin gentleman…when he saw us with my father…he got out of the car…and then took my mother’s hand, a smile stretched broadly across his face…kissed her hand, and said, “you are a very lovely lady” and then asked “who is this gentleman?” (me), and shook my hand. There was class, and a fine example of what a gracious man he really was in life. If only the stars of today could conduct themselves with such panache, perhaps then we would have a few actors that years later we could call a class act.


Great memories. Thank you for letting me share them with you.


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.


Leslie Nielsen and Me by Tony Piazza


Mr. Nielsen and my father, from “The Streets of San Francisco.”

   In 1976 I worked on a Quinn Martin T.V. movie entitled “Brinks: The Great Robbery.” In it I was as a stand-in for STEPHEN COLLINS (“Star Trek-The Motion Picture”) . “Brinks” also starred LESLIE NIELSEN during his pre-“Airplane” days. I had worked with him before on “The Streets of San Francisco” (first season episode) and so knew that we were in for some fun… the prankster that he was… and he didn’t disappoint. I really liked Mr. Nielsen, both personally and professionally. He was a fun, friendly individual that always brought a smile to your face.

Forbidden Planet

   He was quite different from the earlier characters that he played in such films as “Tammy and the Bachelor” (1957) and Forbidden Planet (1956)”- just an aside, but I worked with his co-star ANNE FRANCIS, a real lovely lady.  Leslie was more like his “Airplane” (1980) character Dr. Rumack and “Naked Gun’s” (1988) Frank Drebin than his previous incarnations. To illustrate this point, he once told a story about being on a talk show. He had injured his wrist a week earlier and his doctor gave him a rubber ball to squeeze as part of his recovery. This ball made a rude sound when depressed, and seeing the comedic possibilities he brought it on the show hidden in his hand. Occasionally, when the host asked a question he squeezed it…the host became embarrassed and didn’t know what to make of it, except that Mr. Nielsen may have had cabbage for lunch!

   The Naked Gun

   The attached picture was taken in the Hall of Justice in San Francisco one Saturday during the summer of 1976. The story was set in 1950 and we had to dress accordingly. The lady in the middle was my mother. She had worked as an “extra” that day. The cinematographer on this show was a good friend of mine, MICHEL HUGO. We had not only worked together on this movie, but “The Streets of San Francisco”, “Bert D’Angelo, Superstar,” “The Avenger’s USA”, and the motion picture “Manitou.” Michel was the director of photography on the original “Mission Impossible” series (‘60s) and such feature films as “Bless the Beasts and Children” (1971) and “The April Fools” (1969).

 Mr. Nielsen, Michel Hugo, and my mother are gone… and I’m sure to a much better place. They will be missed. Still,  I wonder if Mr. Nielsen brought along his rubber ball?

R.I.P. Mr. Nielsen…it was a pleasure.


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.