Karl Malden dons make-up for Clown of Death episode
While filming an episode for season four on “The Streets of San Francisco” we got to go behind the scenes of a circus. The title of the show was “Clown of Death” and aside from the series stars, KARL MALDEN and MICHAEL DOUGLAS, the television police drama also featured DAVID BIRNEY, MADLYN RHUE, LYNNE MARTA, and DICK VAN PATTEN.
Dick Van Patten publicity shot
The backdrop we used for the story was an actual circus performing at the Cow Palace auditorium in San Francisco- specifically, the Police Athletic League (P.A.L.) circus. It was interesting watching what went on behind the scenes of a performance…seeing the performers prepare and the exotic animals cared for in-between shows. Unfortunately, one of our “extras”- dressed as an acrobat in leotards was not as thrilled about circus animals as I, when a chimp took a bite out of her calf as she was stepping into a trailer.
Myself with “Streets” jacket, outside Karl Malden’s Winnebago dressing room
We filmed a good portion of that week around the real circus – and I found the experience informative and strangely exciting. I guess you have to be a stage performer to totally understand the emotions I was feeling back then working behind the scenes of a “live” event.
My dad and Michael Douglas on location
It was a special thrill to witness from between the curtains the excitement of the audience, when (as an unexpected bonus) they got to see our star, Karl Malden riding on the back of a SFPD three-wheel motorcycle, red lights blazing and siren screaming, as my dad drove him around the center ring in the parade which opened the circus. As part of the episode, Karl goes undercover, disguised as a clown to try and flush out a killer. I could tell that Karl enjoyed the experience, as he wandered about the real audience replete in clown make-up, displaying his talent as a magician- sleight of hand- to an unsuspecting audience.
My personalized photo of Karl Malden
I had a role in the show too…one that really suited my personality…at least; I think that was what the first assistant had in mind, when they put me into a gorilla suit!
That gorilla (far right), was me…type casting?
Memories are a gift, reminding us during those quiet moments of special people that are no longer with us. For me, it’s my dad, the wonderful Karl Malden, and our good friend, Director Virgil Vogel- all who’d played a part in making “The Streets of San Francisco” such a success…and, provided me with this precious reminiscence today.
My parents and myself on location for “The Streets of San Francisco” during happier days.
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 next released early 2012, and in July of 2013, his latest Tom Logan Mystery, “A Murder Amongst Angels” was published and is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble websites. A new Tom Logan novel has been completed and is scheduled to be released in 2015. He was an actor/extra during the 1970s and worked with such legends as Steve McQueen, Paul Newman, and Karl Malden. His non-fiction e-book “Bullitt Points” is an in depth look at the making of “Bullitt” from a person who was there. Look for it on Amazon and Barnes and Noble websites, or at the link posted below. All profits go to the Boys Republic charity: www.bullittpoints.com.
Tony Piazza is a member of three prestigious writer’s organizations: Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, and the SLO NightWriters.
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