On the Set with Alfred Hitchcock by Tony Piazza
Summer of 1975
One advantage of having two people working in the entertainment industry is that it can get you access to production locations that you’re not working on. In this case Grace Cathedral during the shooting of ALFRED HITCHCOCK’S last feature, FAMILY PLOT. I was working with the crew of THE STREETS OF SAN FRANCISCO, when my mother got a call for the Hitchcock feature. I remember climbing up several steep blocks from our Market Street location to that of Family Plot’s which was on Nob Hill. I was on my hour lunch break, so I did it quickly- the joys of youth!
As I approached the location I saw the trucks, and the caterers setting up tables for lunch in the courtyard of the cathedral. I remembered being impressed by the formality of the caterer- linen tablecloths, fine dishes, cloth napkins, and silverware. I won’t say that Street’s caterer was serving on paper plates with plastic utensils, but we certainly didn’t have such a classy set-up as that hired for that film production. This formality also spread to the crew, who were in shirt, tie, and jacket. I’m sure Hitch had something to do with all this- it seemed his style. Of course when I related these details to The Street’s crew it was met with a certain amount of sarcasm- especially by the camera crew.
My mother was an extra (background artist) sitting with others in the cathedral’s pews. They’d needed a large crowd, so Ann Brebner- the casting agent- asked her people if they knew others who could work as waivers (i.e. non-union). My mother asked a friend she grew up with to join her, and the lady was thrilled. The scene was the kidnapping of the Bishop by the villains of the story, WILLIAM DEVANE and KAREN BLACK. Karen Black was disguised as an old lady, and even though I was looking right at her, and knew it was her, she was unrecognizable- kudos to the great make-up by artist JACK BARRON.
Alfred Hitchcock made a grand entrance while I was there; marching down the aisle, huffing and puffing like the bishop himself on his way to conduct mass. He was quite red in the face, and it seemed as if the journey to his chair aside the altar was extremely taxing to him. Mentally I couldn’t help but hear his signature theme, FUNERAL MARCH FOR A MARIONETTE, playing mentally in my head as he walked the distance. Once I got a glimpse of Hitch, I high-tailed it back down the hill to The Street’s location- after all; they were paying my wages, but I was extremely glad that I skipped lunch to see this legend at work. I grew up with him on television and in films. He was more than just a great director, but a personality whose dry wit, and sheer presence always brought a smile to my face.
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 this year, his latest Tom Logan Mystery, “A Murder Amongst Angels” was published and is now available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble websites. 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.
The novels that started it all. The first and second novel in the Tom Logan mystery series have become audio books- read by actor James Romick, and is available on Audible, Amazon, and I-tunes.
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Also: The new Tom Logan mystery thriller, A Murder Amongst Angels .
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