Eleven words… my claim to celebrity status; my fifteen minutes of fame which if you took a stop watch and measured, would run well under that length of time. And although I would have many small screen appearances later on in “The Streets of San Francisco,” these few words to this day still get me the most attention. Why? Because Clint Eastwood films are both well known and greatly admired not only in the U.S., but also by audiences around the world. Therefore to be associated with a Clint Eastwood movie usually guarantees that an actor (even a bit one as myself) will receive instant and lasting recognition.
Dirty Harry (1971)
Not long ago, TCM ran a tribute to Clint Eastwood and it brought back memories of my experiences meeting and working with him. He was a very pleasant, down to earth man in person…a real pleasure. I met him first in 1971 when he was shooting Dirty Harry. I had gone down to North Beach (one of the film’s locations) to take a look at the “Harry” car which it was being arranged I would purchase from Warners' Transportation when the picture “wrapped”. It was to be my first car and owning a picture car driven by Clint Eastwood made it all the more exciting.
He was very humble, polite, and soft-spoken when I met him and I also remember being surprised at how tall he was - well over six feet. I subsequently went down to the set many times afterwards and brought high school friends and dates along. Needless to say I was very popular amongst my peers. I unfortunately didn’t get the car, however - they needed it for a “pickup shot” in L.A. later and it got shipped back to the Warner Brothers lot.
In 1973, three years after becoming an “extra” I reported on the set of Magnum Force - Dirty Harry’s second appearance on screen. I initially performed in the background in various roles - police officers mainly, but during one of the days that I had reported to work as an “extra” I was approached by the Assistant Director, Al Silvani, who told me that my agent had suggested me for a small speaking role as a Cadet in the film. I was of course ecstatic. I was given the few pages of script that contained my line and rehearsed every variation of that piece of dialogue that you could imagine (see above and watch the very beginningof the clip below).
Magnum Force (1973)
Finally the day came and I reported to the police firing range to do my scene in the picture. I was in good company - getting to hang out with Robert Urich, David Soul, Tim Matheson, and Kip Niven all day (actually two days - it took that long to film!). They were a fun group…and I remember Urich doing impersonations of various celebrities like Ed Sullivan, etc. He kept us in stitches. Ted Post was the director and I was able to cinch my bit in two takes. Of course Clint Eastwood, Hal Holbrook, and John Mitchum were also there. It was a memorable event.
The last time I got to work with Eastwood was in 1976 on his third outing as Harry in the The Enforcer. I was at the Hall of Justice - this time as an “extra”. Perhaps I was feeling shy - or maybe I figured he wouldn’t remember me because (after all) it had been three years since I last saw him - or I thought he was a big actor now and too busy for me - but in any case I felt uncomfortable to re-introduce myself and so didn’t bother to go up to him that day. However, as they were setting up I happened to glance over in his direction and he made a point to single me out and nod a greeting of acknowledgement. I thought that was pretty cool - especially since now he was a bonafide mega star! But, you know, in hindsight, I shouldn’t have been surprised - that is Clint Eastwood. He never saw himself as a “star” - he has always been unpretentious in that way.
Clint Eastwood today
One incident to drive this point home occurred during the filming of Dirty Harry. My father worked in his usual capacity (liaison between SFPD and the motion picture company) on that film, and both he and Eastwood had the same birthday, May 31st. The crew decided to get a cake for my Dad and presented it to him at lunch. One problem - they forgot it was also Clint Eastwood’s birthday. Well, could you imagine what the results would have been if this happened to another big actor with a matching ego? Not Clint, he wished my father a “Happy Birthday” and enjoyed some of his cake.
Well, that’s my two cents for what it's worth regarding my time spent with Clint Eastwood. Great memories of a great guy and certainly worthy of the honor TCM gave him. Of course, knowing him, he probably thought it was a lot of to-do about nothing.
Guest blogger Magic Lantern 21/aka/Tony Piazza is a San Francisco native whose father was at one time assigned by the City and County of San Francisco to be liaison between the SFPD and visiting film companies. This assignment involved assisting with scouting locations and making sure the city's day-to-day activities weren't hampered by filming. One such assignment was responsibility for the safety of citizens and property when the iconic chase scene in Bullitt (1968) was being filmed.
Tony himself, as he mentioned, worked for a time in the industry. He was an extra, a stand-in, performed stunts and had bit parts in films and on TV. Eventually, however, his life took a scientific turn and he has had a long career as a biologist.
More recently Tony returned to entertainment and the arts. He performed as an extra in the film Sideways (2004), did a commercial for a local retail store and has produced his own films. His book, Anything Short of Murder, is about to be published by Dog Ear Publishing, hopefully by the end of the year; it will be available at Amazon and other major book sites. As MagicLantern21, a member of TCM's CFU, Tony has a long-running murder mystery serial, REEL MURDER, in progress. Click here for a link to the related contest he's created and the chance to win a $20 Movies Unlimited gift certificate.
Thank you, Tony, for sharing your memories with Reel Life! - The Lady Eve
Michael Douglas with Tony Piazza (Magic Lantern 21) on the set of "The Streets of San Francisco"