Karl Malden’s Joke by Tony Piazza

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This is a short memory, but a fond one. We (the crew of “The Streets of San Francisco”) were shooting a scene for an episode near Ghirardelli Square. As with most location shooting, we were attracting a crowd. And with this being a Friday night and a popular tourist spot, even more so than normal. People were everywhere.  Areas were roped off on a grassy knoll in an effort to separate the onlookers from the shooting location. It was a chaotic night. Some friends stopped by to surprise me- old buddies from school. They said that they just wanted to come by and say hello, but I suspect it was more likely to impress their dates.  They kept telling me how lucky I was to be able to work on a television show. Sure.  Six days a week, and a minimum of twelve hours a day- in other words, no social life at all.  In truth I envied them, with a pretty girl on their arm and a free evening to enjoy courtship- of course I didn’t tell them so. However, on the flip side, I’d made friends on “Streets”  with such wonderful people as KARL MALDEN, and MICHAEL DOUGLAS; and Director of Photography, MICHEL HUGO, and Director VIRGIL VOGEL. So on second thought; it had its advantages. I was part of a unique family, and what social life I did have, revolved around co-workers and those moments in-between shooting. That was the reality of working on a film or television project. Karl Malden, more than anyone realized this, and tried to keep the atmosphere around the set always warm, fun, and friendly. For example, I’ll return to that Friday night. As I’d just mentioned, there was a large crowd of fans rubber-necking to see the action, and especially the stars. Karl was not in any of the scenes that evening, and had it off. His wife, Mona was visiting, and so they decided to use the time for sightseeing and shopping. Whether it was on purpose, or not, I’m not certain, but somehow they crossed paths with the production company. Karl and Mona were now standing behind the ropes among the fans looking in on our activity. Karl was not in his trademark dark suit, maroon vest, and gray hat. In fact, he was out of make-up and dressed in a tan leather jacket, comfortable slacks, and shirt opened at the collar. Fans hadn’t realized he was standing among them. They were too busy looking for him and other stars on the opposite side of the ropes. I spotted him however, and watched with amusement as he asked some of the gawkers with a gleam in his eye, “What’s going on here? Are the filming something?”  Eventually a few caught on, and when they did, he and his wife disappeared. Karl was a great deal of fun, and I miss him, and those glorious days tremendously.


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” was released early 2012 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 where fine books are sold, or at the link posted below. All profits go to the Boys Republic charity: www.bullittpoints.com.

Also: Watch for the new Tom Logan mystery thriller published soon by Amazon!

Due out mid-2013!



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6 Responses to “Karl Malden’s Joke by Tony Piazza”

  1. Laura says:

    Sounds like he had a good sense of humor about his fame. That’s kind of neat. I remember watching that show when I was young. It was pretty interesting show. Was it one of the first set in San Fransisco? And for that matter, did the hilliness of the city make location shooting difficult?

  2. tonypiazza says:

    Karl had a wonderful sense of humor, and we had a great time filming the series. “Streets of San Francisco” was not the first show set in SF. There were other police shows, like “San Francisco Beat” or “The Line-up”, and “Ironside” that came earlier, but it was one of the few (if not the first) to be shot entirely on location. Regarding the hills…it wasn’t difficult to shoot, and an attraction to production companies because of the marvelous views. A cinematographer once told me that both Rome and SF were the most photogenic cities because of the hills. Thank you, Laura for reading and taking the time to comment.

  3. J. M. Roman says:

    Was always a fan of Karl Malden, early on with “Streetcar Named Desire.” Had the pleasure recently of viewing him as a detective in “Dead Ringer” with Betty Davis, an oldie on public TV. Didn’t find out until much later that he was a fellow Croatian-American and his real last name was Sekulovich.

    • tonypiazza says:

      Yes, J.M., and very proud of his roots. If you listen carefully in some of his films, and especially on “The Streets of San Francisco”, some minor character (or the Sgt. on “Streets”) is called Sekulovich. It is to honor his family and his heritage. Thank you for reading and commenting.

  4. Thanks for the inside stuff, Tony. “Streets” and “Police Story” were about the only two cop shows I watched faithfully. I spent 34 years in law enforcement and don’t watch other police-oriented programs to this day. I just can’t suspend reality-based experience long enough to enjoy them.

    Keep writing, and I look forward to reading “Bullitt Points,”

    • tonypiazza says:

      Hi James,

      Thank you for your comment. My dad was the same way. He worked for the SFPD for almost 30 years. He could never understand film squad room dialogue that used language that only toughs would use out in the streets. One four letter word especially, which he said would not go over well with the brass.

      Appreciate you taking the time to read and comment,
      Tony Piazza

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