It’s difficult to drive over one of San Francisco’s famous hills, without pondering the notion of punching the gas and getting a little air … ala the 1968 film Bullitt. The vision of Steve McQueen tearing across San Francisco’s neighborhoods in a green Mustang is legendary.
At the time, Tony Piazza was a San Francisco Police officer who, according to his son, worked as a liason between San Francisco and the film’s production company.
“His job was to look out for the locations basically in the city,” said the son, also Tony Piazza.
The elder Piazza often brought his son to many of the filming locations. The younger Piazza said his father struck up a friendship with the film’s star, Steve McQueen.
“They worked very closely together especially with the chase scenes,” the son said. “He had a lot of sleepless nights when they were shooting those two weeks during that chase scene.”
The famous chase wound through neighborhoods like Potrero Hill, the Marina, Nob Hill and Russian Hill. Director Peter Yates took a few liberties with the route. In one scene, McQueen makes a turn on Potrero Hill, only to magically end up on Russian Hill.
But the day the younger Piazza remembered most was the final day of filming on the chase scene. That day the production moved from San Francisco to Daly City’s Guadalupe Canyon Parkway. Since the location was out of his dad’s jurisdiction, the elder Piazza took the family on location to watch. The younger Piazza carried a Super 8 film camera.
He captured behind the scenes of the production. At one point then-San Francisco Mayor Joe Alioto turns up with his daughters and Steve McQueen, having dedicated a new pool in Bayview-Hunters Point, paid for by the film production company.
Piazza’s camera was also rolling as one of the chase cars plowed into a makeshift building and exploded into flames – the chase scene’s climax.
The film made such an impression on the younger Piazza that he ended up working for five years as an extra for the Streets of San Francisco TV series, which had its own chase scenes on the city’s famous hills.
“You can’t turn a corner in the city without being reminded of something from Bullitt or the Streets of San Francisco,” Piazza said.
Piazza went on to write several books, including an E-book of his experiences on the Bullitt set. He intends to donate all of the profits to the Boys Republic charity, which he said was McQueen’s favorite charity.
Next year, will mark the 45th anniversary of Bullitt’s release and Piazza said San Francisco is planning festivities to mark the occasion. Piazza said it’s fitting the city pay tribute to the film.
“I think it showed the world just what a beautiful city this is,” he said.