The 1977 California Trip: We left a few things in San Francisco

The 1977 California Trip: We left a few things in San Francisco

Not our hearts.

It was the summer of 1977 and we had plans. Plans to hit the road again for a vacation down California way.

Instead of flying this time we took our orange Arrow. With me driving of course.

We made the trip in stages, stopping the first night at the Mallory Hotel in Portland OR. We didn’t see much of the city. It was dark out, and on our quest to find a place to eat, we settled on a familiar name – Benihana’s Japanese restaurant. So that section of Portland and whatever was viewable from the off ramp to the hotel and the streets to get back onto I-5 were all we saw of the city.

We made good time from Portland through the rest of Oregon and into Northern California. We reached Vacaville in time for lunch at a restaurant in an olive orchard. My wife remembered this particular restaurant/tourist spot from a family vacation when she was growing up. She carries with her the memory of her dad grimacing when sampling a rather green olive. This time around she was the one grimacing – over my choice from the menu – gazpacho. I guess the thought of cold tomato soup put her teeth on edge. I thought it wonderful (the soup, not the fact that it made her grimace).

From Vacaville we made our way down to San Pablo Bay, skirted around towards San Rafael, and crossed the Golden Gate Bridge to our next destination – San Francisco. We checked into a motel somewhere along route 1, unloaded our luggage (except a couple of items) and went in search of dinner.

The Hyatt Regency at the Embarcadero Center was only four years old at the time, and a prime night spot. It had a revolving restaurant, the Equinox, on the top of its tower. We parked the Arrow a few blocks away up on Market Street, and were mesmerized by the impressive lobby of the hotel (like being in the interior of a pyramid) which we passed through on the way to the restaurant. [My wife is a great disaster movie fan, and shots of this particular lobby were recognizable, as it had been used in The Towering Inferno, three years before.]

We had a enjoyable meal. I can tell you that much, but don’t ask what it was, for what happened next completely overshadowed all else.

We each had had an adult beveridge with our meal, so we were a little fuzzy as we walked up Market to our parked car. We were puzzled by the sight of a loaf of bread sitting on the sidewalk beside the Arrow. My wife wondered out loud why our groceries were outside the car. We didn’t notice the broken glass under the bread, and were slow to realize that our car had been broken into and robbed.

We found a phone and called the cops. After giving them the rundown on our plight, they informed us that they could not come out to the scene of the crime, but if we wanted to come in to fill out a report we were welcome to.

We followed their directions to a small precinct house further uptown and made our report. Besides our groceries we were missing a couple other items: an 8mm Bell & Howell movie camera and dirty laundry in a paper sack. Sometime in the midst of this ordeal I asked urgently if they had a restroom. This sent me on another surreal sidetrack, as they had no public facility and referred me next door to a seedy bar/nightclub. I felt I was sleep walking through the rest of our time there. It was real “trippy.”

The next day was a Sunday and the memory of what transpired is all a hazy black cloud. Reality was settling in. Was our vacation over before it had begun? We needed a replacement for that backseat side window and where would we find one?

We had to wait until Monday. That’s when we raised a Chrysler dealorship, but they did not have that part in stock. Nor did any of the auto glass companies. Hope was offered, in that they could order it in – but it would take a couple of days. Desperate to save our vacation, I asked if there was something we could substitute, say something plastic. That set a light bulb off in the imagination of the auto glass specialist, and he referred us to a shop that dealt in plexiglass. On parting he suggested that we tell them to use the other window as a template to cut a replacement.

Which is exactly what we were able to do. And we were on the road again before lunch. With only an occasional whistling noise from our replacement “window.”

Bridges and Phone Numbers

I love research. So I am jazzed that my writing gives me many opportunities to do so. Usually I do all my research upfront before starting a script. For instance, I had to rule out using the Golden Gate Bridge as a location for it did not exist in 1928. It was being debated then, but construction didn’t even start until five years later.

But sometimes in the midst of writing I get stopped cold until I can answer a pertinent question.

That happened just recently (on this same project). I was typing along creating the dialogue for one of the characters. He was picking up the phone to make a call – and he has to speak the number he wants to the operator. Phone numbers in those days required an exchange that you would state upfront. So I needed one that would pass muster.

I opened my browser and went over to the Internet Archive, and there did a search in their text holdings, using the terms “1928” and “San Francisco.” Among the returns to this query was a city directory for San Francisco which was perfect for my need. I flipped through several pages and noted down several exchange names (Sutter, Kearney, Mission, Market, etc.), from which to choose later and just in case I need more than one.

And I ran across this one listing that seemed to shout, “Pick me! Pick me!”

Bridges and Phone Numbers

Howard in the Middle

Howard Kazanjian was all set for the first day of shooting on “Finian’s Rainbow.”

His director Francis Ford Coppola had fixed on an idea for the opening title sequence. He wanted to shoot his two main stars on the Golden Gate bridge. At that time no one shot anything on the Golden Gate Bridge, for the simple reason that you could not even get a permit to do so.

Not to be deterred, Francis set out to do it anyway. He and Howard took a rented station wagon, picked up Fred Astaire and Petula Clark, then headed for the bridge.  Francis dropped Howard and the two stars off at the San Francisco end of the bridge. From there the threesome pretended to be pedestrians out for a stroll, sightseeing. (Of course, Howard kept out of range of the camera). With the tailgate on the station wagon down and the camera set there to shoot, Francis had the key gaffer drive the vehicle past them and then slow down to a crawl, while he and his cameraman caught his stars as they walked the pavement.  By the time they got to the end of the bridge the police had arrived to investigate what was going on. They pulled them over into the scenic turn out on the Marin side.

The production manager from WB for Finian was waiting for them in this parking lot when they pulled in. And he just so happened to know the officer that was threatening to arrest them. Another fine mess they avoided. [Aside – you won’t see a hint of this bit in any of the DVDs. Howard remembers that in the roadshow release a section was used, including a distant glimpse of the flashing red light of the cop car when it came after them.]

A couple of days later they mounted a larger expedition. Again they held on to the station wagon, but added a truck, and a car. They used the car to transport Fred and Petula. With Francis driving, Fred sat in back on the right and Petula on the left, with Howard on the hump in the middle. Their route was all planned out as they headed south out of San Francisco. However, Francis was soon off the route when he spotted some sheep off on a hill. They soon lost the other vehicles in pursuit of their bucolic shot. Once they were up by the sheep, Francis had Howard get out and herd the fleecy critters past their one camera.

By the time they loaded up the station wagon, Howard knew he had to do something to head off the possibility of a meal penalty. It was already late afternoon, so he put the question to them.  He stated did you want to have your meal here, gesturing to the passing scenery with no eatery in site, or wait for the hotel where they had scheduled to stop before their day began.  Fred spoke up and said, “No, let’s wait for the hotel.” And Petula nodded her agreement. So Howard had it on the record that they had declined his offer. The stars had graciously played along with the AD to save the production from the cost of the meal penalty.

[Aside – this sheep footage also did not make the DVD cut.]

Meeting Francis Ford Coppola

As is the usual formula, when beginning production on a film, the exterior shots on location were done first. So it was, that for the production of “Finian’s Rainbow,” Howard Kazanjian flew north from Los Angeles to San Francisco to meet the director and help him shoot exteriors in the Bay area. He arrived downtown and parked his rental car in the basement garage of the Hilton Hotel. He took the elevator up from there. Two men got on at the first floor – an older man and a young man with a beard. About the fourth floor the bearded man turned to the older and asked, “When is Howard Kazanjian going to get here?” That got Howard’s attention. The bearded man of course was Francis Ford Coppola, who had never met Howard before. The older man was the production manager, who did know Howard and quickly made the introductions.

Over the next few days Howard came to know and admire the film making sensibilities of Coppola. In their immediate meetings, no real plan was laid out blow for blow, just some destinations at which they needed to arrive for some opportunities that did have to be planned in advance. They would be on the lookout and stop along the road whenever they saw an interesting backdrop for the stars to gambol across. We would call this style these days, “guerrilla film-making.” This struck a chord with Howard.

The first day would be spent with Fred Astaire and Petula Clark in the environs of the Golden Gate Bridge, both south and north of it. What footage they captured would be used for the title sequence of the film. And when they finished, they needed to be up in the Sonora area, where they had scheduled a complicated shoot with the romantic lead Don Francks and a railroad train.

At the time there must have been a lot on Coppola’s mind. Coppola adored the music of Finian’s Rainbow, but not so much the story. In fact he called the book “klunky” and out of date. To give it a more contemporary feel he added a whole new subplot – the mentholated tobacco hybridization that the Al Freeman Jr. character was working on as a means to save the Rainbow Valley community financially. His activism and sit down strikes injected a civil rights flavor into the story.

Back in LA the production was still being put together. Casting had not been completed. Sets were still being designed and put together. At least they did not have those worries. Coppola and Kazanjian had a week ahead of them free to go where the wind blew them.