Heart of the City Archives

Victor Gotti, Hank Donat, and Rolando Gotti share memories of Hitchcock and Ernie's with TCM.

Looking back at SF films, 'forwardly' at Hitchcock
by Hank Donat

A crew from Turner Classic Movies was in town this week, tracing the footsteps of Alfred Hitchcock and other great directors who knew a jewel when they saw one. A giant diamond was the McGuffin of Hitchcock's final film, Family Plot, but this time the City itself is the gem under the lights and Turner's cameras.

"Footsteps in Fog" authors Jeff Kraft and Aaron Leventhal provided a tour of Hitchcock locations. Film Commissioner Stephanie Coyote offered details on the ins and outs of making cinema in the City. For locals, an important aspect of Turner's upcoming documentary is an interview with brothers Roland and Victor Gotti of the defunct Ernie's supper club.

Ample choruses of ohhs and ahhs rang out as the brothers displayed personal letters from Hitchcock in which the director shows a surprising sense of humor. In them, Hitchcock wonders whether Ernie's clientele can appreciate fine wines and says the last birthday he celebrated was his 39th, but "the numbers should be reversed." Hitchcock signed off with great warmth. "Yours looking forwardly," the great director said.

Victor Gotti says a new owner would like to move forward with plans to develop the former Ernie's location at 845 Montgomery Street as condos. Gotti hears there may be "something red" in the lobby there by which to remember the legendary supper club.

Those aesthetic tokens of esteem for bygone institutions are always met with mixed reviews. You can tear down a theatre to build lofts and call them "The Theatre Lofts," but you're not fooling anybody. The unfinished marquee on the site of the Royal Theatre at Polk and California streets, which will also become condos, is a monstrosity in the making.

One summer film that does not feature a San Francisco skyline, neither with nor without the Transamerica Pyramid deleted via Hollywood magic, is the comedy retelling of TV's Bewitched. A Chronicle writer incorrectly reported that an altered City skyline appears, inspiring a second Chronicle writer to discuss the impact of registering City landmarks as corporate trademarks. Only problem is, it just isn't true. The first writer also reported that Nicole Kidman carries a copy of Po Bronson's, "What Should I do with My Life?" through "half of the movie." Alas, that is also not true.

Milliner turned theatrical producer Ruth Garland-Dewson, the Mayor of Fillmore Street, promised a musical with "hattitude" before presenting the opening of Crowns at the Marine's Memorial Theatre, and did she ever deliver. The play by Regina Taylor tells the stories of several generations of black women and the hats they wear to church on Sunday.

Broadway vet Sheila Ellis inherited some such crowns from her mother. It's obvious that she knows what she's singing about. Michelle E. Jordan, Tiffany Thompson, Clinton Derricks-Carrol, and C. Kelly Wright round out the cast along with scene stealer Margarette Robinson. The opening night ovation was a standing one, but don't take my word for it. Catch Crowns while it flies.

The latest jewel in San Francisco's crown of beautiful places is the public park at director George Lucas' new Letterman Digital Arts compound in the Presidio. Take everything you've heard and double it. This park, replete with babbling brook, graceful arches, and views of the Palace of Fine Arts and Golden Gate Bridge, is a stunner.

On a tour of the Lucas campus, I encountered a senior lady cooling her toes on Lucas' lawn. "Isn't this a beautiful park?" she asked of her companion, "He didn't have to do all this." She was obviously a tourist, for any local knows that if you want to build your office in the middle of a national park in San Francisco, yes, that is what you have to do. And so Lucas did, and now San Francisco has a new resplendent meadow.

My seven year-old nephew is going to love the Yoda statue and fountain located in the heart of the former Letterman Hospital site. I'm not skilled in the ways of the Jedi, but I know the difference between a beautiful sculpture and the hunk of junk that was foisted on Salem, Massachusetts by the TV Land network as part of the run up to the aforementioned Bewitched flick.

In closing, Michael Strickland is a local who also likes to share what he sees with his eyes and through his camera lense. Strickland's favorite subject is his Civic Center neighborhood. The photoblogger sheds some light on one corner of the City that's often overlooked as nothing more than a place for opera openings, political demonstrations, and state visits. Of course Civic Center is much more than that. Check out Strickland's effort at sfcivicenter.blogspot.com.

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