J. Vincent Piluso 3:20 p.m., May 20
Movies Shot in San Diego: A Force of One (1979)
THE DAY CHUCK NORRIS CAME TO THE PALMS HOTEL ON 12TH AND ISLAND (and Jennifer O’Neal, too!!)
A Force of One is a Chuck Norris/Jennifer O’Neal thriller with Chuck kicking ass all over downtown San Diego, circa 1979. Some shots were done on 5th Avenue, at the all-night grindhouse theaters where I was working at the time, the Casino and the Aztec.
Other scenes were filmed where I was living at the Palms Hotel on 12th and Island, which at the time was the floppiest of downtown flophouses.
Today, the Palms is an upscale, brightly-renovated dorm, across from condos, but back then it was a bleak and faded roach farm. I took below photos of the Palms 25 years apart, 1979 and 2004:
One notable scene filmed at the Palms depicts Chuck and Jennifer walking into the lobby, and Chuck wants to do some tough talking at the front desk, at the bottom of the staircase. Jennifer instead applies a little charm (as much as the glacial Jennifer O'Neal can exude charm, anyway, which isn't a whole lotta).
The street level lobby -- which was usually filled with senior citizens watching the already-ancient TV -- was lit to highlight the dreadful worn-out walls AND some of the very same Hotel denizens, sitting on the couch benches (like converted bus benches), staring at the tube.
I remember there were quite a lot of residents who wanted the “role,” not so much to be in the movie but for the $50 fee. The old guy who used to rent me his car was in the scene. He used the $50 to get his OWN rent-to-own TV for his dinky third floor room, which needed a cleanup just to make room for set.
In the movie, Chuck and Jen then head up the grand staircase maze.
Note the poor wall "repairs," with masking tape over the cracks and red-painted in various colors that don't even come close to matching the wall paint. So, the duo makes their way into a room (later to be MY room)...
...and Chuck kicks some serious druggie ass.
Elsewhere in the movie, a junkie runs up the stairs and bangs on the door of room 31, screaming “Where’s my fix?!?”
After I moved into that room, the whole time I lived there, every single night, SOMEbody in the Hotel would pound on my door and scream "Where's my fix?!?" Often several somebodys.
On the day of the film shoot, Norris and O’Neal were seen walking around outside a lot, being very cordial to anyone who wanted to talk to them. Which wasn’t that many people.
The majority of Hotel residents seemed unaware or uncaring about who they were and what they were doing. They just grumbled about having to go in and out thru the back door and not having lobby access for the 15-or-so hour shoot.
The one Hotel pay phone was in the lobby, and thus off limits all day -- that was the real pisser for most of the residents. Well, that and Beasely’s dive bar next door to the Hotel being closed to the public, to instead be used as a roach wagon for the film crew and talent.
When A Force of One came out in theaters, I went to my own beloved Casino Theater on 5th to see it with fellow Hotel denizens Jerry the King of Cans and old Donald the drinker (the only time I recall ever seeing Donald outside the Hotel, other than going to and from Beasely’s bar next door).
We cheered like soccer hooligans during the Palms scene.
I didn’t remember another thing about the flick until screening the DVD recently. It's not at all a bad flick. Typical Norris fare, full of amped-up (if often inexplicable) action, and with lots of shots of downtown San Diego BEFORE it became the Gaslamp Quarter, back when it still clung to its gloriously seedy sailors-on-shore-leave legacy.
A Force of One is available on DVD.
"Field Of Screens" -- Cover story 7-6-06: Complete theater-by-theater history of San Diego drive-ins thru the years, including interviews with operators and attendees, dozens of rare and unpublished photos, vintage local theater ads, and more. http://www.sandiegoreader.com/weblogs...
"Before It Was The Gaslamp: Balboa's Last Stand" -- Cover story 6-21-07: In the late 70s/early 80s, I worked at downtown San Diego's grindhouse all-night movie theaters. This detailed feature recalls those dayz, the death of the Balboa Theatre, etc., including interviews with operators, vintage local movie ads, and more. http://www.sandiegoreader.com/weblogs...
"Pussycat Theaters: When 'Cathouses Ruled California" -- for the first time, the inside story of the west coast Pussycat Theater chain of adult moviehouses, which peaked in the '70s but later died out. Company head Vince Miranda owned and lived part time at the Hotel San Diego, operating several other local theaters downtown and in Oceanside, Escondido, etc. Told by those who actually ran the theaters, with a complete theater-by-theater encyclopedia covering every Pussycat that ever screened in CA -- http://www.sandiegoreader.com/weblogs...