The Dapper Detective Behind Dirty Harry and Frank Bullitt

When it comes to cinematic crime fighters, Inspector Harry Callahan is up there at the top of the list. Even Dirty Harry’s predecessor, Steve McQueen in 1968’s Bullitt, is honored for his no-nonsense character. While Frank Bullitt was fighting mobsters, Harry Callahan was chasing down one insane killer.

Dave Toschi / Clint Eastwood / Clint Eastwood / Mark Ruffalo.
Source: Getty Images

Both cops can be traced back to a hard-boiled police detective who lived and breathed on the streets of San Francisco. So, who was this Dave Toschi fellow? Well, of all he’s done in his three-decade career on the force, he became known for being the detective who hunted – and was haunted by – the notorious Zodiac killer.

Born to Serve

It would be a miss not to mention what put Dave Toschi (pronounced toss-key) on the map – he was in the 24th Infantry Division in Korea. He was a part of the unit that took the brunt of the North Korean invasion, the unit that held the Pusan Perimeter for months, and the one that pushed the Chinese back the year after.

A photo of Dave Toschi working on a case.
Photo by Dave Randolph/San Francisco Chronicle/Getty Images

David Toschi was a force to be reckoned with, but it was his work as a police detective on the streets of San Fran that truly made him known. His 34 years with a badge was so epic that he was depicted in not one, but three movies (Zodiac is the third).

The Bowtie Wearing Detective

He joined the force as soon as he left the military in 1953. His style – the bowties, signature suits, and trench coats – may have got him noticed in the San Fran news media, but it was his detective work that became his enduring legacy.

A portrait of Dave Toschi.
Photo by Dave Randolph/San Francisco Chronicle/Getty Images

The case that placed him on the newspapers’ front pages would also eventually be his downfall. It was in 1966 when he started working in homicide. Three years in, he was assigned to the murder case of cab driver Paul Stine. You might remember the case…

The 1969 Cab Driver Case

The passenger who Stine was driving decided to shoot him in the head, take his keys, wallet, and a piece of his bloody shirt. It wasn’t until three days later that people understood what was going on. That was when the Zodiac sent a threatening letter to the San Francisco Chronicle, along with the bloody shirt, showing Stine was one of his victims (his last confirmed one).

An image of Dave Toschi working on the Zodiac case.
Photo by Susan Ehmer

Toschi admitted that the Zodiac case overtook him. He estimated that he investigated between 2,000 and 5,000 people while looking for the killer (who to this day is said to be unknown).

His Career and Reputation, Ruined

Toschi was taken off the Zodiac case in 1977 after nine years on the case after being accused of sending phony “fan letters” about his performance as a detective to the San Francisco Chronicle.

A portrait of Armistead Maupin.
Photo by Kim Komenich/Getty Images

Armistead Maupin, who wrote for the San Francisco Chronicle, publicly accused Toschi of faking one of the Zodiac’s taunting letters to the media. Whether he meant to or not, he irreparably damaged Toschi’s career and reputation. (As a result, he never got the chance to become the chief of the SFPD).

The Damage Was Done

Even though Toschi was cleared of being the letter’s author by the USPS crime lab, he was still removed from the case. Later, Toschi admitted to sending self-flattering fan mail about himself to the San Francisco Chronicle.

A portrait of Toschi.
Photo by Eric Luse/San Francisco Chronicle/Getty Images

Still, he consistently maintained that he never forged a Zodiac letter. Nevertheless, the damage was done. Zodiac had seven known victims but claimed as many as 37. Toschi once told the SF Chronicle, “Why didn’t we get this guy? I ended up with a bleeding ulcer over this case.”

“It Still Haunts Me. It Always Will.”

“It still haunts me. It always will,” he stated. The man whom Toschi always suspected was US Navy veteran and schoolteacher, Arthur Leigh Allen. He could just never get enough evidence to bring Allen to trial, even after nine years on the case. Allen died in 1992 without ever being charged.

A video still of Arthur Leigh Allen speaking during an interview.
Source: YouTube

Every October 11 (Stine’s death anniversary), from 1970 to 2017, Toschi would sit in his car at the same location where Paul Stine was murdered (Presidio Heights) and ponder what he missed.

The 1974 Zebra Murders Case

Toschi was responsible for bringing down a gang of killers who called themselves the “Death Angels.” They committed racially-motivated killings – at least 15 – against white people in the mid-‘70s in San Francisco.

A photo of a press conference by the authorities at the time.
Photo by Bettmann/Getty Images

They were dubbed the “Zebra Murders,” and they created widespread panic in the city at a time when people were still recovering from the Zodiac murders. “I’m not a vengeful type, but when a life is taken, there must be justice,” Toschi said at the time. Toschi took the gang down and put them away for life, yet he will always be remembered for his unsuccessful chase after the Zodiac killer.

He Had to Let Go

Toschi retired in 1985, after which he took a job in private security. He even worked as a technical advisor on David Fincher’s 2007 film, Zodiac, and got to see Mark Ruffalo portray him on the big screen. The experience left a bad taste in his mouth because all it did was remind him of his failures.

A movie still of Mark Ruffalo in the character of Toschi.
Source: Pinterest

“I thought Ruffalo did a good job,” Toschi said. “I enjoy it, but it depresses me. After I watch it, I get angry at myself because I couldn’t close the case.” Towards the end of his life, he let it go. In 2014, he told the Daily Mail, “I don’t talk about this case anymore. It was a long time ago.” Toschi passed away in 2018 at the age of 86.

He Showed Steve McQueen the Ropes

Part of Toschi’s legacy was being portrayed by Steve McQueen in Bullitt. The detective was assigned by the city to show the actor “the reality of police work,” McQueen’s biographer, Marshall Terrill, said. Toschi took McQueen “on ride-alongs, to murder scenes, drug busts and the morgue.”

A dated video still of Toschi talking to the press.
Source: YouTube

According to Terrill, McQueen’s main concern when shooting the film was to fit in with the rugged city cops. McQueen had a lot to prove and one particular moment at a morgue showed exactly how hard the actor was trying to fit in…

He Was No “Candy-Assed Actor”

Terrill wrote, “McQueen took an apple with him to the coroner’s, and when the bodies of murder victims were rolled out, he took a bite from the apple to show he was as hard as them, and not what he called a ‘candy-assed actor’.”

A portrait of Toschi.
Source: Wikipedia

McQueen couldn’t help but be impressed by Toschi’s gritty, crime-ridden world. “I was raised on the streets and never liked cops much,” McQueen said at the time, “but here I am right in the middle of real police business.”

McQueen Didn’t Copy His Style

Toschi was arrogant, flashy, and relished the publicity that came from his connection to the movie-making industry. At a time when detectives were known to wear boring, dark suits, ties and crewcuts, Toschi stood out.

A promotional still of McQueen in the film.
Source: Copyright: Warner Bros.

He showed up with his thick, curly, black hair, checkered suits, and bowties. He would top it off with his “exaggerated” trench coats. But when it came to portraying Frank Bullitt, McQueen didn’t want to copy Toschi’s style; he wanted a cooler look (he was the King of Cool, after all).

But He Did Take His Holster

McQueen wanted to look more cool than flamboyant, but he still copied Toschi’s uncommon fast-draw shoulder holster. As Toschi’s daughter Linda recalled, “They were filming in my dad’s office. My dad took off his jacket and Steve McQueen said, ‘What is that?’”

A still of McQueen in a scene from the film.
Source: Copyright: Warner Bros.

“My dad said, ‘That’s my holster.’ And McQueen told the director, ‘I want one of those.’” Obviously, no one expected McQueen to wear a bow tie as Bullitt, but he did pay homage to Toschi’s sense of style, wearing fashionable sweaters and suede boots for the role.

“Steve McQueen was a lovely guy,” said Toschi. “He seemed to take to me. He liked the way I wore my holster upside down and put my raincoat over my shoulder.”

Toschi Stormed Out of the Dirty Harry Screening

As for Dirty Harry, Clint Eastwood used Toschi as inspiration for his character. Toschi was indeed flattered by Eastwood’s tribute, but he wasn’t happy with Dirty Harry’s trigger-happy style of serving justice with his 44 Magnum.

A still of Clint Eastwood in Dirty Harry.
Source: Copyright: Warner Bros.

He reportedly stormed out of a screening of the movie. “He couldn’t take it,” Mark Ruffalo explained, who, like McQueen, spent days and nights with Toschi before portraying him in 2007’s Zodiac. “It was simplified,” Ruffalo said. After Toschi died, Ruffalo posted a tribute to the man…

Mark Ruffalo Spent a Couple of Intense Days With Him

Posting a photo with Toschi, Ruffalo wrote about his time getting to know the former detective. Ruffalo revealed that despite the fact that Toschi was initially distrustful of him, they developed a mutual respect for each other.

A photo of Toschi and Ruffalo talking.
Source: Pinterest

“Dave Toschi just passed away. I played him in Zodiac and got to spend a couple intense days with him,” Ruffalo posted. “I had 4 pages of questions to ask him… As a cop he was naturally suspicious of me, but in time we found a lot of commonalities in our Italian roots and work ethic.”

A Tragic Hero

Ruffalo continued: “I really came to admire him not only for what he had done as a homicide cop but for the sense of responsibility he carried for the wellbeing of the public, his commitment to the rule of law, and for the grief he carried about not ever capturing the Zodiac killer.”

Ruffalo speaks during an interview.
Source: YouTube

The actor said Toschi was a “true tragic hero” and he was honored to have known him and to have played him. After Zodiac came out in theaters, Toschi said he enjoyed watching Ruffalo play him on screen, but he’s still holding frustration over the case.

Dirty Harry and the Zodiac Case

It wasn’t just the real-life cop who inspired Dirty Harry (the film that kicked off Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry movie franchise), but the Zodiac killer as well. The Zodiac killer, who terrorized Northern California in the late 1960s, had such cryptic imagery and such a taunting style that it could only make sense that movies were made about him.

A still from the film Zodiac.
Source: Copyright: Paramount Pictures

In Dirty Harry, everything from the killer’s name to the nature of the crimes had an influence on the film’s plot. An obvious connection is the name of the killer whom Harry chases: Scorpio. At one point in the film, Scorpio is wearing a mask, which was a famous tactic used by the real-world Zodiac. We also can’t ignore that Scorpio and the real Zodiac case occurred in San Francisco.

From Dead Right to Wrong Choices

Clint Eastwood kicked ass as Dirty Harry no less than five times between 1971 and 1988, making the character one of his most famous roles. Harry Callahan was spawned from a screenplay called Dead Right from the late ’60s. The play was about an aging New York detective who was starting to burn out in his late 50s, but he grew obsessed with a serial killer named Travis.

A still of Clint Eastwood in Dirty Harry.
Source: Copyright: Warner Bros.

Eastwood was practically born to play the gritty detective, but believe it or not, he wasn’t the first – nor the second or even the third – choice to play Harry Callahan. John Wayne was offered the part but felt that the violence in the movie was over glorified and unjustified, so he passed.

It Could Have Been Frank Sinatra

Warner Bros. looked towards 55-year-old Frank Sinatra, who was actually very interested in the role. Sinatra went as far as contract negotiations with Warner Bros. The studio then brought on director Irvin Kershner (he did The Empire Strikes Back) and screenwriter John Milius (he did Apocalypse Now).

A still from the film.
Source: Copyright: Warner Bros.

Milius insisted that Sinatra be given a version of the .44 Magnum that Dirty Harry would be using, for inspiration. It took Milius three weeks to write the script, but that Magnum proved to be the reason Sinatra ended up passing on the role of Dirty Harry. In 1962, while filming The Manchurian Candidate, Sinatra broke his wrist…

Robert Mitchum Called It a Piece of Junk

Because of his injury, Sinatra found the “hand cannon” too unwieldy to convincingly fire. Blue Eyes was also dealing with the death of his father, so he was looking for a lighter role anyway. Warner Bros. needed to find a big enough star to make the movie a success.

A dated portrait of Robert Mitchum.
Photo by Bob Riha, Jr./Getty Images

They looked to Marlon Brando before Robert Mitchum was offered the role. But Mitchum found Dirty Harry so deplorable that he wouldn’t accept the part “for any amount” of money. He called it one of the “movies that piss on the world” and “a piece of junk.”

Clint Eastwood Was the Eighth Choice

Funnily enough, Mitchum’s brother, John Mitchum, appeared in the first three Dirty Harry movies. Burt Lancaster, Steve McQueen and Paul Newman were all offered the role of Dirty Harry, and they all turned it down.

A portrait of Clint Eastwood.
Photo by Jon Kopaloff/FilmMagic/Getty Images

It was Newman who recommended 41-year-old Eastwood. Warner Bros.’ response was something like “Sure, why not?” The rest, folks, is history. It’s just amusing to think that Eastwood was the studio’s eight choice. Eastwood accepted the offer, but he said it would only happen on one condition – that he could produce it through his own Malpaso Company.

A Passion Project

Once he signed on, Eastwood had a strong grip on the production. He was only interested in the original script and he demanded rewrites. He also wanted Don Siegel to direct the film, but the director had his hands tied – he was under contract with Universal Studios.

A still of Clint Eastwood in a scene from the film.
Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

But this is Clint Eastwood; he went to Universal and asked that Siegel be “loaned” to Warner Bros. for the film. Universal agreed, Siegel joined, a new screenwriter was found and the film became Eastwood’s and Siegel’s passion project.

Casting Scorpio Was Just as Hard as Harry

The villain was renamed “Scorpio” as they took inspiration from the real-life Zodiac killer and Detective Toschi. Next came the difficult task of casting the serial killer. James Caan was considered, but he didn’t feel like he was a good match for Eastwood.

A portrait of Andrew on the set of Dirty Harry.
Photo by Warner Brothers/Getty Images

Siegel wanted war hero turned actor Audie Murphy to play Scorpio, but he died in a plane crash before discussions could ever be finalized. Eastwood then thought of Andrew J. Robinson to play the psychopathic hippie Scorpio. It would have been ironic as Siegel thought Robinson had “a face like a choirboy.”

Andrew. J. Robinson, aka Scorpio, Couldn’t Handle the Gun Violence

As it turns out, Robinson wasn’t far from the “choirboy” type. He was “squeamish” and a “pacifist.” He hated firearms in real life and could hardly hide his discomfort on film. He would flinch violently every time his gun was fired on set.

A still of Andrew as Scorpio.
Source: Copyright: Warner Bros.

Still convinced that Robinson was the guy, Siegel shut down production entirely to send Robinson to classes. He needed to learn to convincingly fire a gun. It helped a bit, but if you watch the movie again, you’ll notice Robinson’s eyes closing every time he pulls the trigger.

He Hated Having to Be Racist

It wasn’t just guns; Robinson was also extremely uncomfortable with his character’s racism. He would squirm at the use of racist epithets while filming, and he hated that his character had to berate and abuse school children in the film’s finale.

A still of Andrew in a scene inside a bus.
Source: Copyright: Warner Bros.

Robinson’s real-life stepson, Steve Zachs, was the kid chosen to portray one of Scorpio’s hostages, which was either calming for Robinson, or made it worse. Despite it all, Robinson was a great actor and one of the reasons the film did so well.

Robinson Felt Lucky to Ad-lib His Lines

Milius is credited for many of Dirty Harry’s best lines, like “You have to ask yourself one question: ‘Do I feel Lucky?’ Well DO YA, PUNK?” but Robinson improvised many lines himself. When he said, “My, that’s a big one!” when Dirty Harry first shows Scorpio his gun, the crew erupted in laughter.

A photo of Robinson during an interview.
Photo by Gabe Ginsberg/Getty Images

The scene had to be reshot because of Robinson’s adlibbing. Still, Siegel loved Robinson’s improv so much that he made the actor repeat it for the final cut. Another adlib was “Hubba, hubba, hubba, pig bastard!”

Protests and Gun Sales

Dirty Harry earned $36 million against a $4 million budget, making it the fifth biggest box office earner that year. But it’s unsurprising that the movie was seen as controversial. At the 44th Academy Awards, feminist groups protested the movie, with slogans such as “Dirty Harry is a Rotten Pig!”

Clint Eastwood leaps from railroad trestle to bus top on the set of Dirty Harry.
Photo by Bob Peterson/Getty Images

Many critics praised the film, while Roger Ebert denounced it as “fascist.” Today, Dirty Harry is considered one of the best films of 1971. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Robert Urich, to name a few, cite Dirty Harry as one of their biggest influences.

The Film Led to Copycat Crimes

The famed .44 Magnum also saw an increase in sales after the film’s debut. John Wayne, for whom the role of Harry was practically written, regretted passing up the part. He supposedly went on to make cop films McQ (1974) and Brannigan (1975) due to the success of Dirty Harry.

A still of Clint Eastwood in a scene from the film.
Photo by Warner Bros. Pictures/Sunset Boulevard/Corbis/Getty Images

On the more negative side, Dirty Harry took went on to inspire copycat crimes, like the infamous California school bus hijacking. In 1976, Fred Woods, along with Richard and James Schoenfeld, kidnapped 26 children and their bus driver in Chowchilla, California. They said they were inspired by the Dirty Harry movie.

Bullitt’s Infamous Car Chase

Steve McQueen and his green Mustang changed on-screen car chases for generations to come. Decades later, Bullitt’s car chase scene is the car chase most memorable, admirable, and copied. In general, the movie didn’t just excite everyone – it changed the way Hollywood looked at cops.

A movie still from the car chase scene.
Source: Copyright: Warner Bros.

1968 was a time when policemen were being called “pigs” and weren’t looked up to as they had been in previous eras. But what made Bullitt so epic was the infamous car chase. For a movie with one cuss word and no nudity, McQueen and his car were what made the movie cool.

Sitting Behind Steve McQueen in His Green Mustang

The production was innovative, using small remote cameras placed inside the cars during the chase. That way, viewers got to “sit” behind Frank Bullitt as his Mustang chased the bad guys down the hills of San Francisco.

A closeup on McQueen in the car chase scene.
Source: YouTube

It all started with movie agent John Flaxman who had his hands on the rights to a Robert Pike novel called Mute Witness. Flaxman asked The Thomas Crown Affair writer Alan Trustman to adapt a screenplay from the book while keeping Steve McQueen in mind as the lead.

The Writer Gets Fired

Mute Witness’s 65-year-old New York cop was switched with Frank Bullitt, a young renegade who was also an honest detective. Trustman said he “built in three chases, each with its own danger, uncertainty, and surprise.”

A photo of McQueen and Peter Yates behind the scenes.
Source: Copyrgiht: Warner Bros.

Solar Productions, McQueen’s production company, hired British director Peter Yates, but he and Trustman didn’t get along. “The first script was quite terrible,” Yates recalled. “Peter was not comfortable with strong women,” Trustman rebutted. “He kept asking for rewrites to weaken the female character.” Trustman was ultimately fired before production even began.

Famous Last Words

Before leaving, Trustman heard that the movie was going to be filmed entirely on location in San Francisco. So, he told them, “If you drive a light car like a Ford Mustang downhill fast, it will take off at the intersections and fly through the air.”

A still from the film.
Source: Copyright: Warner Bros.

Trustman claimed to have tried the stunt himself in 1954 during summer break from Harvard law school. Apparently, he launched a new Ford Fairlane off the streets. When it comes to THE car chase scene, McQueen and Yates have different versions of its inception.

Everyone Wants Credit for the Scene

In numerous interviews, McQueen insisted that the chase was his idea and that he made the writer include it in the script. Yates, however, said, “The chase didn’t exist in the script,” and noted that the new scriptwriter suggested “there had to be a car chase somewhere” because of McQueen’s driving ability.

A promotional portrait of McQueen for the film.
Source: Copyright: Warner Bros.

Yates maintained that the car chase was never in Trustman’s script. According to Flaxman, though, the chase indeed was in the first draft he read. Regardless of who’s to praise, the scene happened and it was well-planned ahead of time.

Open Up the City, Mayor

William Fraker, the cinematographer, remembered an early meeting with Yates. “We decided at that point there would be no camera tricks,” said Fraker. Pat Hustis, who built and drove the high-speed camera car, recalled McQueen telling him, “I want the audience to know what it’s like to do this.”

A still of William Fraker speaking during an interview.
Source: YouTube

To make it happen, McQueen and his company had to convince the mayor of San Francisco to open up the city. They needed access to the police station, the hospital, the airport, and obviously the streets. For their part, Solar hired extras from poor areas at full union scale.

Going With a Mustang and a Charger

When it came to choosing cars, it was all about corporate marketing. Ford and Warner Bros. had been cooperating on movies for a while, so both a Mustang and Fairlane were selected for Bullitt. The cars were then taken to be modified, but Max Balchowski – the modifier – said the Fairlane couldn’t handle real stunt work.

A still of McQueen in a scene from the film.
Source: Copyright: Warner Bros.

So, he suggested a Dodge Charger instead. The Mustang and Charger were then customized, and all kinds of springs, shocks, and coils were put in place. The stuntman who drove the Mustang was legend Carey Lofton.

The Legendary Bill Hickman

It was Bill Hickman, Hollywood’s finest stunt driver, who drove the Charger. Hickman was close friends with James Dean and was the one who pulled Dean out of his wrecked Porsche the afternoon he died in the crash.

A still of Bill Hickman driving.
Source: YouTube

“All the stunt men thought we were crazy,” Yates recalled. “They wanted ramps for flips, crashes, and explosions. One stuntman asked me, ‘What can you do with hills?’” Lofton had scouted the locations and drew up a plan. One idea was to take the chase over the Golden Gate Bridge, but the city denied it.

McQueen Couldn’t Perform All the Stunts

“Without the Golden Gate Bridge, it made us take advantage of the hills,” Fraker noted. The 12-minute chase scene took two weeks to film, which amounted to one sixth of the whole shooting schedule. McQueen wanted to be the one to handle all the Mustang driving.

A still of McQueen performing a stunt in a scene from the film.
Source: Copyright: Warner Bros.

But it was (most likely) pressure from his family and the studio that took him out of the car for the more dangerous scenes. In the end, McQueen’s driving ability was perfect enough, and Lofton decided to replace him with Bud Ekins, McQueen’s friend who performed the notorious motorcycle jump in The Great Escape.

Ekins vs. McQueen

At one point, McQueen blew a turn, and Lofton yelled out, “Get him out of the car. Ekins, go to makeup and get your hair bleached.” That’s how Ekins remembers the incident. But no one in the crew recalls the moment as dramatically.

A dated image of Ekins and McQueen.
Source: YouTube

Regardless, Ekins was called on to handle the tricky parts. You can also easily tell when Ekins is behind the wheel of the Mustang. The watch on Ekins’ right arm is different from McQueen’s. Also, Ekins’ rearview mirror is turned away when he drives. When McQueen drives, you can see his face in the mirror.

McQueen Wanted People to Think It Was All Him

McQueen had a thing about using stunt doubles; he was reportedly very sensitive about it. Hollywood and McQueen insisted that he did all his own stunt work, in the chase sd well as during the airport runway scene.

A photo of McQueen behind the scenes.
Source: Copyright: Warner Bros.

The truth is there were three drivers – McQueen, Ekins, and Lofton – who drove the Mustang in the 12-minute chase scene and Loren Janes, another one of McQueen’s longtime stunt doubles, who drove under the airliner wheels on the airport runway. Still, McQueen got credit for the scenes.

Which Hill Should It Be On?

“The success of the car chase still had a lot to do with Steve even though he didn’t do the dangerous stuff,” first assistant director Tim Zinneman stated. When McQueen first arrived in San Fran to research his role – and spend time with Toschi – he was already thinking about the chase.

An image behind the scenes of the car chase.
Source: Copyright: Warner Bros.

One day, he went on a motorcycle ride with Don Gordon, who played his on-screen partner, Delgedi. “Steve took a jump off one of the hills,” Gordon remembered. “When he came back, he said this would be a great spot to see cars flying off the hill.”

A Western With a Car for a Gun Belt

“Steve was very clear,” McQueen’s production partner, Robert Releya, explained. “He always said that this movie was a Western in which he would strap on a car like a gun belt.” But there were no camera tricks to be used.

A promotional still of McQueen for the film.
Source: Copyright: Warner Bros.

No Hollywood tricks were used to increase the sense of speed, danger, or intensity: no fake shots, no screaming passengers, no crashes through garbage cans. It was all about the cars and the chase – nothing else. Bullitt proved to be a huge hit for Warner Bros. and cemented McQueen as a major star.

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