My father, Victor William Presco, was born in San Francisco. Hugo was a house painter in that great city, but, soon tired of being a family man. When Vic was three, he abandoned his family and made a living gambling in the Barbary Coast. His wife, Melba, moved in with her parents who owned a orchard farm in Oakland. She would take the trolley to San Francisco to visit her husband carrying my infant father. The Poet of the Sierras, Joaquin Miller, would accompany Melba holding Vic in his lap.
It was a special occasion when the movie ‘Barbary Coast’came on T.V. Rosemary worked with the gambler, Big Bones Remmer, in Emeryville. I was titled ‘The California Kid’ by tough stevedores in Hell’s Kitchen New York. James Cagney played ‘The Frisco Kid’ in a movie made in 1935, the same year the Barbary Coast came out.
America and the World had an interest in this lifestyle long before Reno and Las Vegas was established as gambling towns. Remmer played a big role in making gambling a multi-billion dollar industry. Many folks want to be sinners, even Christians who gamble like crazy. Gambling is the true Sport of Kings!
There are walking tours of the Barbary Coast. Add to this Carl Janke’s theme park built in 1849, then one can conclude my family helped found California and Nevada’s entertainment industry. I have been considering applying for a job as a tour guide. I will dress the part. I don’t need to act, or read from a script.
From the days of the Gold Rush and the Barbary Coast, to the 1906 earthquake and the Beat renaissance, San Francisco’s history is rich with dynamic events and storied characters. The Barbary Coast Trail® is a San Francisco walking tour that connects the City’s most important historic sites, drawing you into a world of gold seekers and railroad barons, writers and visionaries, shanghiers and silver kings.
A series of bronze medallions and arrows embedded in the sidewalk connect the Barbary Coast Trail’s historic sites. Along a 3.8-mile path (mostly flat or gently sloping), the trail weaves its way through Downtown, Union Square, Chinatown, Portsmouth Square, Jackson Square Historic District, Old Barbary Coast, Beat San Francisco, North Beach, Telegraph Hill, Coit Tower, Fishermans Wharf, San Francisco Martime Historical National Park, Ghirardelli Square and Nob Hill.
Our Barbary Coast Trail® walking tours of San Francisco feature historic sites that made the city famous.
• You’ll see the plaza where Sam Brannan kicked off the Gold Rush
• A graveyard of Gold Rush ships buried beneath the streets
• A shanghaiing den where sailors were once kidnapped
Barbary Coast is a fine, solid melodrama that is nevertheless an anomaly in the early career of Howard Hawks. The film bears little trace of Hawks’ imprint, perhaps because he came to the project relatively late: MGM’s Samuel Goldwyn had been developing the idea for a long time, shuffling it through an endless series of directors, screenwriters and stars before finally handing the reins to Hawks. The director does an admirable job of shepherding the film through to completion, but the film, as entertaining as it often is, with plenty of memorable images scattered throughout, seldom actually feels like a true Hawks film. It’s a story set in Gold Rush era San Francisco, and the film’s primary aim is undoubtedly to capture something of the wild, lawless, sin-and-decadence aura of the city, a tall order in the context of the newly enacted Hays Code.
Even so, the film’s best sequences tend to be the one that establish this milieu, that depict the setting in broad strokes. The opening is as atmospheric and foggy as the very similar opening of Hawks’ later Only Angels Have Wings, as a ship pulls into the San Francisco harbor, carrying among its passengers Mary Rutledge (Miriam Hopkins), who is coming to the city to marry a man she doesn’t love, but who she knows will at least give her security and stability. Instead, she finds that the man has been killed after losing all his money at a casino owned by the powerful Luis Chamalis (Edward G. Robinson), who is the de facto ruler of the city on the strength of his crooked gambling palace. The opening is moody and dark, depicting Mary’s arrival in the city amidst the all-encompassing fog, as she is instantly surrounded by the local men, excited by the incredibly rare arrival of a fresh-faced, glamorous woman in this muddy, filthy, rough-and-tumble town. She’s propelled through the streets, literally carried aloft by the men over mud puddles, and her winding way through San Francisco, towards Chamalis’ Bella Donna, provides an excuse for a tour of the city’s vices and dark character. Ruffians chase “Chinamen” through the streets, taunting and threatening them, and a montage within the casino itself cuts fluidly among all the fights, drunken carousing, womanizing, and gambling going on in this den of sin. It’s a great opening, evocative and beautifully shot as Hawks’ conscious tribute to the nighttime cinematography of Josef von Sternberg’s films.
Most of the rest of the film takes on a more conventional template, focusing in on the story of Mary and her tormented relationship with the slick, nasty Chamalis. Mary, shedding her scruples, latches onto the casino owner, becoming both his girl and the prize attraction at his crooked roulette wheels, where men are happy to lose all their money just for the privilege of standing next to this beautiful, flirtatious woman. Of course, it’s not long before the obligatory second man arrives to complete the triangle, in the form of the New York poet Jim Carmichael (Joel McCrea). Carmichael’s the usual handsome dud one expects in these kind of romances, but at least there’s a great scene where, after discovering that Mary is actually one of the “harpies” of San Francisco who lures men to give up their gold, the two wayward lovers engage in some spiteful, sharp-tongued repartee across a roulette table.
For the most part, though, the romance subplot limps along in the background, with the foreground devoted to actorly grandstanding. Robinson and Hopkins are of course both great, in a certain hammy, over-emoting way. Robinson, with his wide froggy lips, slit-eyed glare and faux-gentlemanly airs, projects a slimy good humor that’s perfect for this expansive gambling don. And Hopkins has a fiery intensity that’s equally well-suited to her down-and-out lady, willfully shedding the respectability of her past to become a cheating, bad-hearted “harpy.” She acts, as so many actresses of the time did, primarily with her eyes, with the glinting steel of her stare that could communicate so much barely restrained hatred and anger. As good as these two leads are, though, Walter Brennan often threatens to take over the film in his bit part as the crafty harbor rat Old Atrocity, a nasty old coot who’s cheerfully proud to live up to his name. The gangly, wheezing Brennan is simply hilarious, which is perhaps why Hawks kept bringing his character back in for a surprising number of scenes. It’s a bit part that seems to keep expanding, and one suspects that Brennan was Hawks’ real interest in the film. Even the inevitable reformation of this jolly old crook is handled with aplomb, with Brennan’s bemused line that he “feels like a pure white kitten.”
The scenes with Brennan and the atmospheric opening aside, the film’s best sequence is one in which the men of the town, organized as vigilantes to finally fight back against Chamalis, lead one of his thugs (Brian Donlevy) on a grim march through the town’s back streets, conducting a mock trial along the way. The march ends with a hanging, and Hawks lets the tense mood of the sequence linger over the subsequent scene where Chamalis and his corrupt judge friend (J.M. Kerrigan) discover the hanging corpse, whose shadow is reflected on the wall behind them. The film is at its best in expressionist moments like this, when the town’s seemingly constant coating of fog lends it some Gothic atmosphere to elevate its conventional melodrama. The finale, with its tacked-on happy ending and the abrupt, nonsensical reversal of Chamalis from unfeeling baddie to sympathetic good sport, threatens to dissipate some of the good will earned by the film’s better moments. Ultimately, though, this is a fine if unexceptional melodrama, buoyed by some vibrant performances. It’s a decent film by Hawks, even if it never actually feels like a Hawks film.
Barbary Coast (TV series)
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Michael Philip Butler
William D. Gordon
Hal De Windt
John Andrew Tartaglia
Country of origin
No. of seasons
No. of episodes
13 (+1 TV movie)
Robert B. Hauser
Paramount Network Television
CBS Television Distribution
May 4, 1975 – January 9, 1976
Barbary Coast is a short-lived American television series that aired on ABC. The pilot movie first aired on May 4, 1975 and the series itself premiered September 8, 1975; the last episode aired January 9, 1976. One of the episodes didn’t even air in it’s entirety. President Ford gave about a twenty minute spech at the top of the hour and Monday Night Football had to start at the next hour, so when they joined it in progress, an announcer quickly described what the audience missed. Barbary Coast was inspired by a similar 19th-century spy series, The Wild Wild West, and like the earlier program, Barbary Coast mixed the genres of Western and secret agent drama.
Barbary Coast featured the adventures of 19th century government agent Jeff Cable (played by William Shatner), and his pal, conman and gambler Cash (“Cash makes no enemies”) Conover (Doug McClure; played by Dennis Cole in the pilot). This was Shatner’s first attempt at a live-action series since Star Trek (also produced by Paramount Television). While on the college lecture circuit in the late 1970s, he said the show “lasted about five minutes.”
In their battle against various criminals and foreign spies, Cable and Conover operated out of the latter’s saloon and casino located on San Francisco’s notorious Barbary Coast. Like Wild Wild West’s Artemus Gordon, Cable frequently donned disguises in the course of his investigations.
The producers modeled the show’s Byzantine plotlines/conspiracies on the Mission: Impossible paradigm(in fact, they hired a number of Mission: Impossible’s writers). Other regulars on the series included recurring Wild Wild West villain actor Richard Kiel as Moose Moran and Dave Turner as Thumbs.
• The first Asian temple in North America
• A barstool where beat writer Jack Keroauc once sat
• The finest Italianate Victorian buildings in San Francisco
• The largest collection of historic ships in the United States
• Beautiful views of San Francisco Bay, and more . . .
Also along the Barbary Coast Trail® walking tour, you’ll find great restaurants offering a wide array of distinctive dishes, from dim sum to garlicky pasta to fresh crab to all American hamburgers.