Bellingham by the Bay

Missing persons seem to resurface in San Francisco

Has anyone seen Herb Gold lately? The famed writer and überman of letters of Russian Hill hasn’t been seen around his haunts — such as The Crepe House on Polk Street. He could be back in Haiti, helping the afflicted or brushing up on his voodoo. Or commiserating with the Bay Area intelligenicia, who are justifiably keeping their heads down. Or still lost in the celluloid miasma of the French Film Festival in Berkeley. With such classics as Beauty and the Beast … Zero for Conduct … and The Rules of the Game, who would resist? Or just throw down our guns. … Many personages have vanished from San Francisco — only to reappear later at the Ripley’s Believe It or shucking oysters at Fisherman’s Wharf. … Years ago, Mort Sahl and I came out of a perfectly grand lunch at the Big 4. A crowd of tourists had gathered across California Street at the main entrance of Grace Cathedral .”Look!” I exclaimed to my friend Mort Sahl, “They’re still waiting for Bishop Pike,” the rector of Grace until he vanished in the Sinai Desert in 1963. “Pike Bishop,” Sahl explained. “What?” Sahl says the the film director Sam Peckinpah was so fascinated that he named the William Holden character Pike Bishop. They certainly were both iconoclasts, the Captain Ahabs of their time. There are the great disappeared in the City by the Bay. How about the man who pretends to be Lamont Dozier, finally arrested at The Hyde-Out bar on Nob Hill by a quick-thinking bar lass. Word is that he’s out of stir and working the neighborhood again. Maybe he’s posing as Quincy Jones. Or Bishop Pike! … “It’s an odd thing, but everyone who disappears is said to be seen San Francisco.” So observed Oscar Wilde.

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That great metaphysical book shop on Polk and Post, Fields Book Store, will be gone by the end of the year — doing online business only. That place, 80 years old, is one of a kind. So was the Lumiere, the wonderful art house on California, and The Gramophone, which had a decades-long run. My favorite story was when The Last Tango in Paris, the Bertolucci movie, played at The Royal. One of the great S.F. movie houses, The Royal screened this smut, which drew everyone from Walnut Creek, Lafayette and points east. His shocking flick was acceptable to the respectable class. And they haven’t stoppped purchasing ever since. It was a film acceptable for the suburbanites, not so bad they had to rent raincoats for the afternoon matinees. It could now be a Friday date. Just to be outrageous, the theater managers cluttered the windows with empty boxes of Challenge butter to emphasize a high-cholesterol, kinky sex scene. Ah, ain’t show business just grand.

Years ago Stu Smith had a classy saloon off Market Street called Harpoon Louie’s. I couldn’t help but think of him when I saw the S.F. Opera’s newly-commisioned production of Moby Dick. Most of the supernumeraries at the opera carry spears, not harpoons. It took courage for general director David Glockley to put on a new opera — and with all those sharp objects flitting about — let alone with two young local composers, Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer in their way of such pernicious tools. Controlling a full-scale opera must be like landing a great, white leviathan. The result was spectacular, the singing sensational, the sets stunning. The mast came crashing down. In all the excitement, I didn’t even mind all the kelp and anchovies in my lap at the end of the second act. …

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Bruce Bellingham is out fishing for long-lost friends and forgotten memories. Nudge him at [email protected], 415-810-1853.