Hitchcock’s Vertigo Tour: Some People Have No Imagination

I convinced my cousin Sue to join me for a Vertigo tour.

“I’ve never heard of that one,” said Sue. “That’s because I made it up,” I explained. “Meet me Saturday at my house and wear your hair like Carlotta’s so we can buy bouquets and end the day at the museum.” Believe it or not, Sue went for this. She didn’t hear the kidding in my voice, probably because we were huge fans of the film and she knew I was crazy enough to do this. No movie shows off the City by the Bay more gloriously than Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo. Sue and I had probably seen it a dozen times together. Somehow, each viewing was more haunting than the last.

We started our tour in front of the townhomes on the 1300 block of Taylor Street. The movie opens with detective John “Scottie” Ferguson and his partner chasing a fugitive across those very pricy Nob Hill rooftops. Unfortunately, Scottie aka Jimmy Stewart, loses his footing and ends up dangling from a gutter. While trying to save Scottie, his partner plunges to his death. From then on, Scottie suffers from acrophobia, which causes vertigo. We weren’t sure we pinpointed the exact spot where Scottie would have been hanging from the roof, but who cared? We were doing the Vertigo tour, living out loud on a beautiful San Francisco autumn day.

In the movie you can see the Brocklebank Apartments behind Scottie as he first climbs onto the roof. Later, he will tail the female lead, Madeleine, there, so we walked over to 1000 Mason Street to check it out. It hadn’t changed much since Hitchcock filmed it. Across the street was the Fairmont Hotel where Alfred Hitchcock stayed during filming.

We wanted to lunch at Ernie’s Restaurant, the one with the red silk wallpaper where Scottie first saw Madeleine. Ernie’s was a favorite of Hitchcock’s, but alas, more expensive than women of our modest means could justify. We made cinematic history by grabbing a bite at a more reasonably priced taco bar blocks down the street then headed to the apartment of Scottie’s college friend and former fiancée, Midge. The exterior of this apartment was shot in the 200 block of Union Street on Telegraph Hill. Were the interior scenes shot in Hollywood? We would never know since we were shooed away by a lady and her broom.

At Mission Dolores, 16th and Dolores Street, we passed the adobe-walled chapel and headed straight to the graveyard, as Madeleine had. We spotted a groundskeeper who looked like he might have been on location for the original shooting.

“Excuse me,” I said, interrupting his raking. “We would like to see the Carlotta Valdes gravestone.”

“From the Hitchcock movie?” he asked. Sue and I nodded. Now we were getting somewhere.

“That was a prop,” the old man said, and returned to his raking. Damn, why didn’t we think of that? No matter, we toured the chapel, and then went in search of a florist.

We had something similar to Madeline’s bouquet of posies made up at the shop and boarded the street car for the long ride to the California Palace of the Legion of Honor.

In route Sue said, “Carlotta’s portrait won’t be there; that would have been a prop, too.”

“I know, but the one near it called ‘Portrait of a Gentleman’ is still there.”

“You’ve done this before?” Sue asked.

“I just visited the museum. A date took me there.” Sue flashed me a look that said she didn’t 100% believe me. I was too self-conscious to admit that lonely days with time on my hands had sent my Jeep north to the bench at the Legion more than a few times.

At the museum’s main gallery, we located the bench we’d come for and sat looking up at the art display.

We left after a security guard walked by and sniggered.

“Some people have no imagination,” I remarked as we crossed the grounds to catch a ride on BART.

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