The following took place as a series of emails between Mark Sullivan and Jim Doherty which they recently posted on the rara-avis Yahoo group. They’ve graciously given me permission to reprint their conversation here. Thanks, gents!

    Mark –

I recently read Robert L. Pike’s Mute Witness (actually it was a movie tie-in paperback retitled Bullitt). It had been several decades since I’d seen the movie and, to tell you the truth, all I really remembered was the car chase in and around San Francisco, so I came to the book relatively fresh.


I was a bit surprised to find that the book is set in New York and started wondering where the car chase was going to be. There wasn’t one. Instead I got a pretty tight police procedural that reads very fast, although the degree to which this previously, by all accounts, by-the-book cop broke the rules in this case was sometimes a bit suspect. All in all, though, a very satisfying read with a well-drawn main character.

So I watched the movie. It was interesting to see the changes that were made. First, the locale was shifted. Second, a major subplot was deleted, and the rules were stretched more than broken. Everything was stripped down (except for a young Jacqueline Bisset, alas, who played the added-in small role of the cop’s girlfriend). The book was very detailed about what was going on in the cop’s mind and investigation. The movie had long spaces with no words whatsoever, using just visuals. In other words, each played to its medium’s advantages, which rendered them equally satisfying.

One other thing: the movie changed a few names. Clancy became Bullitt, of course, I guess to make it harder, more catchy. The name change I found most interesting, though, was that of the two brothers in the “Organization.” In the book, they were Rossi. However, the movie drops the “i,” making the name less Italian (though the roles were still played by actors whose names and looks were Italian). And they changed one of the cop’s names from whitebread to Italian. I don’t remember Italian anti-defamation leagues starting until a few years later, with The Godfather movies. Were the studios already answering complaints about the stereotyping of Italians as mobsters in the ’60s? Man, they really lost that battle.

PS — As for the rumors that six hubcaps came off the Charger during the chase scene, I counted four (although two other bits go flying off the car that could be mistaken for hubcaps).

     Bullitt Auto

    Jim —

The book was originally bought as a vehicle (no pun intended) for Spencer Tracy, who was going to play an NYPD squad commander in late middle-age named Clancy. In other words, he was going to play the character as written.

When Tracy died, it was decided to keep the bare bones of the plot, but change the lead character into the young, “hip” detective played by Steve McQueen.

Interestingly, Fish dropped the Clancy series after the success of Bullitt and started a new, San Francisco-set series of procedurals about an SFPD lieutenant named Reardon, which was also the the title of the first book in the series. Reardon was a young, handsome red-head given to wearing turtleneck sweaters and corduroy sportscoats. In other words, he was Bullitt with the name changed. Even more interestingly, that first novel about Reardon was expanded from a short story that had originally featured Clancy.

Actually the Anti-Defamation League started years earlier when The Untouchables was such a hit on TV. Something of a false alarm, really. In the first three episodes of the series, the main villains were, respectively, Jewish (Jake Guzik played by Nehemiah Persoff), Irish (“Bugs” Moran played by Lloyd Nolan), and southern poor white trash (“Ma” Barker played by Clair Trevor). Eliot Ness was an equal-opportunity gangbuster.

    Mark —

Can I infer from this that Mute Witness was not the first novel to feature Clancy? Or were the earlier series entries short stories? And were they written as Fish or Pike — my movie tie-in copy of Bullitt creates on Pike on the cover and title page, but Fish on the copyright page.

    Jim —

Mute Witness was, in fact, the first Clancy novel, but it was followed by The Quarry and Police Blotter, both of which appeared prior to Bullitt.

As near as I’ve been able to find out, Clancy made his debut in a 1961 short story called “Clancy and the Subway Jumper.” I’m pretty sure there were other Clancy short stories, including the one that was later expanded into Reardon, but I don’t recall the titles. I think the story that he expanded into the novel had “Eyes” or “Cat’s Eyes” in the title.

All the Clancy and Reardon entries were written as “Pike.” This was, apparently, a pun as a pike is a type of fish. He also wrote as A.C. Lamprey, a lamprey being another kind of fish.

The other Reardon novels, by the way, are The Gremlin’s Grandpa, Bank Job, and Deadline 2 A.M. The first book in the series acknowledged the technical assistance of SFPD’s then-police-chief, Tom Cahill, for whom the San Francisco Hall of Justice is now named, though, despite that high-powered assistance, he still managed to make a lot of errors.

     Bullitt Poster

Adapted from Crime Fiction IV, by Allen J. Hubin:

    * Author: Robert L. Pike
        o Mute Witness. Doubleday, 1963 [New York City, NY]
        o The Quarry. Doubleday, 1964 [New York City, NY]
        o Police Blotter. Doubleday, 1965 [New York City, NY]

    * Author: Robert L. Pike
        o Reardon. Doubleday, 1970 [San Francisco, CA]
        o The Gremlin’s Grampa. Doubleday, 1972 [San Francisco, CA]
        o Bank Job. Doubleday, 1974 [San Francisco, CA]
        o Deadline 2 A.M. Doubleday, 1976 [San Francisco, CA]