Coastal Walkers' Fort Point to Baker Beach walk starts off with a stroll to Fort Point, the Civil War era fortification located directly under the imposing south end of the Golden Gate Bridge. Aside from its historical cachet, Fort Point is also unique in San Francisco's cinematic heritage, most notably Alfred Hitchcock’s 1958 thriller, Vertigo. This film classic was filmed in the San Francisco Bay Area, with one of the most poignant scenes in the movie filmed right at Fort Point.
The scene begins with Scottie (James Stewart) driving toward Fort Point, when he notices Madeline (Kim Novak) beneath the towering orange bridge, pensively standing at the sea wall at the waters edge, tossing flower petals from her bouquet into the bay.
Suddenly, with dramatic flair, Novak plunges herself into the bay. Stunned, Stewart dives into the chilly bay waters and saves Novak, carrying her up the stairs from the bay, dripping wet, to his waiting car.
The Vertigo location filming at Fort Point took place on the afternoon of Friday October 4, 1957. Contrary to popular myth, Novak didn't jump into the icy cold waters of the bay and the "suicide" sequence was performed by stunt double Polly Burson who jumped off the edge into an outstretched parachute suspended above the water. The steps leading into the bay did not exist then and never have, and the shots of Jimmy Stewart carrying Novak up the steps from the chilly bay were filmed in a studio tank at Paramount and only required four takes.
The image of Stewart carry Novak in his arms beneath the bridge was used as a promotion for the film.
The amazing thing is that there are relatively few changes from the Fort Point from the 1958 film to the Fort Point of today.
For those familiar with the film, among the few differences you will notice right away is the heavy chain fencing atop the seawall (this was not in the film.) The old lighthouse keeper’s house has long since been demolished and, as previously noted, the stone steps to the bay, are a bit of Hollywood fiction. There are also scores of more tourists visiting Fort Point than back in 1958!
Come join our Fort Point to Bakers Beach walk and find more about San Francisco's illustrious film history for yourself!