The Streets of San Francisco: The Ties that Bind

Michael Douglas as Inspector Steve Keller in Streets of San Francisco
Michael Douglas as Inspector Steve Keller in Streets of San Francisco: stylin’ and profilin’
I’d decided I needed a long walk, so headed north towards the marina from my apartment in The Tenderloin. About forty minutes later I found myself standing out at the Marina Green, watching the seagulls, wondering just how the hell someone pays for one of those mansion-sized yachts out there in the harbor. Then it hit me. Hit me like a .357 slug in the chest: I was missing a Golden Opportunity to pay homage to one of the greatest TV crime shows ever produced during the 70’s. Dummer than a box of sticks, is what my old man used to say about me. Guess he was right.

I quickly went and snuck my way out onto the spit of land that was part of the West Basin marina, hopping a fence to do so. Heck, you woulda done the same if you knew what I was about to do. It’d gotten under my skin now, and I couldn’t let it go.

Ties. Huge Ties.

Inspector Steve Keller’s ties. Steve Keller as in Michael Douglas as in the immortal The Streets of San Francisco. Yup. Hands down, better than any other Quinn Martin production. Better than Cannon, or Barnaby Jones. Even better than The Fugitive. No, seriously.

Right… the Ties. Ties wider than most time zones.

In “The First Day of Forever,” where Steve is protecting a hooker (played by the darkly sexy Janice Rule) he dons this +4 tie of badness that is maroon (against a dark blue shirt!!!) with yellow polka dots. That tie is legendary, having been known to cause nausea in the viewer.  Oh, and there was the one he wore in “A Wrongful Death.”  Can you say blinding? 7 inches of STIFF, petrochemical bliss that probably made laboratory mice grow a third eye. Red, diagonal lines set against a deep blue background. I got faint just watching him bolt out of the car and run across the street while he sported that tie. (Hold  your stomaches. Here’s an example.)

But why did I come here, to this spot, you ask? I came here because this was where The Ties began. Out there in the bay, just a stone’s throw from the main yacht club building. This was where the old guy jogging on the beach finds Kim Darby’s body floating in the drink during the series pilot, ushering in the “flair” of Inspector Steve Keller, who gave us four, kick-ass seasons of fashion statements more compelling than Cher’s legendary Bob Mackie outfits. Those puppies he slung around his neck were of epic wideness. Maroon. Green. Striped. WOVEN! So hip now, it’s tragic. The perfect fashion foil for the conservative sweater vests and hats of Detective Lieutenant Mike Stone (Karl Malden).

Michael Doulgas as Steve Keller and Karl Malden as Mike Stone in Streets of San Francisco
Michael Doulgas as Steve Keller and Karl Malden as Mike Stone: trying hard not to get motion sickness

I recently purchased the first two seasons on DVD to revisit the stories and the ties that bind me to that show and the city (I’ve loved S.F. since first visiting it back in ‘75 as a mere lad of ten). The pilot comes from an incredibly brilliant mystery novel by Carolyn Weston entitled Poor, Poor Ophelia. The book originally took place down in Santa Monica, but the producers knew it would work perfectly against the San Francisco backdrop, and moved the setting.

Colorful patterned vintage wide ties
Colorful patterned vintage wide ties: what Keller’s dresser drawer looks like
In the episode “A Hard Breed,” an episode that centers on a rodeo at the Cow Palace, Keller wears what has to be considered the WIDEST tie ever on TV, excluding the rodeo clowns. This masterpiece of men’s furnishing consisted of tan and brown diagonals, finished off against a RED shirt. Yeah, you read that correctly. Red. In “The Twenty-Four Karat Plague,” Keller tries to pull off fashion goodness, but ends up with a tie that looks basically like a snow pattern on a TV at 3am. Then there was the noose he wore in “No Badge for Benji”: mammoth-sized, tan paisley against a red background. That one gave me bed spins and nightmares.

Nothing special about the tie in “Harem.” It was Keller’s “go to” monstrosity: a dark blue woven tie that every time I see it, I want to un-weave it and hang myself from the nearest C&R Clothiers. I just had to mention how totally SICK musician Rick Nelson is in this episode as a flute-playing, murdering pimp. What would Ozzie have said about the underage “Garden Party” Ricky had going on in this episode? One of my favorites, man.

I sat down in the sand at that point, and gazed out at the water. A tall, lovely woman jogged by, and for some reason, I thought back to what considered to be the BEST episode of SOSF, “Mask of Death,” starring John Davidson as a schizophrenic female impersonator torch singer (3rd season, not on DVD yet). Truly the best performance by ANY guest star ever on the show. Can’t remember what tie Keller wore in that one, but that’s okay, as it was ALL about John Davidson talking to himself in the mirror, dressed to kill like some psychopathic Carol Channing.

I sat and watched the water, the sun glinting off the waves, blinding me as bad as the tie Keller wore in “For the Love of God,” a BRIGHT red affair with darker red diamonds and these glaring yellow (yellow!) centers which made me scream “For the love of GOD!” at the screen. How much I missed the show. Missed that time. No, I wouldn’t have worn those mythic monsters of fashion mayhem Keller wore, but you know… I sure as hell coulda rocked Malden’s button down shirts and V-neck sweaters. 

Maybe I’d find the people responsible for the male wardrobe on the show. If they’d passed, maybe I’d find their graves.

Maybe I’d lay an 8 inch-wide, red, woven tie on each one. Maybe.

Robert Lewis grew up under the pier at Venice Beach, CA. There, by firelight, he would entertain the stray dogs with weird and wonderful tales. He’s still telling stories, but now he lives in a place with walls, a roof, and cases of red wine. Crime fiction and blues guitar are his things. He blogs over at NeedleCity, and twits sporadically and nonsensically as @robertklewis.


  1. Calista Taylor

    Loved this! The ties of that era were just epic!!

  2. Nora

    Oh, I’m going to have to get me a boxed set of the show! Now that I’m living here, it would be so much fun to pick out all the locales and to see how much the city has or hasn’t changed over the years. Plus, the ties…! :~)

  3. Robert K. Lewis

    Nora: It’s a blast to check out scenes and see just how much the city has changed, that’s for sure. Especially around Union Square, and before the freeway was torn down. I SOOOO wish they’d put the 3rd season on DVD!

    Cali: Those ties were like… almost, well… heroic in their wideness and color! A real answer to the thin, black, “resevoir dog” ties of the previous decade. Lol, like I’m some fashion guy… !!!

  4. Julie Summerell

    My father had many of these ties. This was wonderful.

  5. rklewis

    Yeah, my dad’s entire wardrobe was one, huge, 1970’s hip-fest.

    Glad you liked the post. Thanks! 🙂

  6. db

    Love it! “Streets” really was a product of its time. I went immediately to Netflix to see if the series was available to “Watch Instantly” — sadly, it’s not. I’ll have to keep watching “The Rockford Files” for now and put the “Streets” DVDs in my queue!

  7. StephP

    I’ve been revisiting this series on DVD and VHS, and no matter how wide or funkadelic Steve’s ties were, he looked gorgeous in every one!

  8. Lee Goldberg

    All three of Carolyn Weston’s Krug & Kellog books are being republished by Brash Books ([][/url])… and author Robin Burcell is writing new books in the series set in present-day San Francisco. Robin’s first novel will be out in late 2015.

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