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H.B. “Toby” Halicki makes a film and a phenomenon

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Gardena mechanic and auto wrecker-turned-filmmaker Henry Bernard Halicki heard about a Torrance train derailment one morning in 1973, and immediately decided it would make a great opening for his first feature film. He rounded up a crew and headed to the site, convincing authorities there to allow him to film a quickly improvised scene.

So begins “Gone in 60 Seconds,” one of the great independent movie successes of the 1970s. Made on a shoestring in 1973, the film went on to make millions following its 1974 release.

Its director, H.B. “Toby” Halicki was born into a Polish family Dunkirk, New York on Oct. 18, 1940. One of 11 children, he moved to California in 1955 at age 15, allegedly because his mother refused to let him get his driver’s license.

He arrived with $40 in his pocket and got his first job pumping gas. Eventually, he started his own auto garage and wrecking yard on Vermont Avenue near 179th Street in Gardena.

In September 1968, Halicki was among four men indicted as allegedly being part of an auto theft ring that specialized in stealing late model cars from Los Angeles and San Francisco International Airports.

According to police, the ring would buy wrecked cars at salvage yards, then switch out parts from the stolen cars and resell them at an Inglewood car lot. It’s probably no coincidence that the ring’s activities bear a striking resemblance to the modus operandi of the car thieves depicted in  “Gone in 60 Seconds.” Charges against Halicki later were dropped.

In the early 1970s, Halicki began trying to fulfill his dream to become a filmmaker. He began acquiring all kinds of vehicles at auction, more than 200 of them, including police cars, fire engines, garbage trucks and passenger cars of all types, for use in his film.

Working on a minuscule budget completely outside the Hollywood studio system, Halicki began filming in 1973, with no real script, just a series of dialogue outlines.

As lead character Maindrian Pace, Halicki performed all his own stunts in the film, suffering injuries on at least two occasions.

– In a scene filmed on the northbound Harbor Freeway in San Pedro, his beloved Mustang, “Eleanor,” gets clipped by a pursuing car – the stunt driver missed his mark – and spins out of control, smashing into and demolishing a metal light pole at 100 mph. injuring him and knocking him unconscious.

– In the film’s climactic scene on 190th Street in Redondo Beach, Halicki and Eleanor fly some 30 feet in the air over wrecked cars, land, and continue driving. Halicki suffered compressed vertebrae in his back as a result. His friends and colleagues said he never walked quite the same afterwards.

The “Smokey and the Bandit” chase films and “The Dukes of Hazzard” had yet to be made when Halicki’s low-budget “Gone in 60 Seconds” was released in 1974. Steve McQueen’s “Bullitt” (1968) and the original 1971 “French Connection” film were the state of the art in filmed car chases at the time. Halicki’s film quickly became a word-of-mouth sensation.

The film, which cost an estimated $150,000 to make, grossed $40 million domestically in its original run, and made much more than that in re-releases, overseas receipts and video issues.

Movie poster for the 1974 “Gone in 60 Second” film.

After the great success of “Gone,” Halicki made two more films, “The Junkman” (1982) and “Deadline Auto Theft” (1983), both in a similar vein

Halicki met his wife, Denice Shakarian, in 1983. They were married in his hometown of Dunkirk, N.Y., on May 11, 1989, as Halicki was preparing to shoot the sequel, “Gone in 60 Seconds II,” a bigger and more elaborate version of the original, though its plot was unrelated. Shooting for the new film began in June 1989. Three months after becoming a bride, Denice Halicki became a widow.

On Aug, 20, 1989, Halicki was shooting a stunt for the film in Tonawanda, N.Y. According to Tonawanda police officer Michael Thorp, a water tower rigged for the stunt fell prematurely, causing an attached cable to snap and knock over a telephone pole. The pole fell on Halicki, killing him.

In 1992, Halicki’s mammoth toy collection, which filled a large warehouse at his Vermont Avenue business he called the “H.B. Halicki Junkyard and Mercantile Company,” was auctioned off to pay off creditors who had invested money in the unfinished “Gone” sequel. Over 100,000 pieces were split up and sold off at an auction at the Pasadena Convention Center that drew an estimated 5,000 people. The Vermont Avenue studios and wrecking yard buildings were torn down in March 1995 by the property’s new owners.

Halicki’s estate went through probate, and his wife Denice struggled through the legal proceedings for years, ultimately emerging with a cash settlement, the couple’s Rolling Hills Estates home and the rights to Halicki’s films.

She began receiving offers from Hollywood to remake “Gone,” choosing to sign with Disney. Michael Lynton, then head of the studio’s Hollywood Pictures arm, turned out to be a fan of Halicki’s work.

Director Jerry Bruckheimer agreed to film the 2000 “Gone in 60 Seconds” remake, which starred Nicolas Cage, Angelina Jolie and “Eleanor,” Halicki’s yellow Mustang. (Eleanor remains the only automobile to receive top star billing in a movie, which Halicki gave the car in the original “Gone” film.) The 2000 version was a hit, grossing  $237 million worldwide.


The list of South Bay locations used in the original “Gone in 60 Seconds” is a long one. Here are some of them:

– Port of Los Angeles main channel, with Los Angeles Harbor Lighthouse visible.
– Night chase scene on Crenshaw Boulevard in Torrance.
– Car theft of Ascot Raceway owner J.C. Agajanian’s car in scenes filmed at the raceway. Agajanian and veteran race car driver Gary Bettenhausen appear as themselves.
– Gamby Mortuary in Lomita.
– The Tijuana Inn Cafe, Gardena.
– Parnelli Jones Enterprises on Earl Street in Torrance. Jones’ Ford Bronco,which he still owns, is among the cars stolen, and we get a glimpse of Jones’ automobile operations during the scene.

The famous 40-minute chase scene begins at the International Tower Apartments in Long Beach, 700 Ocean Boulevard, then passes through the following sites:

– Gerald Desmond Bridge.
– Vincent Thomas Bridge. The chase passes through the toll booths on the bridge’s eastern side, which were still in operation then.
– Harbor Freeway north from the Vincent Thomas Bridge, exiting at Sepulveda.
– Figueroa Boulevard in Carson.
– Mayor Sak Yakomoto of Carson is seen dedicating the then-new Carson sheriff’s department building, along with the Carson City Council, as the chase goes by, disrupting the ceremony.
– Goodyear Blimp base site in Carson.
– Datsun U.S. headquarters building, later Nissan, in Carson. Nissan has since moved its U.S. headquarters to Tennessee.
– A key scene in the chase takes place at Ronald Moran Cadillac on Hawthorne Boulevard in Torrance, where more cars were wrecked than planned, and Halicki had to pay the dealership for the extras.
– The chase continues down 190th, with Halicki executing his famous stunt leap on the 190th Street hill near the present-day Redondo Beach dog park east of Pacific Coast Highway.
– The final scenes of the film take place at a long-gone carwash at a shopping center at Anza Avenue at 190th in Torrance.

Other locations in Long Beach besides the International Towers:

– The landmark Villa Riviera building.
– The hungry tiger restaurant.
– Blyth Eastman Dillon & Co. building.
– KFOX radio studio, International Tower Apartments building.
– Through streets, sidewalks and Lincoln Park in downtown Long Beach past many terrified onlookers who may or may not have been acting.
– The Queen Mary.
– Long Beach Airport.

The 2000 remake of the film starring Nicolas Cage paid homage to the original with scenes filmed on the Vincent Thomas Bridge and on locations in San Pedro and Redondo Beach.




Daily Breeze files.

“Gone in 60 Seconds,” DVD re-release of the 1974 film, Bci/Eclipse Music, 2005.


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