Photos courtesy of Randy Jurgensen
Dobbs Ferry’s Randy Jurgensen spent his life appearing in and consulting on some the world’s most iconic films — when he wasn’t on the mean streets of 1970s New York City as an undercover cop.
Please tell us about your NYPD career.
There was no work at the time following the Korean War. …[My friends and I] were out on the street, playing stickball, when someone showed up one day with all these applications. One was for the post office; one was for the parks department; and one was for the police department — and the police department called back. That was how I became a cop. To be honest, I had never even thought about it before. They immediately sent me to Spanish Harlem, on 125th Street, on the East Side. I worked in uniform over there for a couple of years. After a decent narcotics collar, I was called to work in undercover narcotics. During that period, I was involved in the biggest drug bust of the time, involving some of the purest heroin that had ever been taken off the street. Robin Moore wrote a book about the case, and it was called The French Connection. The reason it was called that is because the drugs were coming in from Marseille, and it was in no time flat that the book was going to be made into a movie.
How did you end up working on The French Connection film adaptation?
I am working one day when I get a phone call. It’s from [legendary film-and-TV producer and former NYPD detective] Sonny Grosso, and he says to me, “Come over to the East Side; we’re going to make a motion picture called The French Connection.” So, I go over to the East Side, and the first choice to play [real-life NYPD detective-turned-actor] Eddie Egan was [NY Daily News columnist] Jimmy Breslin, and he says to me: “Show ’em how you put ’em up against the wall; show ’em how you toss ’em,” and I started to do all of that and never stopped. I actually remember working throughout the night, going to court in the morning, getting out of court by 11 o’clock, then reporting to The French Connection site. It turns out I would have a career doing this, but what it really boiled down to for me was to turn Gene Hackman and Roy Scheider into narcotics detectives. When we came back into the precinct, there was fingerprinting, picture taking, et cetera, and Roy and [Gene] were right in there so that by the time we made the picture, they were narcotics detectives.
“‘Show ’em how you put ’em up against the wall; show ’em how you toss ’em,’ and I started to do all of that and never stopped.”
— Randy Jurgensen
You also wrote the true-crime book Circle of Six in 2006, correct?
The French Connection opens [in theaters] on October 8, 1971, and of course the picture gets nominated for Academy Awards in [eight] categories. So, on April 12, 1972, the picture wins five Academy Awards, and two days later, a cop loses his life in Mosque No. 7 [now known as Masjid Malcolm Shabazz], which I wrote about in Circle of Six. Right now, we have the option, and it looks like the Circle of Six is going to be made into a movie. …I worked on that case for two years, living on the border of Canada and Pennsylvania, on the run from the Nation of Islam until we finally got the killer. As we speak, the screenplay is being written, and it should be done in a couple of months.
What was it like working with Al Pacino on Cruising?
I knew Al Pacino from The Godfather. When he is not [filming], he is in his camper, reading the script and getting into character. When I sit with an actor, it’s always the same thing: I want to talk about what they do, and they want to talk about what I do. So, our conversations were like that, and he was very, very friendly.
When it came to Cruising, the first day we sat together, he said that he found the [stories from my undercover work] so hard to believe, and I said, “Al, when they set me up with an apartment down there [to catch the Salt and Pepper killers], I had been undercover in narcotics so long that sometimes I forgot I was a cop.” I went along with the conversation for a while, and then I said, “I am going to tell you something that I haven’t even told Billy [Friedkin, director of Cruising]. I used to get out and walk on 14th Street while I was undercover, and I saw a patrol car go by with two uniformed cops one night, and I thought to myself: I am afraid. I was really afraid.” And he got that.
You also met Steven Spielberg, who nearly directed Cruising.
Spielberg was actually the first one involved in Cruising. I met Spielberg, and I and Sonny [Grosso] took him out and played good cop/bad cop for him. Years later, I was heading up security for Katie Couric on The Today Show, and Spielberg appeared on the show, and he said, “You know that guy outside, Randy Jurgensen? We were going to do Cruising together!” Katie’s and everyone’s mouth dropped. I can’t recall the last time I spoke to [Spielberg]. It’s been years, but every two weeks, even when he is in Europe, Billy Friedkin and I talk.
What lies ahead for you?
I am the child of two [building] superintendents, and right now, I’m writing a book with Daily News writer Larry McHill, the title of which will be The Super’s Kid.