Peter Gessner is a licensed private investigator based in San Francisco. Born in New York City, like many of his generation who came of age personally and politically during the Vietnam War, he migrated westward to San Francisco to reinvent himself. Too late for the Summer of Love, there was still plenty of time to fall in love with the city that had been home to an earlier author/detective – his first weeks were spent on a friend’s couch devouring early paperback editions of Dashiell Hammett’s stories, many with maps conveniently placed inside their back covers.
Gessner has been a Visiting Professor of Cinema at San Francisco State University and for one summer early in his career, he worked as a reporter for the Village Voice. He graduated with highest honors from Swarthmore College with Bachelor of Arts degree in English Literature and attended Yale Drama School. Prior to his arrival in California, Gessner had been an independent filmmaker; several of his documentaries that dealt with anti-war and labor themes received prizes at international film festivals (see below).
His decision to become a private investigator was shaped in part by learning about a new breed of private detectives who emerged to prominence in San Francisco in the 1970’s. Hal Lipset, Jack Palladino, Sandra Sutherland, Beverly Axelrod, and David Fetchheimer took on challenging cases of national significance ranging from the political nightmare of Watergate, the Jonestown massacre, and the high profile kidnapping of Patty Hearst. Their roots were not in the often narrow world of law enforcement – these men and women came from journalism, social work, and, in one notable case, single-parenthood.
After a year-long hiatus from filmmaking during which he drove a taxi and nearly ruined his driving skills as well as his back, Gessner landed an apprenticeship with a local investigator who had trained with these investigators. Soon, he was working for some of them himself. Several more years down the road, he had his own PI license. Gessner’s cases have included capital homicide and wrongful death investigations; sexual abuse of children by clergy; numerous police misconduct inquiries; an undercover inquiry into the harassment a female member of a local ham radio club by male club officials; and the investigation of apparently racially-motivated death threats to a student at a prominent local private school. He does not own a gun.
A member of the California Association of Licensed Investigators, Gessner lives on the slope of a small hill on the southern edge of his adopted city. His daughter Francesca is a recent Stanford Law School graduate. “The Big Hello and the Long Goodbye” is Peter Gessner’s debut novel, and is the first in a projected series featuring the San Francisco private eye “Walker.”
PS: If this detective is graced with a first name, we do not know it – this is, in part, a tribute to a similarly-named protagonist played by actor Lee Marvin in John Boorman’s classic 1967 film, Point Blank. The two Walkers share one additional characteristic: a desire for justice in a flawed world tempered by a fierce desire to see things through to the end, whatever the cost.
The Films of Peter Gessner
FALN (1965) with Robert Kramer.
A portrait of a Venezuelan guerilla movement.
Last Summer Won’t Happen (1968) Co-director: Tom Hurwitz.
A film about drop-out youth on New York’s Lower East Side. Featuring Abbie Hoffman, Paul Krassner, Osha Neumann and others.
Finally Got the News (1970) Co-directors: Rene Lichtman, Stewart Bird.
A film about insurgent black auto workers in Detroit, Michigan.
Note: The films are available for rental or purchase from Icarus Films , 32 Court Street, Brooklyn, NY 11201 (718) 488-8900 www.icarusfilms.com
Over-Under, Sideways-Down (1975) with Eugene Corr for PBS drama series, “Visions.” Whatever the Cost (1981) adaptation of stories by author Thomas Farber. In Transit (1982) for ZDF German Television (unproduced). Goldfield (1985), historical drama (unproduced).