Tuesday, June 24, 2014
It just occurred to me that some of you may be too young to remember Steve McQueen. Sadly, he died young, at age 50, in 1980. During the 1960's and 1970's, McQueen was arguably the most popular -- and skilled -- actor in the world. In 1974, he got the most money for acting in a film ever paid until then. He had so much box-office clout that he could demand and get a percentage of a film's profits which, when they succeeded, made him very wealthy.
And, not insignificantly, many people believe he was the handsomest man on the screen.
McQueen had humble origins and that colored his personality. He was wary of society, having been dealt a raw hand. His mother was an alcoholic prostitute who gave him away to relatives; his father disappeared soon after he was born. McQueen was dyslexic and slightly deaf. Without parental guidance, he ran with street gangs and got into trouble. He spent some time in juvie before doing a series of odd jobs, including working for a circus.
Hollywood is a land of make-believe. McQueen stuck out as authentic and you sense that about him. He did his own stunts, including motorcycle riding in "The Great Escape" and an enormous dive off a cliff in "Papillon." McQueen created and drove in what many consider the greatest car-chase of all time in "Bullitt."
McQueen had real talent at driving cars and riding motorcycles. For several years in the 1970's, he disappeared from Hollywood to race motorcycles and work on vintage Indians. After his death, McQueen was inducted into the Motorcycle Hall of Fame for his positive work in promoting motorcycling. He financed one of the best documentaries ever made about riding ("On Any Sunday").
The nickname given to Steve McQueen was "The King of Cool" and you can see why. He had gravitas. Unlike pretty-boy actors, he was the real deal. Some quotations from him: "I'm not sure whether I'm an actor who races or a racer who acts." "Racing is life. Anything before or after is just waiting."
McQueen was married three times. His second wife was Ali MacGraw, the "Love Story" actress who met McQueen when they were making a movie together ("The Getaway"). At the time MacGraw was married to Hollywood's most powerful man (Robert Evans). She left Evans for McQueen, drawn by his immense charisma.
It was a shame McQueen didn't live longer to continue his work and enjoy life. He died of cancer, most likely caused by exposure to asbestos when he was in the Marines.
Have you seen any Steve McQueen films? What do you think of him?