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Friday, 19 November 2010

Archive Legends - Steve McQueen

2010 makes it over thirty years since Steve McQueen, the one and only king of cool, succumbed to mesothelioma. He was only fifity years old. When McQueen became ill he was prepping a long gestating project called, The Last Ride which was a film about a group of aging bikers who decided to take one last ride across America before hanging up their leathers. Sadly that was not to be.

The films McQueen turned down are legendary - he would have starred alongside Paul Newman in Butch and Sundance but wouldn't take the role without top billing. He also said no to Apocalypse Now, The Bodyguard, The Driver and A Bridge too Far.

"The film I regret seeing him turn down the most was director William Friedkin's The Sorcerer.  That's a very good film with Roy Scheider in the lead role, but McQueen would have given it another dimension and made it a classic." McQueen Biographer Marshall Terrill.

McQueen turning down Butch Cassidy is very telling - there was much rivalry between he and Newman and if he wasn't going to get star billing he wasn't going to do it. McQueen did get to star alongside Newman in The Towering Inferno and even received top billing. At the time he argued with Newman on set, calling him chicken shit after Newman counted out his lines and then complained because McQueen had far more.  Indeed it is a telling fact that Newman, who lived thirty years after McQueen, never talked about McQueen in interviews.

However it is for the roles that McQueen did take that he will be forever remembered - no man ever looked better in a polo-necked sweater, or cooler behind the wheel of a sports car, or astride a motorbike.

"I live for myself and I answer to nobody." Steve McQueen.

"I'm out of the Midwest. It was a good place to come from. It gives you a sense of right and wrong and fairness, which is lacking in our Society." Steve McQueen.

"They call me a chauvinist pig - I am and I don't give a damn." Steve McQueen.

It was all attitude with McQueen and that's what made him the screen presence he was. Of course it helped that it never looked like McQueen was acting, he just sailed effortlessly through his roles which is truly the sign of great acting. For the most important thing about acting is to make it look real, if you can see the actor performing then they've failed in their task. Of course appearing in several classic films also helped but as good as these films were they were all enhanced by the essence of McQueen and that essence had nothing to do with any director or screenwriter. This was all McQueen's creation - this was all McQueen.

King of cool - he just couldn't help it. Consider McQueen's cataloug of cool:

He received Martial Arts training from Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris.

He was a successful motor-racing driver. No camera tricks, no stunt men - he really did tear around the track.

He was stalked by Charles Manson. Indeed McQueen was very nearly at the party where Sharon Tate was murdered, but he'd gone out on a date with one of his many women.

He slept with most of the female population of Hollywood or so it seems.

He was a qualified stunt man.

He was on President Nixon's infamous, 'enemies list'.

He was a fashion guru and had a Rolex watch named after him.

Paradoxically McQueen's long battle with drug and drink addictions put him on the edge of counter culture cool.


"When I believe in something, I fight like hell for it." Steve McQueen.

Compared to some of his contemporaries McQueen's career was short, a mere 27 films over 22 years and in all honesty only a handful of these are really any good. But the actor made enough classics to ensure his legacy will live on for as long as there are movies.

Steve McQueen died at 3.45 am  on the 7th November 1980 and he was cremated two days later, his ashes sprinkled into the Pacific Ocean.

"If I hadn't made it as an actor, I would have ended up a hood." Steve McQueen.

God bless Steve McQueen - a true American rebel.

4 comments:

David Cranmer said...

My favorite actor. I'm watching Wanted: Dead or Alive for the umpteenth time. Favorite film will always be Bullitt with The Thomas Crown Affair a close second.

Jon Benedict said...

Mine too. You must try to find 'Papillion' about undying human spirit, where he shows he was a better actor than Dustin Hoffman; 'Magnificent 7' about defending the defensless, where he shows up that punk Yul Brynner; 'Junior Bonner' about lost family; 'The Sand Pebbles' about right and wrong during wartime; 'The Cincinati Kid, with the only actor that ever was on par with Steve, Edward G. Robinson ;
For comedies... You cannot go wrong with 'Soldier in the Rain' with the Great One Jackie Gleason and 'The Reivers', a growing of age study, comfortable as a massage!

Eric Blair said...

You made your final escape and got over both fences, Capt. Hilts! Or should I: "Just make it Hilts!"

Anonymous said...

Suppose, just suppose that Sergio Leone had had his eye on Steve instead of Clint Eastwood for his dollar trilogy as "the man with no name"...?
The mind boggles and I suspect Steve would have gone for it!