Friday, March 24, 2017

"Actor & Race Car Driver" Steve McQueen Born - March 24, 1930

 March 24, 1930 - November 7, 1980
Terence Steven "Steve" McQueen
(Photo;timefortruth.co.uk)
Born in Beech Grove, Indiana, USA.
He was an American actor and race car driver. Called "The King of Cool", his "anti-hero" persona, developed at the height of the counterculture of the 1960s, made him a top box-office draw of the 1960s and 1970s. McQueen received an Academy Award nomination for his role in The Sand Pebbles. His other popular films include The Cincinnati Kid, The Thomas Crown Affair, Bullitt, The Getaway, and Papillon, as well as the all-star ensemble films The Magnificent Seven, The Great Escape, and The Towering Inferno. In 1974, he became the highest-paid movie star in the world, although he did not act in films again for four years. McQueen was combative with directors and producers, but his popularity placed him in high demand and enabled him to command large salaries.

In 1952, with financial assistance provided by the G.I. Bill, McQueen began studying acting in New York at Sanford Meisner's Neighborhood Playhouse. Purportedly, the future "King of Cool" delivered his first dialogue on a theatre stage in a 1952 play produced by Yiddish theatre star Molly Picon. McQueen's character spoke one brief line: "Alts iz farloyrn." ("All is lost."). During this time, he also studied acting with Stella Adler in whose class he met Gia Scala.

He began to earn money by competing in weekend motorcycle races at Long Island City Raceway and purchased the first of many motorcycles, a Harley-Davidson. He soon became an excellent racer, and went home each weekend with about $100 in winnings (equivalent to $900 in 2016).

In 1971, McQueen starred in the poorly received auto-racing drama Le Mans. Then came Junior Bonner in 1972, a story of an aging rodeo rider. He worked for director Sam Peckinpah again with the leading role in The Getaway, where he met future wife Ali MacGraw. He followed this with a physically demanding role as a Devil's Island prisoner in 1973's Papillon, featuring Dustin Hoffman as his character's tragic sidekick.

By the time of The Getaway, McQueen was the world's highest-paid actor, but after 1974's The Towering Inferno, co-starring with his long-time professional rival Paul Newman and reuniting him with Dunaway, became a tremendous box-office success, McQueen all but disappeared from the public eye, to focus on motorcycle racing and traveling around the country in a motor home and on his vintage Indian motorcycles.
(Photo;videovista.net)
McQueen was an avid motorcycle and racecar enthusiast. When he had the opportunity to drive in a movie, he performed many of his own stunts, including some of the car chase in Bullitt and the motorcycle chase in The Great Escape. Although the jump over the fence in The Great Escape was done by Bud Ekins for insurance purposes, McQueen did have considerable screen time riding his 650cc Triumph TR6 Trophy motorcycle. It was difficult to find riders as skilled as McQueen. At one point, using editing, McQueen is seen in a German uniform chasing himself on another bike.

McQueen and John Sturges planned to make Day of the Champion, a movie about Formula One racing, but McQueen was busy with the delayed The Sand Pebbles. They had a contract with the German Nürburgring, and after John Frankenheimer shot scenes there for Grand Prix, the reels were turned over to Sturges. Frankenheimer was ahead in schedule, and the McQueen/Sturges project was called off.

McQueen considered being a professional race car driver. He had a one-off outing in the British Touring Car Championship in 1961, driving a BMC Mini at Brands Hatch, finishing third. In the 1970 12 Hours of Sebring race, Peter Revson and McQueen (driving with a cast on his left foot from a motorcycle accident two weeks earlier) won with a Porsche 908/02 in the three-litre class and missed winning overall by 23 seconds to Mario Andretti/Ignazio Giunti/Nino Vaccarella in a five-litre Ferrari 512S. This same Porsche 908 was entered by his production company Solar Productions as a camera car for Le Mans in the 1970 24 Hours of Le Mans later that year. McQueen wanted to drive a Porsche 917 with Jackie Stewart in that race, but the film backers threatened to pull their support if he did. Faced with the choice of driving for 24 hours in the race or driving for the entire summer making the film, McQueen opted for the latter.

McQueen competed in off-road motorcycle racing, frequently running a BSA Hornet. He was also set to co-drive in a Triumph 2500 PI for the British Leyland team in the 1970 London-Mexico rally, but had to turn it down due to movie commitments. His first off-road motorcycle was a Triumph 500 cc, purchased from Ekins. McQueen raced in many top off-road races on the West Coast, including the Baja 1000, the Mint 400, and the Elsinore Grand Prix.

In 1964, McQueen and Ekins were part of a four-rider (plus one reserve) first-ever official US team-entry into the Silver Vase category of the International Six Days Trial, an Enduro-type off road motorcycling event held that year in Erfurt, East Germany. The 'A' team arrived in England in late August to collect their mix of 649 cc and 490 cc twins from the Triumph factory before modifying them for off-road use. Initially let down with transport arrangements by a long-established English motorcycle dealer, Triumph dealer H&L Motors stepped-in to provide a suitable vehicle. On arrival in Germany, the team, with their English temporary manager, were surprised to find a Vase 'B' team, comprising ex-pat Americans living in Europe, had entered themselves privately to ride European-sourced machinery.

McQueen's ISDT competition number was 278, which was based on the trials starting order. Both teams crashed repeatedly. McQueen retired due to irreparable crash damage, and Ekins withdrew with a broken leg, both on day three. Only one member of the 'B' team finished the six day event. UK monthly magazine Motorcycle Sport commented: "Riding Triumph twins...[the team] rode everywhere with great dash, if not in admirable style, falling off frequently and obviously out for six days' sport without too many worries about who was going to win (they knew it would not be them)".

He was inducted in the Off-road Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1978. In 1971, McQueen's Solar Productions funded the classic motorcycle documentary On Any Sunday, in which McQueen is featured, along with racing legends Mert Lawwill and Malcolm Smith. The same year, he also appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated magazine riding a Husqvarna dirt bike.

McQueen designed a motorsports bucket seat, for which a patent was issued in 1971.

In a segment filmed for The Ed Sullivan Show, McQueen drove Sullivan around a desert area in a dune buggy at high speed. Afterward, Sullivan said, "That was a 'helluva' ride!"

McQueen owned a number of classic motorcycles, as well as several exotic sports cars, including: Porsche 917, Porsche 908, and Ferrari 512 race cars from the Le Mans film, 1963 Ferrari 250 Lusso Berlinetta, Jaguar D-Type XKSS (right-hand drive), Porsche 356 Speedster, 1962 Cobra, and a Ford GT40.


(Photo;videovista.net)
In spite of multiple attempts, McQueen was never able to purchase the Ford Mustang GT 390 he drove in Bullitt, which featured a modified drivetrain that suited McQueen's driving style. One of the two Mustangs used in the film was badly damaged, judged beyond repair, and scrapped.

McQueen also flew and owned, among other aircraft, a 1945 Stearman, a 1946 Piper J-3 Cub, and an award-winning 1931 Pitcairn PA-8 biplane, flown in the US Mail Service by famed World War I flying ace Eddie Rickenbacker. They were hangared at Santa Paula Airport an hour northwest of Hollywood, where he lived his final days.

After discovering a mutual interest in racing, McQueen and Great Escape co-star James Garner became good friends.
(Photo;flickr.com)
Steve McQueen in the driver's position on a motorcycle with James Garner behind him.

Garner lived downhill from McQueen, and McQueen recalled, "I could see that Jim was neat around his place. Flowers trimmed, no papers in the yard ... grass always cut. So to piss him off, I'd start lobbing empty beer cans down the hill into his driveway. He'd have his drive all spic 'n' span when he left the house, then get home to find all these empty cans. Took him a long time to figure out it was me."

McQueen developed a persistent cough in 1978. He gave up cigarettes and underwent antibiotic treatments without improvement. Shortness of breath grew more pronounced and on December 22, 1979, after filming The Hunter, a biopsy revealed pleural mesothelioma, a cancer associated with asbestos exposure for which there is no known cure. A few months later, McQueen gave a medical interview in which he blamed his condition on asbestos exposure. McQueen believed that asbestos used in movie sound stage insulation and race-drivers' protective suits and helmets could have been involved, but he thought it more likely that his illness was a direct result of massive exposure while removing asbestos lagging from pipes aboard a troop ship while in the Marines.

By February 1980, evidence of widespread metastasis was found. While he tried to keep the condition a secret, the National Enquirer disclosed that he had "terminal cancer" on March 11, 1980. In July, McQueen traveled to Rosarito Beach, Mexico, for unconventional treatment after US doctors told him they could do nothing to prolong his life. Controversy arose over the trip, because McQueen sought treatment from William Donald Kelley, who was promoting a variation of the Gerson therapy that used coffee enemas, frequent washing with shampoos, daily injections of fluid containing live cells from cattle and sheep, massage, and laetrile, an anticancer drug available in Mexico, but described as canonical quackery by mainstream scientists. McQueen paid for Kelley's treatments by himself in cash payments which were said to have been upwards of $40,000 per month during his three-month stay in Mexico. Kelley's only medical license (until revoked in 1976) had been for orthodontics. Kelley's methods created a sensation in the traditional and tabloid press when it became known that McQueen was a patient.

McQueen returned to the US in early October. Despite metastasis of the cancer through McQueen's body, Kelley publicly announced that McQueen would be completely cured and return to normal life. McQueen's condition soon worsened and "huge" tumors developed in his abdomen.

In late October 1980, McQueen flew to Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, Mexico, to have an abdominal tumor on his liver removed, despite warnings from his US doctors that the tumor was inoperable and his heart could not withstand the surgery. McQueen checked into a small Juarez clinic under the assumed name of "Sam Shepard", where the doctors and staff were unaware of his actual identity.

On November 7, 1980, McQueen died of cardiac arrest at 3:45 a.m. at the Juárez clinic, 12 hours after surgery to remove or reduce numerous metastatic tumors in his neck and abdomen. He was 50 years old. According to the El Paso Times McQueen died in his sleep. McQueen was cremated and his ashes spread in the Pacific Ocean.

McQueen remains a popular star, and his estate limits the licensing of his image to avoid the commercial saturation experienced by other deceased celebrities. As of 2007, McQueen's estate entered the top 10 of highest-earning deceased celebrities.

McQueen was inducted into the Hall of Great Western Performers in April 2007, in a ceremony at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum. In November 1999, McQueen was inducted into the Motorcycle Hall of Fame. He was credited with contributions including financing the film On Any Sunday, supporting a team of off-road riders, and enhancing the public image of motorcycling overall.


(Photo;cinecola.com)
Steve McQueen: The Man & Le Mans, a 2015 documentary, examines the actor's quest to create and star in the 1971 auto-racing film Le Mans. His son Chad McQueen and former wife Neile Adams are among those interviewed.
(Photo credit; mcqueenonline.com)
Chad McQueen Blog

1 comment:

  1. Chad, I will never forget the day I met your dad at my family's antique store in West Hollywood. I was 9 at the time and by that time I had seen most of his movies staying up late with my dad and would be late to school because of it! I wouldn't change a thing and I will never forget that your dad shook my hand and I couldn't stop staring at his beautiful blue eyes! This was 1977-78 and still to this day he's my hero!

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