STEVE MCQUEEN – Not a nice guy.

 

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Steve McQueen’s mother was a prostitute, his father a circus stuntman and neither cared a fig about their boy. He lost his virginity at 13 to an obese teenaged hooker who accepted candy for sex. At 16 he was a towel boy in a brothel and encouraged to sample the wares on offer. Shoplifting and stealing hubcaps would land him in Chino Reformatory in California for five years between 1944 and 1949. He said it was the best thing that ever happened to him; that it straightened him out. From there he went into the US Marine Corps.

Image result for young steve mcqueen and martin landau at actors studio      Image result for young steve mcqueen and martin landau at actors studio

Pre-1960 on TV                            Martin Landau

In 1955, after getting out of the Corps, he used his G I Bill to join over 2,000 aspiring actors auditioning for Lee Strasberg’s exclusive Actor’s Studio. Only two were accepted – Steve was one and Martin Landau the other. Coincidentally, the two had met previously when Landau, on the back of James Dean’s motorcycle, pulled into a garage for repairs. McQueen was the mechanic who worked on the bike. It was his years at the garage that formulated his life-long passion for motorcycles.

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McQueen (centre) in Never So Few

In 1959 he landed a breakthrough role in a Frank Sinatra film titled Never So Few. The story goes that the role had been promised to Sammy Davis Junior, but Sinatra had fallen out with him over a radio interview Sammy had recently given. In the interview he stated that he was a better singer than Frank (possibly in jest), but, apparently, ‘Ole Blue Eyes’ took umbrage to it and had him fired from the picture. It all sounds a little difficult to believe, although Frank did have a massive ego and an unpredictable short fuse.

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Mamie van Doren

It was in the mid-sixties that McQueen publicly threatened billionaire Howard Hughes. Both men had been involved with sex siren Mamie Van Doren. Hughes continued to hassle her after the volatile McQueen threatened to break his nose if he did not desist. The billionaire could easily have had him ‘dealt with’, but that was not how he operated. Instead, he never bothered Mamie again. While on location making The Magnificent Seven in 1960, McQueen and co-star Robert Vaughn spent the whole of Good Friday in a Mexican brothel entertaining seven hookers in their double bed.

Image result for young steve mcqueen and robert vaughn in the magnificent seven    Image result for young steve mcqueen and robert vaughn in the magnificent seven

McQueen and Robert Vaughn in the 1960 classic western The Magnificent 7

Unbeknown to him, McQueen’s name was at the top of Charles Manson’s hit list on 8 August 1969, the night he accepted an invitation to have dinner at the Polanski-Tate home. Roman Polanski, the director, was away in Europe that evening. McQueen later confided to friends that he used to have ‘threesomes’ with hairdresser Jay Sebring and Sharon Tate, even after Sharon wed Polanski. Since all three are now dead it is impossible to verify this, but we do know that it was Sebring who invited McQueen to dinner at Sharon’s home that night. As luck would have it the actor got a call from one of his eager young women that evening and she convinced him they could have more fun, just the two of them, in a hotel room. While he spent the night with her, Sebring, Tate and the other guests were systematically tortured and butchered by the Manson Gang at Sharon’s home in Cielo Drive.

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with Sharon Tate and Roman Polanski                 Jay Sebring and Sharon Tate                                   Jay and McQueen

After the killings, McQueen took to carrying a loaded Magnum pistol at all times. On one occasion he actually pulled it on his first wife, Neile Adams, demanding to know if she had slept with anyone during his absences. With the gun pressed against her temple she admitted having had sex with Oscar-winning actor Maximilian Schell, in retaliation for her husband’s continual philandering. McQueen beat her that night and several subsequent nights when he was high on cocaine. Soon afterwards Neile found out she was pregnant. He refused to believe the child was his so she flew to London for an abortion.

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with his 1st wife Neile Adams                                           Maximilian Schell

In their early years, before fame button-holed him, he would spend her earnings on booze and women. Hopelessly devoted to him, she agreed to tie the knot in 1956 just before he landed a role in Never Love a Stranger. Immediately, he seduced the picture’s leading lady, Lita Milan and could scarcely wait to tell his new bride about it. ‘Lita would be the first in a long line of flings’, Neile acknowledged later. He regularly boasted of his conquests. These included co-stars Jacqueline Bisset and Lee Remick, not to mention a host of starlets, hookers and fans.

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with Lita Milan in Never Love A Stranger

When McQueen’s downstairs neighbour James Garner won the lead in Grand Prix (1966), a role Steve had desperately wanted himself, he began urinating on Garner’s balcony below every evening. Another next door neighbour for a while in Malibu was the madcap Keith Moon, drummer for the British pop group ‘The Who’. The Brit had a habit of leaving his bathroom light on all night, the beam shining directly into McQueen’s bedroom. After asking him repeatedly to turn it off, and each time being ignored, the irate actor took a shotgun, blew out the light, and went back to bed.

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James Garner in Grand Prix                                           Keith Moon of ‘The Who’

He was astonished to learn that his name was on President Richard Nixon’s ‘List of Enemies’ in 1972. It is difficult to understand why a man who had refused to join the March on Washington in support of civil rights in 1963, and who had also refused to join his Hollywood colleagues in support of Robert Kennedy’s short-lived presidential campaign, would somehow find himself on that list.  Furthermore, he had publicly announced his support for the Vietnam War and had actually voted for Nixon in 1968.

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Obsessed with sex and women, McQueen maintained a suite at the Beverly Wilshire in Los Angeles, during his marriage to Ali MacGraw. There he would service young actresses auditioning for movies, movies that did not even exist. Then he would tell Ali about the ones he slept with. There was always a steady supply of ‘groupies’ on hand as well, eager young girls he would ‘accommodate’ in his trailer during filming breaks on the sets of his pictures.

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McQueen and Ali MacGraw

As for Ali, he expected her to give up her career to become a dutiful wife to him. She was a hot property when they married, yet she gave up her career for five years because he demanded she do so. If her agent rang her at home with job offers, McQueen would grab the phone and slam down the receiver. Soon after she miscarried his baby in 1977, she agreed to make a movie called Convoy. ‘In that case we are filing for divorce’, he told her. Ali did not know it, but he was sleeping with a 28 year-old model named Barbara Minty at that time.

Image result for mcqueen and ali macgraw    Image result for mcqueen and robert vaughn    Image result for mcqueen and lee remick

with Jacqueline Bisset                                                         with Robert Vaughn in Bullitt                 with Lee Remick in Baby the Rain Must Fall

He was heavily into all kinds of drugs, especially those that would increase his already outsized libido. These included cocaine, LSD, peyote and vials of amyl nitrate to pep up his performance in the sack. Young women half his age threw themselves at him. If one was not readily available he would use prostitutes. And the more the merrier. His last wife, Miss Minty, (and his flying instructor Sammy Mason), influenced him into becoming a born-again Christian. This happened before he learned he was seriously ill. The Reverend Billy Graham was ‘the flavour of the month’ back then and he helped McQueen through his Bible studies.

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his last wife Barbara Minty                                        his last role as Pappy Thorson in The Hunter

Before marrying for the final time, McQueen called Ali and asked if she would like to see the new home he had bought for his fiancée. Not one to hold a grudge she went for a drive with him, whereupon he promptly asked her to have sex with him in the car ‘for old time’s sake’. She angrily refused.

In December 1979, shortly after completing The Hunter, he was diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma, a rare and almost always fatal form of lung cancer associated with inhalation of asbestos fibres. All kinds of theories were put forward regarding how this came about in his case, but McQueen himself thought it was due to being ordered to remove asbestos lagging from pipes in the ship’s engine room aboard a troopship while he was enlisted in the US Marine Corps. Whatever the reason, he underwent surgery in November 1980 and less than 24 hours later suffered consecutive heart attacks that ended his life at 50. As a person he was seriously flawed, but the movie industry lost a unique talent far too soon.

46 Comments

  1. Steve was a great actor. I particularly like the sand pebbles and his interaction with his Chinese trainee. Always enjoyed his acting in the westerns. May he Rest In Peace.

  2. Not impressed, then or now. He was a high-paid movie star and a professional asshole. I was having dinner with a bunch of guys in their 60s and they all thought McQueen was some kind of God. Give me a break.

  3. I had always admired McQueen as an actor and his ability to bring something extra and intangible, but very real to the characters he portrayed, especially in his later movies. The Thomas Crown Affair comes to mind. I was very saddened to read that he may have offered information to someone regarding having trysts with Sharon Tate and Jay Sebring while Ms. Tate was married to R. Polanski. The possibility that he (Mcqueen) may have offered such information whether true or not is really despicable and unforgiveable. The dead should be allowed to rest in peace. Especially two people who were so brutally and senselessly taken at such young ages, in and near their primes. I hope it is NOT true that he (McQueen) would offer such private and confidential information about two people he at minimum must have at least cared for in some way at least a little, and that furthermore, whatever person suggested this information on a second-hand or third-hand basis is someone with a hidden and agenda, and possibly ill in some way.

    • I scheduled that article over a year ago, Douglas, so I cannot recall where I got the information from. However, I do take considerable pains to assess sources and arrive at a conclusion whereby the data I print is most likely accurate. Of course, every once in a while I am duped so it is possible that MAY have happened here. I,too, am a McQueen fan, but only regarding what he did on the screen.

      • Thanks for the reply and info to the best of your recollection. I guess the real truth will never been know as all parties involved have passed on. If McQueen did offer such information for general consumption it makes me think he must have been trying to psychologically hurt someone. And the only person I can think of who would have been most devasted by such information is Polanksi. Of course Ms. Tate’s friends and family would probably have been seriously offended and traumatized by someone offering up such unflattering information as well. TOTAL SPECULATION on my part here, but speculation informed by life experience and an awareness of human nature; is quite likely that neither McQueen nor Sebring were to thrilled with Polanski swooping in and sweeping away Ms. Tate. Is possible that Sebring was remaining close to Ms. Tate because he still loved her, and if it meant he had to play third wheel biding his time until the relationship between Polanski and Tate turned in some way in his favor, then that is what he had to do. I do believe the possibility of this scenario being the real reason Sebring remained friends with Tate and Polanski is suggested in Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.” Your thoughts if any?

        • I would only be surmising, Douglas, but Sebring clearly cared for her as exemplified by his going to her defence when those bastards threatened her that night. It cost him his life, although there seems little doubt they would have killed him anyway. I am not a Polanski fan at all. He has been molesting under-aged girls for much of his life both in the US and in Europe, so I would be greatly surprised if he was true to his wife. Of course, her grisly end has resulted in many people feeling sorry for him. I just don’t happen to be one of them.

          • Hi Alan. The ‘story within and behind the story’ so to speak regarding the relationship between Ms. Tate and J. Sebring is certainly interesting. I just wish I could go back in time and change that final horrible scene so that whatever was going to happen between them could play out naturally. Not sure why I have such a sensitivity for these two (Tate and Sebring). People are harmed brutally and senselessly everyday, especially in the U.S. of A. Maybe it is because they were both high profile. Maybe it was Ms. Tate’s beauty, and that her beauty, youth, and the promise of her future were so bright; and that despite all they each had working for them, nothing on earth or anything anywhere in the universe — cosmos — could reverse their fate. If you think about it, its’ enough to turn any devout believer in the traditional orthodox concept of a benevolent and all powerful God into an Atheist. And, not to forget the brutality visited on all 4 people in the Tate/Polanski house….BUT….I MEAN SERIOUSLY….an 8 1/2 month pregnant woman harmed so brutally and viciously. If this isn’t evidence of the randomness of life, and that no-one who is alive now, or who has ever lived, has true control over the larger forces which exist in the universe….then I don’t know what other brutal act man often visits on his fellow man can assist in bringing that basic truth into view. Guess what it all comes down to is that mankind, like the Universe, is capable of great beauty and great brutality. Sorry to go off on a bit of a rant there. Wanted to get that out.

          • I, too, have difficulty in arriving at a logical conclusion regarding an ‘all powerful, all merciful and all loving’ God, Douglas. It seems to me that an ‘all-loving, all-merciful’ creator who happens also to be ‘all-powerful’, would not allow such heartless brutality to take place. Surely, he (or she, or it) has fallen down on the job. No doubt, any of a thousand glib clerics would have a pat answer in readiness for such a query, but then organised religion has a pat answer for every doubter.

  4. Amazed by your diplomatic forbearance on some of the downright rude comments. Noticed a “common thread” to all – The posters never have anything to add except their negative opinions.. Think “The world revolves around me” syndrome exemplified –

    My additional “two cents”: McQueen’s mother was an alcoholic “streetwalker” prostitute; the lowest of the low. Read his mother used to offer McQueen, as a very young child, to her so inclined customers..

    You reference he was committed to the Chino Reformatory, I read it was the California Junior Boys Republic. In either case, read it was his Mom’s third husband that convinced her to have him committed. Apparently beating McQueen on a regular basis wasn’t enough for the man. As McQueen was born in 1930 & went to the “reformatory” in 1944, that would make him 14 or 15 years old when he was, reportedly, gang raped there…

    Recall Mamie van Doran relaying viewing McQueen in a shower (when they were having a fling) & how based on the mental anguish she witnessed Mamie believed McQueen to be seriously, emotionally damaged. Rather perceptive insight –

    Read McQueen when new to New York was a “boy for hire”. His client list at the time reputedly included Lana Turner &, think, Ava Gardner. Read after he became famous same sex hook-ups were not uncommon. From movie stars to mechanics, he didn’t discriminate. Read one of his quotes was “Every broad in town wants me to screw her. Every once in a while I need a little diversion.” Based on his upbringing, can anyone blame him?

    Bottom line? That the guy survived his childhood is miraculous. That he became a major move star (& icon) in his lifetime is a miracle. Speaks to the power of the man who lived his life as he saw fit & is still revered for it, all these years later –

    So many pics to choose from.. one of my “rebel icon” favorites :

    https://i.pinimg.com/originals/3d/04/6f/3d046f30bcc6543394cf798ba77ecb5f.jpg

  5. What ever people say about famous stars we all have our bad sides. Actors such as McQueen and Audie Murphy had the ability to have audiences in their grip with raw strength of character which sadly is no longer present in films today. They were true examples of manliness,and I include William Holden and Glenn Ford in that list. Long may their performances be shown on screen.

    • I have no time for those whose focus in life is to cling to the remote possibility of life after death, Craig, while remaining convinced they know something the rest of us don’t. I have a daughter who literally believes EVERY WORD in the Bible, a book that is chockfull of contradictions and fairy tales. Frankly, I’m tired of it. Most of history’s wars are the result of disagreement over religion. I cannot abide religious fanatics of ANY persuasion.

  6. Quote from article: “His last wife, Miss Minty, (and his flying instructor Sammy Mason), influenced him into becoming a born-again Christian. This happened before he learned he was seriously ill. The Reverend Billy Graham was ‘the flavour of the month’ back then and he helped McQueen through his Bible studies.”

    This just shows that God can reach any of us sinners (some sin more flagrantly than others) and change our lives. Jesus said that if you become born again, you are a new creation in Him–old things have passed away and you become a new person. (@ Cor 5:17) Too bad he didn’t live long enough for that to become evident to everyone.
    That he died with a Bible open on his chest always touched me. (Why you felt it necessary to refer to Billy Graham as the “flavour of the month” is beyond me.)

    • Like all those so-called ‘evangelists’, Billy Graham ran hot for a while, made his money spruking Bible clap-trap (much like you), and then faded out. Ms Laird, if you want to quote the Bible do it someplace else. Not here.

      • Reputedly W.R Hearst financed Graham’s first two national U.S. revival tours… Hearst saw a “gold mine” money making venture & he was right. Apparently Hearst made another fortune backing Graham, who left an estate estimated at $25 million…. So much for “Nearer my God to Thee”.

        • If anyone wants to make a mint off the gullible and frightened, Matt, all they need do is start a religious organization and watch the hooch roll in. One thing this world is never short of is suckers!

  7. Steve was exactly how he is describe here. He had a dark side for sure. But to say that he was a racist because he did not go to the civil rights march is not really fair. He was not progressive in any way politically and he didn’t care about civil rights. He only cared about things that affected him affected . Anything else was irrelevant to him. now that does not necessarily mean he was racist.

    • Thankyou for your comments. Actually, I have never accused McQueen of being racist. I merely mentioned that it was surprising to find his name on Nixon’s ‘enemies’ list, given that he did not even join in the civil rights marches. Plenty of people did not do so for any number of reasons, but that does not make them racists, as I am sure you would agree.

  8. One last note: Steve McQueen’s mesothelioma was indeed the result of his contact with asbestos. The wetter it gets, the more aggressive it becomes. I found this out when I worked for a law firm representing 3M and we had a jar of the stuff on a shelf in the file room. I’d as soon pick up a cobra. You can imagine the many millions of dollars involved in that litigation.

  9. To make matters worse, Alan, in re The Blob, I watched it with two people who think of it exactly the way you’ve described. One of them, unfortunately, my own child. The other, my daughter-in-law. I would give my life for either of them, but that day I found myself wishing for Film Prison for the Pretentious.

  10. The only movie in which I’ve ever seen Steve McQueen is The Blob. In fact, I just watched it two weeks ago. It seems to me that the actors were in on the joke by the deadpan way they threw away their lines. Nor did it escape my notice that the Blob invaded a movie theater full of teenagers and the projectionist was played for laughs.

    You’ve done another outstanding job of providing this bio of McQueen, Alan. MOVING PICTURES is Ali McGraw’s memoir of the time she was married to the man. She writes very well and with sadness but surprising kindness about him; she doesn’t appear to have a malicious bone in her body.

    • ‘The Blob’ is one of those spud ordinary pictures that the so-called cinema ‘experts’ decide to grant the status of ‘cult classic’. I think that makes them feel smarter than the rest of us. ‘Easy Rider’ is another. As ordinary as dishwater yet they rave on about it. I must say that Ali McGraw has indeed never bad-mouthed McQueen (or anyone else for that matter). Too classy.

  11. I enjoyed your article alan you are correct when you say we can read every point of view. He was a good actor but that doesn’t make him a nice man he had faults.

    • Thankyou, Natalie. I personally found McQueen to be one of those stars that rarely disappointed on the screen. Even his final film, ‘The Hunter’, which was universaly panned, is in my collection. He certainly livened up some rather ordinary films. My favourites are ‘Bullitt’, ‘The Sand Pebbles’ and ‘The Magnificent Seven’. No-one is perfect, of course, but he sure was an interesting performer.

  12. What a shit article. This writer jumps all over the place. What did this piece get you? $25, a bowl of soup, and a flu shot?

  13. The man is not here to refute or answer the allegations. He is an American icon, a veteran, and his kids say he was a terrific father. Most of these allegations were made by his ex wives….and everyone knows ex wives always tell the truth about their ex husbands (detect sarcasm?)

    • I should point out, Travers, that ALL ex-wives do not tell lies about their husbands and ALL children do not always tell the truth about their fathers. Furthermore, if we were to avoid writing about the dead simply because they are no longer able to respond, nothing would be written about anyone. Are you suggesting that every book ever written about anyone deceased should only contain kindness and respect, and the rest should be destroyed? All we can do is assess whatever information is available to us and formulate an opinion based on that information. My opinion may be wrong and yours may well be right – or vice versa. We have both voiced those opinions which is our right to do so. Thank you for your comments.

    • I have read 3 Mcqueen Biographies this portrayal of him is actually accurate. However it is true that he was a good father.

  14. I just watched him last night with Lee Remick in “Baby the Rain Must Fall”, a very depressing movie. I commented that he was always a bad boy (women seem to love them) but he was talented and lived to short a life. I had no idea how bad:)

    • I actually enjoy most of his movies, Jen. I especially like ‘Bullitt’, ‘The Magnificent 7’, ‘The Great Escape’, ‘The War Lover’ and ‘The Sand Pebbles. All are in my collection. I doubt if I would have liked the man himself, however. His arrogance was always apparent.

      • Arrogance was not something I saw in Steve from late 1965 until his passing in 1980. I was Steve’s photo-double in the Sand Pebbles and he later asked me to photo-double and stand-in during the filming of The Getaway in San Marcos, TX. Steve had a lot of good and maybe not so good personal qualities but I never witnessed any arrogance real or perceived arrogance… quite and interesting article.

        • Thankyou for your informative note, John.I am always thrilled to hear from people who actually knew the stars I write about. My information comes from a variety of sources. I look at all the angles I can find and decide on what I think has the most credence. Unfortunately, people have their own agendas and it is often difficult to sort the fact from the fiction. I am glad you advised me that McQueen was not an arrogant man in your eyes because I have always admired him on-screen. Actually, I just re-read my article and I did not describe him as arrogant. Perhaps, I unintentionally inferred it. My apologies, for I never met the man. You did and I appreciate you setting me straight. Nice to hear from you. Oh yes, and I absolutely LOVED ‘The Sand Pebbles’. He was quite brilliant in it.

  15. It is no surprise that he was flawed, considering the upbringing he had, amazing that he reached the heights that he did in film history.

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