STEVE McQUEEN: A PERSONAL APPRECIATION

Steve McQueen was born March 24, 1930. It’s a date I remember better than some other important dates that I should remember and with reason. Readers of this blog and personal friends who know me well, know what a fan of Steve McQueen that I am. In fact, it was my adoration of the actor that led in a roundabout way to my writing Lee Marvin Point Blank via my friendship with Marshall Terrill, as explained here.
What I’ve never discussed here is what it was about Steve McQueen that made me such a fan, although I’ve threatened to do so previously. Since he would have been 91-years old on the 24th, I figure this to be as good a time as any.
It began when I was 13-years-old and saw Papillon (1973) in the theaters for the first time. I was aware of him beforehand and seen some of his other films on TV and at the movies but Papillon changed everything. I have to word this carefully but when I was very young I was..how shall I say this….the victim of bullies, to the point in which I figure I may have suffered some mild form of PTSD. I was constantly being picked on and in fights in school and elsewhere. I’ll just leave it at that.
Well, when I saw Papillon, everything changed for me psychologically. I had never experienced anything like it. Beside the fact that Steve McQueen gave a towering performance throughout the movie, it was when he uttered the words, “Hey you bastards! I’m still here!” that effected me the most. It had never occurred to me before that you could take whatever abuse is dished out and manage to rise above it; hell, even be better for it! Yeah, I know it seems obvious and has been said a million times but the visual example of McQueen in solitary, eating the rancid food given to him and then jumping up on the bars and angrily whispering those words to passing guards, drove it home to me. It was an epiphany!

Steve McQueen in solitary watches the guards pass his cell above him in PAPILLON.

Later in the film, he does it again and to even greater effect which I won’t give away if you haven’t seen the film. Suffice to say, I saw the film over and over again that year and believe it or not, a few days after I saw it the first time, The Great Escape (1963) was aired on TV. Talk about your one-two punch! Everything about the film, and especially McQueen’s performance, was exceptional.

The look Steve McQueen gives the Nazis after crashing his motorcycle in THE GREAT ESCAPE.

However, the scene after he gets hung up in the barb wire trying to jump the fence into Switzerland and the look he gives the Nazis who caught him, was priceless! That did it for me. I was hooked. I hate to admit this but I even got a a pair of khaki pants and a light blue sweatshirt, cut the sleeves accordingly, and wore them to school. Gimme a break, I was thirteen!

From that moment on, I could not get enough Steve McQueen: collecting the posters to all of his films, magazine articles, maintaining scrapbooks, soundtracks, biographies, you name it! I remember at one point my grandmother said to me, “What’s the big deal about Steve McQueen? Did he ever cure a disease? Help humanity in any way? He just made movies, for crying out loud!” I tried to explain to her what he meant to me, but again, I was only thirteen. I wished I had the moxie then to really explain it well.

I should emphasize that I was not some kind of weirdo about it, trying to contact him, or stalking him, like some fans do with favorite performers. I just found everything he did fascinating. Being a movie lover, I admire many film stars, in fact, to me the holy trinity of favorites are James Cagney, Burt Lancaster and Steve McQueen. Here’s the exception: I like almost all of the films of Cagney and Lancaster but their output was so prodigious, some of their films were not as worth watching over and over again. Not so with Steve McQueen. Granted, he did not make as many films, only 30 in total but, with the possible exception of Le Mans (1970), I found everything he did revelational. Seriously. His choice in projects from the very beginning of his career were amazing to me, whether they were any good overall, or not.

Steve McQueen as Boon Hoggenbeck about to convince young Mitch Vogel with an important life lesson in THE REIVERS.

The Reivers (1969) is a good example. I know for a fact he himself did not care for his performance in it as he hated doing comedy. Not only was he appropriately funny in it, the film contained another revelation in it for me. In order to convince young Lucius (MItch Vogel) in the film to steal his grandfather’s new-fangled automobile, he tells him, “If you ever wanna reach your manhood, you gotta say ‘goodbye’ to the things you know..and ‘HELLO!’ to the things you don’t!” I don’t condone grand theft auto, but the message in the dialogue is something all adolescences should heed in the right context. I know I did.

Naturally, his untimely passing at the age of 50 in 1980 was devastating to me. Luckily, I have some very good friends I was able to confide in and one in particular had the intestinal fortitude to stay on the phone with me that night for hours as I poured my heart out to him. Talk about being blessed!

In the years since he shed his mortal coil, some pretty off-putting things had been revealed about the man. I won’t lie to you, it did change my opinion of him. The worst was the revelations concerning his abusive attitude toward the women in his life. “The King of Cool” was not always cool. I discovered these aspects of his persona when I was older and more mature so I was able to deal with it.

Bottom line, I still love his films and watch them whenever I can, I’ve never been fascinated with his personal love of speed like many other fans, which is why I didn’t care for Le Mans. Everything else he did? Hell, I even prefer some of his lesser know films maybe more than his bigger hits, like Soldier in the Rain (1963) Baby, the Rain Must Fall (1965), and An Enemy of the People (1978).
It’s the films that last. Nothing else matters as much. It’s been over 40 years and it’s as if he still telling us: “Hey, you bastards! I’m still here!”

– Dwayne Epstein

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MARSHALL TERRILL: STEVE MCQUEEN IN HIS OWN WORDS

Marshall Terrill, fellow biographer of film, music, and sports personalities, has unleashed his latest, and in my opinion, greatest work on the life and legacy of Steve McQueen. It’s a coffee table book that clocks in at over 500 pages, weighs over five pounds and is titled, aptly enough, Steve McQueen: In His Own Words. It is indeed exactly what the title states but it’s also infinitely more. Hundreds of rare color and black and white photos celebrates the man, films, passions and legacy of McQueen. 

Publisher’s description of Marshall Terrill’s new book.


 Why is a Lee Marvin website dedicating a blog entry to a Steve McQueen tome? Well, as any reader of this blog can tell you, Marshall was the reason I came to write Lee Marvin Point Blank and I’m simply returning the favor…kinda. 
I had indeed previously explained how I came to write about Lee Marvin via a conversation with Marshall Terrill. Interested parties can read about that here.

Marshall’s inscription to me that he recently sent to me. Typical of our relationship.


   That aside, I had long been a Steve McQueen fan since seeing Papillon in the theaters and then fortuitously seeing The Great Escape on TV later that same night. Talk about timing! The thing is, sometimes an actor is more than just appreciated. Sometimes, for reasons that are too personal to go into, an actor speaks to an audience member on a most personal and influential level that speaks volumes. Such was the effect McQueen had on me. 
   That said, Marshall Terrill has captured that essence in his book. It is fan’s tribute to be sure as you won’t find mention of the actor’s substance abuse, mistreatment of women or other unsavory aspects of the man that has come since his passing. Those are other books, not this one. So, if you’re a fan, by all means check out Steve McQueen: In His Own Words by Marshall Terrill. If you want to know more about him and what the lasting legacy is all about, this is worth it. Yeah, it’s not cheap but it’s definitely worth it. As Steve Allen once aptly said to me, “A book may cost more than a bottle of booze but lasts much longer.” I couldn’t agree more and Marshall’s book is proof.
– Dwayne Epstein

Back dust cover of Marshall’s book.

Inside front endpage.

Inside back endpage. Want to see more? Then get STEVE McQUEEN: IN HIS OWN WORDS.

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TUCSON NOTABLE: LEE MARVIN

Tucson Notable, a running series in the Arizona Daily Star newspaper, recently revived one particular notable in its online archive from 1985. He was interviewed for the paper by reporter Johanna Eubank in a piece entitled, “Tucson notable: Lee Marvin called Tucson home.”
The article was brought to my attention by fellow biographer Marshall Terrill via the social media platform, Facebook. Marshall and I go way back so he knows of my interest in all things Marvin making The Tucson Notable article a natural for this blog entry.
The Tucson Notable author does an admirable journeyman’s task of celebrity journalism with a few obvious and noticeable exceptions. Granted, it’s a rather short piece to begin with but within those perimeters she still manages to get a few things incorrect that are worth pointing out:
• She wrote that Marvin and Richard Jaeckel are the only cast members from the original that appear in the sequel, The Dirty Dozen: The Next Mission (1985). Not quite…

Lee Marvin (left), looking like a wax museum figure from the Hollywood Museum gets his orders from General Ernest Borgnine in the lackluster DIRTY DOZEN sequel.

Speaking of The Dirty Dozen, director David Ayers is apparently still moving forward with his updated remake, for better or for worse.
• She also states that The Killers (1963) would later become a TV series. Um, not hardly. Besides, what would be the premise? Kill a different subject each week and then find out why? In the aftermath of the Kennedy assassination they couldn’t even broadcast the original TV-movie so they sure wouldn’t make it a running series!

Original ad for THE KILLERS which included the tag line, “There’s more than one way to kill a man!”

I realize what I stated here might seem like nitpicking, but in this day and age of cries of “fake news” vs. ‘real news,” I though it worthy of pointing out to anyone who wants to set the record straight what the actuals facts are. Of course, if you want the actual researched facts, there’s always Lee Marvin Point Blank.
– Dwayne Epstein

 

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