Tuesday, August 23, 2011


Steve McQueen was the hard-faced cool guy whose steely attitude and rugged aspect made him the ultimate anti-hero. Born Terrence Steven McQueen on March 24th, 1930, in Beech Grove Indiana, he was the only child to parents Terrence William McQueen and Julian Crawford. His father was a stunt pilot for the flying circus, who abandoned Julian and his young son within 6 months of his birth. McQueen’s mother suffered with the trials of young single parenthood, developing an alcohol dependency problem. Unfit to care for her young child, she sent McQueen to live with her parents in Slater, Missouri. Baby McQueen arrived to his grandparents just as the Great Depression hit hardest. They then moved in with McQueen’s uncle and family on an adjacent farm in Slater.

McQueen’s youth on the farm was not unhappy. He had a stable and healthy environment that, once again was shaken when Julian called to take him back. She had remarried and felt herself able to care for her son. McQueen was heartbroken to leave the farm. Not only did he strongly disapprove of his step father, but his crippling Dyslexia and partial deafness made school incredibly difficult. Frustrated with his new life, McQueen began lashing out in school and with his friends. His behavior prompted Julian to send McQueen back to the farm with his uncle and grandparents. McQueen was bounced back-and-fourth for the last time when Julian and his step father made their final attempt at parenting. They moved McQueen to Los Angeles, where the couple had been living. Again, McQueen’s behavior was less than acceptable. He became involved in street gangs and engaged in criminal activity. After much struggle and argument, McQueen was sent to the California Junior Boys Republic in Chino, California.

Although McQueen did not initially accept the rules and regulations of the Boys Republic, he eventually learned to love it, becoming a model citizen and example for younger boys. McQueen left the Boys Republic and moved to New York, where he took odd jobs as a janitor, oil rigger, carnival salesman, and construction worker, until he joined the marines in 1947. McQueen rose in the ranks very quickly, becoming a Private First Class. Although he was demoted seven times for behavioral issues, he eventually dedicated himself to the service and performed heroically.

After his service in the Marines, McQueen used his G.I. finances to support acting classes at the Sanford Meisner Playhouse in New York. He earned additional wages competing in motorcycle races on the weekends. McQueen developed a passion for racing, which he continued to explore for the remainder of his life. He was a collector of motorcycles and bikes and was a racing enthusiast.

McQueen worked some small acting jobs while studying in New York, but his big break came in the early 1950s with Somebody up There Likes Me. His Broadway debut came not long after, performing in A Hatful of Rain in 1955. After this moderate success, McQueen moved to Los Angeles to further pursue his career. He then booked a reoccurring role on the television western, Dead or Alive. At 29 he booked the film Never So Few, starring Frank Sinatra, directed by John Sturges. Sturges enjoyed working with McQueen and cast the new talent in his two following films, The Magnificent Seven (1960) and The Great Escape (1963). The trilogy of Sturges films made McQueen a star in his own right, performing a memorable motorcycle scene in The Great Escape that gave him huge notoriety. In 1966 he was nominated for his only Academy Award for The Sand Pebbles.

It was on the set of The Getaway that McQueen met and fell in love with Ali MacGraw, whom he married. At the time, McQueen was the highest paid actor internationally, but his decision to take a hiatus to pursue motorcycle racing significantly dropped his favor.

McQueen may also have turned down some of the most famous movie roles of all time, including: Breakfast at Tiffanys, Oceans Eleven, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and Apocalypse Now!  

McQueen political standing was extremely conservative. He voted against the grain on most contemporary politics, approving entirely of the Vietnam War. He was known in Hollywood to be an avid exercise enthusiast, weight-lifting and running 7 days a week, but his motorcycle riding was, ultimately, his life’s greatest passion.

McQueen died on November 7, 1980 in Chihuahua, Mexico, due to complications from a controversial surgery to remove metastatic tumors from his neck and stomach.

McQueen will be remembered for his gritty aspect and ultimate coolness, that transcended the film industry and made him an icon in his own right.

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