“The King of Cool” was born on this day in 1930
Steve McQueen was born on this day in 1930
“The King of Cool” Steve McQueen was born Terrence Steven McQueen on March 24, 1930, in Beech Grove, Indiana. He barely knew his father, William, who abandoned Steve and his mother, Julian, when he was only a few months old. More interested in her own life, Julian soon left Steve in the care of his great-granduncle Claude Thompson. When McQueen was around 12 years old, he reunited with his mother after she remarried. They eventually moved to Los Angeles, California, where he became involved with local gangs. In 1947, McQueen joined the United States Marine Corps and was promoted to private first class and assigned to an armored unit. Initially, he reverted to his prior rebelliousness and was demoted to private seven times. He took an unauthorized absence by failing to return after a weekend pass expired, staying with a girlfriend for two weeks until the shore patrol caught him. He would later be assigned to the honor guard, responsible for guarding then US President Harry Truman’s yacht. McQueen served until 1950 when he was honorably discharged. He later said he had enjoyed his time in the Marines. He hung out in the Greenwich Village neighborhood, a Bohemian enclave. For a time, McQueen seemed aimless, moving and changing jobs frequently. He discovered his calling with the help of a girlfriend who was also an aspiring actress. With support from the G.I. Bill, McQueen in 1951 enrolled at the Neighborhood Playhouse, run by Sanford Meisner. McQueen’s first breakout role came on television. He appeared on Dale Robertson’s NBC western series, “Tales of Wells Fargo”. Elkins, then McQueen’s manager, successfully lobbied Vincent M. Fennelly, producer of the western series Trackdown, to have McQueen read for the part of bounty hunter Josh Randall in a Trackdown episode. McQueen appeared as Randall in the episode, cast opposite series lead and old New York motorcycle racing buddy Robert Culp. McQueen then filmed the pilot episode, which became the series titled “Wanted: Dead or Alive”, which aired on CBS in September 1958. In 1959, McQueen starred in the crime drama “The Great St. Louis Bank Robbery”, and also appeared with Frank Sinatra in the war drama “Never So Few”. Around this time, he discovered a passion for race-car driving. McQueen was already a longtime fan of motorcycles. In 1960, McQueen had a leading role in the western “The Magnificent Seven”, with Yul Brynner and Charles Bronson. His television show “Wanted Dead or Alive” ended shortly afterward, giving him the opportunity to take on more film roles. With 1963’s “The Great Escape”, McQueen earned top billing, showing the world that he was a bona fide movie star. More box office hits followed, including the gambling drama “The Cincinnati Kid” (1965) and the Western “Nevada Smith” (1966). McQueen received his only Academy Award nomination for his work on the military drama “The Sand Pebbles” (1966), playing a Naval engineer stationed on a gunboat in China during the 1920s. He then scored another success with the romantic crime caper “The Thomas Crown Affair” (1968), with Faye Dunaway as his love interest. “Bullitt” (1968), one of his best-known films, which co-starred Jacqueline Bisset, Robert Vaughn, and Don Gordon. It featured an unprecedented (and endlessly imitated) auto chase through San Francisco. Although McQueen did the driving that appeared in closeup, this was about 10% of what is seen in the film’s car chase. McQueen starred in “The Getaway” (1972), with Ali MacGraw. McQueen went on to garner accolades for his performance in the prison drama “Papillon” (1973), opposite Dustin Hoffman and played a hero in the disaster epic “The Towering Inferno” (1974). McQueen starred in the Western “Tom Horn” (1980) and the action-thriller “The Hunter” (1980). By this time, McQueen was terribly ill. He had been experiencing flu-like symptoms and respiratory problems for a while before an X-ray taken in late 1979 showed that he had a tumor in his right lung. The doctors said that his type of cancer stemmed from exposure to asbestos and was known to be aggressive and terminal. A short time after receiving this diagnosis, McQueen married model Barbara Minty in January 1980. He died on November 7, 1980, in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, after undergoing surgery to remove several tumors.
Watch Steve McQueen in the car chase scene from the 1968 film “Bullitt”
By Ken Warren, 2018
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