Let's start with some of the questions I'm asked the most. How tall was Steve McQueen? (his first wife says 5 10 ½)
Marshall Terrill: Thats about right. I remember his stuntman, Loren Janes, who is 510 ½ telling me that he and Steve once stood back to back and were the same height (although his military records say that Steve was 58). I think the confusion about
his height comes into play is because Steve had a small frame and he hunched. Didnt exactly have great posture. But he was at least 510 according to my research.
What was his favorite food?
M.T. I seem to recall many associates told me he liked nothing better than Mexican food and a cold beer, which fits in perfectly with McQueens image. I think he liked American-style food: steaks, burgers, fries, chili, nothing really fancy but good. His former manager Hilly Elkins told me he preferred Dennys and other greasy spoons over trendy restaurants. McQueen, unlike many stars of today, avoided the spotlight outside of his work, which is very unique in todays world of gossip and paparazzi.
What type of music did he like?
M.T. I recently asked that question to McQueens third wife Barbara Minty, and what she said blew me away. She said he wore out his copy of Saturday Night Fever by the Bee Gees! She said whenever she heard the strains of Staying Alive, shed say, Oh honey, this just isnt cutting it.
For me, McQueen and disco seem like a deadly combination, but it is funny. In the 60s, McQueen used to venture to the Sunset Strip to listen to Johnny Rivers quite often, but I dont know if he did that so much to hear Rivers or pick up women. Probably a little of both. In 1978, he attended a Rolling Stones concert with Barbara Minty, who said she had a nice chat with drummer Charlie Watts about kids. If you recall, the Stones wrote a song called Star, Star (an ode to groupies) in 1973, which included a lyric about Steve McQueen and Ali MacGraw.
What was his favorite car?
M.T. Favorite car? That's probably like asking me which is my Favorite Beatles tune. I can't name just one. I'd have to list about 10. Same with McQueen and cars. In regards to motorcycles, he preferred Indian bikes over Harley Davidson's, which I find fascinating. Even more interesting is the fact that he retained three former Indian mechanics to keep his collection running in top condition.
I get many letters from people claiming to be Steve's illegitimate children, and others saying that they "just met Steve McQueen's brother." Is this at all possible?
M.T. It's possible given how often McQueen messed around, but unlikely. I have received many of those types of e-mails claiming to be his illegitimate son, but being the cynical reporter that I am, why not make the claim while he was still alive? Where's the proof? And yes, there is someone here in Arizona who has claimed for some time to be Steve McQueen's brother. Again I say show me the proof. How come McQueen never said he had siblings during his lifetime? He was in the spotlight for more than 20 years. He told reporters that he never knew his father, so why wouldn't he mention that as well? Why did he never mention it to his three wives? Did it slip his mind? I don't think so.
When did you first become a fan of Steve McQueen and what made you want to write a book about him?
M.T. I first became a fan of McQueen's in the '70s as a kid. My dad Was actually the McQueen fan and every time he had a movie that was released, he took me with him. I remember seeing with him "The Getaway," "Papillon," "The Towering Inferno," "Tom Horn" and "The Hunter." He was a huge part of my childhood, like "Fonzie" from "Happy Days," "Pistol" Pete Maravich of the Atlanta Hawks/New Orleans Jazz and Roger Staubach of the Dallas Cowboys.
I wanted to write a book about him because the five other books that Came out on him before mine focused on segments of his life. No one had done a definitive biography on his life. More important, they seemed to dismiss his credibility as an actor, which to me was mind-blowing. I felt he was the best film actor of all-time. I went back and studied each film, noting how remarkable it was that he was able to convey thoughts and dialogue without ever actually speaking. He was able to give you about five different emotions in five seconds. Look at the one scene in "Papillon" where the leper offers him a cigar, testing to see if McQueen will take a puff. In a matter of seconds, he conveys fear, uncertainty and relief all with the puff of a cigar. If that's not God-given talent, then I don't know what is. Forget Marlon Brando, forget James Dean or Montgomery Clift, McQueen was the most authentic actor ever to appear on the silver screen.
What solidified it for me was that I tried to interview all of McQueen's co-stars, and with a few exceptions, everyone of them said McQueen was the most intense, focused and talented actor they had ever worked with. Now, that was a controversial thing to say when the book came out, but it's an accepted fact today. His legend grows because his talent is timeless. His style of acting nor his look is dated, which is why he is still fresh.
I read you interviewed many employees of the clinic Steve went to in Mexico to try an alternative cancer treatment. What did they say about his condition, appearance, disposition during his stay there?
M.T. I don't understand why his decision to try an alternative approach to cancer was radical or controversial given that he was handed a death sentence by doctors at Cedars-Sinai hospital in December 1979. They told Barbara Minty, "Take him home and put him to bed. When the pain becomes too much, we'll give him medicine for the pain and he'll go peacefully." Barbara said Steve asked, her, "Do you want to go away somewhere alone and spend our last days quietly or fight it?" Barbara said, "Let's fight it."
Well, McQueen decided to fight it through alternative medicine, whichrequired him to go to Mexico. I'm not advocating one way or another what to do in that situation because it is up to each individual to decide, and McQueen went that route.
To answer your question of his appearance and condition, he was thinner And his skin had a grayish pallor, and his stomach was distended because of a tumor in his belly. He didn't look or feel good and was in a lot of pain. In fact, the entire time he had cancer he was in constant pain. It was a grim and gruesome experience for him and those who had to witness him during this ordeal.
What is it that separates McQueen from other movie actors? As a big fan myself, I often tell people I admire no other actor besides Steve McQueen. Everyone else seems fake to me. Is this your opinion also?
M.T. Im in complete agreement with you on this assessment. McQueen didnt need to employ the Method style of acting because he had already lived the part. In every one of his roles, he was portraying a side of himself.
In The Cincinnati Kid, he was so realistic because he played poker in The 50s to make extra money to make ends meet. In many of his movies, you can see where his military experience came into play when he handled guns. In The Great Escape where hes in solitary confinement, he had already been there and done that when he spent time in the brig for going AWOL. So as you can see, McQueen didnt merely play act because he brought life experience with him. The only person today in cinema who has that type of life experience is Billy Bob Thornton, who is also a very good film actor. But no one rivals McQueens intensity. That was another dimension he brought to his roles.
I understand you are working with Barbara Minty on a photo book concerning the final years of Steve McQueens life. Could you give some details and when will the book be released?
M.T. Barbara and I will be working on a photo book of approximately 100 pictures she took of Steve from the time period of 1976 to 1980. She is a world-class photographer herself and she has taken some of the most poignant and intimate photos of McQueen I have ever seen. It gives credence to the fact that he was very much at peace with himself at the end of his life. The photos capture the other side of Steve McQueen and I think it will be a very classy project.
What type of additions is in the new edition of Steve McQueen: Portrait of an American Rebel?
M.T. I have written a new foreword updating readers on my life, how McQueens legend has been elevated over the years and an entirely new End chapter that updates readers on the lives of those closest to McQueen. I update readers on all of McQueens three wives, his son Chad and his family, the death of daughter Terry McQueen and Neiles second husband, Al Toffel. The McQueen family has endured a lot of tragedy and triumph in the last decade.
What do you think McQueen would be doing if he were alive today?
M.T. I have no doubt in my mind hed be a semi-retired actor, picking And choosing parts very carefully. Hed be in a position where he wouldnt work if he didnt have to and would probably charge and got so much money it would be ridiculous not to do the part. His main focus in life would be on what made him happy. A large part of that would be spending time with his family.
Is there a possibility of a biographical film on Steve McQueen in the near future?
M.T. I certainly believe so. I have been approached at least two times and I hear talk all the time. In fact, actor Rick Schroeder recently expressed interest in playing McQueen. But biopics are interesting in how they develop. It took almost 50 years for a movie to get done on the life of James Dean and 20 years for Jim Morrison. It didnt take but two years for Johnny Cashs movie, Walk The Line, to get made, so it all depends on circumstances. McQueens story will be told on film, but its just a matter of when. I do know that producer Richard Martin is working on a documentary of McQueen for the silver screen, so at least thats coming down the pike in the next year or so.
Are there any photos of McQueen while at the clinic?
M.T. None that I know of. I think McQueen was very aware of how he Looked in the end and most likely banned any photos being taken of him. If you recall there was a $50,000 bounty placed on McQueens head by the tabloid industry while he was at the Plaza Santa Maria, and no one ever got a shot. There is one photo that exists of him while he went on a cruise in 1980 When he did have cancer, and he was very thin and emaciated. He was at least 20 pounds lighter than his usual weight.
What is the strangest fact-action-event you uncovered during your research, and did you deliberately leave anything out of the book?
M.T. The strangest fact? Its gotta be that he owned and wore out the grooves of his copy of Saturday Night Fever. A rumor I did hear recently was that the F.B.I. videotaped McQueen partaking in an orgy in the late 60s. And yes, I left a few things out of the book out of courtesy to his legacy and his family.
Heres a totally random question: how badly did Charles Manson want to kill Steve McQueen?
M.T. There was talk of a celebrity hit list by the Manson Family and McQueens name was on that list along with Frank Sinatra, Tom Jones and Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. My research also showed that the Manson Family had circulated several movie scripts around Hollywood and One made its way to Solar Productions. I actually got a hold of one of Those scripts in the late 1980s, funnily enough, at a Beatles convention. A dealer was peddling it, and I got a chance to read some of it. Let me tell you, it was bizarre. If I recall correctly, I think it was titled Roasted Weenies. Ill say this-it was more suitable as a porno movie than a mainstream film. Is it any wonder that every movie studio in town turned it down?
Whats the coolest thing you ever heard McQueen ever did?
M.T. It depends on your definition of cool. His many acts of generosity to those less fortunate were considered cool. Him delivering a birthday cake to Ali MacGraw inside a swanky Beverly Hills restaurant on a motorcycle could also be considered cool. Or him sending an autographed picture of himself to Bruce Lee (who bragged to McQueen that he had replaced him as the biggest star in the world) which read, To Bruce, my biggest fan could also be considered pretty cool. He was and always will be the epitome of cool.
Marshall Terrill's great book, Steve McQueen: Portrait of an American Rebel, has been re-released for the 25th anniversary of Steve McQueen's death. It's a must-have for any McQueen fan! To order from Amazon.com, click on the link below: