Steve McQueen never knew his father. He abandoned Steve six months after he was born on March 24, 1930, in Beech Grove, Indiana. His mother also left him, when he was very young, with his Uncle, who ran a farm in Slater, Missouri. Steve lived there until he was twelve.
"I had to learn to look out for myself when I was a kid," said Steve. "I had no one to talk to. I was all alone. It taught me to be self-reliant."
From Slater, he ended up in Los Angeles with his mother and started hanging out with gangs, since he was unhappy with his home life. Invariably, Steve's activities got him into trouble. His mother sent him to the California Junior Boys Republic in Chino, which is a home for wayward boys.
At the Boys Republic, he tried to run away but was caught and sent back. Steve later credited the Boys Republic for putting him on the right track, often visiting the school after becoming a movie star. The Steve McQueen Fund, a four year scholarship for the best student, was established there in 1962. In his will, he left $ 200,000 dollars to the Boys Republic and in 1983, a building was dedicated in his honor and named the Steve McQueen Recreation Center. A bronze plaque inside the Center reads:
Steve McQueen came here as a troubled boy but left here a man. He went on to achieve stardom in motion pictures but returned to this campus often to share of himself and his fortune. His legacy is hope and inspiration to those students here now, and those yet to come.
When he left there in April, 1946 (after 18 months) his mother sent him the money so he could take the bus to New York City, where she was currently living. As Steve put it:
"My mother was going to get married again, so she sent me the bread and I went across country. I got off the bus feeling like Lil' Abner. There I was in my big high shoes, Levi's and Levi's jacket, a California tan and a square-cut haircut. I remember standing on 34th Street, and that was a bad crowd I was seeing."
He made an attempt to get along with his mother, but their reunion was brief. At the age of sixteen, he found himself working on a ship named the SS Alpha. In an early interview, Steve explains how he got the job.
"So I was in New York and it was the summer and I didn't have anything to do, and I met this guy in the Village called Ed Ford, who later jumped off the Staten Island ferry and committed suicide. He was a bosun's mate on a tanker...he and Tinker were both on a ship and I fell in with them. So these guys got me an able-bodied seaman's card and I got on their boat ( the SS Alpha) which was an early tanker; it was in Yonkers and the damn thing caught fire and damn near sank."
But working on a tanker did not appeal to McQueen, so when the Alpha docked in Cuba, Steve jumped ship. He made his way to the Dominican Republic and then back to the United States. He worked various odd jobs as he moved from place to place.
Steve had said, "I was an old man at seventeen."
While in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, Steve decided to join the Marines.
"It was all very pleasant just lying in the sun and watching the girls go by, but one day I suddenly felt bored with hanging around and went and joined the Marines."
In April, 1947 he enlisted, just a month after his seventeenth birthday. He was honorably discharged April, 1950.
"When I got out of the Marines," Steve said, "I went to Texas and worked in the oil fields as a 'grunt'-a laborer. I went up to Canada, worked as a lumberjack. I went to New York and found a cold-water flat for nineteen dollars a month and I did things like delivering sets for a television store, working in a sandal shop. When you are poor, you've got to work for the basics. You can't do the things you want to do."
An actress Steve was dating suggested he try acting. Sanford Meisner accepted Steve in the Neighborhood Playhouse, a famous New York acting school. He studied there for two years.
"I worked hard. I'm not a goof-off like some guys. I wanted to learn all I could. I had to be good at what I was doing. There was no time for fooling around."
Steve was determined to succeed at being an actor, regardless of how hard he had to push himself.
"The Neighborhood Playhouse was expensive, so I took a job driving a postal truck at night to help pay for school. I would drive all evening until two-thirty a.m., then be in school the next morning. I did that for a year. It almost killed me."
By the summer, he quit after getting a part in a Jewish repertory stage production on second avenue. He also raced motorcycles, winning a couple of races every weekend, and made cash playing poker. Steve also landed a scholarship to the prestigious Herbert- Bergoff Drama School. And later, he was one of two chosen (out of 2000 applicants) to attend the famous Actors Studio in New York.
Steve McQueen's name was soon on Broadway after replacing Ben Gazzara for the lead role in the play "A Hatful of Rain". During this time, Steve met his first wife, Neile Adams, who was also a very successful Broadway performer. They married in San Clemente, CA in 1956. Their marriage lasted over 15 years.
After moving to Los Angeles, Steve McQueen got several parts in some low budget features, the most famous of which has to be The Blob. But it was in television that the McQueen name first became a household word, after he was given the part of Josh Randal in the classic series Wanted: Dead or Alive. This led to larger, more important movie roles.
After such film milestones as The Magnificent Seven and The Great Escape, Steve McQueen became the highest paid and most popular movie star of the sixties and seventies.
(for information on the cause of Steve McQueen's death, click HERE)
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