STEVE McQUEEN | HOLLYWOOD’S ANTI-HERO & TRUE SON OF LIBERTY

Steve McQueen– ironically displaying his signature, perfect balance of allegiance and rebellion.

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“I live for myself and I answer to nobody.”

–Steve McQueen

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Steve McQueen personified the “anti-hero” in Hollywood at a time when the emerging counterculture in America was challenging the very definition of what a true “hero” is.  Maybe a better way to look at it is– heroism is an act.  To live an idealistic, heroic life without fault is ultimately impossible.  We all struggle with aligning our beliefs and goals in life with what is truly right.  The fact is there are grey areas that we have to be honest about.  We saw the good and bad in McQueen, and loved him anyway– in fact, we loved him for it.  He was honest about who he was.

We all know McQueen raced cars and motorcycles, but his story goes a lot deeper than that.  His father abandoned him and his alcoholic mother when he was just six-months-old.  Steve locked horns with his new stepfather, whom he called “a prime son of a bitch”.  He struggled with dyslexia in school and was partially deaf.  The young McQueen soon fell in with a street gang, and ran away from home at 14, joining the circus for a short time, and was eventually turned over to the California Junior Boys Republic in Chino Hills, California.  McQueen later worked in a brothel, on an oil rigger– and was even a lumberjack. When he was old enough he enlisted in the U.S.M.C., went AWOL and spent 41 days in the brig.  McQueen decided then and there to embrace the Marines’ discipline and beliefs and better himself. He did just that and later saved the lives of five other Marines during an Arctic exercise, pulling them from a tank before it broke through ice into the sea.  In 1950, McQueen was eventually honorably discharged.

After the Marines, McQueen used his G.I. Bill to study acting at Sanford Meisner’s Neighborhood Playhouse. He brought home extra dough by competing in weekend motorcycle races at Long Island City Raceway.  His big break came in 1958 when he landed the role of the bounty hunter, Josh Randall, in Wanted: Dead or Alive.  Steve McQueen became a household name, and his image as the anti-hero was forged through his character’s detached, mysterious, and unconventional ways– like carrying a sawed-off Winchester rifle, the “Mare’s Leg”, instead of typical six-gun carried by other gunslingers. Hollywood soon came calling, and the rest is history.

All this from a kid born into what many would consider a throw-away life.

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“When I believe in something, I fight like hell for it.”

–Steve McQueen

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A young Steve McQueen

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Steve McQueen in a studio still shot from The Great Escape.

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Steve McQueen (on the set of The Sand Pebbles) & Triumph Bonneville

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Steve McQueen in The Great Escape.

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1963– Virgil Hilts (Steve McQueen) gets tangled in barbed wire in The Great Escape. — Image by © John Springer Collection/CORBIS

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1961– Shirley Ann Field (center) with Robert Wagner (left) and Steve McQueen (right), talking to director Philip Leacock (far right), during location shooting of the film  The War Lover being filmed in England. — Image by © Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS

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Steve McQueen and motorcycles– (Left) tinkering on the set of The War Lover, (Right) riding in The Great Escape

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Steve McQueen relaxing with a smoky treat after riding.

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Steve McQueen in motorcycle gear making a pit stop for a soda pop.

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Steve McQueen with his Triumph motorcycle, sporting a Barbour jacket.

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Steve McQueen with other riders at a competitive motorcycling event– Bud Ekins can’t be too far away.

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1966– Henry Hathaway and Steve McQueen on the set of “Nevada Smith”. — Image by © Sunset Boulevard/Corbis

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1965– Steve McQueen and Lee Remick in “Baby the Rain Must Fall” — Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

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1965– Steve McQueen on the set of “Baby the Rain Must Fall”. — Image by © Sunset Boulevard/Corbis

(Right) 1966– Steve McQueen on the set of “Nevada Smith”. — Image by © Sunset Boulevard/Corbis

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Steve McQueen in the Western series that made him a household name– Wanted: Dead or Alive.

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Steve McQueen goofing around with a frisbee on the movie set– that looks like the Charger R/T from Bullitt behind him.  If so, we know this was during the shooting of that epic film.

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Steve McQueen in a studio still from the film Bullitt.

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Steve McQueen in the epic film– Bullitt.

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1963– Steve McQueen and Tuesday Weld in Soldier in the Rain.

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1968– Jacqueline Bisset and Steve McQueen on the set of Bullitt. — Image by © Sunset Boulevard/Corbis

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Steve McQueen in the stylish flick–The Thomas Crown Affair.

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1968– Steve McQueen in The Thomas Crown Affair. –Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

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1968– Multimillionaire Thomas Crown, played by Steve McQueen. –Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

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1973– Steve McQueen in Papillon.

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Steve McQueen lacing up his boots before a ride.

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Steve McQueen astride a Triumph Bonneville.

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Steve McQueen- shirtless and fancy-free.

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1970– Steve McQueen at the circuit of the 24 Hour Le Mans sports car endurance race, held at Circuit de la Sarthe. — Image by © Christian Simonpietri/Sygma/Corbis

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1971– Steve McQueen on the set of the film Le Mans, directed by Lee H. Katzin. — Image by © Apis/Sygma/Corbis

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1971, Le Mans, France– Steve McQueen on the set of the film Le mans, directed by Lee H. Katzin. –Image by © Apis/Sygma/Corbis

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Steve McQueen Smoking– which did not take his life.  More likely it was asbestos exposure while in the Marines that caused his mesothelioma.  He had been sentenced to six weeks in the brig, and spent the time assigned to a work detail in the hold of a ship, cleaning the engine room. The pipes were covered with asbestos linings, which the men ripped out and replaced. The air was so thick with asbestos particles, according to McQueen, that the men could hardly breathe.

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Steve McQueen style– a classic trench coat and turtleneck in Bullitt.

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Steve McQueen in a scene from 1968’s Bullitt.

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1965– Steve McQueen and his wife, actress Neile Adams at the Monaco Grand Prix. — Image by © Apis/Sygma/Corbis

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Steve McQueen and his wife, actress Neile Adams at home.

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March 21st, 1967– Steve McQueen, with his wife Neile, adding his name and footprints to Grauman’s Chinese Theater. — Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

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1972 — Steve McQueen and Ali MacGraw in The Getaway — Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

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Steve McQueen and Ali McGraw

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1972– Steve McQueen, Ali MacGraw and Sam Peckinpah on the set of The Gateway. — Image by © Sunset Boulevard/Corbis

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Steve McQueen with Director Sam Peckinpah

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1969– Steve McQueen –Photo by McCarthy/Express/Getty Images

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Steve McQueen’s 1963 Ferrari 250 GT Berlinetta Lusso, shown with McQueen and model Peggy Moffitt.

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Steve McQueen driving a Cobra lent to him by none other than Carroll Shelby.

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Steve McQueen’s canvas-topped 1956 Jaguar XKSS Le Mans racer.

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Steve McQueen photographed by William Claxton.

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Steve Mcqueen’s Lotus 11 and Jaguar XK SS

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Steve McQueen’s international driver’s license.

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Related TSY posts:

REQUIRED VIEWING “BULLITT” | THE GRANDDADDY OF CAR CHASE SCENES

The Legendary 1970 12 Hours of Sebring Race | Steve McQueen’s Brush with Victory

HUSQVARNA | THE SCREAMIN’ SWEDE THAT STARTED A RACING REVOLUTION

THE TSY FRIDAY FADE | STEVE MCQUEEN’S DUNE BUGGY DAYS

HISTORY OF DENIM THROUGH THE AGES | WESTERN WEAR GOES HOLLYWOOD

THE BRUCE LEE HOLLYWOOD POSSE | TINSELTOWN’S ELITE UNDERSTUDIES

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58 thoughts on “STEVE McQUEEN | HOLLYWOOD’S ANTI-HERO & TRUE SON OF LIBERTY

  1. WOW!
    Nobody even comes close to capturing the true American Rebel Spirit than Steve McQueen.
    Style Idol, Movie Icon, Ladies Man and of course Dare Devil.
    Thanks for the memories!
    VG & Son

  2. Love these, love McQueen. Your posts always educate me on a time I lived in but was too young to know — thanks.

  3. The circus, a brothel, the marines, racing bikes. Daredevils like McQueen are a rare breed. Oh and it doesn’t hurt that he was incredibly handsome.

  4. Very nice collection of photos.

    A couple of additions on the motorbike shots. The ones with Steve wearing a Barbour oilskin riding suit with the visored open face helmet and the American flag on the chest are probably when he competed in an International Six Day Trials Championship, and most likely included the 1964 FIM (racing) Drivers license shown at the end of your collection. If I remember, he barely qualified for the team, as the skill level for this competition was very high. Still a big deal though.

    A friend of mine and went to Steves estate auction sale in Las Vegas in November 1981, the two Jaguars were there, and went for a very high price indeed. Also there were about two hundred of his bikes. I could not afford any of them as the went for more than the simple value of these hard used and unrestored machines.

    I did manage to palm one of his poker chips though and gave it to a girl friend of mine that liked Steve. She did not believe me though. Wish I had kept it now.

  5. What gets me is how different he can look from himself. Now that the internet exists and everything is defined it’s hard sometimes not to think ‘hotornot.com’. This guy was not always good looking; his face had a little goblin to it. But in one of those pictures I swear to god he looks like John Lennon. In front of the Grauman’s Chinese Theater he looks like the president. No matter what, he has that ‘it factor’ they talk about so much on American Idol. And he has real-life muscles, not hollywood-muscles. Love that. ‘Cool’ still means something thanks to him and pictures of him.

  6. Love Steve McQueen! Thanks for this post.

    The thing that strikes me about him is that no matter what he is doing he seems to be comfortable within himself. No matter what clothes he has on they look like they are his style. It has nothing to do with handsome or even “hunkiness” (whatever that means) but it is the appeal of a man who has been through the mill and is confident in who he is and in his abilities.

    N.B. I would probably kill to get the Jaguar XKSS! Jags of that era have to be some of the sexiest cars ever made!

  7. Incredible images, many of which I’ve never seen before.

    He was an honest man, who did honest work and didn’t give a damn if you didn’t like him. You don’t find that much anymore.

    I think his best characteristic as an actor and a person was that he wasn’t ever afraid, of neither man nor machine. Studied and cautious, yes, but never afraid.

  8. Just another great, great piece, and thanks. Those unrelenting photos of a guy who’s been such an inspiration to fatherless boys just go on and on.

    You can do it on your own if you’re stubborn enough, and he never stopped reminding us. He among others have been an inspiration to start writing at a somewhat advanced age. The maiden voyage ist herein:

    http://washingtonrebel.typepad.com/washington_rebel/2010/01/i-hit-san-francisco-in-may-of-1974-with-everything-i-owned-in-a-backpack-and-a-guitar-case-and-one-plan—to-figure-out-a-wa.html

    Thanks again, and until that time, Eustace…

  9. So much respect and adoration for Mr. McQueen. However is he not another larger life persona of a by gone era that today we can only dream about? Today no one possesses the courage or strength to stand apart. Von Dutch, Waylon, Steve McQueen; these men truly lived! We must make the decision to command our own destiny.

  10. Man, you blog guys sure are hot for some Steve McQueen.
    I like him just fine, but good gravy, get a hold of yourselves.

  11. Along with all the good things Steve did he also dropped the ball BIG TIME when he smoked pot with his pre-teen son. Nothing to celebrate.

    Other than that, cool guy.

  12. Steve McQueen is still unique after all these years. Women want him, men want to be like him.

    A lot of stars seem to try to cultivate the style that Steve McQueen just lived. Good pics.

    • Yeah, even Brad Pitt idolizes him, from what I’ve read. McQueen just had something completely cool and inimitable.

  13. JP, great job selecting the awesomest pictures of the king of cool. I’ve never seen a lot of these before. Thanks for the post.

    • JK,

      Thanks, man. It was definitely the intent to highlight and mix-in some incredible images of McQueen that are not commonly thrown around.

  14. A few “historians” have spewed at me, rather vehemently, that the jacket McQueen wore at the 1964 International Six Days Trials was a Belstaff, not Barbour.

    Nope.

    “The McQueen Trialmaster is modeled after the jacket Steve wore at the International 6 Day Trials in East Germany in 1964 , but it should be noted that the jacket Steve wore in Germany was not a Belstaff but a Barbour.”

    http://www.mcqueenonline.com/belstafftrialmaster.htm

  15. In that second picture, he really looks like a Marine. The Marines have a way of turning boys into Men, and many former Marines go on to success in their chosen careers.

    More accomplished Marines:
    Don Adams; James Baker III, Glen Bell (founded Taco Bell); Robert Bork; Rod Carew; James Carville; R. Lee Ermey; the Everly Brothers; Glenn Ford; John Glenn; Gene Hackman; Don Imus; George Jones; Mike Mansfield; Tug McGraw; Ed McMahon; Sam Peckinpah; Pat Robertson; John Philip Sousa; Thomas Sowell; Lee Travino; Leon Uris; Jim Webb; and Ted Williams all word the Eagle, Globe, and Anchor, to name just a few.

    Then again, not all former Marines go on to great things: Oliver North and Lee Harvey Oswald were also in the Corps.

  16. Does anyone know what the watch brand and model he is wearing in the photo with the cougar over his left shoulder? He seems to be wearing that watch in several photos. I blew up the image, but can’t make it out. Wonderful posting. Just found this site and have spent several hours here reading. Very nice.

  17. A real man’s man, but also a tenderness with women – really enjoyed him in Love with the Proper Stranger!

  18. Pingback: TSY x GQ ITALY « The Selvedge Yard

  19. Excellent stuff, and not just this McQueen post but the whole thing – Hunter Thompson, The Stones, Townes Van Zandt. Thanks. Have a look at my rather narrow Steve McQueen blog if you get the chance.

  20. This post, along withalmost everything else on your blog, kicks-ass.

    Look, I don’t know where to get an answer to this kind of question, so I thought I’d try here.

    I’ve been thinking about printing some of the images shown here on a couple of tees, just for myself, for no one else, not to sell.

    Could you please give me a quick tutorial (or referral someplace) re: what is LEGAL wrt photo-copyrights/using images found on the web?

    Thanks, man, keep up the amazing work. Best time-machine ever seen.

  21. I’m 32yo, and I’ve idolized McQueen since I first saw great escape when I was 7. It saddens me to know the world will never see an actor that will ever live up to the personality, charisma, and just the shear image of the “coolest man to ever walk the face of the earth”. Even trying to remake some of his films, like Bullit, with Brad Pitt no less, is a complete injustice. No man can live up to him, so why can’t they leave his films classics and reissue them to theaters so more generations will know he is. Because where Ilive personally cant find any1 under 40 who knows who he even is. sorry to rant, but this man is truly an icon who should always be a household name.

  22. the BEST edited website I have ever seen in the whole INTERNET which I’ve been completely involved 4 the whole TIME 1992 thru 2DAY. I worked in a magazine store as a KID this is wonderful, images I have never seen even in photo BOOKS. this should be the most populr website in the world KUDOS & congrats, somebody or everybody here in a genius.

  23. Pingback: “WHATEVER IT IS– IT’S BETTER IN THE WIND.” « The Selvedge Yard

  24. Excellent, excellent photos of Steve McQueen. I love this guy. Ever since I watched him in The Great Escape, I had to find out more about him. Amazing actor and outstanding human being.

  25. Great essay and pix.

    The coolest thing my Dad ever did was to buy a motorcycle from McQueen; this was the 1950s, in Greenwich Village.

    The least cool thing my Dad ever did was to sell that motorcycle before I could get my hands on it.

  26. Pingback: 1970 12 HOURS OF SEBRING RACE | STEVE McQUEEN’S BRUSH WITH VICTORY « The Selvedge Yard

  27. Pingback: STEVE McQUEEN | LE MANS & BEYOND GRATUITOUS 1970s RACING GOODNESS « The Selvedge Yard

  28. You are a kindred spirit, always an incredible sensorial experience. Truly cool shit, no matter who or what it is, never goes out of style, always movin’ into the future while taking the best of the past with us, simply to share with others and spread the word. T.S.Y. – the most effective conduit there is, love your work !!!

  29. I shall gladly wait with patience whilst the Grand Arbiter of Cool assesses my comment, at least I am comfortable with your credentials.

  30. Oh G.A.C – can you or any other of the acolytes share any info on the brand of goggles he has around his neck in the 9th photo down from top where McQueen is staring hard left ? It’s driving me nuts !!!

  31. Pingback: STEVE McQUEEN ’66 POPULAR SCIENCE | WHAT I LIKE IN A BIKE –AND WHY « The Selvedge Yard

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