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. 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 !!!

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

  3. 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 !!!

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

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