“Two tough guys: Actor Gary Lockwood pulls no punches with Steve McQueen” by Jeremy Roberts (circa 2017)

TSY Assessment:This Gary Lockwood guy is pretty forgettable, and sure thinks a lot of himself…

In Steve McQueen’s determined ascent to the top of Hollywood’s ranks, he could often be mercurial, wary, and downright competitive of his fellow actors. Gary Lockwood befriended the King of Cool in the early ’60s, and he is telling his story for the first time in an exclusive interview.

Lockwood’s admiration and sometimes rocky friendship with McQueen is front and center. The two nearly came to blows several times, once when McQueen lost his Oscar nomination for The Sand Pebbles. In a deep funk, the King of Cool got on his motorcycle and vanished for several days. Neile Adams, McQueen’s first wife, frantically called Lockwood and asked him to locate her husband.

Like McQueen, Lockwood has been saddled with the reputation of being a tough guy throughout his extensive career. One of his first jobs in front of a movie camera arrived in 1958 when he appeared as a stunt double for John Wayne’s son Patrick Wayne on the dusty landscape of The Young Land.

Director Joshua Logan recognized Lockwood’s considerable talent the following year in a basketball comedy entitled Tall Story. Featuring a very green-behind-the-ears Jane Fonda, Lockwood stood in for the picture’s star, Anthony Perkins.

Meatier parts came rather quickly, including two roles in early Elvis Presley features, Wild in the Country and It Happened at the World’s Fair. By 1963 the performer found himself in the title role of NBC’s The Lieutenant, a military style drama created by Gene Roddenberry. Although it was cancelled after one season, Roddenberry would find his greatest success with the classic Star Trek just a few short years later. And yes, Lockwood had a guest turn on the beloved sci-fi show.

But his most identifiable role was just around the corner. In production for nearly three years, Stanley Kubrick’s futuristic paean to extraterrestrial life, 2001: A Space Odyssey, crash landed into movie theaters in April 1968.

As astronaut Frank Poole, the actor brought a necessary resilience to a role with virtually no dialogue. Lockwood was at the top of his game. A quandary soon presented itself: how could the actor find a subsequent project worthy of Kubrick’s critically acclaimed masterpiece, a film that still appears on annual lists of the greatest movies of all time?

Lockwood played it as it laid and had no such luck. Firecreek, a gritty cowboy character study with a top notch cast spearheaded by James Stewart, Henry Fonda, and Inger Stevens, performed less than expected at the box office. Another film by French New Wave director, the atmospheric but often sleepy Model Shop, sank with little impact.

During the ’70s and ’80s, Lockwood found consistent employment on various television programs, doing an occasional low-budget film often beneath his talent. Since the late ’90s, the star has enjoyed retirement, spending winters in Malibu and summers in Canada.

Attending science fiction and classic film conventions when not peddling a tentative memoir named Gary Lockwood: Beyond the Pod Bay Doors — The Adventures of a Hollywood Cowboy Surfer Dude — Lockwood enjoys meeting his fans and regaling them with humorous, sometimes shocking anecdotes about his life and career. Not one to mince words, the passionate They Came to Rob Las Vegas antihero pulls no punches. You be the judge.

The Gary Lockwood Interview

What was your introduction to Steve McQueen?

Steve rode into my driveway and introduced himself one day. Perhaps he knew I liked to ride motorcycles. I honestly don’t know. He was a very strange cat.

I had a friend named Elizabeth Ashley [she received a 1964 Golden Globe nomination for Best Supporting Actress for runaway box office smash The Carpetbaggers, later married her costar George Peppard, and joined the cast of Burt Reynolds’ Evening Shade TV series in the early 1990s] who knew him.

She once asked me, “How did you and Steve become friends?” “He pulled up in my driveway and introduced himself.” She replied, “Wow, that’s a trip.” I said, “Why do you think he did that?”

Elizabeth thought for a minute, saying, “I remember knowing about your reputation. A lot of men were afraid of you, a lot of women loved you, you were married to a beautiful woman, and you were on your way up in the industry. Steve might have been checking out the competition.”

[Lockwood gestures to various movie stills lying on his autograph table]…There’s an actor. Here’s another actor. Women loved me, you know what I’m saying? I kinda think I had a lot of talent. I was pretty good. I don’t wanna be too bold — I wasn’t Laurence Olivier, but I could play a lot of characters.

Elizabeth added, “Or maybe Steve heard about you beating up a famous karate guy named Jim Baker in a restaurant fight. The fact that you were a man’s man was probably why Steve wanted to meet you.”

I’m not trying to be macho or anything, but I was a real tough guy in those days. I was a cowboy — a bad mother *****r. I f ****d everybody’s wife and daughter. I beat up guys in bars. Actors were afraid of me. But don’t get me wrong, a lot of actors loved my ass.

If Jack Elam was alive and you asked him about Lockwood, he would go, “God, I love him” [Elam was an endearing character actor with an immobile left eye who appeared with Lockwood in Firecreek, a simmering 1968 Western starring Henry Fonda and James Stewart].

The late George Kennedy [e.g. Cool Hand Luke, Airport, Cahill U.S. Marshal, andThe Naked Gun] would say the same thing. The real truth is — I’ll never know why Steve befriended me, but I’m glad he did.

Circa December 1965, Steve McQueen clutches an omnipresent cigarette aboard the 1920s replica San Pablo gunboat while filming “The Sand Pebbles” along the Keelung River in Taiwan. McQueen later developed an abscessed molar which further delayed the excruciating seven-month shoot — rain and government issues with the Republic of China were the primary culprits. Photography possibly by John R. Hamilton / 20th Century Fox / eBay

In 1966 McQueen was nominated for an Academy Award for The Sand Pebbles but lost to Paul Scofield in A Man for All Seasons. How did he handle the defeat?

When Steve didn’t win the Oscar, he got very pissed off. No one had seen him for a couple of days. Neile called me up and said, “I can’t find Steve, and you’re the only guy who went to these weird haunts with him. Can you find him?”

Before I go any further, Neile is a beautiful and extremely smart woman. She was the power behind him. She was an exceptional singer and dancer when they met in New York in the mid-‘50s.

I got on my motorcycle and drove around all these places where I thought he might be — beer joints, Santa Paula, Fillmore…I didn’t know where the hell he was. Finally I went to Bud Ekins’ motorcycle shop, which was actually closer to my house than the other places.

I asked Bud, “Have you seen Steve?” And he said, “Yeah, he’s pretty f****d up. He’s outside in the street leaning against a wall.” So I walk out there, and I approach him. I blurted out, “Hey, what’s going on, man? I came here to find you because your old lady is worried about you.

You’re the most famous mother f****r in the business, but you’re a bad guy. And I’m a bad guy. We’re cowboys. People don’t like guys like you and me, don’t you know that? What makes you think the Academy people are gonna vote for you? We’re not members of the ‘Sweet Group of Beverly Hills.’ Plus you’ve got a great wife, Ferraris, Spyders, and 10 acres in Brentwood on the top of a hill.”

Steve hardly looked at me. I’m trying to reason with him, and all he would say was, “Leave me alone.” I put my hand dead center on his forehead [Lockwood readily demonstrates this on me], and I told him, “F**k you, then. You’re a god***n baby.” And I started to leave. It really pissed Steve off because he came after me. I heard him approaching, and I turned around.

I growled, “You wanna play in the big leagues now, is that it? I know you’ve been studying some karate. But I’m gonna rip your f*****g arms off and stick them up your ass if you f **k with me. I came here because I love you and I missed you and I felt badly and I thought I could help you. But you’re just too god***n ignorant to deal with.” And I walked away.

What happened was…I bruised his ego. By doing that, he thought that was f*****g with him and that I had went over the line. That incident caused a rift between us that lasted for years.

A sweaty, heavily bearded Steve McQueen briefly pauses while practicing karate circa 1977. While the King of Cool may have sported some extra pounds, it’s doubtful anybody with common sense would have tangled with him. Image courtesy of Marshall Terrill

When did you next encounter McQueen?

In the late ’70s I went to Broadway to appear in a play. It seemed like everyone was coked out. I hated the situation, so I bailed out and returned to my home in Malibu. The community is a mecca for actors. You can be famous and go in a restaurant, and no one cares. Anthony Hopkins might be having coffee, and nobody will bother him, except on Sunday when the tourists come [laughs].

One afternoon I’m chattin’ up some good looking chick at a little deli called The Bagel, nestled along the Pacific Coast Highway. I look over and I see Steve. I didn’t recognize him — he was in his fat period. You know, not working out, a big beard, wearing a cap, real scruffy looking.

Steve gets up and starts to walk out. Suddenly, he stops and begins staring at me. Of course, then I recognize him [laughs]. I look at him, and I go, “Steve?” He does a cool move instead of speaking to me. I thought that was posing — ‘Yeah, it’s f *****g Steve.’ Whatever, he could have said something.

He walks across the street and gets in a primer pick-up truck with a big V-8 engine — vintage McQueen. And he drives away. This chick with me goes, “That was Steve McQueen?” I replied, “Yeah, it was.”

Surprisingly, Steve returns about 10 minutes later. He’s got something in his back pocket. I don’t know if it’s a gun or club. Steve walks across the street and comes up to me, saying, “I want to see you in the back.” I thought, ‘Okay, he wants to fight.’ I didn’t want to fight him, I was getting old [laughs].

He was certainly tough, but he wasn’t capable of beating me up. Nothing personal, but I beat up bad sons of b*****s in my day — football players, stunt guys. This movie actor is not going to be able to fight me.

I’m not saying he couldn’t hit and get lucky, but if he had a weapon, that was another story. It scared me a little bit, because I didn’t know. If I was losing the fight, maybe he would have pulled out a gun and shot me. Steve was a strange guy.

Anyway, I get up and follow him out back. The whole time I’m thinking about clocking him from behind in case he has a weapon. When we got to the rear, he turns and spits out, “You’re a f****n’ bully.”

Bewildered, I shot back, “I’m a bully?! Can you name one person I ever hit first or anybody in the business that didn’t fool with me first that I didn’t kick the s**t out of them? What is with you? That whole incident when we were younger was me trying to help you. Now you wanna fight me, and we’re gonna settle — settle what? I’ve never done anything bad to you.”

Steve appeared to be taken aback a little. “Alright then, so I got it wrong?,” I said, “Yeah, you got it wrong. You got it wrong.” He walked right past me, but then he stopped about 8 or 10 feet away from me. He turns around and goes, “In six months you’ll know why I’m being weird.” I knew right there that he had cancer. Or at least that was my guess.

In the summer of 1979, Steve McQueen resembles a World War II-era pilot and a dashing matinee idol rolled into one as he prepares for an early morning flight in his bright yellow Stearman biplane. Photography by Barbara Minty McQueen / appears in “Steve McQueen: The Last Mile…Revisited”

Did you see him after his cancer diagnosis?

Here’s what happened. Steve went down to Mexico for cancer treatment. They were giving him ground-up apricot pits, basically taking his money. I thought, ‘He’s gonna die, and I need to say goodbye to him.’

And I went to the Plaza Santa Maria. I kinda bribed the people when I said, “Look, I’m the movie star, Gary Lockwood. I have to see my pal.” They were going, “Maybe we can cure him.” But that was bulls **t.

I think Steve only weighed 140 pounds when I saw him that day. He had lost 40 or 50 pounds since our last encounter. He kinda acknowledged me, but he could barely communicate. I knew I was making him uncomfortable, so I just motioned and left. It was very sad.

Looking back, how do you remember your friendship with McQueen?

I’ll be honest with you, no matter what my problems were with him, I loved the guy. Steve, like so many that I ran with, including Jim Morrison, died way too young. I’ve kinda outlived everybody. I’m 80 years old, and I’m constantly thinking, ‘S**t, when is my time up?’ You just don’t know.

Steve and I had a lot of great times together, and he was one of my best friends. I’d go motorcycle riding with him. Christ, he could make a motorcycle talk. He was the most brilliant motorcycle rider I ever saw, other than Bud Ekins. And he was a great racecar driver.

He was just about the coolest, most charismatic actor that ever lived, onscreen. He was the real stuff. Believe me, Steve had the world by the ass.


  1. I always liked Lockwood. Remember him from the short lived The Lieutenant mostly. His insights on McQueen were interesting. At 85 and still active, yes he is a tough guy. It is cool when survivors can talk about the glory days of Hollywood.


  3. Great story from an era that will never be repeated nor will there be true actors of this caliber again.

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