Steve McQueen has always been the ultimate ‘King of Cool’ but did he crack under the pressure?
Classic fans will remember the American idol for his numerous and legendary expeditions via the usual block-busting movies, including The Thomas Crown Affair, Bullitt, The Getaway, The Cincinnati Kid, Papillon, The Magnificent Seven and The Great Escape, but the iconic star didn’t always have such fame and fortune at his magical fingertips.
“I live for myself and answer to nobody.” – on the set of The Cincinnati Kid
Mighty Oaks From Little Acorns Grow
On the 24th March 1930, Terence Steven McQueen was delivered into a world looking for its next hero. Son of Julia Ann and stunt pilot William Terence McQueen, the beginnings were indeed tough from outset, with mother and father abandoning the future legend before he reached the grand old age of 4.
Parental duties were duly inherited by grandparents Victor and Lillian in Slater, Missouri, during one of the harshest economic times in American history.
Times were tough with America’s economy struggling to meet any demands its citizens were expecting of it. Like many, the newly forged McQueen family were forced to relocate, choosing a farmhouse in Slater with Lillian’s brother Claude.
It was from there that the youngster was introduced to an early world of racing by his uncle Claude, receiving a red tricycle on his fourth birthday.
A Man In The Making
Family ties were dealt yet another blow as the ‘man in the making’ was on the move again, this time his mother and new husband were travelling to Indianapolis to begin a new life together. Sadly history reflects the youngster being drawn into a life of petty crime and offending, with both his first and second stepfather.
McQueen said: “The day I left the farm, Uncle Claude gave me a personal going-away present – a gold pocket watch with an inscription inside the case.” Reading “To Steve, who has been a son to me”, this very timepiece was to become one of McQueen’s most cherished possessions.
Rebellious & Incorrigible
Labelled as rebellious and ‘incorrigible’ by his now desperate mother, McQueen joined the circus before finally being remanded in the California Junior Boys Republic in Chino. Elected to the Boys Council at age 16, it was clear the young man was finally coming to terms with his future.
From the big top to the Marines, with a stint at a brothel in between, a glance through Steve McQueen’s resume is an eye-opener, to say the least. Little did the world know that his harrowing experiences would provide a wealth of inspiration for his future acting career.
Style & Simplicity
A man of impeccable style and simplicity, McQueen’s look and ‘coolness’ have been well documented for nearly 40 years.
Casual jumper, blazer and Persol 714 shades all personify the classic look, which has now cemented his legendary status in history. Never afraid to ‘buck any trend’, his outfits often included khaki chinos worn with white plimsolls as he was photographed in for the iconic photo where he sat on a sofa, pointing a revolver with one leg crossed.
The moment was captured by war photographer John Dominis, in a shoot for Life magazine. This photo was taken prior to the real photoshoot beginning (and never actually made it into the magazine), serving to highlight his unparalleled knack for looking incredible without even trying.
“I scrounged around for the next couple of years, trying to get the scam on the human race and just where the hell I fitted in – I discovered there were no openings.” – – McQueen in New York, 1970
The Hollywood icon’s less-is-more approach to life has become synonymous with famous brands, none more so than his close relationship with TAG Heuer. Since wearing the square-dialled TAG Heuer Monaco on his wrist in Le Mans (1971), the blue-eyed actor and blue-faced watch became forever linked, with McQueen acting as an ambassador of the brand’s Don’t Crack Under Pressure mantra.
Nearly 40 years after his untimely death, the tenacious, rugged and charismatic star is still worshipped by classic fans. An almost subconscious synergistic connection between movie, star and themselves allow escapism to the extreme.
Warner Bros 68 classic Bullitt, remains one of the most outstanding petrolhead favourites and saw McQueen, as police detective Frank Bullitt, behind the wheel of the now-iconic 1968 Ford Mustang for 10% of the car chase scene.
Did You Know…
As well as being a TAG legend, McQueen is still celebrated as the ultimate King of Cool. Below, we shine a light on a few lesser-known facts about the star that only add to his everlasting charm.
- His father was a stunt pilot for a barnstorming flying circus and left his mother shortly after meeting her.
- He was once caught red-handed by police while he stole hubcaps, and handed over to his stepfather, who beat him severely.
- McQueen was offered the male lead in Breakfast at Tiffany’s but couldn’t accept due to other commitments.
- The actor would demand free items such as electric razors and jeans from studios while filming with them. Later it was revealed that all items went to the California Junior Boys Republic reformatory in Chino Hills where he spent his childhood.
- He volunteered to serve on a ship once he left the California Junior Boys Republic reformatory at the age of 16. On reaching the Dominican Republic with the crew, he abandoned the ship and got a job as a towel boy in a brothel.
- A pair of blue-tinted Persol sunglasses worn by McQueen in The Thomas Crown Affair was auctioned off in 2006, selling for $70,200.
You can see more about TAG at ROX here.