“I live for myself and I answer to nobody.” Steve McQueen's defiantly heroic words essentially summarizes his genuine outsider attitude at a time when conformity was the name of the game. In the second installment of a wide-ranging interview with celebrity biographer Marshall Terrill, the resourceful author of five critically acclaimed books devoted to the King of Cool takes off the proverbial kid gloves to shoot straight from the hip.
Terrill shares behind the scenes tidbits about a towering yet often under-recognized rebellious actor who unequivocally deserved at least an Academy Award nomination for his devastatingly sympathetic, often silent portrayal of unjustly imprisoned safecracker Papillon, including smoking pot with ultra laconic James Coburn, why the former Boys Republic delinquent abhorred interviews and tended to play sometimes rotten mind games with the press, the significance of his first bestseller [i.e. Portrait of an American Rebel], the venerable who's who list of celebrities he has interviewed, and what he might have said to McQueen if the two had crossed paths.
Along the way, Terrill, an Air Force brat who lived in approximately five states by the time he graduated from high school, discovers that McQueen had an honest-to-goodness half sister 30 years after his death and roundly debunks five misguided individuals who claim they're related to the King of Cool, almost always for personal gain. In case you missed part one of the author's in-depth interview, "Terrill Unmasks the Quintessential Hollywood Outsider", it's only a click away. Otherwise, the enlightening conversation starts now.
The Marshall Terrill / Steve McQueen Interview (Part Two)
A weirdly perverse phenomenon affecting well-known celebrities is the imposter syndrome. As a McQueen expert, you have understandably experienced quite a few of these misguided, sometimes downright fraudulent folks. What are some of the most off-the-wall stories that you’ve been privy to?
- Stuntman Jody “Red” McQueen
When I was doing publicity for my first book – Steve McQueen: Portrait of an American Rebel – in 1993, many of the media in Arizona asked me if I had interviewed Steve McQueen’s brother. I told them, “Steve McQueen doesn’t have a brother.” They said, “Well, this guy claims he is.”
I eventually found out they were talking about Jody "Red" McQueen, who was a stuntman/performer at Apacheland Movie Ranch (an old movie studio) in Mesa, Arizona. He worked there in the early 1990s and through the Internet I found an old piece of literature that billed him as “Steve McQueen’s brother.”
I recently spoke to a former curator who knew him at the time of his employment at Apacheland, and she estimated he’d probably be in his sixties by now. As you know, Steve would have been in his eighties had he lived.
Jody’s claim that he was Steve's brother started to draw a lot of attention, especially in the Phoenix area. Allegedly Apacheland owner Ed Birmingham insisted that Jody take a DNA test, and the word was he literally disappeared overnight. When someone can disappear so quickly, it leads one to wonder if the whole Jody McQueen name is a fake.
I was told through a mutual acquaintance that Jody showed up at the Superstition Mountain Heritage Days event in Apache Junction, Ariz. in January 2012. He now lives in Globe, Ariz., ironically, where my dad grew up!
Let’s just say that I would very much enjoy interviewing Jody and to hear his story. Usually what it comes down to is, “This is what my mother told me right before she died,” or it’s someone involved in the entertainment industry who thinks they can get a leg up by using the McQueen name.
There’s an old saying in journalism: “If your mother tells you she loves you, you’d better check it out.” So when someone makes a claim they’re a McQueen, I’m going to take up the challenge and say, “Prove to me you are who you say you are.”
- Actor Fred McQueen
The most famous fake McQueen case is actor Fred McQueen (aka Fred Spiker). My gut told me he was bogus just based on his actions and the minimal information he offered on his mother, which was basically he was the result of a one-night stand during Steve’s marriage to Neile.
What raised a red flag for me was the fact he did most of his acting in Japan and didn’t take any jobs in the States. If you make a claim like that in the American media, you’re going to get checked out.
He did a couple of movies in Japan and told reporters over there he’s Steve McQueen’s illegitimate kid, and got a lot of attention without being questioned. He did come to Santa Barbara for a 2008 screening of Best Wishes for Tomorrow.
A reporter there name Barney Brantingham did an interview with Spiker as well as the cast and crew, and they all had their doubts as well. Spiker told everyone he was McQueen’s son, but then would drop it.
Through his body language he was letting it be known that was all he would discuss. He happily used the McQueen name but didn’t invite any questions. So Barney Brantingham reads Life and Legend in late 2010 and emails me, basically stating, “I was surprised you didn’t write anything about Fred McQueen.”
I responded, “I didn’t because Fred McQueen is not who he says he is, and he’s a fake.” I challenged him, “Call Mr. Spiker and ask him to show proof he’s McQueen’s kid. I guarantee he can’t offer any.”
Barney did his due diligence and called Spiker’s agent. Within five minutes Spiker calls him at his desk. Spiker pleads with Brantingham not to do the story.
Brantingham stood his ground and said Spiker gladly used the McQueen name to promote Best Wishes for Tomorrow, so he had an obligation to his readers to set the record straight. Realizing the jig was up, Spiker said, “I quit using the name. There was no proof, and I decided it just wasn’t worth it. This is stupid. I am me, and this is my face.” He also told Brantingham he was quitting acting. Just quit right there on the spot and crumbled like a house of cards. You can read the entire story here.
Since the story first broke in 2010, Spiker has kept his promise not to use McQueen's name and models under the moniker of "Spike."
- The England McQueen
About six years I started getting calls from a lady in Bradford, England, who said her husband was the son of Steve McQueen. I asked her if he had documentation or photographic proof, and she said no. According to this lady, his mother told him on her deathbed that Steve McQueen was his father, and it haunted him to no end.
So when Barbara McQueen and I appeared in Brighton on Nov. 7, 2010, this gentleman and his wife came up to us after the Q&A. She introduced herself as the woman on the phone and this 63-year-old man introduced himself. He was a very nice gentleman and felt that I could give him some sort of clue.
The story he gave me was that when Steve was in the Marines, he visited England when he was 17. He said his mother told him that they were physically involved. He said his mother said she had pictures of them at a party to prove it, but that she never could find them.
I was polite, but I explained that I had seen Steve's military file and found it hard to believe that he could afford a plane ticket to fly to England at age 17, especially given the fact that 75 percent of his pay that first year went to his mother Julian.
Then I gave another scenario: even if McQueen took a military ship to England, that's about 12 days at sea each way. I know this because I did a book with Rex Mansfield, who served time in the Army with Elvis Presley [Sergeant Presley: Our Untold Story of Elvis’ Missing Years, 2002].
Rex went on a ship to Germany with Elvis, and that's about how long it took them to get to England from New York. There's no way the Marines were going to give McQueen a minimum of 30 days off in his first year of service. I've been at my current job for almost six years, and I get 22 vacation days. I was allowed 11 days off during my first year.
This gentleman agreed with my logic and was a bit crestfallen. He thought for many years he was the son of Steve McQueen but had to now rule that out. He shook my hand and said, "I had to meet you and find out for myself. I guess I can rule him out but I'm left to start all over again."
It was depressing for me because at age 63, he was still anguished and it haunted him. I felt bad for him because he should have peace of mind at this stage in his life.
- The Michigan McQueen
In late March 2011 I received a phone call from a 53-year-old man in Michigan who said Steve and Barbara McQueen visited him in 1979, looking for rare auto parts.
He said when Steve died a year later he received a million-dollar check from McQueen lawyer Kenneth Ziffren, but threw it away because it didn't seem real to him. He believes that he is the illegitimate son of Steve McQueen because the check was a signal to him that Steve was trying to protect him financially.
I told him, “You had a million dollar check in your hands, and you threw it away? That doesn’t make much sense to me.” He said he thought it was a fake, like one of those sweepstakes checks you get in the mail.
I did call Barbara and told her the story. She said, “Steve and I never went to Michigan, and it’s one of the few states I’ve never visited.” So that was that in my mind.
Fast forward three months later to June 4 – this gentleman was at the annual Friends of Steve McQueen Car Show in Chino Hills, California. He came up to me and thanked me for talking to him on the phone and getting the message to Barbara.
Then he started talking about how I was the only one who listened to him and finally I said, "You know, Chad McQueen (Steve’s only son) is right down over there at that table. Why don't you go and tell him your story?" Well, he instantly backed off and said, "I don't want to take up too much of his time explaining the situation."
I said, "Seize the moment, pal...you flew all the way from Michigan to be here today, and I’m pretty sure it wasn’t to come shake my hand. Go and tell Chad what you’ve told me and when you do, let me know his reaction." He chose not to.
But a fellow car enthusiast took a picture of him, and I have to tell you, he looks just like McQueen. But to me, that doesn’t mean much. Fred Spiker also looks like McQueen, and look what happened to him when he got exposed.
- Janice McQueen Ward
Janice McQueen Ward is an actress/spokesperson/pageant coach/life coach living in Southern California. She has stated on her website she is working on her getting her own reality series called McQueen for a Day.
My opinion is that Janice has very aggressively used the McQueen name to market herself. She was born Janice Elizabeth McQueen, and it’s her right to use that name, but she stated on her former IMDB and Facebook page as well as in several press releases she’s “related to the legendary Steve McQueen.”
I called her in 2009 and asked how she was related to McQueen. She sort of hemmed and hawed. I then asked her if she ever met William McQueen, and she said yes, once, when she was around ten.
However, William McQueen died in 1958. Janice is 50 years old. Do the math. I have emailed her a few times since that conversation to verify exactly how she’s related to Steve McQueen, and she never replied [Author’s Note: This writer also experienced several failed attempts].
One story in the Santa Monica Press stated Steve McQueen was her uncle, so then it went from “related” to “uncle.” I called a McQueen relative from Beech Grove, Indiana, and she has kept a McQueen family tree for years. She told me the McQueen bloodline stopped with her uncle, Hernon McQueen, who had two daughters, but no sons, so the bloodline stops there. Those daughters were born in the 1940s. She also said she's never heard of Janice McQueen, and her name does not appear in the family tree.
Janice placed a disclosure on her website in 2011 confirming that she was told as a child she was a distant relative of McQueen’s. She also changed her IMDB page to pretty much say the same thing.
It was originally “related to the legendary Steve McQueen.” Now it is, “was told as a child she was a distant relative of Steve McQueen.” That’s a big difference, and it’s evident she’s toning down the relationship angle.
I think she should just do away with the whole thing on Steve McQueen and stand on her own two feet as an actress by giving him no mention at all.
- Teri McQueen: The real deal steps forward
The only person who has proven to me beyond a shadow of a doubt they are related to Steve McQueen is Teri McQueen, who is Steve's half-sister from another relationship.
Teri’s discovery was by accident, and I had no clue she even existed. Once I was able to access William McQueen’s military file, I got a first look at him through his two mug shots. I was jumping for joy when it listed under dependents his daughter Teri.
That's when I went, “Bingo! Steve has a half-sister.” The question that remained was is she still alive, and is she willing to talk? I had to hire a private detective to find her because Teri was hard to track down.
So she was informed by the private detective I was calling, and she had no idea why I wanted to talk to her. I started off with, “This may be the strangest conversation of your life, but I believe you're Steve McQueen's sister.”
She said, “Oh honey, I've known that for years.” I asked her why she kept it a secret for so long, and she said, “Who would believe me?”
When I asked her for documentation, she provided not only hers and William's birth certificates, but letters to her mother (Alma Doris Moody) and photos from William...and her photos matched the photos I had of William. So I knew for sure we were talking about the same person.
What are the odds of tracking someone down, asking for documentation and them giving you exactly what you need? It’s got to be 20 million to 1. She not only provided the necessary documentation but photos, letters and correspondence from William McQueen to her mother, Alma Doris Moody.
Her photos matched the person I was looking for and the addresses on the envelopes place him in the city where he had been tracked through old records. Everything matched. Remember, I went looking for her – she didn’t come to me making a claim.
Teri McQueen is the only person who has shown me concrete proof she is who she says she is, and that’s Steve McQueen’s half-sister. And the cool thing is, she’s a very sweet lady who wants nothing from the McQueen family or estate. She’s got a great family of her own, and they are very loving towards each other. For many years Teri had to keep quiet but now no longer has to.
What is the most difficult part about undergoing a McQueen project?
For me personally it’s when to stop. Because I find McQueen so fascinating, I must know everything about him. No stone goes unturned. I originally envisioned my 2010 coffeetable book, Steve McQueen: A Tribute to the King of Cool, as maybe 100 passages…it’s about 215 passages, and I could have kept going.
The editor of Steve McQueen: The Life and Legend of a Hollywood Icon said he wanted a 300-page book – I turned in a manuscript double that length – and thankfully, he didn’t cut a thing. McQueen’s story is epic and to give an abbreviated version of his life would be to cheat readers. That’s something I can proudly say I’ve never been accused of.
Steve McQueen: Portrait of an American Rebel was your first book in 1993. What was that experience like?
It was a wonderfully new and exciting process. Today I have written approximately 15 books, and Portrait was my first. It was a grand adventure as I embarked on a new chapter in my life, and going to Hollywood to meet all my favorite actors and people associated with McQueen’s movies was thrilling beyond belief. At that time, McQueen’s legend was just starting to surface and everyone was willing to talk to me. I happened to be in the right place at the right time.
Has it been your most successful book?
Portrait is by far the most successful book I’ve written. It was reviewed worldwide, has gone through five printings and was revised in 2005. I’m hoping that Steve McQueen: The Life and Legend of a Hollywood Icon will be even more successful because it is a much better book than Portrait.
Subsequently, I’ve written two other best-selling books. I co-wrote a biography called Maravich with Wayne Federman on the life of basketball legend “Pistol” Pete Maravich. It was released in 2006. That book took seven years to write; two years were strictly devoted to transcribing 300 interviews.
I also did a book with Elvis Presley’s friend and bodyguard, Sonny West, called Elvis: Still Taking Care of Business. It took me four years to write, and it was released in 2007. At that time, I was also working on Steve McQueen: The Last Mile with Barbara McQueen, so I was holding down a full-time job and working on three different book projects at the same time.
How does Portrait hold up over 20 years later?
It’s my first “baby” and I’ll always be proud of the book, but it lacked in certain areas. For example, it’s skimpy on the details regarding his birth in Beech Grove, Indiana; his upbringing in Slater; his 14-month stint at the Boys Republic; his three years in the Marines and his early acting career in New York City.
That is mainly due to the fact that not much was known at the time of McQueen’s background, so we were left with whatever McQueen cared to offer up. Since then, open records laws have enabled me access to find more information about McQueen’s early life, and the new bio is so much more detailed regarding these years.
It’s also more analytical and has a more mature perspective about his life. In the years after Portrait, I became a reporter and applied a lot of my skills and logic to the McQueen story. I know Portrait set the bar but Hollywood Icon surpasses my previous effort. I can say that with confidence because I really busted my ass.
Were there some folks you wanted to interview but for one reason or another were unavailable?
The two people I really wanted to interview for both books, and are still alive, are attorney Kenneth Ziffren and business manager Bill Maher. They not only turned me down but never replied. These are two guys who worked diligently behind the scenes and are the brains behind McQueen’s power and fortune.
They not only protected him legally, but established incentives in his movie contracts that no one else had at the time. I learned in this new offering that McQueen made far more money than the public suspected, especially on The Getaway, Papillon, The Towering Inferno, and The Hunter.
Ziffren and Maher were also the two men who drew up McQueen’s Last Will and Testament, which shows you how much he respected them. McQueen said at the end of his life, “Hire people smart enough to do the work but let you take the credit.” Well, that’s exactly what these two men did, which is why they lasted for so long.
Have you been able to interview Neile Adams or Ali MacGraw, or do their autobiographies contain the final word on their late husband?
I've never spoken to or corresponded with Neile, but I have traded a few emails with Ali over the years. I just love how she's rebounded and what she has done with her life. She's truly an inspiring lady and is living proof that people can rebound, move forward, and in her case, thrive.
As for their books, I thought they both did a great job. Neile has received a lot of criticism for her warts-and-all approach with My Husband, My Friend in 1986, and re-released a few years ago. Neile was his wife for 15 years, and she's entitled to tell it the way she saw it. I rather liked it.
I feel Ali is a very talented writer, and Moving Pictures (1991, now unfortunately out of print) is a great read. I wish, as a lot of people do, that she would have written more about Steve. Without reading between the lines, I think it's evident that's all she wanted to say about Steve at the time.
During the interview process, who were you especially excited to meet?
James Coburn, who was one of my favorite movie stars, and he was just as cool as you might have suspected. A very nice man. He called Steve "McQueen-o" and was very amused by his antics.
Coburn said he and Steve smoked a lot of pot together and, if I can add, had a very hands-off approach when it came to McQueen. He knew Steve was wound tight and Coburn was very much the opposite of Steve. He knew he didn't pose a threat to McQueen and yet was very much his own man.
Coburn knew Steve's psyche inside and out and always made sure to not tread on what Steve perceived to be "his territory." He sort of looked at McQueen from afar with this whimsical bemusement, but he also knew McQueen was damaged inside. Out of all of Steve's co-stars, Coburn had him nailed.
But the one who I have the most affection for is Lord Richard Attenborough. At the time of Portrait I was a recent college graduate who had never had any contact with Hollywood. We met in Washington D.C. where he was being feted at a film perspective.
After our interview, he invited me to the event and introduced me to the audience by name. Now, he didn’t have to do that, but that thoughtful gesture will stay with me for the rest of my life, and I will forever sing his praises.
How many of Steve's good friends, including those you have interviewed, are still living?
Karate expert Pat Johnson and stuntman Loren Janes are still around, and we're regularly in touch. I saw and spoke to Bud Ekins a few times before his death, but we were never close. I did strike up a nice friendship with his brother, Dave, who is a nice gentleman.
Barbara Leigh is a good friend and a true sweetheart as is Sharon Farrell, Steve's leading lady in The Reivers. She's a hoot. I’m still in touch with Katy Haber, producer Phil Parslow's widow.
I can't say I've stayed in touch with stuntman Gary Combs. You have to remember that Steve would be in his eighties, and many of his contemporaries are gone.
Did Steve sit down and write letters or do any type of writing?
He wrote many letters to gossip columnist Hedda Hopper, and I think three of those appear in the new book. He was very clear and concise and often witty in his letters. For a guy with a ninth grade education, it sure didn't show in his letters.
I believe he was a highly intelligent man, which was overshadowed by his physical activities and wild and reckless behavior. You don't get to the top of any industry unless you have some intelligence.
Plus, fame offers a worldly education that money can't buy and McQueen was a great student of life and the Hollywood game. He often outsmarted studio moguls, producers, agents and co-stars. His instincts were razor sharp and it wasn't often when he was bested.
How honest was Steve in interviews?
He was the typical movie star in those situations; he let you see what he wanted you to see. He had a tendency to embellish, especially when it came to his background and his daredevil feats. Interviewers (and the public) accepted his word, so you really have to sift through his interviews to decipher what’s fact and what’s fiction.
The style of journalism was different back then for movie stars. It's not like today, where it's part of the mainstream media. Today's journalism is so celebrity-oriented that the lines of real headline news are getting blurred, and it's a trend I don't like. When Justin Bieber facing the possibility of jail time or Lindsay Lohan going into rehab leads the top news stories for the day, something is definitely wrong.
About how many interviews did Steve do over the years?
Back then, McQueen’s interviews were mostly relegated to movie magazines and the occasional newspaper piece. During the late 1950’s and throughout the 1960’s, he did lots of interviews, but not a real in-depth interview like a Playboy Q&A.
Some of the larger pieces done on McQueen were Life magazine in 1963, The Saturday Evening Post in 1967, Look in 1970, Playboy in 1971, and Cosmopolitan in 1972. He was also the subject of a few articles in The New York Times and The Los Angeles Times.
After 1972, he stopped giving interviews, with the exception of The Fireman's Grapevine (a Los Angeles fire fighter’s newsletter) in 1974, which talked about firefighting and how he approached The Towering Inferno; and the 1979 interview with Hamilton High School student Rick Penn-Kraus for his school paper, The Federalist.
In both instances, he gave the interviews based on “vibes.” McQueen had Time, Life, and Newsweek all knocking on his door, but he was very picky about whom he chose to talk to in the last decade of his life. McQueen was from the Mad Men era, where men weren't very introspective or self-examining, at least to reporters, so they weren't going to get much.
The Brugh Joy interview he did on his death bed in 1980 was perhaps his most revealing interview, because he was forced to talk about issues concerning life and death.
How would you describe Steve McQueen: The Life and Legend of a Hollywood Icon to readers?
I would describe it as a straight-forward, chronological/psychological profile of Steve McQueen.
What made you pick the cover of Life and Legend?
Actually, I did not pick the photo, but I sure didn't protest it, either. It is from The Great Escape, and it's iconic. That image is known to millions around the world.
Some criticism has been leveled at you for involving psychologist Peter O. Whitmer in the book’s narrative.
I feel justified in having enlisted Peter in order to better understand McQueen’s often erratic behavior. In my 1993 bio and in other biographies, you have McQueen behaving badly, often at times like a madman, but with no explanation or context to his actions. Most people when they read about McQueen might say, “What an egotist,” or “Man, he was a royal jerk!,” or “He sure was a womanizer.”
But if you give some context as to why he behaved the way he did, then it becomes a much clearer picture of Steve's personality. Peter’s comments, I don’t believe, are critical of the man, but get to the heart of who Steve was and how his background laid the foundation for the rest of his life.
Let's face it – some of McQueen's behavior demands explanation. Why did a man who had it all on the surface spend his entire life looking in the rear view mirror? What was it like to be the child of two adult alcoholics, and how did that affect him as a child and adult?
Why did McQueen feel the need to destroy his first marriage to a lady who was 110 percent devoted to him and his career, and bore his two children? Why did he constantly test his co-stars and personal friends? Why did he walk away from the movie industry after he spent two decades chasing the brass ring?
Why did he do An Enemy of the People, knowing it might do damage to his career? Why did he choose an alternative cancer clinic in Mexico instead of the United States? These were all burning questions in my mind, and readers deserved a possible explanation.
Besides, Peter put in a lot of work. Not only did he read Portrait, he read Neile, Ali and Barbara's books, Steve's military file, his FBI file, and Teena Valentino's 800-page diary. He followed that up with a ton of questions for me, so that he could get a better psychological hold on Steve. I thought all of his answers and explanations were brilliant observations and right on the money.
McQueen could be perplexing at times, and Peter broke it all down nicely in very easy to understand terms. If people are willing to go to therapists or counselors to learn more about themselves, why wouldn't they listen to what a top psychologist would have to say about one of the most insecure and contradictory hero’s in cinema? I think Peter is a great addition to the book, and I stand by my decision to include him in this work.
Was everything included in the book to your satisfaction? Also, was there any aspect of Steve’s life that was eliminated due to length?
Absolutely, everything was included to my satisfaction and then some. I was surrounded by a great team – Andrew Antoniades (editor), Veronica Valdez (chief researcher), Peter O. Whitmer, and the people at Triumph Books, who allowed me great leeway.
No, nothing was cut other than if Andrew said, “Too much information, mate. You don't need it.” And I listened to Andrew. The funny thing is, the publisher initially asked for a 300-page book. I turned in a 624-page book, more than double what they asked for – and they didn't cut a page!
I just felt that to deliver a 300-page book on McQueen's life would not do the man justice. He lived an epic life, and he deserves the proper space and treatment I felt he warranted. I don't care if people have shorter attention spans today, I couldn't deliver a Reader's Digest version of his life. Even though the book is 624 pages, it reads fast.
Have you found any new information on Steve since the publication of Life and Legend?
No, not any additional stories, but I would have liked to have interviewed film producer Robert Evans. Like millions of others, I wanted to ask him what was in the dossier he had on McQueen, when he got Steve to back off on the idea of adopting Joshua Evans. I think that's a secret Evans will take to his grave.
Joshua came to live with Ali and Steve after her divorce to Evans. Steve had developed a very strong bond with Joshua and wanted to marry Ali and adopt Joshua. Joshua did live with Steve and Ali for a few years at their Malibu home, and continues to have a deep affection for Steve.
You visited England and Japan with Barbara Minty McQueen as part of your promotional activities for Steve McQueen: The Life and Legend of a Hollywood Icon. What was the experience like, and did you learn something new about your subject?
They were both extraordinary trips, especially Japan. When we were in England, we did a four city tour that included London, Liverpool, Bradford, and Brighton.
We did our usual sight-seeing but spent a very special night with friends at McQueen, a new restaurant/nightclub in London's East End, dedicated to the style of Steve McQueen. The owner, Dezzi McCausland, treated us like royalty, and it was a great evening.
Liverpool was a nice homecoming of sorts because I had the opportunity to visit my favorite Beatle sites and spend time with good friends. Brighton was also a pleasant surprise because it's filled with boutique shops, theater and nightclub venues, and five-star restaurants.
Japan was mind-blowing. We visited Tokyo, Kyoto, and Nara. We saw ancient shrines and temples, had a meditation session with a Zen Master, enjoyed dinner with two Geishas, took rickshaw rides around the city, slept at a traditional Japanese hotel, took a public bath, wore ceremonial robes, rode on the bullet train at 160 miles per hour, saw the world's largest Buddha, and sang karaoke in a five-story building dedicated solely to karaoke.
Japan is as close to a Utopian society that you'll ever find: there's no homeless, no trash on the streets, people are healthy, the elderly are respected, and everyone is incredibly kind and polite.
We did a book signing where about 200 people showed, and they showered us with gifts. Some even broke down crying because they were so overcome with emotion. The following day the Moment String Quartet performed a special concert for Barbara and me featuring the songs of Steve McQueen's films.
We were told they rehearsed an entire year for the concert, which is humbling. Barbara and I made sure to shake every hand, take every photo, answer every question and signed anything that was put in front of us. We truly wanted to connect with people and show them our appreciation.
What I learned on those trips is that McQueen is truly loved on a global level, perhaps even more so in England and Japan than in the United States.
In England, he's a symbol of rebellion. In Japan, he's a symbol of prosperity and is liked because he was a man of action, not words. In both countries, he's a fashion icon.
In 2012 you decided to revisit your collaboration with Barbara, The Last Mile. Was there anything in the original edition that you weren't satisfied with?
No, not really. Barbi’s goal was to write a book that was kind, sweet and positive and contributed to Steve's legacy, and to that end we succeeded. People just love that book.
The only reason we did a revision was because the book was about to go out of print. We had to decide to either let it run its course or do something different. We enjoy doing signings and traveling to different cities to promote the book and didn't want that to end. It was really Barbi's idea to revise it, add passages and include new photos.
How is The Last Mile…Revisited different than the original?
The dust jacket is the same save for the title and the color. The original color scheme was sand. The new one is a light blue. We wanted to make the revised version distinct and stand out on its own. I must say the new color scheme looks good.
It contains several new passages, more unseen photographs and the information is updated. The book was originally published in late 2006 and some new adventures have taken place that Barbi wanted to document.
For example, we took a trip to Patagonia in January 2012 to visit Joe Brown. It was the first time in 32 years they had seen each other. We also visited the very spot where she and Steve parked their motor home and spent many nights out underneath the stars. I took some great photos of that visit, and those pictures will appear in the book.
The new passages came about as a result of talking to Barbi over the years. She'd remember something, and I'd laugh and say, "D--n, don't tell me this…I could have used that for the book!" Certain things will trigger her memory and then she'll tell me something she's never told me before. In a way, it's a good thing she didn't tell me those stories the first go round because there'd be no reason to do a revision.
Can folks purchase an autographed edition directly from Barbara?
Barbi's website is the best place to buy an autographed copy of The Last Mile…Revisited. And if someone feels like making direct contact with her, they can through her website. In the past you had to know someone who knew Barbi to get a message to her. She's going to be a lot more accessible now.
Is Barbara contemplating a second book?
Fortunately the answer is yes. For a long time she told me that The Last Mile was going to be her one and only book on Steve. She has such a vast photo archive that I kept telling her it would be a shame to let those unseen photos stay in the vault. So she's finally said yes to a second book after years of persuasion from me. This time around I think it'll just be photos and captions of McQueen. We want to do something totally different. Look for it in late 2014.
What other projects are on your table?
After I finished Steve McQueen: The Life and Legend of a Hollywood Icon, which is more than 600 pages, I thought of retiring altogether or taking a very long break. I was completely burned out. Writing is very stressful because of the amount of concentration and because you’re dealing with facts.
In the beginning it was fun and a new adventure. As I’ve grown older, I’ve become more of a perfectionist, and I place very high standards on my work, and that can be very emotionally and physically draining.
You might think the more you do something the easier it gets, but it doesn’t. It gets harder because there’s more expectation of me, and I also expect more of myself. I’ve heard more than one author say what I’m telling you now, and I don’t feel this is an isolated case.
So I took a year off writing. I enjoyed not being handcuffed for the first time in my professional life. I focused on getting healthy, exercise and not working as much. Now I’m ready to get back to work. I have three books planned – including Guitar with Wings with Laurence Juber and Rock and a Heart Place with Ken Mansfield – and that will keep me busy for a few years.
What do you enjoy doing when not writing?
Lately, I’ve been into mountain biking. Arizona has some of the most gorgeous terrain in the country, and I try to ride at least an hour a day after work. It’s very peaceful and relaxing, and I usually ride off the beaten path with my iPod blaring. I listen to my favorite tunes while I look at mountains, cactus, parks, lakes and critters of the desert.
My wife and I watch a lot of movies and current TV series, and spend time with our Boston terrier, the greatest breed of dog there is. I also read a lot of books – biographies, autobiographies, memoirs, history, always non-fiction.
Besides Steve, who are some actors you particularly admire?
Michael Caine. He’s truly an actor, like McQueen, that is just so likeable and believable that he’s going to be good in anything he does. And he’s gotten better as he gets older, which makes me think that McQueen would have been as well.
I like actors who are consistently good but not necessarily flashy: Kevin Costner, Jeff Bridges, Al Pacino, Gene Hackman, Robert Duvall, and Clint Eastwood. Out of the new pack I like Russell Crowe, Denzel Washington and Daniel Craig.
I see McQueen in a lot of these guys or some of the roles they’ve played (Costner in The Bodyguard and Revenge; Crowe in LA Confidential; Mel Gibson in The Road Warrior; Tom Sizemore in Saving Private Ryan and Matt Damon in The Bourne Trilogy). McQueen is the most emulated actor in Hollywood, and that's a fact.
Why is Steve more popular overseas that stateside?
I would have to say McQueen is the most popular in England, Japan, Germany, and France, and then maybe the States. In fact, in Legend I write an entire chapter on Britain's fascination with McQueen. As a nation, the British are polite and often far from outspoken.
They see the opposite in McQueen and cannot help but find it compelling. If he wanted something, he didn’t ask—he simply took. If someone got in his way, he didn’t say sorry—he said, “Screw you.”
He was someone who would speak out in situations where polite people never would. He would break the rules, while Brits would proudly adhere to them. They had to admire someone as free, liberated, and self-confident as McQueen.
There is an image that perfectly sums up both the respect and the affection given to McQueen. The British poster for The Great Escape proves the affinity they felt and continue to have for McQueen.
On the artwork for this poster, McQueen is shown sporting the RAF bomber jacket complete with insignia. In the film he is, of course, an American pilot, but the British redefined him as theirs. The nation adopted him as their son.
Barbi and I were most recently in Hamburg, Germany, and more than 400 people showed up for the premiere of her art exhibit. It was an amazing cross section of young and old, men and women, car people, movie people, aviation people, fashion people – all knew a little something about McQueen's history.
They were pretty much united in the film they admired most: Le Mans. Auto racing is much more appreciated in Europe or should I say, is more of a mainstream sport than it is in the States. They get that McQueen truly loved racing and wasn't a poser. There is also an inherit understanding that McQueen did the film his way and that he got on film the heart of racing and it wasn't a piece of Hollywood fluff.
So they would see his movies, become intrigued with the mystery of the man, then start reading about him and become fascinated with the man. It's the foreigner syndrome. McQueen is mythical and iconic to the Europeans because he is uniquely American and was an original.
Why are we still talking about Steve decades after his untimely death?
Besides the fact that his look and his talent are timeless, the reason why any artist lives on after they die is because of their cult of personality. When someone sees McQueen’s work, they become fascinated with the man and want to know more about him.
When they learn about his life, his painful childhood, his inner struggle to reach the top, his approach to acting and how he put his heart and soul into every project, he becomes much more than just a movie star. His life takes on much more meaning – his movies, the motorcycles, the racing, the aviation, the women, his insecurities, and his hell-bent-for-leather take on life.
He was an American original and marched to the beat of his own drummer. How many people can we say that about today? The era of the 1960s and 1970s minted some of the greatest artists of the millennium, and McQueen is definitely in this group.
If you had met Steve, what would you have said to him?
This is a very interesting question because McQueen didn’t talk much about the art of filmmaking or his movie roles; instead, he preferred talking about his motorcycles and machinery. I know nothing about engines or machinery and have no interest in them whatsoever as long as it gets me from point A to point B.
I remember producer David Wolper telling me that he sat in between McQueen and actor Lee Marvin at a benefit dinner, and it was like listening to a pair of mechanics talk shop. He said it was the most boring night of his life! (His passage is in Steve McQueen: A Tribute to the King of Cool).
I thought that was a fascinating insight into McQueen. So to answer your question, I’m not sure what we could have talked about [McQueen's half-sister gives her take in a recent interview]. I’m of the belief that a biographer probably shouldn’t meet his subject. I’d much rather rely on family, friends, and associates to paint his/her portrait.
A biographer should be the proverbial fly on the wall and listen, observe, research, and take in all the information before sitting down to write, and make sure to give the full picture of the person.
Going back to your question: McQueen was an extremely guarded person, and I don’t do well around guarded or paranoid people. I like to think I’m very open and honest and people can ask me anything. Yet, when you’re around a guarded person like McQueen, if you ask anything, it makes you feel as if you’re prying or being nosy.
So I have to come to the conclusion that we wouldn’t have had much to talk about because my nature is to ask questions; my nature is to be open; my nature is to trust – completely opposite of what I believed McQueen to be.
This isn’t a knock against McQueen. When you endured what he did as a child and as a star, he’s going to be wearing emotional armor that would be tough for anyone to penetrate. When I deal with those sorts of people in everyday life, my tendency is to avoid them. I’m going to give and reciprocate to a certain point but if I don’t feel anything back on the other end, then it’s time to cut bait.
With that said, I think it’s pretty clear I like and respect Steve McQueen very much as a person and actor. But with me being a writer/reporter, odds are that he would have viewed me with suspicion from the start…but I don’t take that personal.
Is there anything you would like to say that we haven't covered?
I think we've covered a lot of ground, but maybe I should emphasize that even though I'm a biographer, and I believe an objective one, I loved Steve McQueen. He was a big part of my life and still remains so. My motivations are pure: to ensure this man will always be given his due as a great actor and film star. His life has meaning to so many, and that includes yours truly.
- DON'T GO ANYWHERE YET! Believe it or not, McQueen's half-sister, Teri, agreed to go on-the-record with this writer in her first interview after Terrill revealed her identity to the world in "The Life and Legend of a Hollywood Icon." In the four-part "Daydreams of Having an Older Brother" interview series, Teri painstakingly relives her miserable childhood exacerbated by alcoholic, often resentful parents who shuttled her back and forth to various temporary homes when they couldn't live together anymore. Pregnant at age 15 and working at Woolworth's five and dime store after lying about her age, Teri's hard-scrabble beginnings ironically mirrored much of her brother's rebellious adolescence. As the tried and true adage plainly says, Teri's experiences are definitely a page turner.
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© Jeremy L. Roberts, 2010, 2014. All rights reserved. The above interview was originally conducted over a three-year period and published in multiple abbreviated articles beginning in October 2010. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed in full without first contacting the author. Do not copy or paste the article text—please share the URL instead. Headlines with links are also fine. Posting any links on social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, Instagram, or Google Plus is sincerely appreciated.