Saturday, April 14, 2007

San Francisco Sentinel on McQueen exhibit

By PJ Johnston
Sentinel Film Critic
Copyright © 2007 San Francisco Sentinel

I’m not one to use this space to regurgitate press releases. After all, I write press releases in my day job, among other things, and by the time I sit down to work on Moving Pictures, I’m sick of the sight of them. This column is about movies, and life, and how much juice I can squeeze out of the two.

On the other hand, it would be ungracious, vile and arrogant of me to blow off press releases altogether in my capacity as film critic for Your San Francisco Sentinel – all the while expecting editors and writers at other publications to take note of mine all week long. What comes around goes around, after all.

So when an announcement of some kind catches my fancy, I feel obliged to share it with you, dear reader. And just such a press release crossed my desk this week.

Seems Steve McQueen – that’s right, Lieutenant Frank Bullitt, San Francisco detective, all-time badass of all-time badasses – is returning to the city where he made his most famous movie … but it won’t be in a second-run movie theater or a San Francisco State film class.

Instead, McQueen will be brought back to life on the walls of one of San Francisco’s finest art galleries.

According to my source, intrepid biographer Marshall Terrill, Barbara McQueen’s photos of her superstar husband will make its world premiere on May 5 at the San Francisco Art Exchange, 458 Geary Street.

“The idea of having a photo exhibit has been a longtime dream of mine,” said Barbara McQueen. “And the perfect place to host such an exhibit is in the city where Steve filmed ‘Bullitt.’”

I’d love to report to you that the lovely Ms. McQueen actually told me this – but alas, I got it from Senor Terrill’s press release. I intend to actually speak to her, art-reception wine and hunks of cheese in hand, on Cinco de Mayo.

Terrill’s first book, “Steve McQueen: Portrait of an American Rebel,” was a big hit in 1993. This year he collaborated with Barbara McQueen on “Steve McQueen: The Last Mile,” a 250-page photo book that, I have a hunch, just might be available at the Art Exchange show.

Terrill, interestingly enough, is noted for his biographies on McQueen, Elvis Presley and Pistol Pete Maravich, the basketball great. Even more interestingly, Terrill worked for financier Charles Keating back in the 80s. By 1989 Keating’s company, Lincoln Savings & Loan, was the poster child of the savings and loan scandal that brought down the industry and cost you, dear taxpayer, billions in bailout dough. Keating, a rich, ultraconservative anti-porn crusader who put the “critter” in hippocrit, was sent sentenced to jail and Terrill suddenly found himself unemployed. At age 26, he moved back into his parents’ home in Virginia and began his second career, as a biographer. His first subject was McQueen.

Nice choice. Who didn’t love the King of Cool? Star of countless great, half-great and okay-not-so great movies, most notably “The Magnificent Seven” (1960), “The Great Escape” (1963), “The Thomas Crown Affair” (1968), “Papillon” (1973) and, of course, “Bullitt,” the 1968 thriller that made the world fall in love with San Francisco, Ford Mustangs and Jacqueline Bisset. We San Franciscans still love to marvel at the way that green GT flew off the ground on Potrero Hill and landed in Russian Hill! Yeah, baby!

McQueen was the quintessential Hollywood bad boy and one damn fine actor. (He died of complications from liver cancer in 1980.) He lived larged, burned rubber as a motorcyclist and race car driver, and burned through a marriage with “The Getaway” (1972) co-star Ali MacGraw … and really, if you’re going to burn through a marriage, wouldn’t we all like it to be with Ali MacGraw, the Scarlett Johanson of her era?

(Incidentally, MacGraw wrote a 1991 autobiography, “Moving Pictures” – no relation to this column.)

McQueen later married the beautiful Barbara Minty, a model with a talent for photography, and spent his final years with her.

This exhibition is a personal collection of about 40 photographs taken by Minty nee McQueen, who has remained silent about her relationship with her husband for more than 25 years. Now she’s ready to talk about their life together and her photographs, which offer an extremely personal insight into the final years of Steve McQueen.

The photos offer candid shots from 1977 to 1980 – the actor’s years in a fading spotlight. It also chronicles her times with McQueen at Trancas Beach; Ketchum, Idaho; and Santa Paula; as well as behind-the-scenes shots from the sets of his final films, “Tom Horn” and the underappreciated “The Hunter,” (both 1980)

“It will be a fun gathering of family and friends and an eclectic mix of people,” said Terrill, who is organizing the exhibit. “I’m sure there will be people from all walks of life including bikers, artists, poets, actors, accountants, writers and McQueen fans. Everyone is welcome.”

Both Barbara McQueen and Terrill will give short presentations on the photos (some of which have never been seen before) and take questions afterward.

And if I gulp enough of that gallery wine, I’m gonna ask Terrill about Charles Keating’s jowls, and how Pistol Pete might’ve fared against Kobe. No matter how much wine I put down, however, I promise to leave Ali MacGraw out of it.

The cost to attend the Barbara McQueen photo exhibit at the San Francisco Art Exchange on May 5t is free, but an RSVP is required to guarantee admittance. Contact Theron Kabrich at (800) 344-9633 or e-mail at

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