Saturday, February 19, 2011

Barbara McQueen remembers the sweet life

Barbara McQueen will appear at 6 p.m. Feb. 23 at Melvyn's Restaurant in Palm Springs to discuss her life with the 'King of Cool.' For more information, visit

Throughout the month of February, Barbara McQueen has been quietly reflecting on her blissful years with the "King of Cool," one Steve McQueen. The determined actor lost his valiant war with mesothelioma exactly thirty years ago in Juarez, Mexico.

Why does McQueen still resonate today? Well, besides being the epitome of the perfect American male, he brought a sense of realism to each character he inhabited. McQueen was a man of few words, and he let his actions speak for themselves.

He had a soft spot for the underdog and never forgot his hard-scrabble upbringing. He could be a friend in good and bad times, but if you took advantage of him, watch out. He was not interested in Hollywood glamour; instead, he preferred sitting around with gearheads or antique collectors.

Without question, these qualities are reasons why Barbara fell in love with McQueen. Kindred souls, the couple created their own perfect paradise in the quaint town of Santa Paula, California. Although their time together was tragically cut short, the memories remain.

Below, my interview with Barbara resumes, and it illuminates the wonderful aspects of their relationship. These anecdotes include McQueen's sense of peace brought on by his genuine faith, meeting Barbara's parents, popping the question, their rustic, down-home wedding, and married life.

If you missed any previous entries of this all-encompassing interview, you can easily find them here. In fact, the last segment spotlighted Barbara's memories concerning the making of The Hunter, her husband's final film. If not, then keep reading...

The Barbara McQueen Interview

What role did faith play in Steve’s life during your years with him?

Steve was always spiritual, but he matured in his faith in Santa Paula. He was heavily influenced by his flight instructor, Sammy Mason, who was a very strong Christian, and who accompanied us to church.

I put those into two different categories because I think you can be very spiritual without going to church. You can have all the beliefs as an every Sunday church-goer, and you can be just as spiritual as they are but in a different way.

Steve started going to church when we lived in Santa Paula. There was no bull**** about his faith, and he took it seriously. He had a meeting with evangelist Billy Graham near the end, who inscribed his personal Bible to Steve. In fact, the first person I called when Steve passed away was Billy Graham.

Steve wasn’t a horn blower, and he didn’t go around talking about it; it was his private thing. He was never in your face, but I caught him many times saying his prayers.

As for me, I don’t go to church...but I still say my prayers. I cuss like a sailor, but I tell God every night, “Hey, I’m sorry, but it just sounds better sometimes. It’s a better definition of what I’m mad about, so please forgive me.”

How did Steve ask your dad for his daughter’s hand in marriage?

That’s an interesting story when Steve met my parents for the first time. My mom knew who he was, but she wasn’t real star struck. My dad clearly didn’t give a s**t who he was.

We had a mini mountain out back that took about a minute to walk to the top; that’s where the talking place was if you were in trouble. So my dad took Steve on a little walking/talking trip up there, and they were there 45 minutes to maybe an hour.

I was my dad's little baby, and he was gonna make sure I was okay. He didn't want Steve, whom he considered much too old for me, to hurt me in any way. So they came down and Steve and Dad had a beer.

Steve whispered, “I told your dad that you'll be well taken care of.” I then asked my dad what he told Steve. He said, “I told the sonofabitch I'd kill him if he ever hurt you.” True story!

What do you remember about your wedding day? Was it fancy?

We were going to have a church wedding, then we found out the minister we had been so enthralled with wouldn’t marry us because Steve had been divorced. That threw me for a loop because I was younger, and I had never been married.

Steve wasn’t fond of the response, so we got somebody else at the church to do it, Rev. Leslie Miller. By that time, the press were in town and following me. I had no experience with the paparazzi, and it was all very new at the time.

I used to drive around Santa Paula in a funky old pickup truck, and they’d follow me. They scared me, and so I’d go to the police station, and they’d take me home. They were hovering like a bunch of bees when we got married in the living room.

The paparazzi are nothing like they are to these poor people today. I truly feel sorry for current young movie actors and actresses. It's horrible what the press does to them, but back then it was just a little here, a little there.

We had our friend Norman stand outside the gate of our home with our ranch foreman Grady Ragsdale ready in the backyard. They were both armed with shotguns and not afraid to use them. They wouldn’t kill anybody, but a good shot over the head pretty much scares anybody.

So we got married in the living room, and I paid the reverend off. He wouldn’t take money, so I went outside and got a dozen eggs out of the chicken coop and paid him in eggs. You could say we had a farm wedding (laughing).

It was small and sweet, nothing big, and it was my first marriage. I would have probably liked to have done something different, but hey, when you’re in love, you take what you can get.

How did Grady Ragsdale fit into the scheme of things?

Grady Ragsdale was a sweetheart, and he was always there. If it was 2:00 AM, and there was a fly on the wall Steve didn’t like, Grady would come over and fix the problem. That’s how wonderful Grady was.

I never would have made it through Steve’s cancer battle without Grady. He wrote a beautiful little book in 1983 called Steve McQueen: The Final Chapter, which is now out of print.

I read it, and every word in there is true. He had a heart attack and passed away in 1986. But his widow, Judy, and kids are still around.

So, what was it like being married to Steve McQueen?

I loved it, since that was one of the best times of my entire life. It was a very sweet time. I loved the ranch and the farmhouse we shared. He gave me full reign of redoing our little house. It was the most beautiful 1920s Victorian farmhouse. Everything came from second-hand stores except for the TVs and beds.

It was every little girl’s dream. Steve was so sweet to me because he didn’t like me working. I worked a little bit here and there until I finally said, “Hey, I’ve got to make a living. I’ve got bills to pay.”

From that day forward I never had another bill to pay. Steve, however, did have a grocery list on the counter, expecting me to cook. I don't cook, and he wisely hired a little old lady to cook for us.

Every time we got into a fight, he would bring a kitten home. When he passed away, I had thirteen cats that I drug up to Idaho with me. Altogether, we had thirteen fights the whole time we were together. That's not bad considering we were together for three-and-a-half years.

Continue reading on When You're In Love With The King of Cool: Sweet Memories With Barbara McQueen - National Steve McQueen |

Friday, February 18, 2011

Steve McQueen's heart

Barbara Minty McQueen will appear at Melvyn's Restaurant in Palm Springs on Feb. 23, 2011 to sign copies of her book, Steve McQueen: The Last Mile. For more information, visit

Steve McQueen's Heart
Barbara Minty McQueen was there. Indeed, she met her future husband, the ‘King of Cool,” in July 1977 after she received a phone call from Nina Blanchard, her modeling agent in Los Angeles.

Blanchard told Minty that Steve McQueen had spotted her in a Club Med advertisement while he was on an airplane. McQueen wanted her to audition for the role of an Indian princess in his next project, Tom Horn. Apparently, this was a ruse, as the final cut of the film contains no Indian princess.

That initial meeting led to a whirlwind relationship and her ultimate marriage to McQueen in 1980. Barbara maintained an active role in her husband’s life, whether flying airplanes, going to swap meets, taking long driving adventures, being on film locations, or providing care during McQueen’s mesothelioma battle.

For posterity, Barbara had the wits to document their life together and capture many rare behind-the-scenes images of Tom Horn and The Hunter. Barbara’s tribute to her husband, entitled Steve McQueen: The Last Mile, is a brilliant, engrossing coffee-table pictorial book containing hundreds of full-page color and black and white images.

McQueen and author Marshall Terrill, who cowrote Last Mile, will join forces on Wednesday, February 23rd, at Melvyn's Restaurant at the Ingleside Inn in Palm Springs, California.

The authors will appear at 6 p.m. to discuss the icon's life, answer questions from the audience, and sign their books, including Terrill's latest project, the critically-acclaimed Steve McQueen: The Life and Legacy of a Hollywood Icon.

Legend is a 600-page work that paints a complete, mesmerizing portrait of McQueen’s career, on and off the silver screen. Terrill has spent his life investigating McQueen, and his efforts show on every single page of this definitive biography.

He has also written or collaborated on projects ranging from Elvis Presley to sports figures including basketball legend ‘Pistol’ Pete Maravich.

To RSVP and find out more information on the event, please call (760) 325-0046 or visit For folks who are unable to attend, a treat is in store below.

Barbara graciously agreed to reflect on her years with the iconic actor, and if you missed it, yesterday’s conversation revolved around the making of Tom Horn. Today, the talk jumps forward to The Hunter, McQueen’s final movie.

The Hunter was no blockbuster at the box office ($37 million) when released in late July 1980, although it performed considerably better than Tom Horn, eventually becoming a solid earner when released on video and television. McQueen was battling mesothelioma and was in no condition to attend the film’s premiere or conduct any publicity.

The film is no Bullitt, although it contains an exhilarating car/combine chase through a corn field. It is more modest in scope, but most importantly, McQueen wanted to do the film.

He had rejected film after film after the unbelievable success of the disaster epic The Towering Inferno in 1974, and those rejects include such classics as The Driver, Apocalypse Now, Close Encounters of The Third Kind, and The Bodyguard.

As The Hunter, it is revealing to view the late actor in a role that acknowledges his actual age. The character of bounty hunter Ralph “Papa” Thorson does things his way, even though he realizes that he is becoming a relic of a bygone era.

It is also an ironic, simple twist of fate that McQueen’s final role was a bounty hunter. At the very beginning of his career, McQueen played Josh Randall, a deadly, often hot-headed bounty hunter who carried a sawed-off Mare’s Leg rifle on Wanted: Dead or Alive, the classic western series (1958–1961) that made him a star.

Without any further ado, here is my conversation with Barbara McQueen, as she discusses life on the set of McQueen’s final film, The Hunter.

The Barbara McQueen Interview

What are your memories of being on the set of The Hunter, Steve’s final film?

The Hunter was not as much fun; it was more of a “city” movie. I don't know where or why the thought came over me, but I had the distinct feeling that this was going to be Steve's last picture.

On the other hand, it was really fun learning about explosives and stunts. As for the cast, I did get to know LeVar Burton pretty well, and Eli Wallach was a good guy, too.

It was clear that LeVar was in awe of Steve and did nothing to hide his admiration. Privately, Steve deeply cared for LeVar and took on a fatherly role at times. Steve loved him in Roots and lobbied to get him the part in the movie.

Steve was determined to play the real life modern-day bounty hunter who apprehended more than 5,000 criminals and bail jumpers. To soften the bounty hunter’s rough edges, Steve incorporated several cool habits and attributes that mirrored his own personality.

For example, he collected antique toys, drove an old Chevy convertible (rather badly I might add), and was even involved with a beautiful brunette almost half his age – wonder where that idea came from?

Were you guys really in the Chicago ghetto?

Absolutely, and I’d never been exposed to the real slums before that experience. It was interesting. I knew Steve always had my back, so I didn’t have to worry about anything bad. They had us downtown in a nice little hotel, and this is where the goodness of Steve’s heart came out.

Steve realized the crew was staying in a stinky, old, horrible Holiday Inn. So, of course we had to move there and endure those conditions.

I completely understood where he was coming from, though. Steve always viewed the crew as part of his family. He worked when they worked, ate when they ate, and slept when they slept.

The production later traveled to the agricultural heartland…

After The Hunter finished shooting sequences in Chicago, we headed southwest to the Kankakee River Valley where the movie was slated for more production. Our hotel was located next door to a meat packing factory. Frankly, it stunk.

However, Steve did befriend a wonderful couple, who lent the studio their farm for a scene. This couple took a real liking to Steve, and the nice lady would make little treats for him.

In return, Steve liked spending time with the family, which was a recurring theme in his life. Right before we left she gave us a book called The Farm Journal, which was a guide on how to survive on a farm. They must have thought we needed it.

What’s the story behind Karen Wilson, the teenager you both adopted?

Chicago’s a great town, and that’s where we found Karen Wilson, our little “insta-kid.” One scene required lots of extras, but for some reason, this feisty young girl caught Steve’s eye. He questioned her, asking “Why aren’t you in school?”

Her reply floored him. “Because I need to make extra money,” she said. She had been watching over a seven-year-old neighbor named “Bobo.” It turned out that Karen’s birthday was the same as mine, which Steve took as some sort of sign.

We visited Karen’s mother in the ghetto, where we found her and her entire family living in squalor. Steve wasted no time telling Karen's mother, “We’d like to take Karen back with us to California and put her in a good school, so that she has a chance to get out of here.”

After several weeks of going back and forth, her mother came to the decision that it was best for Karen to leave with us. Once The Hunter wrapped, we enrolled her in a private boarding school near our Santa Paula home.

On weekends we would bring Karen home so she could have some sense of normalcy. Almost a year after we became her legal guardians, Karen’s mother passed away.

When Steve died, I personally saw to it that she graduated high school. To make a long story short, Karen is now a happily married mother of four kids and works for an L.A.-based escrow company.

During the making of The Hunter, Steve’s generosity rose to the forefront. Can you recall some specific examples?

One time Steve saw some local kids throwing a football stuffed with rags. He dispatched [stuntman] Loren Janes to a sporting goods store. Before you could blink, hundreds of baseballs, footballs, mitts, and bats were left in a large recreational field.

Although he had practically stopped giving autographs a decade before, Steve freely handed out several thousand signed 8 x 10 glossies. When Steve discovered that a local Catholic church was in need, he wrote a check covering all expenses.

Before he handed over the check, he stopped by to see the film’s producer, Mort Engleberg, and said, “Mort, this is what I’m giving to the church. I’d like you to match it.”

No one knew he performed all of these great deeds, but he did. By the way, Mort immediately said yes and wrote a check on the spot. How could he say no to Steve McQueen?

**More of my interview with Barbara McQueen will appear by the end of this week...

Please visit Twitter @jeremylr to learn when future pop culture articles shall appear.

© Jeremy L. Roberts / All rights reserved

Continue reading on The Goodness of Steve McQueen's Heart: Memories of His Final Film, "The Hunter" - National Steve McQueen |

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Barbara McQueen interview

Tom Horn was actor Steve McQueen's penultimate film, and it was perhaps the project closest to his heart. Based on the life of the famed Wild West detective/assassin, McQueen recorded extensive notes on a tape recorder over a nearly three-year period.

The actor even went so far as to camp out one night at the gunfighter's grave in Boulder, Colorado, claiming Horn's ghost visited with him. Fortunately, McQueen's efforts paid off (he was also executive producer), as many fans consider the role to be among his best, including his good friend and fellow actor, the late James Coburn.

With a good supporting cast, including a pre-Dynasty Linda Evans, and noted character actors Richard Farnsworth, Slim Pickens, and Geoffrey Lewis, the film was still not a box office hit when released in March 1980.

Why was this? Largely, because Tom Horn came at a time when the western was virtually dead. Nineteen seventy-six was the last year when a significant continual stream of westerns hit the big screen, including John Wayne's The Shootist and Clint Eastwood's The Outlaw Josey Wales.

McQueen also didn't have the opportunity to promote the film as much as he might have liked to, as his cancer diagnosis came a few months before the film's release. Fortunately for us, Barbara McQueen is alive and well, and she was on location with her husband throughout the filming.

As part of an ongoing interview series (go here for the previous installment), what follows below are Ms. McQueen's always-entertaining recollections of life on a western movie shoot. So sit back, because the fun starts right now...

The Barbara McQueen Interview

Tom Horn was your first film shoot with Steve. How do you remember that experience?

I’ve never sat down and watched Tom Horn. But I was there, and the film was just the best adventure and my absolute favorite experience. But god, it was cold.

Being part of a movie set was every little girl’s dream, at least for me, since I grew up on a dairy farm in Oregon. I’ll always be a cowgirl, and I tended to lose myself in that western setting.

When the film company was shooting on location in southern Arizona, we had the option of staying in an upscale hotel in Tucson, but we decided to take a motor home and live there on the set.

Steve parked it out in the middle of nowhere, close to the set, and early every morning he and his good friend Pat Johnson would jog. I loved that experience.

Staying Near The Mexican Border, With a Colt .45…

We changed location about three times, and on one such occasion we were less than one mile from the Mexican border. Remember, this was in 1979 before there were serious border issues between the two countries. Steve would go in the daytime to the set, which was a couple miles away, and he’d leave me all alone.

He thought I was a nutcase since I’d dress the part of a cowgirl, putting on little petticoats, cowboy boots, the whole works. I was really diggin’ it, as there wasn’t a soul around. I could get on my little horse and ride, or I could just walk around and be in my own world.

When the crew was shooting in another area, the entire western town was virtually empty except for a few wranglers and set builders. I often seized the moment and loved riding my horse on the sidewalks, since all the buildings were facades. Even in my mid-twenties, I imagined being on horseback in the late 1800s. Such a blast.

One day before heading out on location, Steve walked over to me and put a holster and Colt .45 on my belt. He said, “If you’re gonna stay here, this will be on you at all times. The border has a lot of traffic and nobody’s gonna hurt you, but just in case, I want you to be prepared.”

He taught me how to use the pistol really well. I had a field gun permit, but it didn’t matter down there. I saw several guys crossing the border and I’d just wave at them. My thinking was, Hey, you do what you do, and I do what I do; you stay there, and I stay away.

Would Steve often go over the script with you?

I remember sitting in the trailer at night and Steve would throw a script at me. He’d say, “Here, read the other part,” and when he read his part, I’d laugh at him. I’d answer, “Good god, you’re horrible.” Steve often retorted, “Shut up and just read it please!”

Now I understand Steve was memorizing the lines. He wasn’t putting any emotion into it. He was dyslexic, so he didn’t read very well, and he went over and over that script. We laughed and giggled, I teased him, and it was just a good, fun time for us.

So, how did your dad become a shotgun-carrying extra?

My father (Gene) and mother (Wilma) visited the set one day and Steve said to them, “Would you like to dress up and be extras? It won’t be a problem at all.” My dad said immediately, “Oh yeah, that sounds like a good idea.”

Mom wasn’t too crazy about that proposition, but my dad was a huge western freak. So Dad became a general extra for a few days. Not long after the casting director had to pick five or six extras to play the jailers who were behind Steve during the final hanging scene.

The only stipulation was the extras had to have the meanest, grumpiest face you could imagine. Well, darned if they didn’t pick my dad. He went up to Steve and thanked him, but Steve said, “Thank you for what?”

My dad explained that he would get to stay an extra two weeks and play a little part in the movie. Steve said, “Mr. Minty, I had nothing to do with it; that’s all your doing.”

As it turned out, the only reason they picked my dad was because he looked mean as hell. While my dad was a pussycat to me, because I was his little girl, he wasn't a man you wanted to cross.

My dad didn’t have any lines, but he got to walk with a shotgun behind Steve to the gallows. I don’t think Steve was too nervous. My dad probably just loved that, and that became a joke around the set. I’m glad my dad got to do it because he got a kick out of playing dress up.

Did you become friends with any of Steve’s co-stars, such as the beloved cowboy actors Richard Farnsworth or Slim Pickens?

I loved Richard Farnsworth, and I kept in touch with him after Tom Horn. I played polo for many years after Steve passed away, and Farnsworth was always around the field in L.A. He’d make a point or I would to go say hello to each other.

He was the most wonderful, gentle soul; Farnsworth was exactly the man you saw on the screen. If there was ever a real thing in the world, he was the real thing. The epitome of a man’s man, he was something else.

Slim Pickens and Dirty Jokes

Slim Pickens was funny, nice, and just an all-around good guy. He was exactly what you would have wanted him to be. I don’t know any of his earlier movies, but I remember him riding on that bomb in Peter Sellers’ comedy classic, Dr. Strangelove.

Between shots and setting up, the actors would all go to this one little house. They’d sit down, and Slim would go off on these tangents of filthy, dirty jokes. For two days I sneaked in there, as nobody knew I was hiding behind one of the walls.

On the third day, all of a sudden I heard, “Barbi, get out here!” I went, “Oh god, I’m busted,” and I quickly walked out. My dad was looking at me very sternly, shaking his head, and he said, “You know better than that.” Unfortunately, that was the last time I got to do that.

Thirty years later, how does Tom Horn stack up?

Tom Horn could have been a great film, but the studio wouldn’t give them enough money. It’s too bad the film didn’t go further, but once again, I don’t know the business.

Regardless, from what I heard about Steve during the shoot, he could be difficult. That was his baby, and he wanted it his way.

See Barbara McQueen and biographer Marshall Terrill at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 23, 2011 at the Ingleside Inn in Palm Springs. The two will make a presentation, answer questions and sign copies of Terrill's new biography Steve McQueen: The Life and Legend of a Hollywood Icon and McQueen's 2006 photo book Steve McQueen: The Last Mile.

To RSVP for this special event and book signing, call 760-325-0046 or visit

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Steve McQueen's widow celebrates the life of the 'King of Cool'

Steve McQueen’s widow and his biographer are coming to Palm Springs in February to promote a blockbuster new book about the superstar, and to celebrate the life of the ‘King of Cool’.

Barbara McQueen and author Marshall Terrill will appear 6 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 23, 2011, at Melvyn’s Restaurant at the Ingleside Inn, 200 W. Ramon Road, Palm Springs. The two will make a presentation, answer questions and sign copies of Terrill’s new biography Steve McQueen: The Life and Legend of a Hollywood Icon and McQueen’s 2006 photo book Steve McQueen: The Last Mile.

“For years I’ve been hearing about the magic of Melvyn’s Restaurant and the Ingleside Inn,” said McQueen, who will kick off the inn’s 2011 Speaker Series. “I’m happy to share my stories about Steve while spending quality time in the desert.”
For decades, Steve McQueen has captured our hearts and imaginations. Now, the star’s preeminent biographer reveals the true life of the man in his 624-page epic book. Featuring hundreds of interviews and exhaustive research, Terrill reveals new details about the star’s life from his harrowing and painful childhood, throughout his incredible career, to his courageous final days. Scrupulously researched and beautifully written, Steve McQueen: The Life and Legend of a Hollywood Icon is an indispensible resource of a beloved star.

Author Marshall Terrill is a film, sports and music writer and the author of more than a dozen books, including best-selling biographies of Steve McQueen, Elvis Presley and Pete Maravich. He is also the co-author of Palm Springs a la Carte with Mel Haber. Three of his books are in development to be made into movies.

Barbara Minty McQueen is the widow of the famous actor and met McQueen in 1977. They remained married until his Nov. 7, 1980 death. She resides in Ketchum, Idaho.

Tickets are $65, which includes a three-course dinner as well as tax and tip. Reservations are required. To RSVP, call (760) 325-0046 or visit