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

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