Steve McQueen broke all the rules: A word with his widow and author Marshall Terrill
Steve McQueen’s widow Barbara Minty McQueen and biographer Marshall Terrill are pleased with Steve McQueen: The Last Mile…Revisited. Featuring tons of photos from Minty’s private collection and accompanying passages documenting her three and a half years together with the King of Cool, the memoir was three decades in the making.
Affectionately called “Barbi” by her friends, Minty did not begin speaking on her late husband or meeting with fans until roughly 25 years after his death. The former model is also a proud advocate for raising awareness of the dangers of being exposed to asbestos-containing materials. Minty made the bold step of taking her special cause to the nation’s capital, where she addressed the U.S. House of Representatives. Mesothelioma was ultimately responsible for her husband’s untimely passing on November 7, 1980, at the criminally early age of 50.
The down-to-earth widow accepted an invitation to serve as guest of honor at MidAmerica Auctions in Pebble Beach, the site of an auction for several of her husband’s prized motorcycles. Jay Leno was in town, and the comedian interviewed her on his popular web series, Jay Leno’s Garage. Her only other national talk show appearance so far happened on the Late Show with David Letterman some five years earlier in 2007.
Meanwhile, Terrill is a reporter at Arizona State University. In his spare time, he is a prolific biographer with 22 tomes to his credit. Seven of those probe the inner-most thoughts of the King of Cool. Steve McQueen: The Life and Legend of a Hollywood Icon is the place to start.
Another recommended Terrill book is Steve McQueen: A Tribute to the King of Cool, which leads with a foreword by Minty. Rather than being a straight biography, it is 384 pages filled with passages written by McQueen’s closest friends and associates. With over 600 black and white and color photographs, often full-page, the massive coffee table book is every collector’s dream.
In an exclusive conversation, the dynamic duo touch on a number of intriguing topics. Stick around to learn why McQueen had a tendency to get into trouble on movie sets, whether he was still a driven individual when he found true love for the third time, why he decided to get a perm at the height of disco, and exactly why the underrated actor remains more popular in the United Kingdom than stateside.
The Barbara Minty McQueen and Marshall Terrill Interview
How did you collide with Marshall Terrill?
Barbara Minty: I met him through Mimi Freedman, who directed the 2005 documentary, The Essence of Cool. I’d like to see that again. I never watch any of those things I’m in, because I look so goofy and sound so silly.
I was really impressed with Marshall’s first book on Steve, 1993’s Portrait of an American Rebel. He tells the truth. I didn’t know that much about Steve before I met him, so Marshall’s books helped me figure out who the guy was, and there’s definitely not another book on my horizon concerning Steve.
Marshall feels like my little brother now as well as my mother. He’s a very detail-oriented person whereas I’m a free spirit, and that combination works well in our working relationship and friendship.
He works hard behind-the-scenes to get things done because there’s no way I could do it. I need guidance, and I think I add some craziness to his life. We have a lot of fun working together, and if it wasn’t fun, I wouldn’t be doing it.
Why did Steve tend to get into trouble on movie sets?
Marshall Terrill: On The Magnificent Seven, McQueen was jealous that Yul Brynner, who was an established star and Academy Award winner, got top billing. He felt that Brynner was a humorless egomaniac and wanted to bring him down a notch while stealing the movie out from underneath him. McQueen accomplished both by the end of that film by getting other cast members to conspire with him. He also ended up carrying the film and was the guy you rooted for.
In the case of The Great Escape, McQueen was frustrated that his role wasn’t clearly defined, and rightly so. I imagine that played a part in his behavior on the set. Combine that with the fact he was off the picture for six weeks with nothing to do, he created his own chaos to pass the time. He was not a guy who sat around waiting for something to happen.
While shooting Le Mans, there was also frustration but for different reasons. He had the pressure of the entire movie being on his back, and the studio was threatening to take control. The movie took a big toll on McQueen and it played a major part in the demise of his relationship with his agent Stan Kamen, Solar Productions, his movie company and his marriage to first wife Neile.
So absolutely, McQueen displayed lots of reckless behavior, both in Hollywood and overseas. The thing to keep in mind is that it was a different time. Journalists turned a blind eye to the indiscretions of stars — and U.S. presidents — because they had to keep their sources.
Today it’s completely flip-flopped. The press now actively looks for stars to mess up because they’ll get a great scoop and know it will play big. Ten years ago you’d never see an affair as front page news. Today it’s routine. There just weren’t as many paparazzi back in McQueen’s day and the era of instant information has changed everything.
Was Steve still a driven individual during your time together?
Minty: I got Steve at a very good time, the last three-and-a-half years of his life. He was never mellow, but he was probably mellower than what I’ve heard about him. I do know that when he got a bee in his bonnet, it was going to get done one way or another.
When he decided to fly, he was sitting down one day reading his trade-a-plane magazine, and before you could even blink, he calls up and buys an airplane.
A couple of weeks later, he has an instructor, and we’re living in an airplane hangar in Santa Paula. So if that’s what called driven, he was driven, either driven or a little insane, I’m not sure which it is.
Why did Steve come home with a perm in early 1978?
Minty: Oh my god, everybody laughed at him. Steve’s son Chad and I were rolling on the floor, because it was funny. It was at the beginning of our relationship when we were living in Malibu. I got the tail end of a little bit of the, pardon my French, the movie star bulls**t with him. I found it very hilarious and humorous.
Why is Steve more popular overseas than stateside?
Terrill: I would have to say McQueen is the most popular in England, Japan, Germany, and France, and then maybe the States. In fact, in Life and Legend of a Hollywood Icon 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.
The complex, contradictory Steve McQueen was one of cinema’s greatest icons
“Steve McQueen: In His Own Words” compiler Marshall Terrill sheds light on romantic rendezvous, politics, death bed…
The definitive account of Barbara Minty’s love affair with bad boy Steve McQueen
“It’s very strange when people mention, ‘Oh, you were married to Steve McQueen?’” confesses Barbara Minty McQueen in…
How a military brat got hooked on the razor sharp mystique of quintessential Hollywood outsider…
“I don’t believe in that phony hero stuff.” Steve McQueen’s rebel attitude probably ruffled quite a few feathers among…
The relentless dilemma of the fake Steve McQueens
“I live for myself and I answer to nobody.” Steve McQueen’s defiantly heroic words essentially summarize his genuine…
Steve McQueen and Bruce Lee: Complicated Tinseltown frenemies
“Bruce Lee: A Life” ink slinger Matthew Polly digs into the cultural juggernauts’ relationship on the King of Cool’s…
A little girl’s dream: Being on the ‘Tom Horn’ film set with Steve McQueen
Steve McQueen’s widow Barbara Minty grants a scoop interview about the halcyon months she spent in Arizona during the…
Roping the legend of ‘Tom Horn,’ Steve McQueen’s overlooked 1980 western
What’s right about Tom Horn, Steve McQueen’s misunderstood penultimate film that scored tepid box office receipts in…
The goodness of Steve McQueen's heart: On the set of final film 'The Hunter'
Steve McQueen's widow Barbara Minty bluntly reflects, "I had the distinct feeling that 'The Hunter' was going to be…
A rose among the thorns: Faith and healing with Steve McQueen’s widow
An interview with Steve McQueen’s salt of the earth widow Barbara Minty covers Christianity, paparazzi, marriage, Santa…
Ink-slinging Steve McQueen biographer Marshall Terrill dishes on Elvis, Paul Newman, and the Duke
Guilty as charged for penning seven authoritative tomes about Steve McQueen going back to 1993’s Portrait of an…
How Steve McQueen’s boyhood home impacted the future King of Cool
“I hated farm life and didn’t get along with small-town people. I guess they were just as glad to see me go as I was to…
Distance makes no difference with love — The complete Teri McQueen interview
Teri McQueen kept an extraordinary secret for nearly 70 years. That is, until best-selling author Marshall Terrill, in…
Steve McQueen took a major part of his life — In step with passionate wordsmith Andrew Antoniades
Andrew Antoniades accomplished what many of us can only dream — he realized his lifelong ambition of publishing his…
Mentored by the biggest star in the world: Inside Steve McQueen’s ‘Adam at 6 A.M.’
According to a bipartite interview debuting exclusively today, Lee Purcell got her first big Hollywood break on account…
Two tough guys: Actor Gary Lockwood pulls no punches with Steve McQueen
In Steve McQueen’s determined ascent to the top of Hollywood’s ranks, he could often be mercurial, wary, and downright…
The premiere of Steve McQueen’s ‘Wanted Dead or Alive,’ featuring Michael Landon
Before the debut episode of the classic western television series Wanted: Dead or Alive dropped, nobody knew who Steve…
When the Dillards bumped into Steve McQueen on a Hollywood street
The Dillards are to bluegrass what Steve McQueen was to film cinema — supreme innovators during a decade when…
50 years of ‘Le Mans,’ Steve McQueen’s love letter to auto racing
King of Cool experts Marshall Terrill and Andrew Antoniades expose the scathingly reviewed 1971 cinéma vérité film now deemed a cult…
Watch Craig Ferguson and Quentin Tarantino dish on iconic war epic ‘The Great Escape’
See the unscripted interview between director Quentin Tarantino and “Late Late Show” host Craig Ferguson exploring…
Uncovering resilient American soldier Audie Murphy
America's most decorated World War II hero & future Hollywood cowboy Audie Murphy grew up dirt poor picking cotton on a…
Dadvice from a globe-trotting preacher and a Mayberry sheriff
Get the scoop on love, sacrifice, honesty, and more homespun wisdom for fathers courtesy of Andy Griffith of Mayberry…
‘Little House on the Prairie’ star Michael Landon did something useful with his life
Michael Landon endures as television’s most popular star. For a staggering 32 consecutive years, you could see Landon…
© Jeremy Roberts, 2012, 2018. All rights reserved. To touch base, email firstname.lastname@example.org and mention which story led you my way. I appreciate it sincerely.