“I live for myself and I answer to nobody.” Steve McQueen’s defiantly heroic words essentially summarize his genuine outsider attitude at a time when conformity was the name of the game. Before his shocking demise in 1980 at age 50 from mesothelioma complications, McQueen was 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.
Marshall Terrill, executive producer of the Christian-themed documentary Steve McQueen: American Icon, is also the resourceful author of seven critically acclaimed books devoted to the King of Cool. An Air Force brat who lived in approximately five states by the time he graduated from high school, Terrell discovered that McQueen had an honest-to-goodness half-sister 30 years after his death.
Stick around as Terrill takes off the proverbial kid gloves to shoot straight from the hip in a fascinating conversation roundly debunking five misguided individuals who claim they’re related to the King of Cool.
Whether a B-movie actor insisting he was the star’s illegitimate son, a cowboy stuntman who told fans he was McQueen’s brother, an English gentleman whose mother revealed to him on her deathbed that he was McQueen’s biological son, or a gorgeous commercial spokes model aggressively plugging her alleged McQueen kinship, most of these folks have shamefully exploited McQueen’s iconic status for personal gain.
The Marshall Terrill Interview
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 fallacious, sometimes downright fraudulent folks. What are some of the most off-the-wall stories that you’ve been privy to hear?
- 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 an old movie studio called Apacheland Movie Ranch 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 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 2012 Superstition Mountain Heritage Days event in Apache Junction, Arizona. He now lives in Globe, Arizona, 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 two years later 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.
Since the story first broke, Spiker has kept his promise not to use McQueen’s name and models under the moniker of “Spike.”
- The England McQueen
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 Steve’s widow Barbara Minty McQueen and I appeared in Brighton in 2010, this gentleman and his wife came up to us after the Q&A [Minty and Terrill wrote the coffeetable tome Steve McQueen: The Last Mile]. 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 the late 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
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 to three months later in summer 2011— 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 10 years old.
However, William McQueen died in 1958. Janice is 54 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 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
The only person who proved to me beyond a shadow of a doubt that they were related to Steve McQueen was Teri McQueen, 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 was the only person who showed me concrete proof she was who she said she was, and that’s Steve McQueen’s half-sister. And the cool thing — she was a very sweet lady who wanted nothing from the McQueen family or estate. She had a great family of her own, very loving towards each other. For many years Teri had to keep quiet but no longer had to during the last decade of her life [in an unfortunate irony, Teri waged a three-year ordeal with an inoperable stomach cancer tumor much like her half-brother, passing away on May 15, 2019, at age 79].
******************DON’T GO ANYWHERE YET********************
Exclusive Interview: In the mind boggling 14,000-word “How a Military Brat Got Hooked on the Razor Sharp Mystique of Quintessential Hollywood Outsider Steve McQueen,” Terrill examines the complicated celebrity’s heady life and career in forensic detail. Subjects you don’t wanna miss include smoking pot with the ultra-laconic James Coburn, why the former Boys Republic delinquent abhorred interviews and tended to play manipulative mind games with the press, noteworthy encounters with fellow luminaries like John Wayne, Elvis Presley, and Paul Newman, opting for risky alternative cancer therapy in remote Mexico, and what the biographer might have said to McQueen if the two had intersected.
Exclusive Interview No. 2: In “Steve McQueen Took a Major Part of His Life — In Step with Passionate Wordsmith Andrew Antoniades,” the first-time British author, guilty as charged for the mammoth coffee table book entitled Steve McQueen: The Actor and His Films, doesn’t hold back, weaving fascinating anecdotes of growing up with his father and being blown away by viewing Papillon, whether McQueen only made movies for the money — think The Towering Inferno — why he gave the stodgy Le Mans a second chance, the reason McQueen temporarily quit making movies at the height of his fame in 1967, and whether McQueen was wrong to turn down One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
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© Jeremy Roberts, 2011, 2017. All rights reserved. To touch base, email firstname.lastname@example.org and mention which story led you my way. I appreciate it sincerely.