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 competitive of his fellow actors. Gary Lockwood befriended the King of Cool in the early ’60s, and he is telling his story for the first time in an exclusive interview.
Lockwood’s admiration and sometimes rocky friendship with McQueen is front and center. The two nearly came to blows several times, once when McQueen lost his Oscar nomination for The Sand Pebbles. In a deep funk, the King of Cool got on his motorcycle and vanished for several days. Neile Adams, McQueen’s first wife, frantically called Lockwood and asked him to locate her husband.
Like McQueen, Lockwood has been saddled with the reputation of being a tough guy throughout his extensive career. One of his first jobs in front of a movie camera arrived in 1958 when he appeared as a stunt double for John Wayne’s son Patrick Wayne on the dusty landscape of The Young Land.
Director Joshua Logan recognized Lockwood’s considerable talent the following year in a basketball comedy entitled Tall Story. Featuring a very green-behind-the-ears Jane Fonda, Lockwood stood in for the picture’s star, Anthony Perkins.
Meatier parts came rather quickly, including two roles in early Elvis Presley features, Wild in the Country and It Happened at the World’s Fair. By 1963 the performer found himself in the title role of NBC’s The Lieutenant, a military style drama created by Gene Roddenberry. Although it was cancelled after one season, Roddenberry would find his greatest success with the classic Star Trek just a few short years later. And yes, Lockwood had a guest turn on the beloved sci-fi show.
But his most identifiable role was just around the corner. In production for nearly three years, Stanley Kubrick’s futuristic paean to extraterrestrial life, 2001: A Space Odyssey, crash landed into movie theaters in April 1968.
As astronaut Frank Poole, the actor brought a necessary resilience to a role with virtually no dialogue. Lockwood was at the top of his game. A quandary soon presented itself: how could the actor find a subsequent project worthy of Kubrick’s critically acclaimed masterpiece, a film that still appears on annual lists of the greatest movies of all time?
Lockwood played it as it laid and had no such luck. Firecreek, a gritty cowboy character study with a top notch cast spearheaded by James Stewart, Henry Fonda, and Inger Stevens, performed less than expected at the box office. Another film by French New Wave director, the atmospheric but often sleepy Model Shop, sank with little impact.
During the ’70s and ’80s, Lockwood found consistent employment on various television programs, doing an occasional low-budget film often beneath his talent. Since the late ’90s, the star has enjoyed retirement, spending winters in Malibu and summers in Canada.
Attending science fiction and classic film conventions when not peddling a tentative memoir named Gary Lockwood: Beyond the Pod Bay Doors — The Adventures of a Hollywood Cowboy Surfer Dude — Lockwood enjoys meeting his fans and regaling them with humorous, sometimes shocking anecdotes about his life and career. Not one to mince words, the passionate They Came to Rob Las Vegas antihero pulls no punches. You be the judge.
The Gary Lockwood Interview
What was your introduction to Steve McQueen?
Steve rode into my driveway and introduced himself one day. Perhaps he knew I liked to ride motorcycles. I honestly don’t know. He was a very strange cat.
I had a friend named Elizabeth Ashley [she received a 1964 Golden Globe nomination for Best Supporting Actress for runaway box office smash The Carpetbaggers, later married her costar George Peppard, and joined the cast of Burt Reynolds’ Evening Shade TV series in the early 1990s] who knew him.
She once asked me, “How did you and Steve become friends?” “He pulled up in my driveway and introduced himself.” She replied, “Wow, that’s a trip.” I said, “Why do you think he did that?”
Elizabeth thought for a minute, saying, “I remember knowing about your reputation. A lot of men were afraid of you, a lot of women loved you, you were married to a beautiful woman, and you were on your way up in the industry. Steve might have been checking out the competition.”
[Lockwood gestures to various movie stills lying on his autograph table]…There’s an actor. Here’s another actor. Women loved me, you know what I’m saying? I kinda think I had a lot of talent. I was pretty good. I don’t wanna be too bold — I wasn’t Laurence Olivier, but I could play a lot of characters.
Elizabeth added, “Or maybe Steve heard about you beating up a famous karate guy named Jim Baker in a restaurant fight. The fact that you were a man’s man was probably why Steve wanted to meet you.”
I’m not trying to be macho or anything, but I was a real tough guy in those days. I was a cowboy — a bad mother *****r. I f ****d everybody’s wife and daughter. I beat up guys in bars. Actors were afraid of me. But don’t get me wrong, a lot of actors loved my ass.
If Jack Elam was alive and you asked him about Lockwood, he would go, “God, I love him” [Elam was an endearing character actor with an immobile left eye who appeared with Lockwood in Firecreek, a simmering 1968 Western starring Henry Fonda and James Stewart].
The late George Kennedy [e.g. Cool Hand Luke, Airport, Cahill U.S. Marshal, and The Naked Gun] would say the same thing. The real truth is — I’ll never know why Steve befriended me, but I’m glad he did.
In 1966 McQueen was nominated for an Academy Award for The Sand Pebbles but lost to Paul Scofield in A Man for All Seasons. How did he handle the defeat?
When Steve didn’t win the Oscar, he got very pissed off. No one had seen him for a couple of days. Neile called me up and said, “I can’t find Steve, and you’re the only guy who went to these weird haunts with him. Can you find him?”
Before I go any further, Neile is a beautiful and extremely smart woman. She was the power behind him. She was an exceptional singer and dancer when they met in New York in the mid-‘50s.
I got on my motorcycle and drove around all these places where I thought he might be — beer joints, Santa Paula, Fillmore…I didn’t know where the hell he was. Finally I went to Bud Ekins’ motorcycle shop, which was actually closer to my house than the other places.
I asked Bud, “Have you seen Steve?” And he said, “Yeah, he’s pretty f****d up. He’s outside in the street leaning against a wall.” So I walk out there, and I approach him. I blurted out, “Hey, what’s going on, man? I came here to find you because your old lady is worried about you.
You’re the most famous mother f****r in the business, but you’re a bad guy. And I’m a bad guy. We’re cowboys. People don’t like guys like you and me, don’t you know that? What makes you think the Academy people are gonna vote for you? We’re not members of the ‘Sweet Group of Beverly Hills.’ Plus you’ve got a great wife, Ferraris, Spyders, and 10 acres in Brentwood on the top of a hill.”
Steve hardly looked at me. I’m trying to reason with him, and all he would say was, “Leave me alone.” I put my hand dead center on his forehead [Lockwood readily demonstrates this on me], and I told him, “F**k you, then. You’re a god***n baby.” And I started to leave. It really pissed Steve off because he came after me. I heard him approaching, and I turned around.
I growled, “You wanna play in the big leagues now, is that it? I know you’ve been studying some karate. But I’m gonna rip your f*****g arms off and stick them up your ass if you f **k with me. I came here because I love you and I missed you and I felt badly and I thought I could help you. But you’re just too god***n ignorant to deal with.” And I walked away.
What happened was…I bruised his ego. By doing that, he thought that was f*****g with him and that I had went over the line. That incident caused a rift between us that lasted for years.
When did you next encounter McQueen?
In the late ’70s I went to Broadway to appear in a play. It seemed like everyone was coked out. I hated the situation, so I bailed out and returned to my home in Malibu. The community is a mecca for actors. You can be famous and go in a restaurant, and no one cares. Anthony Hopkins might be having coffee, and nobody will bother him, except on Sunday when the tourists come [laughs].
One afternoon I’m chattin’ up some good looking chick at a little deli called The Bagel, nestled along the Pacific Coast Highway. I look over and I see Steve. I didn’t recognize him — he was in his fat period. You know, not working out, a big beard, wearing a cap, real scruffy looking.
Steve gets up and starts to walk out. Suddenly, he stops and begins staring at me. Of course, then I recognize him [laughs]. I look at him, and I go, “Steve?” He does a cool move instead of speaking to me. I thought that was posing — ‘Yeah, it’s f *****g Steve.’ Whatever, he could have said something.
He walks across the street and gets in a primer pick-up truck with a big V-8 engine — vintage McQueen. And he drives away. This chick with me goes, “That was Steve McQueen?” I replied, “Yeah, it was.”
Surprisingly, Steve returns about 10 minutes later. He’s got something in his back pocket. I don’t know if it’s a gun or club. Steve walks across the street and comes up to me, saying, “I want to see you in the back.” I thought, ‘Okay, he wants to fight.’ I didn’t want to fight him, I was getting old [laughs].
He was certainly tough, but he wasn’t capable of beating me up. Nothing personal, but I beat up bad sons of b*****s in my day — football players, stunt guys. This movie actor is not going to be able to fight me.
I’m not saying he couldn’t hit and get lucky, but if he had a weapon, that was another story. It scared me a little bit, because I didn’t know. If I was losing the fight, maybe he would have pulled out a gun and shot me. Steve was a strange guy.
Anyway, I get up and follow him out back. The whole time I’m thinking about clocking him from behind in case he has a weapon. When we got to the rear, he turns and spits out, “You’re a f****n’ bully.”
Bewildered, I shot back, “I’m a bully?! Can you name one person I ever hit first or anybody in the business that didn’t fool with me first that I didn’t kick the s**t out of them? What is with you? That whole incident when we were younger was me trying to help you. Now you wanna fight me, and we’re gonna settle — settle what? I’ve never done anything bad to you.”
Steve appeared to be taken aback a little. “Alright then, so I got it wrong?,” I said, “Yeah, you got it wrong. You got it wrong.” He walked right past me, but then he stopped about 8 or 10 feet away from me. He turns around and goes, “In six months you’ll know why I’m being weird.” I knew right there that he had cancer. Or at least that was my guess.
Did you see him after his cancer diagnosis?
Here’s what happened. Steve went down to Mexico for cancer treatment. They were giving him ground-up apricot pits, basically taking his money. I thought, ‘He’s gonna die, and I need to say goodbye to him.’
And I went to the Plaza Santa Maria. I kinda bribed the people when I said, “Look, I’m the movie star, Gary Lockwood. I have to see my pal.” They were going, “Maybe we can cure him.” But that was bulls **t.
I think Steve only weighed 140 pounds when I saw him that day. He had lost 40 or 50 pounds since our last encounter. He kinda acknowledged me, but he could barely communicate. I knew I was making him uncomfortable, so I just motioned and left. It was very sad.
Looking back, how do you remember your friendship with McQueen?
I’ll be honest with you, no matter what my problems were with him, I loved the guy. Steve, like so many that I ran with, including Jim Morrison, died way too young. I’ve kinda outlived everybody. I’m 80 years old, and I’m constantly thinking, ‘S**t, when is my time up?’ You just don’t know.
Steve and I had a lot of great times together, and he was one of my best friends. I’d go motorcycle riding with him. Christ, he could make a motorcycle talk. He was the most brilliant motorcycle rider I ever saw, other than Bud Ekins. And he was a great racecar driver.
He was just about the coolest, most charismatic actor that ever lived, onscreen. He was the real stuff. Believe me, Steve had the world by the ass.
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Exclusive Interview: “It’s very strange when people mention, ‘Oh, you were married to Steve McQueen?’” confesses Barbara Minty McQueen in her most comprehensive interview thus far. “He was such a normal guy and unlike most Hollywood stars that I often say, ‘I could have just as easily been married to a plumber or electrician.’” Erase any preconceived notions — Minty isn’t your typical self-absorbed former supermodel. Before she married the quintessential action movie icon, Minty was the proud daughter of a tough as nails dairy farmer. She graciously shares her serendipitous journey from Oregon farm girl to Malibu princess in “The Definitive Account of Barbara Minty’s Love Affair with Bad Boy Steve McQueen.”
Exclusive Interview No. 2: Steve McQueen had an unconfirmed half-sister for six decades. Dogged researcher Marshall Terrill, author of five critically acclaimed tomes examining the intense life and career of the King of Cool, revealed Teri McQueen’s identity to the world in his 2010 biography, Steve McQueen: The Life and Legend of a Hollywood Icon. In “Distance Makes No Difference with Love,” Teri painstakingly relives her miserable childhood exacerbated by alcoholic, often resentful parents who shuttled her back and forth to various temporary homes when they couldn’t live together anymore. Pregnant at age 15 and working at Woolworth’s five and dime store after lying about her age, Teri’s hard-scrabble beginnings ironically mirrored much of her brother’s rebellious adolescence. As the tried and true adage plainly says, Teri’s experiences are definitely a page turner.
Exclusive Interview No. 3: Actress Lee Purcell was a familiar face to cinema enthusiasts in the ’70s and ’80s, appearing in such popular films as Charles Bronson’s action flick Mr. Majestyk, the cult surfing drama Big Wednesday, the high school dramedy Almost Summer, and Nicolas Cage’s breakout movie, Valley Girl. Incidentally, her first film was Adam at 6 A.M., only the second starring role for the phenomenal Michael Douglas. Produced by Steve McQueen’s Solar Productions, Adam at 6 A.M. slipped by with relatively little notice in 1970. In an in-depth commentary marking the anniversary of McQueen’s passing, Purcell remembers her mentor with a fiery passion, including the time he took her on a 100-mile-per-hour cruise in his Porsche down the bustling streets of Los Angeles.
Exclusive Interview No. 4: 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.
Exclusive Interview No. 5: Dirty Dozen action star Lee Marvin made many a cowboy hero quiver in their dusty boots, including drinking pal John Wayne in The Comancheros and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. In “Battle Scars and Violent Interludes: Point Blank with Definitive Antihero Lee Marvin’s Biographer”, author Dwayne Epstein focuses on Marvin’s World War II experiences, revealing why he believes Marvin suffered from undiagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder. He also presents the venerable tough guy’s surprising connection to Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now, why one of his favorite projects, Hell in the Pacific, is a bold, experimental failure, and the chilling tale of a Silver Star recipient and future Marvin co-star who briefly wound up in a California mental hospital.
Exclusive Interview No. 6: Imposing, intelligent, battle-scarred hombre Richard Boone rose to fame as the star of CBS’ iconic Western series Have Gun — Will Travel. Boone was a multifaceted individual who experienced frightening Kamikaze attacks and hand-to-hand combat during World War II. The gruff cowboy was capable of gregarious carousing one evening while attending opera or art gallery openings the next. Biographer David Rothel took it upon himself to shine a light upon the thespian’s varied life and career. Fortunately, yours truly convinced Rothel to undertake his first Boone-centric interview, “A Knight Without Armor in a Savage Land: Saluting Erudite Tough Guy Richard Boone”, in well over a decade.
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