…or as my generation knew him, Joe Fucking Cool.
Steve McQueen would have been eighty years old today, and that just doesn’t seem possible. Nor does the fact that he died thirty years ago, a month before John Lennon was murdered. Needless to say, that was one tough winter. Steve was never a kid and was never old – he was always a man. He was always the man. Even when the guy got busted, he was cool enough to flash the peace sign. That’s cool.
He got his start on TV like so many actors did then – many of the best writers were feeding scripts to anthology series and live stage productions. In the midst of his run on Wanted Dead Or Alive he got a great break in one of the best Westerns ever made – The Magnificent Seven. After that, it was on!
Women were drawn to him, and why not? Here was a guy who did what he wanted to do, made the movies he wanted to make, and said more by saying less. And men – well, they wanted to be him, especially fellow actors. Every man who wanted to play a more subtle kind of cool – when a Brando take would be too over the top – echoed his poise. Hell, Kevin Costner has spent a career trying to be Steve McQueen.
He did his own stunts and raced his own cars. He was instrumental in getting LeMans made when few had the passion for racing or thought it could be captured properly on film.
Bullitt might be famous for the great car chase, but Steve’s performance is top-notch. Matched up against his Magnificent Seven buddy Robert Vaughn, he is serious, relentless, unflappable. Peter Yates proved to be the perfect director, and the cast and script were stellar. It is so taut and mesmerizing that you might need to see it a second time just to catch the subtle nuances of the plot…but even if you miss a few things the first time you will not feel cheated. But it was McQueen who was the thread; if you didn’t buy his character, you wouldn’t see the film through his eyes. And that was the core of the magic.
His career, for all intents and purposes, spanned fifteen years. Before and after he made flicks like The Blob and The Towering Inferno, but during his run he was something special and unique. In the 70’s, followers like Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino and Gene Hackman found their footing and picked up the ball, showing the industry what great actors with discerning tastes could really do.
Had Steve McQueen lived, I like to think he would have been like Gene Hackman – an actor’s actor. Instead, dead at fifty. We’ll never know.
But we have do his legacy. Soak up The Sand Pebbles or Papillon. Revel in the revenge western Nevada Smith. See why remaking The Getaway was unnecessary. Be cool.
Steve McQueen’s IMDB page