And while both types of profiles are honorable (let’s be real, most people I know would rather watch some jackass get hit in the nuts than have to read all this text — it’s instant satisfaction), we feel that it is time to honor one of the most badass, most talented actors of all time in a series we’ll be calling 5 Things You Didn’t Know.
This week we’re profiling the late, the great — Steve McQueen.
While in Munich, Germany shooting The Great Escape, Steve McQueen got in a daily habit of racing in his Mercedes to his call location, all the while being closely tailed by German Police.
The result? By the time the film wrapped, he had almost been thrown in jail, wrapped his car around a tree, and Police had issued McQueen 37 speeding tickets, all of which helped contribute to his already badass image.
McQueen was an avid car and motorcycle racer. While he studied acting, McQueen raced on weekends and bought his first motorcycle with his winnings. He is recognized for doing most of his own stunts — most noticeably the stunt driving in Bullitt.
McQueen also did the stunt motorcycle riding in his escape during The Great Escape, during which he also plays a Nazi pursuing himself.
In 1947, McQueen joined the United States Marine Corps and was quickly promoted to Private First Class and assigned to an armored unit. McQueen was a rebellious soldier and as a result was demoted to private seven times. He went UA (unauthorized absence) by failing to return after a weekend pass had expired. He instead stayed away with a girlfriend for two weeks, until the shore patrol caught him. He resisted arrest and as a result spent 41 days in the brig.
After hitting rock bottom, McQueen resolved to focus his energies on self-improvement and attempted to embrace the discipline of the Marines. He saved the lives of five other Marines during an Arctic exercise, pulling them from a tank before it broke through ice into the sea. He was also assigned to an honor guard responsible for guarding then-U.S. President Harry Truman’s yacht. McQueen served until 1950 when he was honorably discharged.
Steve McQueen was offered but turned down roles in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Ocean’s Eleven, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (his attorneys and agents couldn’t agree with Paul Newman’s attorneys and agents on who got top billing), The Driver, Apocalypse Now, California Split, Dirty Harry and The French Connection.
He was also considered for Richard Dreyfyus’ role in Close Encounters of the Third Kind and met with Steven Spielberg at a bar to discuss the project. After pounding beer after beer, McQueen told Spielberg that he could not accept the role because he was unable to cry on cue.
McQueen had a reputation for demanding free gifts in bulk from studios upon signing on to do a film. He frequently asked for electric razors, denim jeans and several other products.
It was later discovered that McQueen demanded these items because he was donating them to the Boy’s Republic reformatory school for displaced youth, the same school he had attended years earlier. McQueen frequented the school even after his success to chat with the kids about his experiences and to act as a mentor to those who lacked direction.