Steve McQueen, Paul Newman, & John Wayne: A Chat With Author Marshall Terrill
November 2010 has been a bittersweet month for Steve McQueen fans, as he succumbed to mesothelioma exactly thirty years ago at only fifty years old. Fortunately, today the occasion has been marked with an ongoing series of revealing interviews with McQueen biographer Marshall Terrill, who also has a new McQueen biography, Steve McQueen: The Life and Legend of a Hollywood Icon.
Terrell is a reporter in the truest sense of the word, and although he is a McQueen fan, he doesn't whitewash any details of the actor's interesting life. Throughout November, Terrill has been in a whirlwind of promotional activities, with an upcoming trip to Japan occurring between Nov. 20--28th, with McQueen's widow, Barbara, in attendance as well.
And now, here is Part Five. If you missed anything, click here to go back to Part Four, focusing on McQueen's mesothelioma battle and its aftermath.
Tidbits you won't want to miss below include McQueen and John Wayne backstage at an awards ceremony, McQueen's relationship with Paul Newman (on and off the screen), and the film, among others, that McQueen shouldn't have turned down.
Did McQueen ever regret passing on Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, then going on to make The Reivers?
I have never heard any stories saying McQueen regretted turning down Butch Cassidy. In his mind, if he didn't get top billing, then there was nothing else to discuss.
Personally, I would have loved to have seen him in this role...it was so perfect for McQueen, and I believe he was short-sighted about the star billing. He would have also been excellent in Apocalypse Now, The Bodyguard, The Driver, and A Bridge Too Far.
The film I regret seeing him turn down the most was director William Friedkin's The Sorcerer. That's a very good film with Roy Scheider in the lead role, but McQueen would have given it another dimension and made it a classic.
Friedkin (The French Connection, The Exorcist) would have pushed McQueen to greatness on that film. It's a shame that he didn't make that movie, because right around the time he did An Enemy of the People in 1977, he could have used a box-office hit.
Concerning McQueen’s co-stars, who in your opinion got the best performance out of him?
I'd have to say off the top of my head Dustin Hoffman forPapillon; Faye Dunaway for The Thomas Crown Affair; Edward G. Robinson for The Cincinnati Kid and Robert Preston for Junior Bonner.
McQueen did his best work when he knew he was going up against someone formidable. And he was especially amped when acting opposite Paul Newman in The Towering Inferno.
Paul Newman & McQueen. Please talk about their relationship on and off the screen.
Psychologist Peter O. Whitmer believes that Steve had what he called a “weird professional sibling rivalry” with Newman. Whitmer thinks it stemmed from the fact that Steve never had a brother with whom to go through this rite of adolescent passage, and that Newman fit the bill.
I believe they liked each other as people, but Steve was jealous that Newman got to the top much quicker than he did. This rivalry manifested itself again on Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid when Steve refused to do the movie based on the grounds that he would not get top billing.
It finally came to a close when McQueen finally got top billing and the more dominating part in The Towering Inferno. Let me point out it wasn’t a one-way street – according to a few new accounts, Newman also made sure to guard his territory.
Inferno screenwriter Stirling Silliphant told a very funny story about how the two stars went back and forth with him regarding their lines, and sneaking behind each other’s backs but never directly confronting the other.
I'm particularly interested in interviews with Newman after McQueen's death; what did Newman think of McQueen in retrospect?
That’s a very interesting question because I’ve never come across an article or interview where Newman commented on the record about McQueen either during his lifetime or after his death. I find this very telling given that Neman lived almost 30 years after McQueen passed away.
There is a relatively new book out by Newman's lifelong friend, A.E. Hotchner, called Paul and Me. Hotchner writes about visiting Newman on the set of The Towering Inferno. He said that Newman was very unhappy with himself and McQueen, going so far as to call him “chicken shit” for counting up the lines in the screenplay and demanding parity.
This proves what I’ve always felt about superstars: there’s no room at the top for anyone else. Look at Elvis Presley and Michael Jackson – who were their best friends? The answer is nobody.
Is there a John Wayne/McQueen story that comes to mind? Were they friends or perhaps acquaintances?
McQueen greatly respected John Wayne and held him up as the gold standard for movie stars. I remember hearing a story most recently from Barbara McQueen. She was looking over pictures in Steve McQueen: A Tribute to the King of Cool and spotted the two pictures of McQueen and Wayne.
She chuckled and then told me this great story. She said the two legends were at an awards ceremony in the 1960s and were either presenters or co-presenters. They were hanging out backstage, waiting to go on, when Wayne didn’t feel like going to the restroom or there wasn’t enough time to find a restroom, and so Wayne took a leak against a wall or curtain.
She said that Steve started laughing and joined in, also relieving himself. Barbara said Steve remembered the encounter with a huge smile. After we both finished laughing, I said, “Oh, why did you have to tell me that storyafter the book was published?”
To be continued......
To follow writer Jeremy Roberts on Twitter, visit @jeremylr.