Have you notice lately the outrageous things people will do just to be seen on TV?--- They line up by the thousands for a chance at shows like Fear Factor, The Contender, Amazing Race, Apprentice, and Survivor. Even though they will be insulted, humiliated, raced through fire and mud and made to eat ugly little wormy crawly things, this is all OK. All they want is to be somebody—a contender. Fame and celebrity and all that goes with it.
Compare these neo-celebrities to all the Paris Hilton look-a-likes, and it would appear that fame has never been easier to achieve. It proves that Andy Worhol was right. Everyone does want their 15-minutes of fame after all. However, there is a downside. Put most of these neo-celebs in a police line-up tomorrow and you most likely wouldn’t be able to tell one from the other. Fame doesn’t always last the whole 15-minutes.
Then there’s Steve McQueen … a reel celebrity!
How did Steve McQueen get in this story? When I was trying to come up with a celebrity piece for my Blog page, I had an epiphany. I was trying out Kevin Bacon’s degrees of separation and it only took one move to get from “Blog” –to-- “The Blob” (Steve McQueen’s very first starring role). The title for my blog jumped in front of me like the Hollywood Sign on a smog-free night:
“THE BLOG” starring Steve McQueen.”
One way to pick up a few minutes of fame in Hollywood back in the 60s, was to get yourself a big motorcycle with lots of shiny chrome. Then, park it out in front of the famous Whiskey A-Go-Go and just sit on it. It was even better if you could get one of the Whiskey Go Go girls to sit behind you, high up on the back. This was the personification of “hip” and the big kick-start for the popularity of ordinary (instead of ornery) folks riding “bikes.” Back in the 50s, the perception of the people who rode motorcycles was created right out of Marlon Brando’s “The Wild One.” Scruffy, mostly imbecilic gangs, that rode into town on their “hogs” to rape all the women and destroy the town square (no pun intended); a seedy bunch that no self-respecting citizen would ever want to emulate.
1963’s “The Great Escape,” starring Steve McQueen, was a turning point. One mighty leap over that prison wall and the Hollywood crowd jumped right along. Everyone wanted to be Steve McQueen.
I’m not ashamed to admit that I was a member of the “Hollywood Angels.” We were a rather close-knit group. I bought my beautiful blue-tanked chrome-trimmed 1965 Triumph Bonneville from celebrity bike dealer and movie stunt coordinator Bud Ekins. Bud was the stunt person who actually made the “The Great Escape” jump and was
a close friend of McQueen. Not too many people were aware of this, but Steve was actually a championship motorcycle off-road racer himself. Because of studio insurance concerns, he raced with Bud Ekins’s 6-man All-American team and competed in the International Six Days Trial in Germany under the pseudonym of Harvey Mushman.
A good friend and neighbor, actor Don Gordon, introduced me to Steve. Don played Steve’s cop partner in the film Bullitt and also had a starring role next to Steve in Papillon. Don invited me to visit the Bullitt set in San Francisco and that’s where I met Steve McQueen.
At the time, I was living on Mulholland drive, high up in the Hollywood Hills. Mulholland’s sweeping deadman curves went for miles above Los Angeles and presented a great challenge for a motorcyclist like Steve.
One Evening, Steve and Don Gordon showed up at my door. They wanted to know if I could come out and play. It was as if I was 10 years old again and my pals were asking me to come out and play ball or catch lightning bugs or something. There would be no ball game tonight though. They had their bikes parked at my front curb and I was out the door in a shot.
What a night to remember. We rode high above the sparkling lights of Hollywood all the way to Latigo Canyon, which led us down to the Pacific Coast highway and soon we were cruising along accompanied by the beautiful sound of muted mufflers and pounding surf bouncing off the sandy Santa Monica beaches. No one said a word. It was a warm breezy moon-bright night; filled with the wind-in-your-face joy only a lover of motorcycles could possibly understand.
In Malibu, hunger started to kick in, and we turned in to the first restaurant we saw.
The tantalizing aroma of burgers cooking and onions frying filled the air; a scene typical of any hamburger joint you might encounter anywhere in the USA. Packed tightly with young people having a good time, no one bothered to look up as we chose a booth in the back of the room. However, after we sat down and ordered, I could faintly recognize what sounded like my name coming through the drone of the many conversations in the room. You know how you can make out certain words in other people’s conversations? Kind of like, “YadayadaLloydyadayadaThaxtonyada?” I followed the sound to a group of five teen-age boys sitting in a booth across the room.
Sure enough, a few minutes later, one of the boys got up and shyly approached our table. He carefully put down five torn-off pieces of paper on the table and asked, “Lloyd, could you sign these for me and my buddies?”
He never once looked over or acknowledged that Steve McQueen was sitting directly across from me. I signed my name to each paper. He thanked me and went back to his friends.
A few minutes later, I once again started to recognize familiar words. And, again I traced them coming from the same teen-ager’s booth. This time it was, “YadayadayadaSteve yadaMcQueenyada.” It wasn’t long until the same volunteer came back to our table and stood facing me while he laid down four new pieces of paper. He then politely asked, “Lloyd, could you please ask Mr. McQueen if he would give us his autograph?”
Why didn’t the teen-ager just ask Steve for his autograph like he had asked me? And, why did he call me “Lloyd,” while referring to Steve as, “Mr. McQueen?”
What we had here was one layer of celebrity being peeled off to expose the bigger layer. Steve McQueen, you see, was bigger than life. The Teen-ager saw Steve up there, 20 feet tall, on that huge movie screen. I, on the other hand, came right into his living room each day on his family’s small, more intimate, television screen. I was more like a good friend. I was his good buddy “Lloyd.” Steve was, well, “Mister McQueen.”
When the young man left and went back to his excited friends, neither Steve nor myself ever discussed what just took place. It was as if it was a most natural occurrence; something that might happen to anybody just sitting around having a burger and fries. Our previously interrupted conversation just picked up without missing a beat. We finished our burgers, got back on our bikes and rode off into the sunset. Sunset Boulevard.
Steve McQueen was one of the nicest guys I had ever met in Hollywood. He treated everyone with great respect. However, he always knew who and what he was. A few years after this ride-for-burgers outing, I was invited to an afternoon pool party at Steve’s beautiful home nestled in a rustic canyon off Sunset Blvd. His co-star in the film “The Sand Pebbles,” Sir Richard Attenborough, was in town and Steve was hosting a party to introduce him to his friends. At one point in the afternoon Steve asked if I would like to see a new bike he had just purchased (by this time his collection included over a hundred and fifty new and antique motorcycles).
As we were looking at his fantastic new toy, I asked, “Are you still a member of the International off-road racing team?” He answered, with genuine sincerity, “No, that’s all behind me. From now on I’m going to concentrate on being a movie star.” Notice he didn’t say, movie “actor.” Though he was a remarkable actor, he knew he was more than that. He knew he was a star. He knew he was … Mr. McQueen.