Stories and insight in the world of showbiz and beyond.

Monday, February 19, 2007

STEVE MCQUEEN REDUX

In case you are wondering what happened to “THE CONFESSIONS OF A HAS-BEEN” that I‘ve been promising for about a week, I decided I just wasn’t ready to confess yet. Actually, I’ve been working on some other projects and haven’t had time to really bare my sole.

I’ll do it! I’ll do it! But, in the meantime, I decided to do a Steve McQueen redux. When I started my blog over 14 months ago, one of my first stories was about my friend Steve McQueen. I figured that because so many cliquers have joined the Mouse Clique (Rat Pack for BlogSpotters) since this original mouse roared, they might have missed it.

It was the new Pixar movie “CARS” that really tipped my hand to repeat the story. The lead character in “CARS” is a sporty race car named Lightning McQueen. Like a lot of people, I thought they were talking about Steve McQueen. That is, until I did a little research.

According to Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, “The car named McQueen was a reference to Glenn McQueen, a Pixar animator who died in 2002.

However, when I see Lightning McQueen speeding down the road in “Cars.” I can’t help seeing Steve McQueen speeding around those hair-pen turns in the movie “Bullitt.”

And that’s why I want to repeat my favorite Steve McQueen story.

As the “THE BLOB” was Steve’s first starring role in a movie, I decided to call my story,

“THE BLOG” starring Steve McQueen.”

I took the above picture of Steve McQueen and Don Gordon just before we started out on one of our motorcycle rides. This was not too long after the movie Bullitt came out. Don Gordon, shown on the left, played Steve McQueen’s police partner in Bullitt.

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 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 (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.

My good friend and neighbor, actor Don Gordon, introduced me to Steve. Besides playing Steve’s cop partner in Bullitt Don 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 … Mister McQueen.

Stay tuned.

7 Comments:

Blogger Gary said...

GREAT story, Mr. Thaxton! Too bad Steve isn't around to share his tales with us on the blog. I bet he had TONS of them!
I laughed when you talked about Mulholland Drive as I have been on that road and it is a dizzying ride, for sure!
One thing about Mr. McQ.....he was definitely more than just an "actor".....we ALL knew he was a STAR, in a class all his own, IMHO. He is missed by all.....
NEXT!
Gary

6:31 PM

 
Blogger Lloyd Thaxton said...

I hope you all noted that Gary just referred to me as Mr. Thaxton. What a cool thinking guy.

I think I'll go out now and wish upon a star.

All together now: When you wish upon a star, makes no difference who you are ...

9:23 PM

 
Blogger THE ROCK RELIC said...

Lloyd, Steve McQueen was lightning personified. It's interesting to note the impression that he left in Britain, especially among groups like the Beatles, Stones, etc.
Many have emulated, but none have duplicated the man ...
Years ago, back when the Rock Relic was just a Pebble and New, I remember Steve doing a live Western on television. Of course, one of the big hooks with THAT (and I think producers knew it) was to get viewers glued to their sets in case there were any flubbed lines, etc. But, not only did Steve pull it off perfectly, he made the viewer feel that it was all REAL! The man had emotive power rivaled only (and narrowly) by James Dean.
Yes, he's DEFINITELY missed by all ... not just as an actor, but, more importantly, the epitome of a true, emotive, thought-provoking human adventure!

10:26 AM

 
Blogger Marshall Terrill said...

Mr. Thaxton,

My name is Marshall Terrill and I'm collecting stories and photos such as yours for a Steve McQueen tribute book. This is such a wonderful passage that I would like to get in touch with you and get your permission to use it for my book. You can reach me at marshzoe@aol.com or call me at (480) 332-7554. Best regards, Marshall

9:09 PM

 
Anonymous stevefan said...

Great blog you have mr. Thaxton. My name is Panos and I live in Greece. I am a fan of STEVE McQUEEN and I love hearing stories about the cars and Bikes of a legeng such as Steve. I like cars and bikes as well. In the recent years after Steve's death I have not found anyone except a few actors that had the charisma and presence of Steve's in the big screen.

Thanks

Panos

3:33 AM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

One could argue that the opening sequence where Lightning McQueen jumps all of the other race cars pays homage to that infamous... no... immortal scene from the Great Escape where Steve jumps the fence on the motorcycle.

9:52 PM

 
Blogger Shiloh said...

Steve McQueen is more than an actor/racer,.More than just the word Star as well.The thing is that he doesnt diminish with time.He grows,larger and larger as we remember him.I wonder,if he were able to see how much he is loved even now,what he would think. I still love him oodles.When I was a 17 yr old girl,my parents played country music in a bar in Prescott.Down on what's now known as Whiskey Row.During that time,several of the crew that were filming Junior Bonner came in.I always was there with my parents when they played at night.They never left me with babysitters.So,I can remember Steve McQueen,along with a few others coming in,and my dad took me over to the bar,where he was. I was entirely weak kneed,talking to him. I swear,I've been in love with that guy every since,and when I think of him,like I said,he seems to get larger as time goes on.

3:43 AM

 

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