King of Cool
IN THIS EXCERPT FROM ‘STEVE McQUEEN: FULL-THROTTLE COOL,’ WRITER DWIGHT JON ZIMMERMAN AND ARTIST GREG SCOTT OFFER GLIMPSE OF CLASSIC MOVIE
AUTHOR EXPLAINS HOW ACTOR TAPPED INTO DREAMS AND FOUND A PERMANENT HOME IN HOLLYWOOD MYTHOLOGY
Interview by Hector Cantú
Dwight Jon Zimmerman vaguely remembers Wanted: Dead or Alive, the 1950s TV series that launched Steve McQueen’s career. “Westerns were big back then,” says Zimmerman, 63, “and I was more of a Gunsmoke and Rawhide fan.”
Things changed after the 1958 release of The Blob, McQueen’s first leading role in a movie. “I was a big science-fiction fan back then,” he says, “and being a little kid, I really enjoyed the movie.”
Fifty-five years later, Zimmerman, a best-selling and award-winning author, has penned Steve McQueen: Full-Throttle Cool, the actor’s life story told in graphic-novel format, covering McQueen’s earliest years in Indiana to his death in 1980 from mesothelioma. Greg Scott, who’s worked for Marvel and DC Comics, did the art.
Zimmerman, co-author with Bill O’Reilly of The New York Times bestseller Lincoln’s Last Days, spoke to us about the legendary actor and why his legacy lives on.
When did you first become aware of Steve McQueen?
I definitely remember the movies The Blob, The Magnificent Seven and The Great Escape. I was 5, 7 and 10 years old, respectively. I loved those films and thought he was great.
What are your favorite movie memories of McQueen?
In Magnificent Seven, to the best of my recollection, I liked his quiet confidence – he was a man of action, not words. I liked Westerns and I thought this was one of the best of the genre. In Great Escape, two things stood out. The most vivid, obviously, was the climactic motorcycle scene. The other was the “Cooler King” baseball routine. And, in doing research for my graphic biography, I discovered that these character-driven bits were suggested by him. Smart work!
Can you explain the racing aspect of his life?
It appears he was born with that passion. As he so famously said, “I’m not sure whether I’m an actor who races or a racer who acts.” The earliest stories of him racing were when he was a child riding tricycles. He would race his friends for gumdrops – and win. When he got older, he raced motorcycles and eventually cars as well.
Why do you think that 37 years after his death, he remains one of Hollywood’s legendary personalities?
What a great question! In so many ways, he was a larger-than-life personality. On-screen, he had a magnetic quality that either exists in an actor or doesn’t. It also helped that he was in so many great films. Even his commercial failure, Le Mans, became an acclaimed classic. He was also very successful in two demanding careers: acting and racing. It didn’t hurt that he was racing at a time when it did not have all the safety protocols that are now in place. Racing still is a dangerous sport, but back then it was even more deadly. I think, also, that in the way he lived his life, both on and off screen, in how he did what he did, he managed to tap into or represent dreams so many men had, and do it in a way that fascinated and attracted women. Many men try, but few succeed. He was one who did – and still does.
Where do you think McQueen ranks among Hollywood legends? Who are his peers?
Tough questions to answer. During his lifetime, he wound up being compared to Paul Newman. That was not something I personally would have done. My opinion is that the closest comparison, with respect to career, is that of Clint Eastwood. Both did definitive Westerns, both did definitive San Francisco crime dramas, both did a wide variety of different-themed movies that were notable works. Attempts to numerically rank him among the pantheon of top male actors is one of those enjoyable table-talk discussions. Certainly he’s in the top 50 of iconic male actors. Where exactly? Well, pull up a chair, order a beer and let’s talk!
UPCOMING AUCTION INCLUDES MORE THAN 25 LOTS ONCE HELD BY THE LEGENDARY ACTOR
Heritage Auctions’ entertainment auction is a unique chance for fans of Steve McQueen to bid on items once owned by Hollywood’s leading man. “McQueen’s tough-but-tender roughness and an aching vulnerability made him one of the biggest stars to ever emerge from Hollywood,” says Heritage entertainment specialist Garry Shrum. “Nearly 30 years after losing his battle against cancer, he remains one of the world’s most popular personalities.” Thirty items once owned by the film star, and most recently held in a private collection, are included in the upcoming auction.