A recent auction of show business memorabilia recalled a time when Steve McQueen was one of Hollywood's biggest stars. Mike O'Sullivan spoke with McQueen's former wife about the mementos from her attic and her memories of the actor.
A 2008 commemorative Ford Mustang inspired by McQueen's 1968 film Bullitt sold for $60,000. His U.S. passport sold for $9,000.
The sale, at the auction house Bonhams & Butterfields, brought $19,000 for the shotgun the actor used in the film The Getaway.
Steve McQueen was known for such movie hits as The Great Escape, an action-packed war film that featured McQueen making a dramatic escape from a German prison camp.
In Le Mans, he portrayed a driver in the celebrated French auto race. McQueen was an avid racer and did many of his own driving scenes, deferring to his stuntman only when directors insisted. McQueen did much of the motorcycle riding for The Great Escape. Stuntman Bud Ekins took over to do a dramatic jump over a barbed wire fence. Ekins also did much of the wild driving through the streets of San Francisco in Bullitt, after filmmakers worried that the star might be injured.
McQueen first gained fame on a weekly television series, playing a Western bounty hunter in the 1958 program Wanted: Dead or Alive.
He went to act in such classic films as the star-studded Western The Magnificent Seven, and the disaster epic The Towering Inferno.
McQueen's ex-wife, Neile Adams, got the idea for the sale of Hollywood mementos after she watched a DVD of The Thomas Crown Affair, the 1968 crime thriller starring McQueen and Faye Dunaway. In a romantic scene, they were drinking from brandy glasses.
"Something clicked in my head, and I said I have those somewhere," said Neile Adams. "And I ran downstairs to the basement and started rummaging around and there they were. Because Steve loved to walk off the set, if he liked something, he'd just walk off the set and he'd say, 'Look what I brought you, honey."
Those glasses brought $3,200 at auction.
The handgun that McQueen used to practice his cowboy quick draw sold for $6,000. Adams recalls it once gave her a good scare.
"And at that time, Westerns were very big," she said. "He used to just practice with that gun. And he thought it was empty, and I just was walking in from the grocery store. Well, he didn't realize that there was still a bullet in there. And I walked in and 'bam,' it went right through the grocery bag. And I dropped it and went on the floor. I said, 'Are you trying to kill me?'"
McQueen always had his wild side. He had a troubled childhood and spent time in a California home for problem youngsters. That experience, and a later stint in the U.S. Marine Corps, instilled some discipline, and his good looks and natural talent would make him a movie icon.
Adams has told the story in the book My Husband, My Friend. She recalls that the two met in New York City when he was a struggling actor and she was a Broadway dancer. They were married for 15 years before they divorced. But Adams says they remained good friends. She recalls the actor as funny and charming, but moody.
"You could take a dictionary, and every adjective would apply to him," she said. "He was charming. He was darling. He was adorable. He was a pain the neck. He was mean. He was everything."
Steve McQueen's good looks, cool manner and strong presence on the screen brought him international fame. He left a legacy of dozens of Hollywood movies and many mementos, some of which are now in the hands of movie fans. He died of cancer in 1980 at the age of 50.