TCM Summer Under the Stars: Day Fourteen — Steve McQueen

The King of Cool.

I had a conversation the other day with an old movie pal, and he happened to mention that he didn’t understand the appeal of Steve McQueen.

“He was cool,” I told him, trying but failing to keep the tone of incredulity out of my voice. “He was just cool.”


Terrence Stephen McQueen was born on March 24, 1930, in Beech Grove, Indiana, a suburb of Indianapolis. His father, a barnstorming pilot, left his son and wife, Julian, when Steve was six months old. During his adolescence, Steve bounced between his uncle’s farm in Slater, Missouri, and the home of his mother and his new stepfather in Los Angeles. Unfortunately, his stepfather had a violent streak, and beat Steve on numerous occasions, once even throwing him down a flight of steps. Steve began hanging around with a local gang and committing petty crimes.

Shortly before his 15th birthday, Steve was sent to the Boys Republic in Chino, California, a school and treatment center for troubled youngsters. The actor later credited the school with setting him back on the right path. After his release, he planned to rejoin his mother, only to learn that his mother had a new boyfriend and expected Steve to live with a neighbor. When he was 17, Steve joined the Marines. He got into a bit of trouble at the outset, but he was honorably discharged in 1950.

Young Steve.

Using funds provided through the G.I. Bill, Steve began taking acting lessons at Sanford Meisner’s Neighborhood Playhouse in New York. (Actor/director Mark Rydell, who met Steve around this time, said that Steve was torn between using his G.I. Bill money for an acting school or to learn to lay bathroom tile. He chose acting, Rydell said, because “there were women in the acting profession”). After a few small roles on stage and TV over the next few years, Steve made his Broadway debut in 1955 in the play A Hatful of Rain. He was fired from the play after six weeks, but he was seen in a bit part the following year in his big screen debut, Somebody Up There Likes Me, and two years later, he starred in the sci-fi cult classic The Blob (1958).


  • Notwithstanding the popularity of The Blob, Steve’s real big break came when he was cast in the lead of a TV western, Wanted Dead or Alive.
  • Steve was offered a role in The Magnificent Seven (1960), but the shooting schedule conflicted with his TV series and the producers of Wanted wouldn’t release him. Determined to take the film part, Steve crashed his car into the side of a bank, faked a neck injury so he would be given time off, and then hightailed it to Mexico to film The Magnificent Seven.

    The actor frequently returned to Boys Republic to speak with the students there.

  • Steve visited the Boys Republic several times a year to make a donation and talk with the students about the impact the school had on his life.
  • Steve received his only Academy Award nomination for The Sand Pebbles (1967). He lost to Paul Scofield in A Man for All Seasons.
  • Steve was diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma in December 1979 and died less than a year later. He was 50 years old. His cancer was linked to asbestos exposure from the time he spent in the military.


See Papillon.

I’ve never seen the films that TCM is airing on TCM day, but I’ve always wanted to see Papillon (1973), so I’m making that film my pick. The film focuses on two criminals who plot their escape from the island on which they are imprisoned.  I’m looking forward to finally seeing it. If you have any other recommendations, please share with the group!

And join me for Day 15 of Summer Under the Stars!

~ by shadowsandsatin on August 13, 2020.

4 Responses to “TCM Summer Under the Stars: Day Fourteen — Steve McQueen”

  1. The Great Escape is a must-see. Please do record it for your viewing pleasure.

    The Sand Pebbles is easily the most engrossing and most depressing movie you will ever see. Record at your peril.

    • Thank you for the tips, Paddy! I’d actually initially put The Great Escape as my pick of the day, but changed my mind at the last minute. I will most definitely check it out. And I think I will steer clear of The Sand Pebbles. Goodness knows I don’t need to be watching anything depressing right now! (But I’m incredibly curious, too!)

    • Just wanted to add that after your comment, I went to Wikipedia and read about The Sand Pebbles. Good grief! I will definitely be steering clear of that one — reading about it was bad enough!

  2. […] Day 14: Steve McQueen […]

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