New books about Steve McQueen


Steve McQueen:

The Great Escape

Wes D. Gehrig


Historical Society Press, $19.95

2 stars

Steve McQueen:

Tribute to the

King of Cool

Marshall Terrill

Dalton Warson

Fine Books, $55.00

4 stars

People joke

about running away and joining the circus – Steve McQueen did it. He also

worked in brothels and enlisted in the Marines, where he did an undistinguished

tour of duty. Eventually he wound up in New York City, where he turned to

acting because, he claimed, he liked the hours. He was admitted into the prestigious

Actors' Studio, not so much for his ability, as for his presence, a certain

something that no one could deny. That presence made McQueen a screen icon that

still resonates today, 30 years after his death from mesothelioma in a Mexican

clinic. McQueen's Indianapolis connection (he was born in Beech Grove and spent

part of his boyhood here), while tenuous and ambivalent, is nevertheless real

enough for us to have a claim. You can see it in his face. The kid who works on

your car, paves your driveway or paints your house. We may not have mountains

or a seashore, but, blown to Mt. Rushmore proportions and projected on screens

around the world, we know that face. Two new books keep McQueen's story in

front of anyone who cares to explore it. The first is Steve McQueen: The

Great Escape, By Ball State

film studies professor Wes D. Gehrig. Gehrig's book takes its title not just

from the John Sturges film that helped make McQueen a major star, but from

remarks McQueen made throughout his life about how his career enabled him to

get free of his dead-end past. Almost. What Gehrig makes clear is that McQueen

never really escaped his troubled upbringing; he was haunted by demons that

manifested themselves through outrageously paranoid behavior, including the

abuse of women in his life. But this is a well-trod path. Gehrig, in

cut-and-paste prose, brings very little that's new to the McQueen story, either

by way of new information or, apart from an outlying appreciation for The

Reivers, critical insight. More

satisfying, especially for fans, is Marshall Terrill's coffeetable book, Steve

McQueen: A Tribute to the King of Cool.

Terrill has established himself as McQueen's official biographer and this

lavishly illustrated history is a warmer treatment of its subject's notoriously

prickly character. Terrill has collected brief remembrances from a panoply of

people in McQueen's life, many of whom were just glancing acquaintances. Thus,

in addition to the stories of McQueen being difficult, there are also numerous

anecdotes from everyday folks who encountered McQueen in various circumstances

(usually involving cars, motorcycles, airplanes or beer) and found him to be

gracious and generous. It's especially revealing regarding McQueen's "lost"

years, when, for much of the '70s, he dropped out of the business. Terrill's

book amounts to a vicarious reunion that McQueen aficionados will want to keep

alongside their DVDs.


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