When you lose someone close to you, especially a spouse, the pain is unbelievably intense. Barbara McQueen, widow of the late box office champion, has been to that brink, but she has learned to cope and move on with her life in the ensuing thirty years.
It wasn’t an easy transition, by no means. Barbara refused to grant interviews or make any appearances highlighting her relationship with Steve McQueen until 25 years after his passing. Fortunately for us, during her time with Steve in the late ’70s, she often kept her camera handy, taking hundreds of behind-the-scenes images with Steve’s full blessing.
Steve McQueen: The Last Mile presents those Kodak moments in full blossom along with supplemental text. The book ultimately succeeded in enabling Barbara to come to terms with Steve’s legacy.
Regardless, the penultimate segment of her interview can be found below. If you missed any previous entries of Barbara’s always-entertaining, straight from the hip storytelling, you’re in luck, as you can start catching up here.
In fact, the last time we chatted, we spotlighted Barbara’s memories relating to Steve’s newly-found Christianity, how Steve asked Barbara’s dad for her hand in marriage, the day of their marriage involving a chicken coop and a dozen eggs, how Steve apologized after an argument, and Steve’s friendship with Grady Ragsdale.
Today, we move onto a sometimes painful area: Barbara’s life without Steve. She talks about the activities she pursued in order to cope, why she quit flying, if she ever returns to their Santa Paula airplane hangar, how she met her co-author and good friend, Marshall Terrill, and a humorous, recent story about sleeping overnight in a friend’s hangar with a fussy companion.
The Barbara Minty McQueen Interview, Part Eight
What do those final images of Steve from late spring 1980 mean to you?
That work shed was Steve’s reading place. Every single morning he’d sit out there, drink coffee, and read his paper by the open fire. Then the dogs and cats would crawl all over him. He knew he was sick then, but he was living in the moment.
How did you pick up the pieces of your life after Steve’s passing?
Actually, I don’t know what I did. You do what you do to emotionally get by and try to forget the pain. I began traveling, and I tried to learn to fly again, but my heart wasn’t in it.
I got back into horses; I played polo, which I absolutely adored. I went as far as I wanted to go, and I still admire the sport. I kept riding motorcycles, but I’m not the rider I used to be. Skiing was a great hobby, too.
It was a longer healing process than I probably would care to admit. To be honest, I’m still not over it. There are times when I’m cool and everything’s fine, but then all of a sudden, one day something will hit me in the face like a brick.
I have to sit down and regroup. Thirty years later, it’s still incredibly painful to talk about, but I know I am healing.
How did you meet Marshall Terrill, coauthor of The Last Mile?
I met him through Mimi Freedman, who directed the 2005 documentary The Essence of Cool. I’d like to see that again. I never watch any of those things I’m in, because I look so goofy and sound so silly. I was really impressed with his first book on McQueen, 1993’s Portrait of an American Rebel.
Marshall tells the truth. I didn’t know that much about Steve before I met him, so Marshall’s books (Rebel, A Tribute to the King of Cool, The Life and Legend of a Hollywood Icon)helped me figure out who the guy was before I met him. All I can say is that I got Steve at a very good time in his life.
Marshall feels like my little brother now as well as my mother. He’s a very detail-oriented person whereas I’m a free spirit, and that combination works well in our working relationship and friendship.
He works hard behind-the-scenes to get things done because there’s no way I could do it. I need guidance, and I think I add some craziness to his life. We have a lot of fun working together, and if it wasn’t fun, I wouldn’t be doing it.
We’re talking about doing another book where I would take the pictures, and he would write the text. Doing these book signings, photo exhibitions, traveling, and meeting the fans has reawakened a part of me.
For 25 years I remained silent on Steve because I thought I might get bugged or overloaded, but it hasn’t been that way at all. I’ve made lots of new friends, and to learn how much people loved Steve is just heartwarming.
In a way, it helps keep Steve alive. Everyone is very respectful and courteous, and my life has been enriched ever sinceThe Last Mile came out in 2006. I’m very happy today.
Why did you stop flying?
It was the whole lifestyle. It just wasn’t there, and it wasn’t the same without Steve. I don’t even know how to explain that one. I have a house in Montana near an airport that’s right under a flight path with a grass strip.
Often antique planes fly in, and one of them is a Stearman, the one like Steve used to own. The engine makes a certain noise, and the first time I heard it, I got up from my kitchen table and went outside to have a look. Sure enough, it was a Stearman.
I went there a couple times and looked around. But it didn’t have the same ambiance as Santa Paula. The people in Santa Paula lived in their hangars and hung out; that was their way of life.
Do you ever go back to the old hangar, and are any of Steve’s possessions still there?
When I went back to the airport in 2008 for a book signing, it was like going home. The people were so nice and receptive, with lots of great memories of Steve. They really loved him.
It’s just as cool as it ever was, but they took our little restaurant away and put in a new one. Aviation is a lifestyle; when we were at the airport, that was our lifestyle, and frankly I miss it.
I went back to our former house and the hangar, and a few of our old haunts, but the town just isn’t the same. It’s grown up. Going to the house was a piece of cake, but it was the hangar that was really the hard part.
The gentleman who bought Steve’s hangar has some of Steve’s stuff in there, but only items that came with the hangar, nothing showy. When I entered the hangar and spent about five minutes in there, I just couldn’t do it any longer.
Too many strong memories there, and I didn’t want to look back in sadness or regret, so I said thank you to the owners and left.
Is it true you guys stayed in an airplane hangar during your visit to Santa Paula?
Oh yeah, Mike Dewey, who was one of Steve’s flying buddies, said we could stay in his hangar. I said to Marshall, “Come on, you’re staying in the hangar with me.”
Marshall is a guy who likes his comfort. He likes fancy restaurants, drinks Chocolate Martinis, and is fussier than most women I know. And he knows I say that with love in my heart and a big smile on my face, because he’ll be the first to admit it.
He doesn’t drink beer, mow the lawn, and has never changed the oil in his car. I doubt he’s ever done anything with his hands, other than bang away on the computer keyboard. He said, “I’m not staying in any greasy, gas-filled airplane hangar.”
When we got to the hangar, you could eat off the floor. I said to Marshall, “Now what do you think?” He thought it was the coolest thing in the world. For the longest time he couldn’t understand why Steve and I would choose to live in an airplane hangar for six months.
After that weekend, he finally got it. Marshall stayed upstairs in the bedroom while I slept on this little blowup mattress. I don’t like being put in spaces to sleep; I’m weird that way. I slept underneath the wing of the plane. I loved it; it was so much fun. The weekend was a blast, and we had the best time.
- DON’T GO ANYWHERE YET! The ultimate installment of the Barbara Minty McQueen interview is up next. “A Rose Among the Thorns: The Legacy of Steve McQueen” features mesmerizing anecdotes, including a rose bush her grandmother planted as a sign of her union with Steve, what would the late actor be doing today, her thoughts on visiting “The Late Show With David Letterman”, and much more…
The Complete Barbara Minty McQueen Interview: Links
- Part One: “Steve’s Widow Remembers Her Husband on the 30th Anniversary…”
- Two: “Steve McQueen: Through the Lens of His Widow”
- Three: “Entirely in His Element: On the Road with…”
- Four: “The Beauty of Being Naive: In Step with…”
- Five: “Every Little Girl’s Dream: Being on the Tom Horn Film Set…”
- Six: “The Goodness of Steve’s Heart: Memories of His Final Film, The Hunter”
- Seven: “When You’re in Love with the King of Cool: Sweet Memories…”
- Eight: “Life After a Movie Icon: Living in the Moment…”
- Nine: “A Rose Among the Thorns: The Legacy of Steve McQueen”
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