Actor Steve McQueen, whose anti-hero persona continues to guide current box office stars including George Clooney, Matt Damon, Johnny Depp, and Leonardo DiCaprio, grew especially uninterested in the bright lights of Hollywood during the late ’70s, instead preferring to hang out in the sleepy airport community of Santa Paula, Calif.
Many fans thought the action star had dropped off the face of the Earth. Unfortunately, McQueen succumbed to mesothelioma a few years later in November 1980. Twenty-six years after his death, former model Barbara Minty McQueen, the venerable tough guy’s widow, stepped forward with a coffee table photo-text book entitled The Last Mile…Revisited, with hundreds of color and black and white images she captured of her late husband.
In a shocking move, Minty granted her first interview in decades, waxing nostalgic on both the good times and tribulations spent accompanying the world’s then top box office earner. If you missed the previous installment of the conversation, where Minty remembered their often entertaining road trips, fishing in Montana, a typical day, living in Malibu, and taking a motorcycle apart at her husband’s instigation, you can find it here.
Otherwise, the next chapter of the interview gains full steam below. Stick around to learn what advice McQueen gave to a then-struggling young actress on the set of his 1974 blockbuster, The Towering Inferno, and whether he actually watched his own movies.
Minty later recalls stories about a visit with Paul McCartney inexplicably thwarted by a jealous McQueen, the evening McQueen took a 12-gauge shotgun to Who drummer Keith Moon’s bathroom light, and encounters with notable actors including James Garner, Peter Fonda, Lee Majors, and why she was too afraid to meet Farrah Fawcett.
The Barbara Minty McQueen Interview (Part Four)
Did you meet many famous people while you were with your husband?
It’s like my modeling days. When I used to work, there were so many people I knew and hung around with. I didn’t realize exactly who they were, but I guess that’s the beauty of being naïve sometimes. It gets you through life a little safer in the long run.
I didn’t meet a lot of people, or if I did, I don’t remember really meeting them. I wanted to socialize a bit more, but Steve was jealous. He liked his women with him by his side.
Keith Moon was there, and to this day I realize I should have taken better notice of the people who were around. I didn’t realize he was the drummer for The Who. People were constantly throwing beer cans on our part of the beach, and that was likely him or some of his rock ‘n’ roll friends.
The funny thing is, a friend of mine, author/photographer Nancy Andrews, was engaged to Ringo Starr for many years. Her beautiful book, A Dose of Rock ‘n’ Roll, was also published by Dalton Watson Fine Books. As I was reading it, I came across a picture of Keith Moon sitting on Trancas Beach.
I said, “Nancy, I can’t believe it. I know exactly where you were sitting because I used to sit there.” And in the corner of one picture was our dog Junior, the one who bit everybody. The interesting thing was we were all there together, but we didn’t know each other, since we kept to ourselves.
Steve shot out Keith’s window one night. I can close my eyes right now, and I’m back there. The drummer wasn’t there, but he had this light that shone through our bedroom window. Steve called first and no one answered, so Steve mumbled a few choice words.
Steve finally got fed up, fetched his gun out from under the bed and blew the window out. There were sparks and glass flying, and I thought his house was going to burn down. Turned out nobody was home, no alarm went off, and no people came out.
We waited for a little bit to make sure the house wouldn’t catch fire. But that’s the last time that light turned on in that bathroom. I never got a chance to meet Keith, but I’ve heard some wonderfully crazy stories about him. He probably would have scared me to death.
Lee Majors was a friend of Steve’s and I really liked him. He was a regular guy and always wanted to bring his wife, Farrah Fawcett, to the house. I said, “Nope, you do, and I’m leaving.” She was so gorgeous and a big star that I was completely intimidated.
Steve asked, “Why, she’s so nice?” I later talked to her on the phone, and she was the most wonderful person in the world. I told her, “You’re so beautiful and cool, I just can’t meet you.” There was nothing wrong with her, I was just terrified.
Steve and Lee hung out a lot, and I snapped a lot of great photos of them when Lee visited us in Santa Paula in May 1979, when Steve soloed the Stearman for the first time. Lee remains a good friend to this day.
James Garner came to the door one time, and I was so shocked to see him. I loved The Rockford Files, and so there he was, standing at our front door. He asked, “Is Steve here?”
I replied, “Mr. Rockford, hold on a minute.” I called to Steve, and those two got a good laugh out of that since I couldn’t remember his real name.
What was funny about that incident was that I looked pretty young for my age, wore short shorts and long, almost knee-high socks. I’m almost sure Garner thought I was some high school chick that Steve had secretly stashed away (laughs).
I met Peter Fonda a couple of times through Steve, too. Fonda is sort of an enigma. I don’t even know what to think of him, but he’s always been good to me. He’s one of those people that I look at and say “Wow!”
One time he and his wife, Becky, came over for breakfast in Malibu, and Steve asked me to cook them two eggs. Well, I’m not a great cook by any stretch of the imagination, and my eggs didn’t look very tasty judging by the look on Peter and Becky’s faces.
Steve didn’t want my feelings hurt, so he gave them a look that said, “You’d better eat my ol’ lady’s eggs.” He was serious, but it’s funny to look back and laugh.
I truly wanted to meet Paul McCartney, and one day Steve said he was coming to our house, along with Lee Eastman (Linda McCartney’s brother). Eastman was an attorney who represented both Steve and Paul. I was so excited to meet Paul that I was literally bouncing off the walls.
I was a first generation Beatles fan and was about 10 years old when they appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show. I’ve been a fan ever since. Because I was so giddy over the fact that Paul McCartney was coming to our house, it got nipped in the bud real fast, due to Steve’s apparent jealousy. I was furious.
Was McQueen the kind of guy who sat down and watched his movies?
I don’t think Steve ever watched his movies on TV. For some reason, I can picture him watching The Blob with the kids. I can’t ever say anything about Steve’s movies, because to me he was like a mechanic or plumber.
Steve went to work every day and that was his job. He brought home a paycheck, he put food on the table, and of course, a lot of people got to watch him work. I think he enjoyed it. Heck, it was good fun and good money. It allowed us to do whatever we wanted to do.
Do you ever run into actors who worked with McQueen?
I was in Los Angeles last July, and I had dinner with Susan Blakely, who was in The Towering Inferno with Steve. She had very nice things to say about him. I haven’t seen that movie since high school, yet I definitely remember it. That’s really the last movie of his I’ve seen in its entirety.
Susan told me a story that Steve walked past her in the dressing room, and she was looking frumpy. They had dyed her hair and had her frumped out. She was and is a beautiful lady and was a model before she became an actress.
Steve told her that she’d look much better with her hair down rather than up; however, the director/producer didn’t agree. She remarked, “You know, I should have followed what Steve said because he had the right idea.”
When you first met McQueen, he had recently completed An Enemy of the People. Have you watched the film?
I’ve never seen An Enemy of the People. I refuse to watch his movies today, because it’s such a heartbreaking, painful experience. All I know is it was an Ibsen play, it was trouble for everybody, and it tanked at the box office.
I know he wanted to do the film, but I don’t know why. He never mentioned that to me, and we never really discussed his film career. Because I was so young when I married Steve, I didn’t want to pry into his business. Now that I’m older, I wish I would have asked a lot more questions.
PART FIVE of the Barbara Minty McQueen interview, “Every Little Girl’s Dream: Being on the ‘Tom Horn’ Film Set…”, presents the former model’s precious, often hilarious memories of filming her husband’s penultimate film near the Mexican border. Stick around for the rest of the story.
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 with…”
- Eight: “Life After a Movie Icon: Living in the Moment with…”
- Nine: “A Rose Among the Thorns: The Legacy of Steve McQueen”
Author’s Note: The Dillards, aka the Darling Family, were the core of the beloved musical roots surrounding “The Andy Griffith Show.” Rodney Dillard, the group’s lead singer, granted an exclusive interview to this column earlier this year. In it, he addressed Andy’s guitar playing skills, entering Desilu Studios for the first time, which actor was truly the opposite of his character, his favorite Aunt Bee story involving an Alaskan Malamute, why he never spoke on the show, getting through the snoring scene from the ‘Mountain Wedding’ episode without laughing, and exactly what a ‘Mayberry Minute’ is. Click on the blue link above to read the full story…
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