Barbara McQueen has never stopped quietly reflecting on her blissful years with the “King of Cool,” one Steve McQueen. The determined actor lost his valiant war with mesothelioma over 30 years ago in Juarez, Mexico.
Why does McQueen still resonate today? Well, besides being the epitome of the perfect American male, he brought a sense of realism to each character he inhabited. McQueen was a man of few words, and he let his actions speak for themselves.
He had a soft spot for the underdog and never forgot his hard-scrabble upbringing. He could be a friend in good and bad times, but if you took advantage of him, watch out. He was not interested in Hollywood glamour; instead, he preferred sitting around with gear heads or antique collectors.
Without question, these qualities are reasons why Barbara fell in love with McQueen. Kindred souls, the couple created their own perfect paradise in the quaint town of Santa Paula, California. Although their time together was tragically cut short, the memories remain.
Below, my interview with Barbara resumes, and it illuminates the wonderful aspects of their relationship. These anecdotes include McQueen’s sense of peace brought on by his genuine faith, meeting Barbara’s parents, popping the question, their rustic, down-home wedding, and married life.
If you missed any previous entries of this all-encompassing interview, you can easily find them upon visiting “Jeremy’s Steve McQueen Files.” In fact, the last segment spotlighted Barbara’s memories concerning the making of The Hunter, her husband’s final film. Otherwise, the tale enters maximum drive now.
The Barbara Minty McQueen Interview, Part Seven
What role did faith play in Steve’s life during your years with him?
Steve was always spiritual, but he matured in his faith in Santa Paula. He was heavily influenced by his flight instructor, Sammy Mason, who was a very strong Christian, and who accompanied us to church.
I put those into two different categories because I think you can be very spiritual without going to church. You can have all the beliefs as an every Sunday church-goer, and you can be just as spiritual as they are but in a different way.
Steve started going to church when we lived in Santa Paula. There was no bull**** about his faith, and he took it seriously. He had a meeting with evangelist Billy Graham near the end, who inscribed his personal Bible to Steve. In fact, the first person I called when Steve passed away was Billy Graham.
Steve wasn’t a horn blower, and he didn’t go around talking about it; it was his private thing. He was never in your face, but I caught him many times saying his prayers.
As for me, I don’t go to church…but I still say my prayers. I cuss like a sailor, but I tell God every night, “Hey, I’m sorry, but it just sounds better sometimes. It’s a better definition of what I’m mad about, so please forgive me.”
How did Steve ask your dad for his daughter’s hand in marriage?
That’s an interesting story when Steve met my parents for the first time. My mom knew who he was, but she wasn’t real star struck. My dad clearly didn’t give a s**t who he was.
We had a mini mountain out back that took about a minute to walk to the top; that’s where the talking place was if you were in trouble. So my dad took Steve on a little walking/talking trip up there, and they were there 45 minutes to maybe an hour.
I was my dad’s little baby, and he was gonna make sure I was okay. He didn’t want Steve, whom he considered much too old for me, to hurt me in any way. So they came down and Steve and Dad had a beer.
Steve whispered, “I told your dad that you’ll be well taken care of.” I then asked my dad what he told Steve. He said, “I told the sonofab**** I’d kill him if he ever hurt you.” True story!
What do you remember about your wedding day? Was it fancy?
We were going to have a church wedding, then we found out the minister we had been so enthralled with wouldn’t marry us because Steve had been divorced. That threw me for a loop because I was younger, and I had never been married.
Steve wasn’t fond of the response, so we got somebody else at the church to do it, Rev. Leslie Miller. By that time, the press were in town and following me. I had no experience with the paparazzi, and it was all very new at the time.
I used to drive around Santa Paula in a funky old pickup truck, and they’d follow me. They scared me, and so I’d go to the police station, and they’d take me home. They were hovering like a bunch of bees when we got married in the living room.
The paparazzi are nothing like they are to these poor people today. I truly feel sorry for current young movie actors and actresses. It’s horrible what the press does to them, but back then it was just a little here, a little there.
We had our friend Norman stand outside the gate of our home with our ranch foreman Grady Ragsdale ready in the backyard. They were both armed with shotguns and not afraid to use them. They wouldn’t kill anybody, but a good shot over the head pretty much scares anybody.
So we got married in the living room, and I paid the reverend off. He wouldn’t take money, so I went outside and got a dozen eggs out of the chicken coop and paid him in eggs. You could say we had a farm wedding (laughing).
It was small and sweet, nothing big, and it was my first marriage. I would have probably liked to have done something different, but hey, when you’re in love, you take what you can get.
How did Grady Ragsdale fit into the scheme of things?
Grady Ragsdale was a sweetheart, and he was always there. If it was 2:00 AM, and there was a fly on the wall Steve didn’t like, Grady would come over and fix the problem. That’s how wonderful Grady was.
I never would have made it through Steve’s cancer battle without Grady. He wrote a beautiful little book in 1983 called Steve McQueen: The Final Chapter, which is now out of print.
I read it, and every word in there is true. He had a heart attack and passed away in 1986. But his widow, Judy, and kids are still around.
So, what was it like being married to Steve McQueen?
I loved it, since that was one of the best times of my entire life. It was a very sweet time. I loved the ranch and the farmhouse we shared. He gave me full reign of redoing our little house. It was the most beautiful 1920s Victorian farmhouse. Everything came from second-hand stores except for the TVs and beds.
It was every little girl’s dream. Steve was so sweet to me because he didn’t like me working. I worked a little bit here and there until I finally said, “Hey, I’ve got to make a living. I’ve got bills to pay.”
From that day forward I never had another bill to pay. Steve, however, did have a grocery list on the counter, expecting me to cook. I don’t cook, and he wisely hired a little old lady to cook for us.
Every time we got into a fight, he would bring a kitten home. When he passed away, I had thirteen cats that I drug up to Idaho with me. Altogether, we had thirteen fights the whole time we were together. That’s not bad considering we were together for three-and-a-half years.
- DON’T GO ANYWHERE YET! Part Eight of the Barbara Minty McQueen interview, “Life After a Movie Icon: Living in the Moment…”, finds the feisty model holding nothing back as she revisits the activities she pursued in order to cope with her husband’s death, why she quit flying, if she has ever returned to their Santa Paula airplane hangar, how she met her co-author and good friend, Marshall Terrill, and a humorous story about sleeping overnight in a friend’s hangar with a fussy companion.
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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© Jeremy L. Roberts, 2012. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed in full without first contacting the author. Headlines with links are fine. In addition, posting any links to Twitter or Facebook is sincerely appreciated.