Customer Reviews: Steve McQueen: Portrait of an American Rebel
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on September 20, 2001
First consider how fine an actor Steve McQueen was:
From the 50s through the 70's, Steve McQueen, Robert Redford, and Paul Newman were in close competition for the best "blue-eyed-blonde" parts in Hollywood. Newman and Redford are intelligent, versatile actors. Steve had a little less brainpower and range.
But from a physical standpoint, Steve wiped the floor with Newman and Redford (who are no sissies), or anybody else for that matter.
From playing golf and polo (Thomas Crown Affair) to marshal arts (Great Escape, Sand Pebbles) to auto racing (Le Mans) to motorcycling (Great Escape, On Any Sunday) to handling firearms (many), to handling tools (Sand Pebbles), every move Steve made was quick, balanced, controlled, and deadly. Steve's athleticism was inherited - his father was a "dashing flyer." It was psychological - Jim Coburn said Steve was "the most competitive person I've ever met." And it was nurtured - he was a decorated Marine, a bona-fide auto and motorcycle racer, and a serious student of marshal arts. He studied for years with the great Pat Johnson, and with the greatest, Bruce Lee. And Steve loved working on motorcycles and cars. No other actor in history had Steve's physical credits.
In all his roles, Steve understood that films are much more visual than verbal, and exploited his phyical qualities to the limit. That's acting intelligence.
Perhaps most importantly, Steve was INTENSE. Would you hesitate to make Newman or Redford angry? I wouldn't. Would you hesitate to make McQueen angry? I would. Read the book and see why.
And for what it's worth: Newman and Redford are pretty. Steve was swarthy. How many blue-eyed-blondes are swarthy?
Next consider the book:
Mr. Terrill's account of Steve's personal life is clear, comprehensive, balanced, and filled with great photos. Terrill's direct access to many people who personally knew or worked with Steve is evident on every page.
Terrill builds up the story with a thorough account of Steve's extremely tough, fascinating early years. You get to know the forces behind Steve's failures and successes as an adult. Although you know all along that Steve eventually "makes it," Terrill makes you feel intensely how unlikely a candidate Steve was for acting stardom.
Terrill covers Steve's great romance and marriage with Neile Adams, the immensely painful breakup, the scandalous romance and marriage with Ali McGraw, and the twilight-marriage with model Barbara Minty.
Not least of all, Terrill makes you appreciate McQueen's extremely underestimated acting talent. Steve was not a "yes-sir" actor. He molded all his parts strongly. He was particularly good at understanding how to stay just on the "reality" side of things, even though he was primarily an action star. So he deserves a great deal of credit for his own success.
By the end, Terrill has taken you through the many lives of Steve McQueen.
Plus, Terrill includes a filmography and a great treat: a list of movies Steve ALMOST made. The list is long and often surprising.
Finally consider the combination, and buy this book.
I've read it three times and will end up reading it many more times.
PS: I understand that there are plans in Hollywood to make a movie about McQueen's life based on Terrill's book. If it captures one-tenth of the romance, adventure, and excitement in the book, it will be a wonderful movie!
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on October 1, 2001
Its an overused word that is often devoid of any real meaning, but Steve McQueen was just cool. Even though he was usually described as being a "limited" actor, Steve McQueen was still a great star -- a talented man who perfectly understood his limitations and therefore was able to craft each of his films to perfectly showcase his strengths. As Marshall Terrill's biography shows, McQueen was an actor who always gave the perfect performance for the films he starred in. Therefore, if McQueen wasn't a "great" actor in the style of Paul Newman, he was a far more dependable actor and, in a true rarity nowadays, his was a name that you could trust when saw it on a theater marquee. Terrill's biography also shows that McQueen, as an actor, never succumbed to the elitism that seems to possess so many other film stars. He never forgot his humble roots and, as a result, he never committed the cardinal sin of seeing himself as being somehow above his audience. McQueen was loyal to the idea of providing entertainment yet, within those confines set for himself, managed to help craft such classic films as Bullitt, the Great Escape, The Sand Pebbles, and the Magnificent Seven. As Terrill shows, even when McQueen went through a "classics" period, he still made a film that fit in with his own personal view of what his audience would enjoy -- an unlikely, unjustly obscure version of Ibsen's Enemy of the People. Terrill's recounting of the making of Enemy is one of the book's highlights and, to the best of my knowledge, contains anecdotes and information that can't be found anywhere else.
Also, a great deal of fun comes from the book's final section -- a listing of films that McQueen decided not to make. This listing of films famous and obscure is a trivia browser's delight and also invites one to imagine what might have been. While sometimes that mind boggles, others -- such as Steve McQueen playing Kurtz in Apocalypse Now (imagine the military madman personified by a cool killer like McQueen as opposed to a massively bloated, rambling Marlon Brando) leave one mourning the unrealizing possibilities.
Of course, since this is Steve McQueen, a great deal of the book is taken up with details of rampaging drug abuse and chronic womanizing. Terrill presents these facts in a very unsensationalistic, straight forward way. Surely, Steve McQueen would have appreciated the no-BS style to Terrill's recounting. One thing becomes perfectly clear -- even if McQueen did, quite often, the wrong thing, he did it with enough style to make the "correct" alternatives look all the more dull. Luckily for filmgoers, Steve McQueen was never dull and luckily for readers, neither is Terrill's biography.
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VINE VOICEon November 7, 1998
This book was riveting in covering all facets of Steve McQueen's professional and personal life. There is joy and sadness in the story of McQueen. He overcame the odds from an emotionally painful childhood, living on the streets at the age of 15. Mcqueen had worked many odd jobs all over the United States before joining the Marines. He decided to try acting instead of taking a woodworking job in Spain. From then on you can't put this book down unitl the story of his life is over. Kudos to Terril, and I hope he plans on giving us more biographical brilliance.
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on December 13, 2005
I like to read biographies and this is probably the best one I read. The research of the author is extraordinary. The language is simple and one gets the feeling the author avoids speculation at all costs. And, although he's obviously a fan, he doesn't portray McQueen the hero, he portrays a 3 dimensional man. He doesn't hold back. Other reviewers claim this is the definite McQueen bio and I agree.

The book is never boring, quite a feat since it's more than 400 pages long. The films get an extensive analysis, and it's fun to know what went on behind the cameras. Terrill writes like he's in a movie theatre, watching a McQueen film and telling what he found about that magnetic actor, just like a fan talking to another fan (the reader). This is very difficult to achieve and Terrill succeeds. It's not pretentious, and it gets to the core. It's not one of those bios set out to demolish the person's reputation but it's not a glorification either. An extremely difficult balance, and Terrill succeeds in spades. If you think McQueen is interesting this is worth your while.
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on July 23, 2015
Although I am not always into so much detail I thoroughly enjoyed this book as it even made the movies I had already seen more understanding. After reading the description of the making of a particular movie I watched it again & it made more sense to me. There was no doubt in my mind about McQueen's acting ability. He knew little about how a person should act. He had the gumption to do it and actually faced the camera as himself which is so much like most of our great actors only people do not know it. He was stubborn about how a scene should be made and made many a writer/producer/director irritated with him. He thought it wasn't necessary to have so much dialogue and actually crossed out quite a bit of it on BULLIT and used his expression in his eyes & one just had to watch his face.{this is another trait of John Wayne's} If you are familiar with film making one notices in his series WANTED;DEAD OR ALIVE how he progressed in his acting. I noticed in all his movies how polite he was and it was not written the dialogue he just naturally was very polite. I believe it was because he had to take care of himself at such an early age, it taught him hoe much he could achieve by being nice to people. In many of the descriptions of his films he made enemies because he wanted his way but it all showed in the end result of the movie. I watched THE HUNTER a true story about a modern day bounty hunter & his movements showed he was suffering affects from his cancer already. Being a lover of the opera the first thing I noticed with THE HUNTER was opera music always playing on his car radio.....behold the true person Thorson loved opera so Steve made sure it was used in the film. I read that review of the making of the picture carefully because in the end when his girlfriend gives birth to their baby the doctor hands the little girl to Steve & she sneezes and Steve says "god bless you"with the greatest expression on his face but none of this was mentioned in the review. He was a stern but very loving dad & his boy & girl adored him. Unfortunetly we do not know what is added or removed from a film before we see it but reading this book really made me understand more and that is to learn the actor. Their traits will show in every picture. He was truly a God given talent as he had no acting training and a limited education also brought out in the book. Do get this book from Amazon & you will enjoy it even if you have not seen some of the movies. I am still a movie goer & have my favorites. Mostly male actors & in some it ruins me when a woman shows up since I think the movie would have been good without her. No I am not "gay" in today's definition of the word. My next book I started was a McQueen book THE COOLER KING;his life. No matter how many you read of one person every book about that person tells you more. Now I am waiting for the autobiography of James Arness from Amazon & I am anxious for that. god bless you all !!!
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As documented in Marshall Terrill's revealing biography, Steve McQueen the man was as fascinating as any of the movie characters he portrayed. Some of the movie people who dealt with McQueen may have used other, less kind terms but, given McQ's god-awful childhood as revealed in Terrill's book, you can see why he behaved the way he did.

It may be premature to label Terrill's book as definitive but he does a damn fine job of revealing McQueen the man and the actor. First off, he interviewed many of the people who knew and/or worked with McQ including those very few who the intensely private McQueen opened up to. As a result, Terrill was able to fashion an insightful, multi-dimensional portrait of one very talented but flawed individual.

Yet, for all the incidents of upstaging his co-actors or playing the star, Terrill documented countless incidents where McQueen was very supportive of others on his films, helped total strangers without seeking recognition, etc. Equally touching were those moments recounted in STEVE MCQUEEN that revealed McQueen's deep insecurity and need for love. One example: After repeatedly complaining about his character's dialogue in TOWERING INFERNO, he confided to the screenwriter (Sterling Silliphant) that the dialogue was fine but that he had trouble speaking it due to his lack of schooling!

McQueen's mother was an alcoholic who ran through several failed marriages; dad bailed out when McQ was six months old. He grew up fatherless, motherless for large chunks of time, friendless and dyslexic with minimum education. It's small wonder he wanted to be top dog, get the big bucks and romance all the beautiful women he could...even if he was married.

STEVE MCQUEEN clocks in at 485 pages. It is one of the most consistently entertaining biographies I have ever read. After reading it though, you wonder if that 'cool dude' was ever really happy. Given the wonderful characters McQueen created - Josh Randall, Buzz Rickson, Virgil Hilts, Frank Bullitt and Jake Holman - I sincerely hope so. Thank you, Mr. McQueen!
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on December 18, 2013
This was a thorough look at Steve McQueen's life before, and during his Hollywood career. It did a decent job of showing who he was when he was alive, what he was like, but it still left you wishing you'd known him yourself. Now I'm going to watch some of his movies next.
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on March 29, 2002
Steve McQueen has been a favorite for biographers to tackle over the years. His infamous off-screen adventures and hard-edged demeanor have almost eclipsed his work in the years following his death (and before, for that matter). Women loved him and men wanted to be him.
Marshall Terrill adds a well-researched and entertaining - if somewhat bland - bio to the stack. Most of the interviews are with old McQueen cronies intermixed with quotes lifted from other books on McQueen and autobiographies of stars like ex-wife Ali MacGraw. While 419 pages seems like it would be enough to capture the essense of a man I never got the feeling that I was hearing more than a dry barebones account of his life.
When all's said and done McQueen was a hero to many and a jerk to others. His odd behavior and Joe Six-pack mentalities may have put off some but films like Bullitt, Tom Horn and The Great Escape are proof that he had screen presence and attitude to spare. This book didn't tell me much that I needed or wanted to know, but would serve as a fine introduction to Steve McQueen.
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on July 24, 2003
With the movie "Bullitt" ranking at the very top of my euphorometer (how I felt leaving the theater)Steve McQueen from that day forward was my ultimate hero. Marshall Terrill has done me, and all Steve's fans, a great favor in this detailed examination of Steve's life. Many interesting tidbits emerge about Steve's relationships with other actors and how films projects developed. From Wanted Dead or Alive to big screen triumph, to the economic catastrophe of Le Mans, and onto his utter domination in the Towering Inferno, one feels as though he is present at those creations. Some touching moments too as Mr. Terrill tells us of Steve's battle with cancer and inner conversion. I often go back and reread portions of this indispensible book.
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on November 16, 2013
Although there are a number of frustrating misprints and inaccuracies in this book (eg, James Dean died in a "motorcycle accident"); it is nonetheless an interesting book on an iconic American. The author should have done better research on his subject and whoever edited this thing should be fired.
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