ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Discovering the King of Cool: Steve McQueen

Updated on July 13, 2011

Perhaps the quintessential American actor, Steve McQueen defied the standard “Hollywood” star-type and set his own course. In real life, McQueen was a loner and perfectionist when it came to his craft. And over 30 years after his untimely death, McQueen is still considered and icon of the “hip and cool” Hollywood star.

When he began his career in the early 1950’s McQueen struggled to get substantial roles and usually wound up playing bit parts in films and TV productions. His first real break, the starring role in the low budget horror flick “The Blob” certainly didn’t seem like a good deal for McQueen at the time.

But it led directly to a guest role in Robert Culp’s struggling series “Trackdown” as the determined bounty hunter Josh Randell. Producers were impressed enough with McQueen that they created the now legendary series “Wanted: Dead or Alive”. For three seasons, McQueen showed his range as an actor, not so much with his dialogue, but in reacting to all different types of situations. From coffee that’s a bit too hot to stopping a door with his foot, McQueen focused on the little things that fleshed out his character.

Not surprisingly, McQueen soon became bored playing Randell and took advantage of a break in filming (by claiming he was in an accident) to play a substantial role in “The Magnificent Seven”. The success of “Seven” lead him to forego a fourth season of “Wanted” and focus on his movie career.

Collecting the essential McQueen films is not all that difficult. His 20+ year career after leaving “Wanted: Dead or Alive” was filled with numerous gaps where he sometimes went years between making films. He even played an extra (riding a dirt bike no less) in “Dixie Dynamite” where legend has it no one knew it was McQueen until he picked up his check. Sadly, his final films, “Tom Horn” and “The Hunted” pale in comparison to his earlier, more energetic work. And soon after McQueen died from cancer.

What follows are three films I recommend you start with, they show the range and depth McQueen was capable of delivering. If you find those films enjoyable, then I’d certainly recommend “The Great Escape”, which firmly established McQueen’s rebellious character, “Bullet” and “The Getaway” which are great action films.

The Sand Pebbles

The only performance that got McQueen an Oscar nomination, “The Sand Pebbles” was an epic production steered by the capable director Robert Wise. McQueen simply dominates every scene he’s in playing the reticent engineer Jake Holman about the US gunboat San Pueblo. This three hour epic captures the scale of China’s internal struggles of the 1920’s, yet the focus remains steadily on McQueen and his personal evolution from cynical sailor who clashes with authority to the reluctant hero.

McQueen himself must have felt the importance of this film as he made rare public appearances to promote the picture, including a hilarious bit on the popular series “What’s My Line”.

The Thomas Crown Affair

No one could play an “anti-hero” better than McQueen and he proves it here in this dramatic effort. I say “dramatic” rather than “action” since those scenes are relatively few as most of the film is spent wondering if McQueen’s character will get caught by the lovely Faye Dunaway.

What I find interesting is when I look at the plot structure of the film, who else but McQueen could hold your attention all through the picture? His screen persona is so strong, yet so calm and secure that few other actors could do so much doing so little.


Despite McQueen’s popularity and director Franklin J. Schaffner’s recent successes (“Patton”, “Planet of the Apes”) this film was not a huge hit with the public despite two major releases by two different distributers (something highly unusual). Although to be fair it did do fairly well. The tough subject matter and homosexual overtones in some scenes certainly didn’t help it.

McQueen’s performance has been overshadowed somewhat by Dustin Hoffman’s excellent portrayal of Papillon’s friend Louis Dega. And some have criticized McQueen’s acting in certain, more quiet scenes as being too fidgety (though to be fair he had a well established reputation for that particular trait going back to “Wanted”), I find his performance to have aged fairly well, especially during the action scenes.

The location photography is gorgeous, the pacing top notch and Papillon’s steadfast belief in freedom pays off in a final, beautiful scene that ranks as one of McQueen’s finest moments.


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Bullit not bullet

    • Cogerson profile image


      7 years ago from Virginia

      Excellent hub, I learned some new stuff about McQueen from reading your hub.....voted up and useful....I also have a McQueen hub that you might find interesting as well.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)