The poster-child victim of a dysfunctional family from Beech Grove, Indiana, Steve McQueen experienced an unsettled early life with a rebellious and alcoholic mother. McQueen channeled his difficult childhood into a masterful career on screen portraying tough, self-sufficient characters in such iconic films as The Magnificent Seven (1960), The Great Escape (1963), The Sand Pebbles (1966), Bullitt (1968), and Papillon (1973).
Nationally known film historian Wes D. Gehring explores how McQueen rose from his days as a troubled youth into one of Hollywood’s top box-office stars of the 1960s and 1970s, and how he attempted to ease the lives of other troubled youth, in a new biography now available from the IHS Press titled Steve McQueen: The Great Escape. Along the way, Gehring delves into McQueen’s early success as a television star on the hit Western Wanted: Dead or Alive, his sometimes rocky relationships with women, his sardonic sense of humor, the actor’s love of fast cars and motorcycles, and McQueen’s often neglected acting in such films as The Reivers (1969) and Junior Bonner (1972), which Gehring labels as “arguably his greatest performance.” McQueen ironically saw the title of one of his best films, The Great Escape, as a veiled reference to what his life might have been like without the movies: “If I hadn’t made it as an actor, I might have wound up a hood.”
McQueen died from cancer on November 7, 1980, at the age of fifty. Reflecting on the Hoosier actor’s career, Gehring notes that “McQueen’s often unorthodox life was always lived on his own terms, but with the underlying insecurity of the lost child he perceived himself to be.”
Gehring is a professor of film at Ball State University and an associated media editor for USA Today Magazine, for which he also writes the column “Reel World.” The award-winning author of twenty-eight books, Gehring has written biographies of such screen legends as Charlie Chaplin, W. C. Fields, the Marx Brothers, Laurel and Hardy, Irene Dunne, Carole Lombard, James Dean, and Red Skelton.
Steve McQueen: The Great Escape costs $19.95. The book is available from the IHS's History Market.