I’m not a fan of Steve McQueen. I think a lot of his acting was overrated and relied too much on his looks rather than acting talent. Most know him for his role in Bullitt, a poor film with a car chase that always appears on daft lists of “10 greatest car chases of all time!!!” that seem to serve little purpose. The Great Escape gets ever more cheesy as time passes He looked sharp in The Thomas Crown Affair (and slept in his tailored suits for a few nights before filming to make them look more lived in and less fresh) and had a thing for racing motorcycles and fancy cars but dig a little deeper and you find that he was actually a bit of a miserable sod. He freely acknowledged he wasn’t much of an actor “I’m not a great actor – let’s face it. I don’t have a great deal of scope” and you’d be forgiven for labeling him as a sociopath based on some of his quotes such as “I always do what I want to do” or “I live for myself and I answer to nobody”. He was a nasty piece of work, quite happy to treat the women in his life like crap, cheating on them and beating up his wife Neile. He wouldn’t let Ali McGraw work when she was with him (threatening divorce if she did) and if the stories are to be believed, he was overly fond of the Bolivian marching powder.
Hardly a wholesome role model for modern men.
So when I see this quote in an interview with superstar male model David Gandy in Red magazine, my blood boils:
‘His love of all things British makes him call into question the lost art of being a gentleman, “We’ve become so obsessed by boys. There’s almost a backlash against true men. Where are the Paul Newmans or Steve McQueens of the world?”‘
Newman and McQueen couldn’t be more different. I imagine most younger people know Newman for the face on the salad dressings, but this is a guy who was married fifty years and donated $400 million to charity.
Two very different legacies, wouldn’t you agree?
The problem here is that Gandy has been brainwashed by the popular mythology, and we should all know better. In the last few years McQueen has been used to promote motorcycle clothing ranges by all sorts of manufacturers, particularly Barbour, who released a range of jackets that were marketed using imagery of McQueen in their clothing. Ol’ Steve liked to race motorcycles and did the International Six Day Trial in Scotland in the 60s, wearing the standard trials clothing of the time, waxed cotton suits (see, this is related to my research, albeit distantly). Barbour relaunched the clothing of this period around 2009 and it was very successful – though the introduction of a jacket in the range with false, rubber mud splashes on it was a step too far. One online retailer uses his image to sell helmets, gloves, jackets, even a reproduction of the jumper (aka sweater for my new friends here in the US) he wore in Great Escape. Buy our clothing, look like McQueen, be effortlessly cool.
I’m firmly of the opinion that coked-up wife-beaters are pretty low on the evolutionary scale. As unsavoury human beings go, they’re *just* above the kiddy-fiddling Gary Glitters of the world. Where Glitter has been all but eradicated from popular culture, McQueen is celebrated. What does this say about celebrity and the relative positions of women and children in a supposedly civilised western society? We cherish and venerate children but their mothers are somehow seen as secondary? If a cool actor happens to spend his time beating his wife up, are we happy to cheerfully ignore that? “Cool” seems so intangible to most people, but whatever it is, it isn’t a term to be used about McQueen.
We love our screen idols frozen in time, dying young and leaving a legacy of immortal good looks, and McQueen seems to have been better preserved than most. But he’s also had his violent and controlling nature whitewashed from his history, further cementing his position in twentieth century film lore as the King of angsty cool. That’s just plain wrong.
David Gandy is a hard working chap, and usually seems reasonably on the ball. He is worth a few quid (£10m or so), investing in businesses and occasionally doing the odd bit of style journalism. I get the impression he’s very careful about his personal image in an industry where image and appearance is everything. But he’s way off the mark on this. McQueen was/is no role model for a real man, never was, never will be.