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Steve McQueen: The King Of Cool (1963)

 

By Bob Pakes
 
 

Anyone Reading This Sign Better Have A Damned Good Reason

 
 
 
 
 

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Steve McQueen - John Dominis (1963) at home 02 upgradeType the words King Of Cool in Google Images, and it leaves no doubt that TERENCE STEVEN MCQUEEN (1930-1980) has become the personification of ultimate coolness.
 
McQueen’s troubled youth plagued him throughout his life. He could never shake the idea that he would one morning wake up and find that all that he had achieved had vanished like snow before the sun. Steve McQueen lived each day of his life as if it were his last, and although he was only 50 years old when he died, he had packed 3 or 4 lifetimes in that short amount of time. And competative as he was, McQueen never settled for anything less but the best.
 
By the spring of 1963 McQueen’s signature movies had not been released yet, but he had already earned himself a reputation of being a director´s pain in the ass, a true Hollywood bad boy. Steve did not like doing interviews and open himself up in any way. He felt very uncomfortable being around strangers. And when LIFE photographer John Dominis was sent out on a mission to photograph this upcoming new star, he sure had doubts how the meeting would work out. But when McQueen discovered that Dominis shared his passion for racing cars, he was granted full access to Steve’s life. In the end, the photographer spent no less then 3 consecutive weeks with Steve McQueen and his wife Neile Adams. And he was taken for one hell of a ride!
 
Only a small amount of Dominis’ photographs ended up in LIFE‘s 7-page story on Steve McQueen in July of 1963.
In this article you will find some of Dominis’ most legendary shots from the time he spent with McQueen.
 
Why was Steve McQueen cool? Well, because he did cool things!

 
 
 
 
 

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LIFE magazine (July 12, 1963) frontcover

LIFE magazine (July 12, 1963) page 62 LIFE magazine (July 12, 1963) page 63

LIFE magazine (July 12, 1963) page 64 LIFE magazine (July 12, 1963) page 65

LIFE magazine (July 12, 1963) page 66 LIFE magazine (July 12, 1963) page 67

LIFE magazine (July 12, 1963) page 68

 
 
 
 
 

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Steve McQueen - John Dominis (1963) at home 05 Steve McQueen - John Dominis (1963) at home 08

At home

Unless otherwise noted, most of the indoor shots in this article were taken at McQueen’s hideaway: a bungalow in Palm Springs.
The photo below is from his Hollywood home.
 
“When a kid didn’t have any love when he was small, he begins to wonder if he’s good enough. My mother didn’t love me, and I didn’t have a father. So I guess I’m not very good.”
- Steve McQueen
 

Steve McQueen - John Dominis (1963) at home 07 Steve McQueen - John Dominis (1963) at home 03

 
 
 

Steve McQueen - John Dominis (1963) motorcycle racing 02 Steve McQueen - John Dominis (1963) motorcycle racing 03

Racing

McQueen had a need for speed: he liked fast cars and fast motorcycles.
 
These photos are from a 500 mile dirtbike-race he participated in. Steve was one of 300 entrants, the race took 2 days and went across the Mojave Desert.
Steve led the amateur class until his motorcycle broke down 3 miles from the finish.
 
 
 
“Racing is life. Anything before or after is just waiting.”
- Steve McQueen

Steve McQueen - John Dominis (1963) motorcycle racing 07 Steve McQueen - John Dominis (1963) motorcycle racing 08

Steve McQueen - John Dominis (1963) motorcycle racing 06 Steve McQueen - John Dominis (1963) motorcycle racing 05That hulk of a man in the foreground, is Bud Ekins, Steve’s friend and also the stuntman in 4 of his movies. Ekins was responsible for the famous motorcycle-jump in The Great Escape.
 
The name of McQueen’s character in The Great Escape was:
The Cooler King.
 
Bud Ekins also worked as an uncredited stuntman, among many other movies, on Elvis Presley’s Speedway in 1968.
 
 
 
“I’m not sure whether I’m an actor who races or a racer who acts.”
- Steve McQueen

Steve McQueen - John Dominis (1963) motorcycle racing 01 (with Bud Ekins, his friend and stuntman for The Great Escape) Steve McQueen - John Dominis (1963) motorcycle racing 04

 
 
 

Steve McQueen - John Dominis (1963) target practice 02

Shooting

Steve and his wife Neile doing some target-practice in the California desert.
 
 
 
“When I believe in something, I fight like hell for it.”
- Steve McQueen

Steve McQueen - John Dominis (1963) target practice 01 Steve McQueen - John Dominis (1963) target practice 03

 
 
 

Steve McQueen - John Dominis (1963) sulphur bath 01

Relaxing

Taking a sulphur bath at Big Sur.
 
 
 
“I’ve spent too much of my life feeling insecure. I still have nightmares about being poor, of everything I own just vanishing away.”
- Steve McQueen

Steve McQueen - John Dominis (1963) sulphur bath 02 00840457.JPG

 
 
 

Steve McQueen - John Dominis (1963) camping trip 06 Steve McQueen - John Dominis (1963) camping trip 03

Camping

Steve loved to go on camping trips with either his family or his friends. This particular trip took place in the Sierra Madre. The dog in the photo below is Steve’s own, a Malemute named Mike.
 
 
 
“I’d rather wake up in the middle of nowhere than in any city on earth.”
- Steve McQueen

Steve McQueen - John Dominis (1963) camping trip 04 (with his dog, a Malamute named Mike, by his side) Steve McQueen - John Dominis (1963) camping trip 05 (in his sleeping bag. This is it, man, he told LIFE. Id rather wake up in the middle of nowhere than in any city on earth.

 
 
 

Steve McQueen - John Dominis (1963) loving 01 upgrade Steve McQueen - John Dominis (1963) at home 01

Loving

By this time Steve and Neile had been married for 7 years, but according to John Dominis “They were always necking!” and “They chase each other around as though it was going out of style.”
 
 
 
“My old lady is the heart of my home.”
- Steve McQueen

Steve McQueen - John Dominis (1963) loving 02 Steve McQueen - John Dominis (1963) loving 03 Steve McQueen - John Dominis (1963) loving 04

 
 
 

Steve McQueen - John Dominis (1963) working out 03 Steve McQueen - John Dominis (1963) working out 04

Training

Working out at the gym of Paramount Studios while filming Love With The Perfect Stranger (1963).
 
 
 
“I work hard, and if you work hard you get the goodies.”
- Steve McQueen

Steve McQueen - John Dominis (1963) working out 06 Steve McQueen - John Dominis (1963) working out 07 Steve McQueen - John Dominis (1963) working out 02

Steve McQueen - John Dominis (1963) working out 01 Steve McQueen - John Dominis (1963) working out 05

 
 
 

Steve McQueen - John Dominis (1963) with Natalie Wood 01

Acting

McQueen and Natalie Wood appeared in Love With The Proper Stranger (1963) together.
 
Mrs. Wood is of course linked to Elvis Presley in many ways, while McQueen co-starred with other leading ladies wellknown to Elvis fans, like Ann-Margret, Tuesday Weld (twice) and Joan Blondell.
 
 
 
“I’m not sure that acting is something for a grown man to be doing.”
- Steve McQueen

Steve McQueen - John Dominis (1963) with Natalie Wood 02 Steve McQueen - John Dominis (1963) with Natalie Wood 03

 
 
 

Steve McQueen - John Dominis (1963) by the pool 02 Steve McQueen - John Dominis (1963) by the pool 03

Living

Back at their bungalow in Palm Springs, where we find the sign by the pool that is typical McQueen:
Anyone caught in here better have a damned good reason.
 
 
 
“I live for myself and I answer to nobody.”
- Steve McQueen

Steve McQueen - John Dominis (1963) by the pool 04 Steve McQueen - John Dominis (1963) by the pool 01

Steve McQueen - John Dominis (1963) by the pool 05 Steve McQueen - John Dominis (1963) by the pool 06 Steve McQueen - John Dominis (1963) by the pool 07

 
 
 
 
 

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Steve McQueen - John Dominis (1963) LIFE cover 02 Steve McQueen - John Dominis (1963) LIFE cover 01 To conclude this article about the King Of Cool, here we have the original photo of Steve and his lovely wife that was used for the frontcover of LIFE magzine, but this time in glorious black/white. Plus also an alternate shot of the McQueens in color.
 
 
 
 
 
LIFE magazine (July 12, 1963) frontcover

 
 
 
 
 

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Steve McQueen - John Dominis (1963) at home 04

CREDITS:

All photographs in this article are copyrighted by JOHN DOMINIS

The scans of the July 1963 issue of LIFE magazine are courtesy of LIFE/TIME

 
 

John Dominis‘ three weeks with Steve McQueen have been captured in the wonderful book shown below to the left, titled MCQUEEN.

Two more excellent photobooks have been published:
STEVE MCQUEEN by William Claxton
UNSEEN MCQUEEN by Barry Feinstein

Dominis Feinstein Claxton

 
 
I Am Steve McQueenSome very interesting documentaries about Steve McQueen have been released. Among others, these two especially come highly recommended:
 
- STEVE MCQUEEN: THE ESSENCE OF COOL (2005)
This docu is also part of the 2-Disc Special Edition DVD of Bullitt.
 
- I AM STEVE MCQUEEN (2014)
The most recent documentary about McQueen.
 
And please check this link and see the cool connection between PRESLEY & MCQUEEN:
THE BARACUTA JACKET

 
 
 
 
 

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2 Comments Post a comment
  1. Klaus Platter #

    Fantastic photos, never seen before.
    Still one of my favourite actors.

    January 20, 2015
  2. Antoine Altena #

    One of the coolest dudes! Together with Jack Kerouac, Paul Newman, Frank Sinatra, Johnny Cash … I don’t know why but somehow I am drawn to them.

    September 12, 2015

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