“I really wish Steve could see the woman that I’ve grown up to be because I’m older than he was when he died. I’ve had my fun like he had his fun. But I wish he’d seen how much influence he had on me…I try to be honest, straightforward—as he’d say, ‘hold your mud.’ I learned a lot from him. I miss him every single day because he was my pal…you can’t find friends like that…and I never have.”
Steve McQueen’s widow Barbara Minty McQueen takes a nostalgic if practical minded journey through her Polaroid-filled back pages below in the final installment of her most wide-ranging interview to date. You can easily catch up with the conversation by checking out Part One [i.e. “The Definitive Account of Barbara Minty’s Love Affair with Bad Boy Steve McQueen”].
Minty’s elaborate, painstakingly crafted 235-page coffee table memoir Steve McQueen: The Last Mile…Revisited was originally unveiled in 2006 with the cooperation of best-selling McQueen biographer Marshall Terrill.
Hundreds of full-page color and black and white images, perhaps unwittingly snapped by the former fashion model-budding photographer for posterity’s sake, depict the couple’s late 1970s courtship at a time when the nation’s number one box office champion detested publicity and just wanted to spend his remaining moments enjoying the simple things in life with a like-minded, salt of the earth lady who loved him unconditionally.
The Barbara Minty McQueen Interview, Part Two
What do those final images of Steve from late spring 1980 mean to you?
That work shed was Steve’s reading place. Every single morning he’d sit out there, drink coffee, and read his paper by the open fire. Then the dogs and cats would crawl all over him. He knew he was sick then, but he was living in the moment.
Why did you stop taking photos?
Steve’s death broke my heart and for a long time I couldn’t pick up a camera. I eventually thought I needed to start taking photos again because I always enjoyed it immensely. For awhile, I was content to use my iPhone camera, but I thought, ‘No, I need a better camera’.
It took me 25 years to publish a book, and it took me 30 years to get a new Nikon camera [laughs]. Digital is so much different than what I did, so it’s been a learning process.
How did you pick up the pieces after Steve’s passing?
Actually, I don’t know what I did. You do what you do to emotionally get by and try to forget the pain. I began traveling, and I tried to learn to fly again, but my heart wasn’t in it.
I got back into horses; I played polo, which I absolutely adored. I went as far as I wanted to go, and I still admire the sport. I kept riding motorcycles, but I’m not the rider I used to be. Skiing was a great hobby, too.
It was a longer healing process than I probably would care to admit. To be honest, I’m still not over it. There are times when I’m cool and everything’s fine, but then all of a sudden, one day something will hit me in the face like a brick.
I have to sit down and regroup. Thirty five years later, it’s still incredibly painful to talk about, but I know I am healing.
Where do you call home?
I live in Idaho’s mountain region. When the snow falls, we don’t lose it for five months. If you go twenty minutes from here, you drop down into the foothills, and it’s quite heavily agricultural. We have many dairies, cows, sheep, and goats; an hour south of here, we have traditional summer crops.
How did you meet Marshall Terrill, co-author of The Last Mile?
I met him through Mimi Freedman, who directed the 2005 documentary The Essence of Cool. I’d like to see that again. I never watch any of those things I’m in, because I look so goofy and sound so silly.
I was really impressed with his first book on McQueen, Portrait of an American Rebel . Marshall tells the truth. I didn’t know that much about Steve before I met him, so Marshall’s books helped me figure out who the guy was before I met him. All I can say is that I got Steve at a very good time in his life.
Marshall feels like my little brother now as well as my mother. He’s a very detail-oriented person whereas I’m a free spirit, and that combination works well in our working relationship and friendship.
He works hard behind-the-scenes to get things done because there’s no way I could do it. I need guidance, and I think I add some craziness to his life. We have a lot of fun working together, and if it wasn’t fun, I wouldn’t be doing it.
We’re talking about doing another book where I would take the pictures, and he would write the text. Doing these book signings, photo exhibitions, traveling, and meeting the fans has reawakened a part of me.
For 25 years I remained silent on Steve because I thought I might get bugged or overloaded, but it hasn’t been that way at all. I’ve made lots of new friends, and to learn how much people loved Steve is just heartwarming.
In a way, it helps keep Steve alive. Everyone is very respectful and courteous, and my life has been enriched ever since The Last Mile came out in 2006. I’m very happy today.
Looking back, how do you feel about The Last Mile? Would you consider doing another book?
I’m really proud of it. I think of The Last Mile…Revisited as kind of a fattened up version [laughs]. I just want to make the project the best it can be. For the past few years, I was sticking to my story—The Last Mile was my final word on Steve. I just didn’t think I had another book in me. But thank God for Marshall; he’s been my lifesaver. He convinced me to write another.
Why did you stop flying?
It was the whole lifestyle. It just wasn’t there, and it wasn’t the same without Steve. I don’t even know how to explain that one. I have a house in Montana near an airport that’s right under a flight path with a grass strip.
Often antique planes fly in, and one of them is a Stearman, the one like Steve used to own. The engine makes a certain noise, and the first time I heard it, I got up from my kitchen table and went outside to have a look. Sure enough, it was a Stearman.
I went there a couple times and looked around. But it didn’t have the same ambiance as Santa Paula. The people in Santa Paula lived in their hangars and hung out; that was their way of life.
Do you ever go back to the old hangar, and are any of Steve’s possessions still there?
When I went back to the airport in 2008 for a book signing, it was like going home. The people were so nice and receptive, with lots of great memories of Steve. They really loved him.
It’s just as cool as it ever was, but they took our little restaurant away and put in a new one. Aviation is a lifestyle; when we were at the airport, that was our lifestyle, and frankly I miss it.
I went back to our former house and the hangar, and a few of our old haunts, but the town just isn’t the same. It’s grown up. Going to the house was a piece of cake, but it was the hangar that was really the hard part.
The gentleman who bought Steve’s hangar has some of Steve’s stuff in there, but only items that came with the hangar, nothing showy. When I entered the hangar and spent about five minutes in there, I just couldn’t do it any longer.
Too many strong memories there, and I didn’t want to look back in sadness or regret, so I said thank you to the owners and left.
Is it true that you and Marshall stayed in an airplane hangar during your visit to Santa Paula?
Oh yeah, Mike Dewey, who was one of Steve’s flying buddies, said we could stay in his hangar. I said to Marshall, “Come on, you’re staying in the hangar with me.”
Marshall is a guy who likes his comfort. He likes fancy restaurants, drinks Chocolate Martinis, and is fussier than most women I know. And he knows I say that with love in my heart and a big smile on my face, because he’ll be the first to admit it.
He doesn’t drink beer, mow the lawn, and has never changed the oil in his car. I doubt he’s ever done anything with his hands, other than bang away on the computer keyboard. He said, “I’m not staying in any greasy, gas-filled airplane hangar.”
When we got to the hangar, you could eat off the floor. I said to Marshall, “Now what do you think?” He thought it was the coolest thing in the world. For the longest time he couldn’t understand why Steve and I would choose to live in an airplane hangar for six months.
After that weekend, he finally got it. Marshall stayed upstairs in the bedroom while I slept on this little blowup mattress. I don’t like being put in spaces to sleep; I’m weird that way. I slept underneath the wing of the plane. I loved it; it was so much fun. The weekend was a blast, and we had the best time.
What do you recall about your March 13, 2007 appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman?
It was the most frightening thing I’ve ever done in my life, but David Letterman was such a gentleman, and he was overly kind to me. A truly nice man, he made me feel especially safe on the show. He’s really cute [loud giggling], yet it was great fun, scary but great fun.
Marshall Terrill likes to tell the story that I looked like a pirate who was being forced to walk out onto a ship’s plank when it was time to go onstage. It was the very same stage where The Beatles played on The Ed Sullivan Show, which was a big moment in my life.
I probably would go on another talk show now that I’ve gotten the first big one out of my way. It’s not something I would ever pursue, but if someone called, then I would, because I love to travel.
Could you tell us the rosebush story?
It begins when Steve had to ask my parents if they were comfortable in him becoming their son-in-law. Remember, he was almost 25 years older than me and “an actor from Hollywood,” so they were suspicious at first. Steve did a good job convincing my father, because my dad certainly wouldn’t have let him out of his sight if he didn’t.
My grandma, Vica Minty, was the next one up on the list, and she grilled Steve. I have no clue what they talked about. When she was finished, she and I went to a nursery and came back with two beautiful, red rose bushes.
She planted them and remarked, “I’m planting one for you and one for Steve. This will symbolize your love, and as long as the roses are still here, you’ll always love each other.” That was so sweet of her to do for me.
Fast forward to 2008; it was my first trip back to Santa Paula since Steve’s death. Marshall and I did a signing at the airport. The people who owned our home graciously asked if I wanted to see the old house.
I’ve always said no in the past, but this time around, I said, “Let’s do it.” I knew if I got to feeling weird, Marshall would grab me and get me out of there.
I’ll tell you what, there were those two rose bushes, still blooming. I was immediately blown away. I was like, ‘Wow, that’s 35 years ago, and those bushes are still there.’ I asked the lady if I could get a cutting from them, and she said yes.
I’ve got a green thumb, and I’ve spoken with a horticulturist. I’m gonna grow them at my Idaho home. Isn’t that an incredible story?
Our little house in Santa Paula was for sale about a year ago. It’s been tidied up a bit by the new owner. For a moment I thought about buying it, but then I thought, ‘You can’t go back as much as you might want to.’
What caused you to part with many of Steve’s possessions?
Well, I still have our wedding rings, the Bible, our bed, a few antiques, things like that. There’s furniture and knick-knacks that I’ve had for so long that it’s gotten confused whether they’re Steve’s or mine.
I moved so much—I’m a free spirit who “flits around”—that things were getting rattled around and broken or scratched. Other items just sat in my garage or in locked drawers. In addition, so many people wanted things that I was always giving things away.
After awhile, I thought, ‘That’s not right.’ A friend of mine got exasperated with me and said, “Don’t keep giving stuff away; for heaven’s sake, just sell it.” Consequently, I had the auction in November 2006 at the Peterson Car Museum in Los Angeles.
It was a high-class affair, beautiful and very well done. The funny thing is, I’ve probably given away more things than I’ve ever had. Steve’s belongings went to a lot of people who wanted to own a piece of Steve. Hey, they’re going to enjoy it, so that’s all that matters.
In The Last Mile you included a picture of Steve on a giant bulldozer clearing the Ketchum property affectionately known as the “Crazy M.”
That bulldozer has been in storage since 1980 in a little town south of here. Chad (Steve’s son) actually owns it, but I check on it, every once in a while, to make sure it’s still there. Unfortunately, it’s all seized up, it won’t work anymore.
Whatever happened to the “Crazy M?”
I sold the land that Steve left to me and used some of the money to buy a shopping center in Twin Falls, Idaho, which affords me a nice lifestyle. I lived about eight years on that ranch, which Steve never got to see finished—he only saw raw property. I went in and built a cabin and barn and made a home out of it.
If Steve was still with us, what would he be doing today?
To tell you the truth, Steve hung out with me for the longest time. I’m a firm believer in spirits or ghosts. I guess when he figured I had regained my footing, he left me to my own devices. But he still checks on me every now and then. I think Steve gets a better giggle out of me more than anything else.
This is complete speculation, but I think he would have done age-appropriate movies that meant something to the world. McQueen couldn’t always play the sexy, shoot ‘em up, bang-bang cop or cowboy. I don’t think he would have worked that often, but he liked the paychecks that came from the movie industry.
He would have taken the Richard Farnsworth approach. For example, Farnsworth played some of the hottest, sexiest cowboys even when he was older. He was a beautiful man, and I think Steve would have slid into that beautiful, older man-genre of movies.
As far as Steve and myself, I would almost be sure that besides traveling, we would have had a gaggle of kids; well, maybe two or three. That would have been up to me. We would have had the Crazy M Ranch buffed out, which means it would have had all the toys and amenities to make our lives comfortable.
One of the reasons that property was so special to him was the structure of a beautiful valley there, and he could have had his own private little grass strip out there. I could have had my animals while he could have had his airplanes. We would have been happy campers, and even as goofy as it’s gotten here in Idaho, Steve would have fit in well [Author’s Note: Visit Minty’s official website, BarbaraMintyMcQueen.com, to stay in the loop on all things pertaining to the undisputed King of Cool].
- DON’T GO ANYWHERE YET! Jump back to the top of this article to experience Barbara reminiscing at length about her three and a half year romance with the undisputed King of Cool in a video recognizing the icon’s posthumous Warren Zevon “Keep Me in Your Heart” Memorial Tribute Award.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch…“Steve McQueen always looked like a genuine cowboy through the way he handled his guns and horses on screen and the energy he put into his characters. On The Magnificent Seven, he was surrounded by many other high caliber actors and in some cases, more established stars. It was his magnetism and ability to look believable as a cowboy that made him emerge as the star of that film.” Over the course of the two-part “Andrew Antoniades Reveals His Passion Behind ‘Steve McQueen: The Actor and His Films’”, the opinionated author doesn’t hold back, weaving fascinating anecdotes of growing up with his father and being blown away by viewing Papillon, whether McQueen only made movies for the money, why he gave the stodgy Le Mans a second chance, the reason McQueen temporarily quit making movies at the height of his fame in 1967, and how come the actor should have considering doing One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
To connect via social media with journalist Jeremy Roberts, visit Twitter (@jeremylr) or Facebook.
Exclusive Interview: In Steve McQueen’s determined ascent to the top of Hollywood’s ranks, he could often be mercurial, wary, and downright competitive of his fellow actors. Gary Lockwood of 2001: A Space Odyssey fame befriended the King of Cool in the early ’60s while the pair were deep in the trenches of episodic television. Later in a deep funk after losing his Oscar nomination for The Sand Pebbles, McQueen got on his motorcycle and vanished for several days. Neile Adams, McQueen’s first wife, frantically called Lockwood and asked him to locate her husband. You’ll have to investigate “Two Tough Guys: Actor Gary Lockwood Pulls No Punches with Steve McQueen” for the rest of the shocking tale. That’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Exclusive Interview No. 2: Perhaps it is hard to believe, but Steve McQueen has his fair share of wannabe imposters who attempt, sometimes successfully, to exploit the late superstar’s good name. McQueen’s award-winning biographer, Marshall Terrill, calls out several of these notable “Fake McQueens” in the eye-popping “How a Military Brat Got Hooked on the Razor Sharp Mystique of Steve McQueen.” Some of the outlandish claims include a stuntman who told folks he was McQueen’s brother, an actor who claimed he was the star’s illegitimate son, and an English gentleman whose mother told him on her deathbed that he was McQueen’s biological son!
- Exclusive Interview No. 3: If World War II battle-scarred Lee Marvin hadn’t stubbornly insisted on taking the lead role in the derided musical Paint Your Wagon,he might have had the opportunity to star in Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch with celebrated cult actor Warren Oates. Though not a household name, Oates lit up the screen in a 25-year career cut inexplicably short by a heart attack at age 53 in April 1982. His hardscrabble Depression-era upbringing in the predominantly coal-mining community of Depoy, Kentucky, no doubt influenced his honest characterizations as the voyeuristic deputy of In the Heat of the Night, the psychotic pill-poppin’ villain in Lee Van Cleef’s Barquero, a tall-tale spewing car driver in Two-Lane Blacktop, the sympathetic title role of Dillinger, and Bill Murray’s constantly exasperated sergeant in the comical Stripes. His pre-eminent biographer, Susan Compo, speaks in a fascinating interview [i.e. “That Guy You’ve Seen But Can’t Remember His Name…”] about Oates’ hell-raising and humanity, best and worst movie roles, working alongside the mercurial Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper, and what she might have said to Oates if their paths had intertwined.
Further Reading: John Wayne possessed no plans to retire after “The Shootist” opened to excellent reviews but slow box office receipts in August 1976. After open heart surgery in late spring 1978, the Duke was determined to begin work on “Beau John.” He went to impressive lengths to secure the project, actually buying the film rights via Batjac, the first time that had happened since he unsuccessfully bidded for “True Grit” 10 years earlier. The legend also had plans to reunite with one of his recent costars. Little has been known about the unfinished film until now. To learn more about the one project that gave Wayne some much needed hope during his final days, head on over to “‘Beau John’: The Untold Story of John Wayne’s Last Project.” And if that article isn’t up your alley…Barbara Minty McQueen and Marshall Terrill took a few moments to discuss the King of Cool’s friendship with John Wayne. Minty recounts the hilarious tale of what happened when an inebriated Duke and her husband wound up at the same Hollywood awards ceremony in the late ’60s.
- Further Reading No. 2: With tongue planted firmly in cheek, actor Charles Bronson once mused, “I guess I look like a rock quarry that someone has dynamited.” Appearing in an astounding 160 television and film productions [e.g. Death Wish, Sergio Leone’sOnce Upon a Time in the West, The Magnificent Seven, and The Great Escape—the latter two classics costarring Steve McQueen], Bronson rarely received any credit for his minimalist acting style and formidable screen presence. To read an extensive birthday profile detailing exactly who the strikingly stone-faced star was behind his tough guy persona, featuring anecdotes from costars such as James Coburn, James Garner, Tony Curtis, and Elvis Presley’s Memphis Mafia, head on over to the following link: “A Face Like An Eroded Cliff…”
Further Reading No. 3: A Canadian-born actor unusually adept at portraying average Joes facing seemingly insurmountable circumstances, Glenn Ford possessed an effortless grace and undeniable charisma readily apparent during a distinguished 50-year celluloid career. The World War II veteran once mused why fans kept coming back for more: “When I’m on camera, I have to do things pretty much the way I do things in everyday life. It gives the audience someone real to identify with.” A criminally neglected Western in the Ford canon deserving far greater notoriety is 1968’s Day of the Evil Gun. Click on the highlighted link to learn why the downbeat, unusually brutal film rates among Ford’s top five best Westerns of all time.
*****For more high-profile interviews, thought-provoking features, and stunning photography delivered straight to your inbox, CLICK HERE to receive your free subscription to Jeremy Roberts’ pop culture column. And whether you enjoyed or disliked this article, don’t hesitate to leave a comment below to join the discussion. Thank you.
© Jeremy L. Roberts, 2010, 2016. All rights reserved. An earlier version of the Barbara Minty McQueen interview debuted in this column over nine installments between Oct. 28, 2010 and Feb. 23, 2011, marking the 30th anniversary of her husband’s passing. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed in full without first contacting the author. Do not copy or paste the article text—please share the URL instead. Headlines with links are also acceptable. Posting any links on social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, Instagram, or Google Plus is sincerely appreciated.