We arrived in Slater, Mo, to a small friendly town with a tiny motel. The kind of motel that at one time was probably something else. We paid for the night and found our rooms. Small town motels can be funny sometimes, and this one was funnier than most.
For starters, I was promised an office where I could write my story. In this case, my office was a closet. Complete with a small refrigerator. Which I used for a desk. The only thing funnier than the office was the bathroom. Not only was it the narrowest, shortest bathroom I'd ever seen;it was also to be shared by all three rooms.
My purpose in Slater was simple. Steve McQueen Days. An annual festival to celebrate the hometown hero, none other than Steve McQueen himself, and boy does Slater roll out the red carpet. If there's one thing I've learned over the years, it's that fans take their hero's pretty serious. Well, McQueen's fans are certainly no exception. I met fans from all over the country, even Canada. As well as another couple from England. The McQueen Festival drew a pretty serious crowd, and not just fans of Steve McQueen, but fans of pop culture in general. Movie stars, writers, motorcycle enthusiasts, comic book collectors, fans of cinema. It's an interesting place to spend the weekend.
That's the question that I really wanted answered, as I experienced Steve McQueen Days from more of a “behind the scenes” point of view than most of the other visitors. I'd become friends with Marshall Terrill, author of a dozen celebrity biographies, including three about McQueen.
We always find some time to hang out during these festivals and this time I armed myself with a tape recorder. What follows are bits and pieces of my recent interview with the author of Steve McQueen, Portrait of an American Rebel.
Marshall Terrill- I was going through a divorce. My wife had just left me, and then I lost my job. I was at a point where I just had nothing left to loose and thought I'll just roll the dice. With no wife at home and no job to go to, there was really no reason I could think of not to do it. That's kind of what pushed me into writing the first book.
GP?- Why McQueen, of all the subjects out there to choose from?
MT- I always felt he had a certain mystique about him. He was certainly one of the most interesting celebrities out there because he was never predictable. Plus he did a lot of things us guys would dream about doing if we were in his position. And he got away with it. He was the bad boy. He was the rebel, and that's who all of us guys wanna be, right?
GP?- Even though there were already a few other books written about McQueen, why did you choose to write another?
MT- True, there were other books written about him, but I always felt like they never really got it right.
In Portrait of an American rebel, the complexity of Steve McQueen, the person, is slowly revealed, as Marshall takes us through McQueen's early life in his hometown of Slater, Mo, all to way to the inner circle of Hollywood's elite.
Marshall Terrill leaves no stone unturned in his quest to find the truth behind the man and the legend. The interviews he conducted for the book read like a virtual who's who of yesterdays Hollywood, including actors James Coburn, Richard Attenborough, Robert Vaughn, and Adam West.
GT?- How much research goes into a book like this. For this third book, what's your schedule been like?
MT- Well, I work a full time job, so I get up in the morning about six AM and write until eight or so, then I go to work. When I get home, I go for a ten mile bike ride everyday. That's important. Then from about eight until ten, and sometimes twelve, I work. On Saturday and Sunday, I'll work twelve hours a day, and it's not just writing;it's transcribing interviews, editing, research...that's why I need that ten mile bike ride. It's helps me think about what I need to write. I can concentrate..focus, formulate.
GP?- How do you feel about deadlines? Can you take me through the writing process for you?
MT- I hate deadlines. I usually don't write on deadlines very often. What I usually do is write the book, finish it, have it edited and polished, and then I shop it around for a publisher. A publisher is more apt to agree to a finished project than a concept. Or a proposal. You really have to establish yourself in order to sell a book, via proposal. In my thirteen books, I've only sold two that way.
GP?- Why did you choose non fiction writing, as opposed to fiction?
MT- Whenever I read, I wanna learn something, so I've always read non fiction. I want to learn something about who I'm writing about and I do. There's so much research that goes into it.
GP?- I don't know how much this effects the non fiction business that your involved in, but how do you see the future of publishing on your end? Specifically, do you have any thoughts or opinions on new technology like Kindle? You've hinted at retirement.
MT- Oh, I absolutely do. I have an opinion on it. I don't like that direction, and it seems like if that's what the markets going to dictate, I don't wanna write anymore. I want it to be in a book, not a Kindle machine, where people read it out of a machine (laughs) that's not how books were intended. I'm just totally old school that way.
GP?- You're going to stop writing?
MT?- I'm hanging up my spurs.
GP?- Because of these advancements?
MT- Yes, that's part of the reason. Writers are really getting effected financially by these advancements. Let's face it, we're starting to see the death of everything. Music, with iPods, and now we're beginning to see the death of video stores..there's the red box..and now books..but the thing is, the market is dictating that, so I can't criticize the way that the markets going. Therefore, if I'm gonna write a product that's gonna end up on some machine, then I'm just gonna take myself out of the equation.
When the interview ended I thanked Marshall for his time and I thought about one of his quotes from his first book about McQueen. I think it accuratly describes the answer to the question that I asked myself in the begining.
Who was Steve McQueen?
--> Steve McQueen was many individuals wrapped in one. He was honest, dishonest, loving, hating, caring, devious, simple, complex, intelligent, uneducated, modest, cocky, mature, childish. He was capable of espousing his love for his wife, and truely mean it, then suddenly have an affair. He could be extremely cheap with friends while being generous to strangers. He would talk of the dangers of drugs, yet he couldn't stop himself from taking them. Paradoxes have always fascinated me, and Steve McQueen was the ultimate paradox. [ Marshall Terrill ]
As I left Steve McQueen Days behind me, I couldn't help thinking about what it must have been like to actually be McQueen? Being a superstar in the 60's and 70's. Being friends with such legends as Bruce Lee and Frank Sinatra. Being a stunt man, and a race car driver. He remains an amazing figure in our pop culture history, not only because of his movies, or his quotes, but because of his drive to succeed. From a boy who ran away from home and took a job selling pencils, to a United States Marine, to one of the highest paid actors in the world. Steve McQueen really was the King of Cool. He was a rebel on a motorcycle. Fearless and tough, the kind of guy who always held his middle finger up to the world.
Barbara McQueen and I with a signed cover of Cosmo I bought at an auction. [She's on the cover]-circa 1974
In Slater, the Pharmacy is also a restaurant
Me and actress Adrienne McQueen of HBO's True Blood
Slater built to scale on a model train set
A limited edition comic book called THE NAM about 60's pinup and Viet Nam War Legend Chris Noel