Old School Americana & Nostalgia


How Steve McQueen’s Time in the Marines Influenced His Acting Roles

How Steve McQueen’s Time in the Marines Influenced His Acting Roles

Steve McQueen looked back on his time in the United States Marine Corps between 1947 and 1950 with a deep appreciation. He learned a lot of life lessons while he was in the Marines. During that time, moviegoers were smitten with on-screen military characters who were pretty black-and-white in how they showed up. A good guy in a white hat versus a villain in a black hat was easy to do.

Steve McQueen often talked about his time in the Marines. We get a little information from author Marshall Terrill, who wrote Steve McQueen: In His Own Words. “The Marines made a man out of me,” McQueen said. “I learned how to get along with others, and I had a platform to jump off of.”

He was honorably discharged in 1950. McQueen made his way into the television world. He played Josh Randall in Wanted: Dead or Alive, which proved to be successful. Movies were up next for Steve McQueen in 1961 with Hell is for Heroes.

Steve McQueen’s ‘Hell is for Heroes’ Changed View Of War

This movie changed the way war was depicted on movie screens. It was probably tough for some people to watch, as it represented a tougher side to war movies.

Making a war movie like Hell is for Heroes allowed moviegoers to see a better resemblance of what happens in the war zone. It also gave Marine veteran Steve McQueen room to do movie magic, presenting a tougher side to a soldier. He said that the young men are shown coming back as “fair-haired boys from Butte, Montana with braces in their teeth.”

Steve McQueen wrapped himself up in a role that he could play with a sense of reality. He talked about the changing times of movies with the Redding, Calif., Record Searchlight.

“Audiences are a lot hepper now,” he said, “and the stuff with the good guys in the white hats and the bad guys in the black hats doesn’t hold them anymore. In my own way, I’m going to try to create a hero without a lot of white-wash. This guy is going to be as truthful as I know how to make him.”

Steve McQueen was one interesting cat. He had a killer car collection and frequent battles with movie directors and producers. A stormy love life played itself across newspapers and tabloid magazines. McQueen’s work backed up the anti-hero imagery found in the counterculture of the 1960s. He pretty much embraced that role, whether it was in television or movies.

He did not have easy breaks as a kid and teenager. His father left him and his mother when he was six months old. Ultimately, he spent time on a farm with his grandparents.

McQueen Found His First Big Break on TV

Steve McQueen eventually found his way into the movie world. He was a daredevil, too, who loved to drive fast cars and motorcycles. Taking time away from Wanted: Dead or Alive, he stood out from the crowd in The Magnificent Seven in 1960. After that movie came The Great Escape, where he was among another stellar cast of actors.

As the ’60s crept along, Steve McQueen also starred in Bullitt, which was probably his favorite film. Yet the 1970s would see McQueen become the highest-paid actor in the world. Among his movies were Le Mans, Junior Bonner, and The Getaway. While working on The Getaway, he met his future wife, Ali McGraw.

He only made one more movie this decade, landing a major starring role in The Towering Inferno. As part of his deal, McQueen received a $1 million lump sum as well as a percentage of the gross. He ended up getting a sweet deal as the movie raked in $55 million at the box office.

Steve McQueen only had two movies out in the 1980s, as his focus shifted to racing. But he became ill with cancer due to asbestos exposure in 1979. Sadly, he died from a heart attack at just 50 years old.

All these years later, though, Steve McQueen is still revered for his film and TV work. He earned his nickname, the “King of Cool.”