Thursday, July 20, 2006

Memories of Steve McQueen

Steve Crump of the Twin Falls Times writes about some great Steve McQueen moments:

My wife and I spent a few days in Ketchum, celebrating our anniversary. It was very romantic — especially the part about Steve McQueen’s tractor.

Sitting in the parking of our hotel was a well-used Farmall. I know this because my dad used them in an always expensive and often futile attempt to till eastern Idaho. One of the employees of the hotel told us that this particular Farmall had been on the premises since it had been purchased from the estate of actor Steve McQueen, who died in 1980. The fellow explained that there had been longstanding plans to restore the machine, and he said some other stuff too. But I don’t remember much after he started talking about engines and Steve McQueen.

McQueen, you see, left behind a Porsche 917, a Porsche 908, a Ferrari 512, a Ferrari Lusso Berlinetta, a Jaguar-D and a Porsche 356 Speedster. And he was responsible for two of the defining moments in the lives of most American males born before 1955.

The first came in a 1963 movie called “The Great Escape” in which McQueen played an American prisoner of war in Germany during World War II. McQueen escapes and is cornered by soldiers against a barbed-wire fence along the Swiss border.

By backing up quite a long ways and making a good deal of noise, McQueen’s character tries to jump the fence to freedom. It doesn’t work out, but who cares? Cool was born that day.

Later, McQueen portrayed a California cop named Bullitt in a film of the same name. Frank Bullitt loved to drive muscle cars — it was 1968 — at high rates of speed over the largely vertical streets of San Francisco in pursuit of badder guys with even heavier feet.

The movie’s director, Peter Yates, recalled that he was riding with McQueen during one especially harrowing chase scene.

“Steve, we’re running out of room!” Yates shouted.

“Pete, we’re running out of brakes!” McQueen replied.

Suffice it to say that Steve McQueen could have been elected president six or seven times. And that 26 years after his passing, the mere mention of his name in connection with things that go fast is enough make the heart of a risk-averse, thoroughly tame 54-year-old Subaru Outback owner go pitter-patter.

At dinner that evening, Victoria caught me gazing out the window at the silhouette of the Pioneer Mountains in the setting sun.

“You’re not thinking about us!" she fumed. “You’re thinking about how tall a barbed-wire fence you could jump on Steve McQueen’s Farmall!”

Point taken, but it could have been far worse.

I didn’t actually have to sleep on the tractor that night.

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