To any car or motorcycle enthusiast, Steve McQueen was more than just a movie star. He was a guy who lived his life in the fast lane on race tracks, the deserts of California and Mexico, and occasionally on Mulholland Drive in the Hollywood Hills.
McQueen passed away thirty years ago this week, and had he lived, he would have turned 80 this past May. While the legendary actor may be gone, his legacy still lives large.
To commemorate the anniversary of his passing, the non-profit Jules Verne Adventures organization decided that a Steve McQueen Festival would be in order. And with the help of Councilman Tom LaBonge, the intersection of Santa Monica Boulevard and Highland Avenue was dedicated as “Steve McQueen Square” on November 7, the same day McQueen left us back in 1980.
But of course since it was to honor a legendary car and motorcycle buff, it would only be fitting that a parade of cars travels in procession to the site. With the help of LaBonge’s office and the LAPD Hollywood Division, dozens of Steve’s fans climbed into various Porsches, Jaguars and Mustangs (cars all made a little more noteworthy by the star during his life) and did a brief tour of Hollywood Boulevard. The motor parade was led by McQueen’s son Chad.
There was a brief stop at the official Steve McQueen star on the Walk of Fame, right near the El Capitan Theatre. Then it was off to the new Steve McQueen Square, with Chad McQueen again leading the crowd, piloting a dark green Mustang similar to the one his dad thrilled movie audiences with in Bullitt.
With members of the McQueen family looking on, including Steve’s grandchildren and even his ex-wife Neile, LaBonge proudly showed off the sign that will grace the intersection.
“Santa Monica Boulevard is part of the legendary Route 66, and Highland Avenue is the gateway to Hollywood,” said the councilman, “so it’s a fitting intersection to honor this great star.”
The crowd had parked their cars and surrounded the McQueen family, with many people wearing shirts with the late actor’s likeness or images from his films. Chad McQueen said he was a little overwhelmed, but remarked that the fans and the city had helped turn November 7 from very bad day into one of celebration.
“When I looked in the rear view mirror during the parade, I couldn’t believe how many cars were back there,” the younger McQueen said.
About having the LAPD help clear traffic for the parade, he quipped, “That’s the first time I’ve ever been behind a police car with its lights on!”
The accolades for Steve McQueen will continue on Thursday, November 11, when a special screening of Bullitt will take place at the Cinerama Dome on Sunset Boulevard. The red carpet event, produced by and benefiting Jules Verne Adventures, will feature many of the surviving cast and crew from the film, as well as Chad and his son Steven, who both have acting resumes themselves.
For many of us who consider ourselves automobile and motorsports buffs, Steve McQueen’s body of work will always be legendary cinema. From the motorcycle jump in The Great Escape, to the car chase in Bullitt, to the very realistic racing footage captured for Le Mans, no other actor was our kind of guy more than he was. He truly earned his nickname, the “King of Cool.”
Now, as we make our way through Steve McQueen Square in our everyday cars, we can look up at that sign, and maybe even farther skyward and say, “Thanks, Steve.”
I’ll see you down the road.
Dave Kunz is the automotive reporter at KABC-TV Channel 7 and can be heard on “The Car Show” Saturdays at 9 a.m. on KPFK, 90.7 FM. E-mail Dave at TVCarz @ pacbell.net.