8 Fast Facts About Steve McQueen

Steve McQueen stars in The Great Escape (1963).
Steve McQueen stars in The Great Escape (1963).
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Before his death in 1980 at the age of 50 following a battle with pleural mesothelioma, a rare type of lung cancer, Steve McQueen was considered one of cinema’s greatest leading men. The actor’s laid-back screen persona helped films like 1963's The Great Escape, 1968's Bullitt, and 1972's The Getaway become indelible parts of 20th century filmmaking. In honor of what would have been McQueen’s 90th birthday March 24, we’re taking a look at some facts surrounding his life and career.

1. Steve McQueen was sent to reform school.

Steve McQueen’s counterculture, anti-authority onscreen presence wasn’t much of a stretch. Born in Beech Grove, Indiana on March 24, 1930, McQueen was a less-than-model student. His parents, William and Julian, separated when McQueen was only a few months old. When he was 12 years old, McQueen reunited with his mother and relocated to Los Angeles, where the soon-to-be-super star began running with area gangs who committed infractions like stealing hubcaps. McQueen eventually wound up in the California Junior Boys Republic, a reform school in Chino. McQueen fled from the property a few times before a staff member took him under his wing and eased some of his antisocial behavior. McQueen would later return to the school to give inspirational talks after making it in Hollywood.

2. Steve McQueen’s military service led him into acting.

Actor Steve McQueen is pictured in London, England
Steve McQueen.
McCarthy, Getty Images

After reform school, McQueen moved to New York with his mother and then enlisted in the Merchant Marines. In 1947, he joined the Marine Corps and received training on how to be a tank driver. He served through 1950, at which point he returned to New York and, with the help of the G.I. Bill, enrolled in the Neighborhood Playhouse acting troupe. Later, he was admitted to the Actors Studio under teacher Lee Strasberg, which is where his career began taking off.

3. Steve McQueen was almost a member of the Rat Pack.

One of McQueen’s first big-screen breaks came in the 1959 World War II film Never So Few, co-starring Frank Sinatra. McQueen got the role while he was a regular on the television series Wanted: Dead or Alive because Sinatra's friend Sammy Davis Jr. criticized Sinatra’s boorish behavior on a radio show. A vengeful Sinatra recast him with McQueen, who later resisted becoming a full-fledged member of the singer’s boozing Rat Pack social circle because he was warned he might never break out from under Sinatra’s shadow. He likely chose wisely, as major stardom was around the corner with 1963’s POW drama The Great Escape.

4. Steve McQueen partnered with Barbra Streisand and Dustin Hoffman to open a film studio.

Steve McQueen on the set of 'Nevada Smith' (1966).
Steve McQueen on the set of Nevada Smith (1966).
Keystone/Getty Images

Echoing the 1919 formation of United Artists by Charlie Chaplin, D.W. Griffith, Douglas Fairbanks, and Mary Pickford, the 1969 formation of First Artists was intended to give movie stars autonomy over their careers. Paul Newman, Barbra Streisand, and Sidney Poitier were among the early enlistees, with McQueen and Dustin Hoffman joining later. At First Artists, actors would forego their typically high salaries in order to have creative control over their films. McQueen made the well-received 1972 film The Getaway under this agreement, though his other film, 1978's An Enemy of the People, saw him overweight and with a beard, a stark contrast to his matinee idol image. Unfortunately, the group was only loosely organized, turning out just 15 pictures over a 10-year period before folding in 1979.

5. Steve McQueen once scared Bruce Lee.

McQueen and Bruce Lee were friends at a time Lee was gaining popularity as the co-star of The Green Hornet, the mid-1960s action series that aspired to emulate the success of Batman. According to Lee biographer Matthew Polly, Lee was intent on acquiring a Porsche 911S Targa like the one owned by McQueen. But while McQueen was an avid racing fan and skilled driver, Lee was not. To make sure Lee understood the risk involved with the fast car, McQueen took him out in the Santa Monica Mountains, which featured steep cliff drops, and proceeded to slide the car and do 180-degree turns. Lee eventually wound up huddled on the floor, screaming at McQueen to stop.

6. Steve McQueen’s pet project was a dangerous one.

Filming of 1971’s Le Mans was a precarious proposition for McQueen, who wanted to imbue the movie—about a race car driver—with his own personal love of racing. As such, McQueen insisted on doing much of his own driving and shooting several retakes of dangerous driving stunts. One stunt driver, David Piper, lost part of his right leg after an accident. McQueen even got into an accident off-camera, rolling a car but escaping without any serious physical injury.

7. Steve McQueen insisted on a peculiar contract for The Towering Inferno.

Producer Irwin Allen was known for disaster epics, none more incendiary than 1974’s The Towering Inferno, with a plot that seems self-explanatory. When Allen recruited both McQueen and Paul Newman for the project, McQueen’s management insisted that neither star receive “top” billing over the other. As a result, credits for the film on posters and other material have McQueen’s name first, with Newman’s being no higher than half a letter above McQueen’s.

8. Steve McQueen was originally supposed to star in The Bodyguard.

The Bodyguard, the 1992 hit film about a private security guard (Kevin Costner) protecting a pop singer (Whitney Houston), had been in development for years. The script was originally written in 1975 for McQueen by Lawrence Kasdan, who would go on to write 1981’s Raiders of the Lost Ark. Diana Ross was considered for the part that ultimately went to Houston. McQueen was also one of the names talked about for the role of John Rambo in the long-gestating adaptation of David Morrell’s 1972 novel First Blood.

Watch John Krasinski Interview Steve Carell About The Office's 15th Anniversary

John Krasinski and Steve Carell in The Office.
John Krasinski and Steve Carell in The Office.
NBC Universal, Inc.

The Office just passed a major milestone: It has been 15 years since the American adaptation of Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant's hit British sitcom made its way to NBC, where it ran for nine seasons. To celebrate the show's big anniversary, former co-stars John Krasinski and Steve Carell reunited in the best way possible: Carell appeared as a guest on Krasinski's new YouTube show, where the two decided to spread some positivity.

Krasinski just launched his very own news show titled Some Good News, and it's exactly what we've all been needing. During this segment, he interviewed Carell via video call, and the two shared their favorite memories of working on the beloved workplace comedy.

"It's such a happy surprise," Carell said of The Office's continued success. "After all these years people are still tuning in and finding it." The two also addressed the question that's been on every fan's mind: is there a chance that we'll see the Dunder Mifflin crew reunite in some way?

"Listen, I know everyone's talking about a reunion," Krasinski said. "Hopefully one day we'll just all get to reunite as people."

You can watch the full episode below. (Carell joins the video around the 5:50 minute mark.)

15 Facts About John Brown, the Real-Life Abolitionist at the Center of The Good Lord Bird

John Brown, circa 1846.
John Brown, circa 1846.
Augustus Washington/Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Abolitionist John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry on October 16, 1859, was meant to start an armed slave revolt, and ultimately end slavery. Though Brown succeeded in taking over the federal armory, the revolt never came to pass—and Brown paid for the escapade with his life.

In the more than 160 years since that raid, John Brown has been called a hero, a madman, a martyr, and a terrorist. Now Showtime is exploring his legacy with an adaption of James McBride’s The Good Lord Bird. Like the novel it’s based on, the miniseries—which stars Ethan Hawke—will cover the exploits of Brown and his allies. Here's what you should know about John Brown before you watch.

1. John Brown was born into an abolitionist family on May 9, 1800.

John Brown was born to Owen and Ruth Mills Brown in Torrington, Connecticut, on May 9, 1800. After his family relocated to Hudson, Ohio (where John was raised), their new home would become an Underground Railroad station. Owen would go on to co-found the Western Reserve Anti-Slavery Society and was a trustee at the Oberlin Collegiate Institute, one of the first American colleges to admit black (and female) students.

2. John Brown declared bankruptcy at age 42.

At 16, Brown went to school with the hope of becoming a minister, but eventually left the school and, like his father, became a tanner. He also dabbled in surveying, canal-building, and the wool trade. In 1835, he bought land in northeastern Ohio. Thanks partly the financial panic of 1837, Brown couldn’t satisfy his creditors and had to declare bankruptcy in 1842. He later tried peddling American wool abroad in Europe, where he was forced to sell it at severely reduced prices. This opened the door for multiple lawsuits when Brown returned to America.

3. John Brown's Pennsylvania home was a stop on the Underground Railroad.

The John Brown Tannery Site in Pennsylvania
The John Brown Tannery Site in Pennsylvania.
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Sometime around 1825, Brown moved himself and his family to Guys Mills, Pennsylvania, where he set up a tannery and built a house and a barn with a hidden room that was used by slaves on the run. Brown reportedly helped 2500 slaves during his time in Pennsylvania; the building was destroyed in 1907 [PDF], but the site, which is now a museum that is open to the public, is on the National Register of Historic Places. Brown moved his family back to Ohio in 1836.

4. After Elijah Lovejoy's murder, John Brown pledged to end slavery.

Elijah Lovejoy was a journalist and the editor of the St. Louis/Alton Observer, a staunchly anti-slavery newspaper. His editorials enraged those who defended slavery, and in 1837, Lovejoy was killed when a mob attacked the newspaper’s headquarters.

The incident lit a fire under Brown. When he was told about Lovejoy’s murder at an abolitionist prayer meeting in Hudson, Brown—a deeply religious man—stood up and raised his right hand, saying “Here, before God, in the presence of these witnesses, from this time, I consecrate my life to the destruction of slavery."

5. John Brown moved to the Kansas Territory after the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act.

In 1854, Congress passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which decreed that it would be the people of Kansas and Nebraska who would decide if their territories would be free states or slave states. New England abolitionists hoping to convert the Kansas Territory into a Free State moved there in droves and founded the city of Lawrence. By the end of 1855, John Brown had also relocated to Kansas, along with six of his sons and his son-in-law. Opposing the newcomers were slavery supporters who had also arrived in large numbers.

6. John Brown’s supporters killed five pro-slavery men at the 1856 Pottawatomie Massacre.

A John Brown mural by John Steuart Curry
A John Brown mural by John Steuart Curry.
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

On May 21, 1856, Lawrence was sacked by pro-slavery forces. The next day, Charles Sumner, an anti-slavery Senator from Massachusetts, was beaten with a cane by Representative Preston Brooks on the Senate floor until he lost consciousness. (A few days earlier, Sumner had insulted Democratic senators Stephen Douglas and Andrew Butler in his "Crime Against Kansas" speech; Brooks was a representative from Butler’s state of South Carolina.)

In response to those events, Brown led a group of abolitionists into a pro-slavery settlement by the Pottawatomie Creek on the night of May 24. On Brown’s orders, five slavery sympathizers were forced out of their houses and killed with broadswords.

Newspapers across the country denounced the attack—and John Brown in particular. But that didn't dissuade him: Before his final departure from Kansas in 1859, Brown participated in many other battles across the region. He lost a son, Frederick Brown, in the fighting.

7. John Brown led a party of liberated slaves all the way from Missouri to Michigan.

In December 1858, John Brown crossed the Kansas border and entered the slave state of Missouri. Once there, he and his allies freed 11 slaves and led them all the way to Detroit, Michigan, covering a distance of more than 1000 miles. (One of the liberated women gave birth en route.) Brown’s men had killed a slaveholder during their Missouri raid, so President James Buchanan put a $250 bounty on the famed abolitionist. That didn’t stop Brown, who got to watch the people he’d helped free board a ferry and slip away into Canada.

8. John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry was meant to instigate a nationwide slave uprising.

On October 16, 1859, Brown and 18 men—including five African Americans—seized control of a U.S. armory in the Jefferson County, Virginia (today part of West Virginia) town of Harpers Ferry. The facility had around 100,000 weapons stockpiled there by the late 1850s. Brown hoped his actions would inspire a large-scale slave rebellion, with enslaved peoples rushing to collect free guns, but the insurrection never came.

9. Robert E. Lee played a part in John Brown’s arrest.

Artist Thomas Hovenden depicts John Brown after his capture.
Artist Thomas Hovenden depicts John Brown after his capture.
The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images

Shortly after Brown took Harpers Ferry, the area was surrounded by local militias. On the orders of President Buchanan, Brevet Colonel Robert E. Lee entered the fray with a detachment of U.S. Marines. The combined might of regional and federal forces proved too much for Brown, who was captured in the Harpers Ferry engine house on October 18, 1859. Ten of Brown's men died, including two more of his sons.

10. John Brown was put on trial a week after his capture.

After his capture, Brown—along with Aaron Stevens, Edwin Coppoc, Shields Green, and John Copeland—was put on trial. When asked if the defendants had counsel, Brown responded:

"Virginians, I did not ask for any quarter at the time I was taken. I did not ask to have my life spared. The Governor of the State of Virginia tendered me his assurance that I should have a fair trial: but, under no circumstances whatever will I be able to have a fair trial. If you seek my blood, you can have it at any moment, without this mockery of a trial. I have had no counsel: I have not been able to advise with anyone ... I am ready for my fate. I do not ask a trial. I beg for no mockery of a trial—no insult—nothing but that which conscience gives, or cowardice would drive you to practice. I ask again to be excused from the mockery of a trial."

Brown would go on to plead not guilty. Just days later, he was found “guilty of treason, and conspiring and advising with slaves and others to rebel, and murder in the first degree” and was sentenced to hang.

11. John Brown made a grim prophecy on the morning of his death.

On the morning of December 2, 1859, Brown passed his jailor a note that read, “I … am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away, but with blood.” He was hanged later that day.

12. Victor Hugo defended John Brown.

Victor Hugo—the author of Les Misérables and The Hunchback of Notre Dame, who was also an abolitionist—penned an open letter on John Brown’s behalf in 1859. Desperate to see him pardoned, Hugo wrote, “I fall on my knees, weeping before the great starry banner of the New World … I implore the illustrious American Republic, sister of the French Republic, to see to the safety of the universal moral law, to save John Brown.” Hugo’s appeals were of no use. The letter was dated December 2—the day Brown was hanged.

13. Abraham Lincoln commented on John Brown's death.

Abraham Lincoln, who was then in Kansas, said, “Old John Brown has been executed for treason against a State. We cannot object, even though he agreed with us in thinking slavery wrong. That cannot excuse violence, bloodshed and treason. It could avail him nothing that he might think himself right.”

14. John Brown was buried in North Elba, New York.

John Brown's gravesite in New York
John Brown's gravesite in New York.
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

In 1849, Brown had purchased 244 acres of property from Gerrit Smith, a wealthy abolitionist, in North Elba, New York. The property was near Timbuctoo, a 120,000-acre settlement that Smith had started in 1846 to give African American families the property they needed in order to vote (at that time, state law required black residents to own $250 worth of property to cast a vote). Brown had promised Smith that he would assist his new neighbors in cultivating the mountainous terrain.

When Brown was executed, his family interred the body at their North Elba farm—which is now a New York State Historic Site.

15. The tribute song "John Brown's Body" shares its melody with “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

It didn’t take long for Brown to become a martyr. Early in the 1860s, the basic melody of “Say Brothers Will You Meet Us,” a popular camp hymn, was fitted with new lyrics about the slain abolitionist. Titled “John Brown’s Body,” the song spread like wildfire in the north—despite having some lines that were deemed unsavory. Julia Ward Howe took the melody and gave it yet another set of lyrics. Thus was born “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” a Union marching anthem that's still widely known today.