McQueen’s Early Days

My sister and her boyfriend were kind and generous as usual and took me to The Last Bookstore in Downtown Los Angeles over the weekend. If you’re in Los Angeles and love books then this large, organized new and used bookstore is for you.

The Last Bookstore in DTLA

One of my discoveries at TLB was William Claxton’s Steve McQueen Photographs, published by Taschen in 2004. The late Claxton was born and raised in Southern California, and he was a famous photographer of jazz musicians, movie stars, and fashion models. Claxton and the mega movie star Steven McQueen became friends in the 1960s, and the book’s collection of photographs charts McQueen’s stardom right before and after John Sturges’s The Great Escape immortalized McQueen on celluloid.

Having read Marc Eliot’s very thorough biography on McQueen as well as the supremely touching memoir by Neil McQueen-Toffel (McQueen’s first wife), I was struck by Claxton’s frankness in his linear notes for the photos in this book. Rather than submit to blind worship of McQueen, Claxton mentions McQueen’s abusive treatment of studio-lent automobiles, general distrust of people, and rumored cocaine use (confirmed in Toffel’s book). I was also surprised to learn through the book that McQueen’s first child Terry had passed away. I was less surprised to see some of Claxton’s more tender photos of tough guy persona McQueen cuddling his family cat.

As film critic David Thomson has noted, McQueen is now regarded as somewhat of a hero. Though he passed away in 1980, the influence of The King of Cool continues to live on.

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