April 21, 2010
Marshall Terrill is one of the world’s foremost Steve McQueen experts, having written three books on the actor with a fourth in the works. Yet, he doesn’t have an obvious connection to the motorcycle-loving rebel movie star of the 1960s and ’70s.
McQueen grew up in the farming community of Slater, 42 miles north of Sedalia; Terrill is from Arizona. McQueen communicated through iconic movie roles; Terrill communicates through meticulously researched biographies. McQueen worked hard on his movies out of a desire to be financially secure; Terrill worked hard on his first book out of anger over his divorce.
McQueen never knew his father; Terrill grew up watching McQueen movies like “The Thomas Crown Affair,” “Bullitt” and “The Towering Inferno” with his dad.
“People all over the world tell me the same thing — they had that bonding experience with their dad, watching McQueen movies,” Terrill said in a recent phone interview. “McQueen transcends generations, like the Beatles.”
On Saturday, Slater will host its fourth annual Steve McQueen Day. For a panel discussion at 9:30 a.m. at City Hall, Terrill will share the stage with Pat Johnson, McQueen’s martial arts instructor; Chris Noel, his co-star in “Soldier in the Rain”; and Sharon Farrell, his co-star in “The Rievers.”
Terrill, a founder of McQueen Day, will also push the recently released “Steve McQueen: A Tribute to the King of Cool,” which features photos from McQueen’s life.
Every time Terrill sees an actor who tries to emulate McQueen — Kevin Costner, Mickey Rourke, Russell Crowe, Daniel Craig — they always come up short in his eyes.
“McQueen created that template for the outsider who comes into a situation with his own set of rules, who is always drawn into the action rather than creating it, the reluctant hero,” said Terrill, a former reporter who now works in public relations for Arizona State University.
“There was something likable about him. The big theme in a lot of his movies is escape — ‘The Great Escape,’ ‘Papillon,’ ‘The Outsider.’ He was the guy who could get it done.”
Terrill’s first book, “Steve McQueen: Portrait of an American Rebel,” came out in 1993, 13 years after McQueen’s death at age 50 from cancer. Terrill couldn’t find a job after graduating from college, so he opted to write a biography. He knew paradoxes made subjects compelling, and McQueen, who spent his formative years on his great uncle’s farm just outside Slater, was the definition of a paradox.
“He could be absolutely nice to one person, and nasty to the next person,” Terrill said. “He never gave a set answer. You could never predict what he was going to do. To me, that makes him absolutely fascinating. He was nice to the common man, but studio executives got his wrath.”
If someone were to write a biography of Terrill, the paradox would be “that I’m a pretty laid-back, low-key guy, but I like all these ratty characters — McQueen, Elvis Presley, Pistol Pete Maravich. They all blazed their own path. I’m too scared to do anything like that.”
When Terrill did the research and interviews for “Portrait of an American Rebel,” he was driven by anger.
“My wife left me, and anger fueled my writing,” Terrill said. “Then I realized I really enjoy this. I went out to Hollywood, I met actors, and I couldn’t believe they were inviting me into their house and talking to me.”
It’s possible that no one knows McQueen better than Terrill. And yet, the biographer never met the actor.
“I’m kind of glad I didn’t, because now I can have that objectivity,” said Terrill. “I just do like a reporter does. I write the narrative. But I allow key people to give the insight.”
If you go
What: Steve McQueen Day
When: 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday
Where: Slater, 42 miles north of Sedalia
Saturday’s Steve McQueen Day schedule of events
9 a.m. — Car Show/Bike Show registration at Main and Maple streets
9:30 a.m. — Special Guest Panel at Slater City Hall on Main Street, with Pat Johnson, Chris Noel (actress, co-star of “Soldier In The Rain”), Sharon Farrell (actress, co-star of “The Rievers”), Marshall Terrill and Dan Viets
10 a.m. to 3 p.m. — School House open
11 a.m. to 1 p.m. — “Steve McQueen: A Tribute to the King of Cool” debuting by Marshall Terrill at Slater Main Street News, Chris Noel and Sharon Farrell photo signing, free birthday cake
11 a.m. to 4 p.m. — Wine tasting at The Grape Vine Restaurant, featuring Missouri wines
Noon — Beer Garden open at Doc’s, Bike Rodeo registration on Main Street
12:30 p.m. — Bike Rodeo starts
1:30 p.m. — Steve McQueen Memorial Highway Dedication at Veterans Park, Brick Dedications with Chris Noel at Veterans Park, Bike Raffle Drawing with Sharon Farrell at Veterans Park
2 p.m. — “Steve McQueen: A Tribute to the King of Cool” by Marshall Terrill Book Signing at Slater Main Street News
2:30 p.m. — Movie “The Rievers” starring Sharon Farrell at City Hall
2:45 p.m. — Car/Bike Awards at Main and Maple streets
3:15 p.m. — Car/Bike Parade, Steve McQueen Memorial Parade Line-up on Main and Front streets
5 p.m. — Movie “Soldier in the Rain” starring Chris Noel at City Hall