OK Baby Boomers, dust off your black and white TV sets. Even better, troll through the bins at your local video store for classic films like “The Magnificent Seven” and “Junior Bonner.” That should put you in the mood for paying homage to the so-called King of Cool, Steve McQueen. He’ll be inducted posthumously into the Hall of Great Western Performers, April 21, 2007, during the Western Heritage Awards at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City.
Born Terence Steven McQueen, March 24, 1930, he spent a troubled youth in reform schools, but managed to build a stellar movie career in the 1960s. It was a 1950s television series, “Wanted: Dead or Alive” that launched McQueen’s career. In the series, McQueen played a bounty hunter in the Old West. An innovative twist: he was a consummate gentleman who always gave half–or even all–of his reward money to charity. His character was a man of few words, and he carried a Winchester sawed-off shotgun, which he wore on his belt and fondly called his “Mare’s leg.” A bit of trivia for horse lovers is the fact that McQueen selected the horse he rode during the three seasons of the TV show. It’s said that the star visited a Los Angeles wrangler who showed him several horses he could choose from. Bypassing more sedate animals, McQueen settled on a black Quarter Horse with a star and white socks. The greenbroke gelding named Ringo proved to be a handful on the sound stage, frequently spooking and stepping on McQueen’s toes. Nonetheless, the star bonded with the headstrong horse, admiring the animal’s spirit.
McQueen also starred in The Magnificent Seven (1960), which tells the tale of seven American gunslingers coming to the aid of a small Mexican village terrorized by bandits. In 1966, he starred in Nevada Smith as a young son of an Indian mother and white father. When his father is killed in a dispute over gold, McQueen’s character sets out after the three men responsible. In Junior Bonner (1972), McQueen plays an ex-rodeo star who returns home to enter a local rodeo contest. And In 1980, McQueen starred in Tom Horn, where the main character witnesses the changing of the West.
Though he starred in many non-western flicks, the National Cowboy Museum is honoring McQueen for his roles in the films where he wore a cowboy hat. For more information on the museum, or for details about the black-tie gala event, visit www.nationalcowboymuseum.org.