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Exclusive interview with Richard Martin, the director of An American Rebel: Steve McQueen.


Richard Martin first became a friend of Steve McQueen's in early
1950's Greenwich Village, New York, and has recently directed a
new 90 minute feature film length documentary about Steve called
An American Rebel: Steve McQueen, which is available on DVD.

In this exclusive interview, Richard, an award winning Producer and
Director, talks to McQueenOnline about his early days hanging out
with Steve in Greenwich Village, and delves into his documentary.

Richard Martin.
Richard Martin
On Richard's friendship with Steve McQueen.

MO: When did you first meet Steve?

RM: When he got out of the marine corps. I would say in the early 50's... '52, '53 around there.

MO: Where did Steve live during his Greenwich Village days?

RM: Well he lived in several places in Greenwich Village. He lived for a while in McDougle St... I think it was 118 McDougle. That was his mothers place - it was before or after he stayed there. He lived there for a while... a cold water flat.

Also he lived in Sheridan Square... there was a place there that he shared right near "Louis" (tavern) - it was about a block and a half away. Steve also stayed with me for a short period of time at 27 N. Washington Square while apartment hunting. But he lived in a half a dozen places.

He also lived nearby 'The El' (an elevated train that ran along 3rd avenue) on 72st and 1st Avenue, but that was not in Greenwich Village.

MO: Can you tell me how you and Steve became friends, and about your early days hanging out with him in Greenwich Village?

Documentary Poster RM: We used to go to the same places, a place called "Louis Tavern" in Greenwich Village, it was right in Sheridan Square, and it was a bar, and the reason we all went there was because there was a lot of good looking women there, and you could buy a glass of beer for 10 cents. So we met there, and we started to talk and hang out there, and introduced each other to the girls we knew... and also a lot of actors hung out there. Then we used to go to the "Mineta Tavern", which was another place close by.

And then we did something which I didn't mention in the film, we used to go to a place.... which a lot of people will think.... "What! Steve McQueen going into a health food store!?".... there used to be a place... there were two health food stores... one was called "Vim and Vigour" which was on 57th street, and there was one called "The Salad Bowl", and we used to go into "The Salad Bowl" at around lunch time and have a juice, like a carrot juice, or carrot and green - and the reason we went in there was because a lot of girls used to go in there (laughs), a lot of nice looking girls. And at that time, the actor, the guy who did Route 66, George Maharis, worked there. We used to kind of laugh at Maharis, because he would kind of almost throw the fork and knife at the people, instead of laying it down like you would normally if you're waiting on tables. Steve and I got a big kick out of that. Then we got to know George, and when he started doing the show in Hollywood there were a couple of benefits that Steve went to, and one of them that I went to.

And we used to play poker, I brought him too a place called "The Actors Service" on 58th Street and introduced him to the actors I knew there... this is after I first met him... and that was nearby... they were all in Midtown Manhattan... that was near "The Salad Bowl" so that we just popped in there and then we'd hang out.

MO: And you both shared an interest in fast cars...

RM: I had a sports car, an MG, and he was.... "can I drive it?" I said "sure." He was kind of surprised that I said yes... (laughs) not that I was worried he was gonna wreck it or anything. But he was fine, he drove it, and I guess he felt very good that I would let him drive my car.

We were into the same thing, I never got into racing, but we still loved fast cars, and always looked at a good looking car that was around New York and talked to the driver. We met one guy that had a Ferrari in those days, and he was a writer, and he'd take us for a quick ride, he'd come into "Louis Tavern" once in a while... meet us over there and take us for a little spin down East River Drive.

And there was a place on 6th Avenue, a big magazine place, it was kind of a drug store, we'd go in there, he used to read the magazines, browse through them... racing cars and new cars. He was always intrigued by fast cars.

MO: What was Steve like in the early days?

RM: Ironically enough, in New York, people that knew Steve, they always said one thing about this guy, they said "geez he was a great guy." He didn't try to hurt anybody, he was always a very nice guy. I don't know anyone that didn't like him in those days.

Steve was, basically, I don't really get into this in the film, which I really wanted to, but he was a very loyal guy. Like when he did Wanted: Dead or Alive, a lot of the people that were in that, that he knew from New York, you know, just friends and aquaintances that knocked around, but they usually were good actors... he hired them... Always without saying "I got you a job", he kind of just did it, he'd tell the casting people "say, he'd be good for this."

Steve was always very loyal. I know a guy got three jobs and he always told me "Steve never once said a word that he ever got me the job"... he just did. Very unassuming.

One guy that was an actor that knew him, he wrote a bad cheque in Las Vegas, and he told me the story, he said "I didn't know what to do, I figure they're gonna break my legs... I didn't want to go to him, because he can be generous with a dollar or not so generous"... he went over and he figured he's gotta ask Steve, so he asked him - Steve didn't say a word, he went over wrote him a check and that was it. And he got him a job... (without telling him his part in it)... but he knew Steve had to OK it. And afterwards Steve said, "hey Howie, hey, I see you've got a job, now you can pay me the money you owe me." (laughs)

MO: What was the "gameplan" for you guys at that time?

Documentary Poster RM: You don't have time to put all this into a 90 minute film, but basically when he started in the village at that period of time we really didn't know what we wanted to do, we just liked the people around there, you know there were a lot of artistic people, as I mentioned in the film, poets, musicians, people like Bob Dylan and those guys, they were in the village, they played those little clubs there for nothing, just about. So it was a very energetic period for artists, because Greenwich Village was really an art colony during that period, and that's intriguing because you met interesting people and you were kind of finding your way in life, because we were all... Steve was older than me, but we were all kind of like... "what are we gonna to do"... and we kind of fell into acting, because we had friends there that were doing it, and we kind of fell into it more than, you know, that we were dedicated, we kind of liked it in a way that, hey, you know... it's not bad, you can make a few dollars, you don't have to work 10 hours, 12 hours a day everday...

MO: It must have appeared like a much more attractive option than laying tiles, which was Steve's other main option at that time.

RM: Yeah, I think that during that period most of us, friends of mine, we kind of rebelled against... you know, "you should do this, and you should do that"... in other words basically get a job (laughs), a real job. Because the people were very interesting, you couldn't help but getting intrigued by the different people you would meet everyday. Someone would say, there's a show over here opening off-broadway, or there's a theater group, or there's a singer over here down at McDougle Street close by, and you'd jump over there, and it was working for practically nothing just to get known. And none of us at that period really were taking it seriously... though we started to do some acting... Steve did a couple off-broadway plays, I did a couple, and we thought "hey this is not bad." And as we went along Steve stayed with the acting, and I got tired of waiting for agents to call with a job so I got into writing, directing and producing, and went on that avenue. But Steve stuck with it, and when he got Wanted: Dead or Alive I think it was really the turning point, because he really could see himself, and really improve himself as an actor doing that show.

MO: Who were Steve's inspirations as an actor in those days?

RM: We always liked, because they were 'one off' type actors, Brando and Dean. Those were the two actors. We liked both of them, I think equally as well.

Brando of course was earlier, but Brando made a quick adjustment from Broadway into films, and he was unique. Even Dean studied Brando. Brando was the first one that really... you know... you could say that Brando was a character actor if you really think of it, because he wasn't a leading man, he was a character actor that became a big star in On the Waterfront and A Streetcar named Desire in New York. In those days you had leading men like Tyrone Power and Robert Taylor, they were good looking leads. And he kind of broke the mould. So Brando was kind of the guy we all looked at and said "hey, this guy, he excells as an actor." And then of course Dean came along. He (Steve) admired Dean and so did I, in a way. We saw that he was fresh talent.

MO: It's my understanding that Steve and James Dean knew each other...

RM: Dean knew of him, and he met Dean, and also Brando. We all knew them, not well, we knew them as actors, we'd go to parties.

MO: You had a 'bit part' in an early Brando film...

RM: I worked in a show called On the Waterfront, a film, and I had just a bit in it, and I got cut out, but Steve came down... I worked I think.. it was 3 days on it, and he came down on the set, we were shooting down in New York, and he kinda like, he always watched, you know, it's very funny about Steve, you weren't always aware until you got to know him like I did, that he was really, you know... watching, he was kind of being... very relaxed... but he was very observant of what was going on, especially when the actors were working..... what they were doing, especially ones that were good.

I introduced him, incidentally, to Herbert Berghoff, and then I went to Stella Adler's and he went to the Neighbourhood Playhouse and later he was let into the Studio (Actors Studio).

MO: As people will discover in the documentary, you've had a very exciting and at times dangerous career making films all over the world. What did Steve think of your work as a movie producer, director and writer?

RM: He really liked the way I made films, outside of Hollywood, because there were no studio executives, and he liked that. He was intrigued by all that. He really would of liked to have done that himself if he could have. But he was kind of locked in, as he became a movie star he would kind of get entrapped in that. But we always did think about working together. Whenever I came back into town he wanted to hear... he would have me telling stories over and over.

MO: You mention in the documentary that you and Steve almost did a film together...

RM: We were supposed to do a film, Tai Pan, together. I would have been producer, possibly director. But there was a lot of law suits involved with the film at that time. I regret that I didn't try to solve them. But he always loved it, he really loved that book. I read the book, I loved the book. It could have been a great epic film.

On the documentary - An American Rebel: Steve McQueen.

MO: This documentary is unique from all the previous McQueen documentaries in that you tell it both as a filmed version of Marshall Terrill's respected biography Steve McQueen: Portrait of an American Rebel, and also as a personal remembrance of your own friendship with Steve, and even go into some of your own personal experiences in the film industry...

Documentary Poster RM: One of the problems I always had from the very beginning is well... it's been done before, how do you tell the story. I kind of was hesitant whether I wanted to do it, but friends of mine... a couple of friends of mine, one worked with Steve in A Hatful of Rain, and there was another guy that was an actor also in "The Theater Bar" and "Downey's" and he knew Steve too... said "you really should do it, you knew him, you started in Greenwich Village with him." They didn't have to twist my arm, but they kept mentioning it, so I finally realised I should really tell it as a personal story, so that's how I got into doing it that way.

Marshall was the guy that did the book on Steve that everyone talked about and really liked, and I contacted Marshall. I told him I really loved the book and he really did a great research job on it, and I said I really want to base it on your research, your book, to kind of get gaps that I didn't know about... It filled in a lot of the blank spots as I was going along with the film.

And I wasn't sure... I didn't want to go with a lot of people talking about him, like most of the documentaries. When I started this thing I said "Marshall, I can't to do a talking heads type of documentary, I don't want to do it because all the rest of them are that way." So then, finally, it took me a while, I didn't know at first how I was going to do this... I started to do it as a 'first person'... a little bit, and then the editor and everyone said "Richard, you've really got to tell the story," and so I ended up, reluctantly. And then reluctantly I put some of myself in there because somebody says, "well what about you, they want to know what you did Richard." So I put some of myself in there too. So that was the reason for that, because I guess you want to know a little bit about the story teller...


MO: You also used Jacqueline Bissett as a co-narrator. How did you find working with her?

RM: She jumped right in when she heard. Jacki Bissett was fine, she was very good at it, very co-operative and terrific.

MO: And you used a third narrator... a voice actor who portrays Steve...

RM: I thought he did a pretty good job overall. I figured "Steve really should be telling part of the story." What I tried to do is really think like Steve thought and talk like Steve talked. I studied that very carefully.

MO: So based on your knowledge of Steve, you've taken some quotes that he's actually made in real life, and also written some dialogue as you think he would have said it, and let the actor talk for Steve?

RM: Yeah, exactly.

MO: How long did it take to make the documentary?

RM: It took almost six months to progress.

MO: How has American Rebel affected you since you put it out?

RM: What I loved about it is audiences really liked this film. We brought in some Hollywood directors and writers too see it, just private screenings, and the reception was very good. People talked to me about it that I felt were sincere, not just saying it.... they said "it was very informative, we really liked it." Which was a nice feeling, when you talk to the audience and you really feel that they liked it. More important than anything else, that's your market... wherever you go.

I'm happy, because more importantly, I hope it resonates with young people. I would really like young people to discover Steve McQueen, who he was, and watch a couple of his films. I'm sure they're gonna like him, but they have to have an interest to do it.

MO: How did the younger generation of viewers respond to the documentary?

RM: At the screenings of it I had, young people were there with their parents and they didn't really know Steve, except a few things...

One of the gals in New York... her son and her daughter, both of them were there, one was 14 and 12, and they both said "what films should I see?" They got very intrigued by McQueen, so they went to see Bullitt and Thomas Crown and a couple more that I recommended. They started seeing McQueen films.

I still would like to show it to some Universities and places free of charge and see if the young people resonate with it. I'm working on that now. I'm gonna try to reach them if I can. Because the ones that I talked to seemed to be very sincere and they really liked McQueen, they said he is a very cool guy, and they didn't know much of him, they'd just heard his name. In fact one of them didn't even know who McQueen was until they went with their 'old man' and he said "Yeah I know him... I've heard about him, but not much."

MO: Your website indicates that you'll be opening the film right across the country in Phoenix, Santa Fe, Philadelphia, Boston, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Palm Springs, Miami, St. Augustine, Chicago, Cleveland and Denver but doesn't mention dates. Can you give a rough time schedule for these screenings?

RM: We expect to screen in the cities mentioned in Sept, Oct and November of this year. We have to open all over, I have some people who are going to be handling it in Europe. Also, who is very much interested in this film, is 'The American Film Institute.'

MO: Tell me about the DVD...

RM: When we opened in New York, we didn't have any DVD's or anything, but in Tulsa Oklahoma it was sold out, and they asked me if they could do another screening, and I said "sure, go ahead", but at the sold out performance 20 percent of the audience brought a DVD after seeing the movie. I was very surprised. Incidentally the DVD, the only place you can get that is via our website www.anamericanrebel.com, we ran of only 'so many' copies of it and that's going to be it until the Academy Award Consideration thing comes up.

Since it's been on the website we've had calls and sold to Japan, Norway, Sweden, England, Germany, all over. Just by opening it without marketing it anywhere.

MO: When the current 'Academy Award Consideration' DVD is sold out do you plan to put any 'Special Features' on the next edition?

RM: Absolutely, I have some stuff that I think is pretty unique. The next edition is going to be one that has as much stuff as we can put on there that's worthwhile putting on. We have a lot of stuff we couldn't put in there. There'll be some stuff on there, extra stuff that is very fresh. I can bring people in that can talk about him, that knew him in the Greenwich Village days, and these people haven't talked about Steve before in any other shows or anything like that. I'm going to do something like that, like a round table. Several, not too many, but several people are still alive, that knew Steve, back in the 50's... 52, 53, 55, and actors that used to hang out in these places that I mentioned... "Downey's" and "The Theatre Bar", and places like that. And everyones up there... when you see them you say "hey, you're still alive!" (laughs)

MO: I guess a lot of those people are in their 60's and 70's now...

RM: Well, one guy, Clifton (editors note: Clifton James, who appears in The Reivers), who also knew Steve, he's a character actor that has done a lot of things, and he was older than all of us, but he's about 83, 84 now, and he still works occasionally in the business.

MO: Do you have any new film projects in the pipeline Richard?

RM: I working on a feature film on Mickey Cohen the gangster right now. We have a screenplay on it. I'm doing some rewrite work.

MO: In the documentary you speak very fondly of your early days in Greenwich Village. Do you think Steve felt the same way?

RM: I think he really missed... one time he told me as a matter of fact... the earlier days in New York, because when you got to Hollywood it was more business, and it was more doing films, and then he got tied up of course with people that he worked with over the years. But I think it was more fun in the early days. Those were really good years in New York. It was a learning ground, a training ground for being an actor, but still people were looser, you didn't have the responsibility, it was more relaxing. He was freer then.

MO: Thanks for taking the time to talk to me Richard, it's been a real honor.

RM: Same here. I've enjoyed talking with you.

To order the DVD of An American Rebel: Steve McQueen visit the official website:
www.anamericanrebel.com