Movie Legend. Super Star.
He was a Rebel, an Outsider, and The King of Cool, but beneath the bad boy image lay a heart of gold, as Steve McQueen supported needy children all over the world.
While in Taiwan in 1966 filming The Sand Pebbles, Steve and his first wife Neile came across an orphanage for young girls (most of whom were prostitutes). It was run by a catholic priest called Edward Wojniak. Steve donated $ 12,500 then and there, and continued to support the mission until Wojniak died in the late 1970’s.
Over the years Steve constantly visited the boys home (Boys Republic) which he himself had spent time in while growing up. Each year in the holiday seasons (when their spirits could be lowest because they had no family to visit them) he appeared with Christmas toys, Easter baskets and Thanksgiving turkeys. So these boys without a family of their own got to see a real movie star each Christmas and on other festive occasions. It wasn’t just a quick publicity walkthrough either. Steve would actually just sit with them and talk for long periods of time. On one occasion, when he heard that two teenage boys had been sent to an adult prison, he offered to pay for them to be sent to a less severe BOYS institution. Over the years Steve donated large amounts of money to Boys Republic.
He said, “Somewhere, right now, there are kids going through what I went through. Maybe if they know I survived, they can find hope. I can’t promise they’ll ever forget what happened to them. But if they hold out, they’ll get through okay and learn to live with the bad memories…and still learn to love.”
During the filming of Le Mans in 1970, Steve made a brief stopover in London, where he toured the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Sick Children, moving from bed to bed, talking with each child. At this time he also arranged an auction of one of his antique guns, with all the proceeds going to the French Childrens Fund for orphans.
Los Angeles Times columnist Joyce Haber wrote an article on Steve in 1971, in which she reported:
“A few seasons ago the owners of Four Oakes, a local restaurant, invited fifty black orphans for a free Thanksgiving Day dinner. They also invited several celebrities. McQueen arrived promptly on his cycle. He was the only star to show. I call that the act of a good man”.
When Nicaragua was devastated by a massive earthquake in the early 1970’s he bought $ 50,000 worth of food and medical supplies and had it flown in to the victims.
While filming The Hunter in 1979, Steve was so struck by the poverty in some of the areas they were filming in that he asked close friend Pat Johnson to go down to the local catholic church and ask the priest what he (McQueen) could do to help. The priest made a list, and Steve pulled out a check book and paid for it all. According to Johnson it was a large amount of money. Steve also gave his stuntman and friend Lauren Janes some money, and sent him out to buy 100 baseballs, mitts and bats, and 100 footballs, and had him put them in a local field for all the kids to find. According to Janes, he did that many times, in many different areas.
Steve would eat with and talk to all the cast and crew on his films, and while talking to one of the extras on The Hunter (a young 15 year old girl named Karen) he discovered that her mother was in hospital and dying of alcoholic poisoning. Steve went to the hospital with her to meet her mother (who was a big fan). “What can I do to help”?, he asked. “All my life I wanted my daughter to go to school. I could die a happy woman knowing my daughter had a way out of this slum”, was her reply. Steve and his third wife Barbara took 15 year old Karen in, eventually enrolling her in a private boarding school close to where they lived, so that she could come and spend weekends with them. That young girl went from the ghetto to studying to become a veterinarian. She still remembers the McQueen’s with a great deal of love.
Almost all of these things he did anonymously, and they were only made public after his death.
McQueen by William F Nolan,
Steve McQueen: Portrait of an American Rebel by Marshall Terrill,
McQueen: The Untold Story of a Bad Boy in Hollywood by Penina Spiegel and
My Husband, My Friend by Neile McQueen Toffel.
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