Steve McQueen immortalized by William Claxton

                           Taschen Books Steve McQueen by William Claxton

Born in California, Claxton’s works included a book of photographs of Steve McQueen. Claxton died on October 11, 2008; Steve McQueen (1930 1980) was one of America’s favourite film idols. But the star of such films as The Great Escape, Love with the Proper Stranger, Nevada Smith, The Getaway, and Papillon was largely a mystery off-screen. These photos, taken over a six-year period during the 1960s by one of the actor’s best friends, show the hidden McQueen: tender, sensitive, and unpredictable life.

‘He was difficult to many people because he was very embarrassed that he had no education and could barely read or write—although he was really very intelligent’ -William Claxton

. Claxton died on October 11, 2008; Steve McQueen (1930 1980) was one of America’s favourite film idols. But the star of such films as The Great Escape, Love with the Proper Stranger, Nevada Smith, The Getaway, and Papillon was largely a mystery off-screen. These photos, taken over a six-year period during the 1960s by one of the actor’s best friends, show the hidden McQueen: tender, sensitive, and unpredictable life Claxton first met Steve McQueen on the set of Love with the Proper Stranger, which also starred Natalie Wood. According to Claxton, McQueen at this first meeting was ‘both seductive and threatening’. Time would prove my hunches, instincts, whatever you want to call them, were right about this unusual actor.

He was street smart, animal-like, non-intellectual and hip. In fact, he brought new meaning to the word hip: he was super hip. ‘Live fast, die young’. Sharing a passion for fast cars, Steve McQueen and William Claxton became friends early in McQueen’s career and remained close until his premature death. Claxton frequented McQueen throughout his many incarnations, daredevil, dirt biker, movie star, sports car driver, ladies’ man, family man, etc., capturing at every turn another side of McQueen’s enigmatic tough-guy/nice-guy personality.

As this photo album demonstrates, Claxton’s photographic talent and sensibilities were perfectly attuned to the actor’s multifaceted character. This is the real Steve McQueen, immortalized by Claxton’s empathetic lens. Unique photographs-images that captured the young, controversial American actor in the beginning of his movie career during the 1960s.

Claxton’s photographs confirm that McQueen’s all-American, off-beat good looks were every bit as stunning as his acting and his often-stormy off-screen personality. McQueen continues to be an icon for the youth of yesterday and today. Often labelled as a maverick, a rebel, a tough guy, a loner, and a daredevil, McQueen was, above all else, an American original. Claxton has captured on film not only McQueen’s talent and perfectionism, but also his less well-known sensitivity and sense of humour.

Along with these photographs, most of which have never been published before, are Claxton’s memories and recollections, including anecdotes creating a very personal vision of McQueen. Steve McQueen features action shots of McQueen with his motorcycle buddies, in his fast cars, with his leading ladies and fellow actors, including scenes from several of his early and best films.

Claxton went on to spend just a few short years in Steve McQueen’s company, but in that time managed to capture on film not only his talent and perfectionism, but also his tender, sensitive side and his puckish humour.. Claxton also accompanies his photos with anecdotal memories of Steve.

One time when I was with him, he drove a brand new Ford convertible, with only thirty miles on the speedometer, at top speed for such a long stretch of the Texas highway that the engine began to smoke and eventually caught on fire. He slowed down and shouted to me, “Clax, when I tell you to jump, jump!” We did jump out of the car just as it burst into flames. Steve sat on the side of the country road at a safe distance from the burning vehicle and laughed his head off.”
—William Claxton

Taschen Books Steve McQueen by William Claxton is available at Stuarts of London.

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