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Steve McQueen: The Life and Legend of a Hollywood Icon

Melanie Browne reviews Steve McQueen:The Life and Legend of a Hollywood Icon by Marshall Terrill.

A Flawed Legend

As a kid I never realized Steve McQueen was a “movie star.” I suppose it was because he seemed like an everyman, and so I took him for granted. I’m not sure why I finally decided to look a little closer at the enigma that is Mr. McQueen, but I downloaded Steve McQueen:The Life and Legend of a Hollywood Icon by Marshall Terrill on to my Kindle and my adventure into his life began. Like all sudden interests, I suddenly became obsessed and watched most of his movies, including for some strange reason, “The Blob,” a bad movie which has become a cult classic that some people take very seriously even though at the end of his life Steve didn’t even like to hear the name of the picture mentioned.

At 657 pages this 2010 Biography will take you awhile, but it’s well worth it. The best things about it are discovering golden nuggets about a man who always played the anti-hero. One of my favorite stories was about the horse Steve rode in “Wanted Dead or Alive,” the 1958 television western he starred in. He got rid of the old horse they provided him, one he described as an “real old horse they pushed out on roller skates,” and found one that was- shall we say-a bit more feisty. “Rocky” would step on Steve’s foot out of pure spite and Steve in turn would punch him in the snout. Neither side ever gave in. They were perfect for each other.

Abandoned by his birth father shortly after birth and neglected and unwanted by his birth mother, Steve had a rough start in life and later collected toys from the 1930’s to try and recreate a childhood he never had. Mr Terrill tries to interject some psychology terms at times and also to diagnose Steve with various issues such as “attachment disorder,” but this, in my opinion, often falls short of his goal and doesn’t add to the narrative. It is nevertheless still a fine portrait of a movie and television actor driven to succeed in spite of his childhood difficulties.

Steve’s greatest flaw is the same flaw we all share, a blindness to our ability to inflict the same pain we feel ourselves on to others that we love. At the same time he was searching for his absent father, his own half-sister tried to contact Steve, and he ignored her. She too, grew up hoping to meet her father. Steve’s mother was a severe alcoholic and an embarrassment to Steve. She appeared and disappeared throughout Steve’s life.

Some things do surprise; Steve was dyslexic and that was one of the reasons he rewrote and reduced the amount of dialogue in television and films. A “Method” actor, Terrill writes how Steve became a master at reacting to others in a scene. He was also a sports enthusiast, constantly riding his motorcycles around town to let off steam from his film and TV career. He was a natural horseman and that’s one the things I noticed when re-watching “Magnificent Seven, and “Tom Horn.” A former marine, he could do many things well, shoot a gun, ride a horse and race cars.

Relationships he couldn’t necessarily do as well, but he was possibly on the defense from a chaotic childhood with no fatherly influence. His first wife Neile, with whom he had two children, seemed to adore him and they had two children together, but like most Hollywood stars, he was mercurial in his love life and had affairs with many of his leading ladies. His most famous romance was probably Ali MacGraw whom Steve married in 1973. The marriage lasted five years, but they simply wanted different things in life, and Ali was too intellectual for him.

The saddest but also uplifting section of the book concern Steve’s diagnosis of Mesothelioma, a cancer affecting the lining of lungs and abdomen. It’s primary cause is exposure to asbestos, which Steve was exposed to in countless ways, with the most exposure happening during his time in The Merchant Marines. The end for Steve included quack therapies and countless trips to Mexico in hopes of a cure. Steve McQueen died in Juarez in 1980 of a heart attack following invasive surgery for the cancers.

After binge watching his movies following my reading of “Life and Legend,” I decided my favorite was “The Thomas Crown Affair.” What’s ironic about this is that I had a dream where I saw Mr. McQueen trying to use an I-Phone, before throwing it across a busy street. He then turned around and I heard insane laughter. I highly recommend Steve McQueen:The Life and Legend of a Hollywood Icon, for an in-depth look at a highly complicated yet real human being.

 

You can learn more about Melanie Browne HERE

Or purchase the book at Amazon

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WRC


Two Reviews: Guns of Brixton and Cutter’s Deal

by Walter Conley

This month, I’ve had the pleasure of reading two new kindle offerings from Byker’s “Best of British” line: Guns of Brixton, by Paul D. Brazill and Cutter’s Deal, by Julie Morrigan. I’ve been very impressed by this imprint so far–to the extent that I may fake British citizenship to submit something to them.

GUNS OF BRIXTON, by Paul D. Brazill

The moment I saw Guns of Brixton advertised, I knew I had to buy it. I’ve been a fan of Paul’s short stories for years and read this in a single day. It was nice to see him flex his literary muscle in a lenghthier format. All of the trademark Brazill qualities are present: the stripped-down narrative, cinematic visuals, sharp characterization, laugh out loud dialogue, nods to pop culture and noir influences. GOB moves quickly, pinging back and forth between characters, locations and events. It was a joy to read and, as always, I look forward to whatever the author has coming out next.

Guns of Brixton is available from Amazon HERE.

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CUTTER’S DEAL, by Julie Morrigan

Cutter’s Deal, by Julie Morrigan, is a bad dream of a book. I mean that in the best way possible. It is a dark, tragic story from a universe where nothing and nobody can be trusted, not even one’s self; where the value of a life is determined solely by what another can reap off it; where a glimmer of hope is maintained despite the all-but-certain knowledge that it will prove futile; where evil is not a concept, but an all-encompassing and infusive spell that binds everything together.

The author does a fantastic job of shifting viewpoints, through brisk first-person chapters that feel as intimate as mouth-to-ear confessions. The characterization is superb. It is the cast, in fact, with their varying strengths and weaknesses, who drive this tale.

Morrigan doesn’t need a bag of tricks. She is a first-rate storyteller. You don’t notice how adept she is because you’re riveted to what is happening. I like how she just sets this up and lets it play to its true and inevitable conclusion. Throughout the book, I had a growing sense of unease, of fate closing in on the protagonists–but still couldn’t turn the pages fast enough.

I am a lifelone fan of Noir. Too often, I think, the label is misused as a blanket term for all things related to crime. Julie Morrigan not only gets it, but writes Noir as finely as anyone since the genre’s inception.

Cutter’s Deal is available from Amazon HERE.


RASL: A Review

rasl

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by Walter Conley

What do you get when you mix factual history, fictional history, Native American legend, arcane symbolism, quantum physics, romance, a mad genius, natural disasters and occult conspiracy theories?

RASL, the latest offering by Harvey and Eisner Award winner Jeff Smith (creator of BONE), incorporates all of these things and more. The tale is built upon the mysterious legacy of Nikola Tesla, an inventor so far beyond his time that it’s not hard to believe he came from another, far more advanced one. It follows the adventures of a present-day scientist named Robert Johnson, nicknamed RASL. RASL has carried forth the work of Tesla to a discovery which, in the wrong hands, could potentially destroy universes. He sabotages the project and flees with the information needed to replicate his findings. Where does he flee? To parallel worlds—a plot device that allows Smith to really stretch boundaries. Pursuing him is a sinister, lizard-faced assassin employed by the shadowy government Compound, the group backing RASL’s experimentation. This man, Agent Crow, also possesses the means to drift through parallel universes. He catches up with RASL and delivers an ultimatum: hand over the notes they seek or he will follow RASL and murder everyone he cares about.

The sheer scope of this book is impressive. RASL covers the aforementioned ground through 472 pages that never flag or disappoint. Smith plots intricately and with great care, jumping from world to world, back and forth through time, playing with identity, memory and reality, employing all sorts of narrative techniques in a seamless display of viruouso storytelling. The suspense doesn’t let up for a moment. In fact, I read the entire volume in a single afternoon.

The stark, spare quality of the artwork only intensified my compulsion to find out what happened next. Characters and locations are often just distinct and suggestive enough to flourish in the reader’s imagination. At points, especially toward the end of the book, it takes on the qualities of a nightmarish hallucination. On page 28 of the copy I reviewed, there is a single panel that has RASL glaring out at us from a barstool—an image so powerful, inferring so much, that it remained with me for the duration of the read.

Remarkable, too, is the classic noir feel Smith gives to the entire piece. There are scenes, quips and philosophical pronouncements worthy of Cornell Woolrich. The violence is sudden and brutal, wheeling across the page. And the anxiety generated is palpable, every turn, every unlit corner, fraught with the possibility of danger.

RASL is a mind-bending read that demands your involvement and pays off in a big way.

For more information, or to pre-order the book, go to boneville.com

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From the official press release:

Columbus, OH (June 25, 2013) RASL, the first major work from cartoonist Jeff Smith since his award winning BONE series, will be released to the book market in September by
Cartoon Books. The critically acclaimed tale of a dimension hopping art thief was serialized in black & white comic book form from 2008 to 2012. It will now be collected in a single volume for the first time, completely edited, expanded, and in full color.

Years in the making, Smith began thinking about RASL as early as 2000. After wrapping up BONE in 2004, Smith spent two years, part of it in the Sonoran Desert, researching
locations and studying String Theory. The 472 page hardcover graphic novel is available for
pre-order at all comic shops and online bookstores.

[Above is a teaser image released by Cartoon Books which may not represent the final cover. –WRC]