Off-Screen Romance

On This Day In 1930: Steve McQueen Was Born

In 1956, Steve McQueen was just another good-looking village beatnik, studying at the Actors Studio and dabbling in theater. Then he crossed paths with Neile Adams on a Manhattan sidewalk. A rising Broadway star, Adams was known around town as beautiful, sharp, independent and driven. Their chemistry was immediate and electrifying, and they connected over their troubled childhoods: Born in Beech Grove, Indiana, Terrence Steven McQueen came of age in a boys’ reform school, while the Manila-born Adams survived a POW camp in the Philippines. McQueen drove her on the back of his Triumph and introduced her to the village scene of the 1950s, the coffee houses, poetry circles and speakeasies. When Adams landed a seven-picture deal with MGM, McQueen followed her to Tinseltown. Adams persuaded her agents at William Morris to take on her then 26-year-old beau. With few credits to his name, he might have been easily dismissed in Hollywood as another blond-haired, blue-eyed boy who wasn’t Paul Newman—instead, he landed the lead in the television series Wanted: Dead or Alive. Throughout McQueen’s meteoric rise—by 1974 his cooler-than-cool performances in The Great Escape, Bullitt and The Thomas Crown Affair had made him the highest paid actor in the world—Adams was his rock. Their marriage, both passionate and turbulent, lasted almost 16 years, playing out across continents, castles, and an array of fast cars before succumbing to the side effects of stardom. Still, their love endured, and they continued a clandestine affair until McQueen’s final years. Neile kept over 40 scrapbooks documenting her life with McQueen between 1956 and 1968, from which she selected the images presented here today. Her memoir My Husband, My Friend, published in 1986, is currently being developed for the screen.

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