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Steve McQueen's 'Comical' Contract Demands Revealed


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He was a legendary Hollywood star, the epitome of cool.

But away from the camera, Steve McQueen was anything but cool, judging by the demands laid out in his contract for The Thomas Crown Affair, the stylish caper movie, which has come to light.

The producers had to commit to delivering “a set of barbells (200 pounds) and a set of dumb-bells (80 pounds)” to his dressing rooms while he was on location in Boston and to transporting his motorcycle to wherever he was.

They also had to provide a first-class limousine and chauffeur for him, his wife, his two children and a nurse, and a car for him to drive himself, along with paying for his secretary's salary, her transportation and lodging.

The contract demands are revealed in an internal memorandum that has been unearthed by Professor Ira Wells in researching his forthcoming biography on Norman Jewison, who directed McQueen in The Cincinnati Kid and The Thomas Crown Affair in 1965 and 1968 respectively.

In 1967, Mr Jewison, now 94, directed his masterpiece, In the Heat of the Night, starring Sidney Poitier as an intellectual detective and Rod Steiger as a bigoted white police chief in a story of racial prejudice that won five Oscars.

By then, McQueen was already a big star, having made films such as The Great Escape of 1963, whose best-known scenes include his character’s nail-biting motorbike chase.

His contract for The Thomas Crown Affair reveals that he was paid $750,000 to play the central role, a multimillionaire who orchestrates a bank heist – twice as much as Poitier and Steiger made together on In the Heat of the Night, Prof Wells said.

He was to receive a further 15 per cent of the gross receipts after breaking even. The contract also stipulates that McQueen was to be paid $1,000 in expenses per week and that he would be given “the best dressing room available at the [United Artists] studio and on location”.

Marc Eliot, author of a McQueen biography, said of the contract’s demands: “What that really is about is insecurity and his distrust of authority. He wanted everything in writing that he felt he was entitled to. In those days, Hollywood was in a transition. It was coming out of the studio era.

So, to keep its stars happy, the studios gave them whatever they wanted. They felt that, if he was happy, he’d make a better movie and everybody would do well. That’s what’s behind all that.”

Prof Wells, of Victoria College in the University of Toronto, said: “Jewison had a tortured relationship with McQueen, and the book portrays McQueen's insecurity and megalomania with new details. For instance, despite the fact that he was paid $750,000 to play the central role in The Thomas Crown Affair.

"McQueen nickel-and-dimed the production at every turn, once invoicing $250 because Jewison had filmed his watch. McQueen became increasingly paranoid over the course of the shoot, and the production had to pay for police for 24-hour security at McQueen's rental house.

"His contract was almost comically precise in its demands.”

He added: “Norman Jewison only became the director of In the Heat of the Night because McQueen turned down another project, an unrealised Western called The Judgment of Corey, which Jewison wanted to film with the star. This story comes from archival sources. I’ve never seen it reported.”

McQueen was a cheapskate in more ways than one, Prof Wells writes, quoting Mr Jewison’s recollection of working with him: “When Steve left the set at night he’d always hit up me or one of the crew for five bucks ‘gas money,’ which we never saw again.’ McQueen would then peel off in his Jaguar, Ferrari or Porsche.”

Jewison once said: “I can’t honestly say that he was the most difficult person I’ve ever worked with because the rewards were so great.”

The contract was among Jewison’s papers, held at the Wisconsin Centre for Film and Theatre Research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Norman Jewison: A Director's Life, by Ira Wells will be published in May.

Well, if you don't have it in the contract you don't get it. It does seem silly, especially for such a highly paid superstar. I don't know if his drug use played a part in his pickiness, or whether he just had that kind of personality.

Whatever he wanted, he sure deserved it. He was pretty shaken when he learned that he'd been on Manson's hit list. But that was in '69-- a year after "Crowne". I'm sure that increased his paranoia.

In my music touring days I heard of some fairly outrageous "riders" put into performance contracts: specifying precisely what type and how much food for the dressing rooms, type of beer and spirits, sometimes even cocaine. And some acts actually got what they demanded...

minds his own damn business
Sounds pretty tame, tbh. Even for the time, Brando had much more egregious "needs" and demands.

I think the real excess started when stars began adding riders prohibiting anyone in the crew from staring or making eye contact with them. By the 90s, this demand began to extend to neighbors in their exclusive communities and condo buildings themselves.

sometimes even cocaine.
Eric Clapton's famous "No Blow, No Show" T-shirt he'd wear during sound check, just so the venue management had no misunderstandings.

Well, if he gets it, it means that studios were willing to go with it, and it didn't hinder his career. So more power to him, I guess.

As for absurd/comical requests (i.e. the brown M&M's), I understand the reasoning behind it. If there were brown M&M's, it means that they didn't read the contract, which means that there could be other issues regarding safety, pay, whatnot.
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Steve McQueen never publicized it, but when he'd have items like razors, toothbrushes, etc., in his contract, it was when he would visit The Boys Club, where he spent some time as a troubled youth coming from a rough childhood.