Neile Adams McQueen, first wife of Steve McQueen, opens Eduardo Santiago’s Fourth Annual Idyllwild Authors Series at 3 p.m., Sunday, June 1, at Café Aroma. She will discuss her book, “My Husband, My Friend” (Authors House, 2006, 20th anniversary edition), about her life with McQueen in New York and Hollywood. McQueen’s publisher Steve Hoyer said Neile is the only person still alive who can talk with nuance and authenticity about Steve McQueen’s life. He wrote no autobiography.
Although her memoir is more about McQueen’s career and her life with him, it touches on the important role she played in furthering his nascent career at a time when she was an established and famous Broadway musical actress — a star in “Kismet,” “The Pajama Game,” “At the Grand” and the National Company of Richard Rodgers’ “Me and Juliet.”
She was also an MGM contract player and had numerous guest appearances on major television variety shows such as Ed Sullivan, Pat Boone and Bob Hope, as well as dramatic roles. She once co-starred with McQueen in “The Man from the South,” an Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode in 1960. She continues to perform her own one-woman cabaret show at national and international venues.
Neile already had a successful career when she first met McQueen. “I was well known on Broadway and he was not,” she said. Neile knew the key Broadway agents, producers and directors and once she and Steve were a couple she played a critical role in launching McQueen’s career by introducing him to her agent and opening other theatrical doors for him.
After he became an iconic movie celebrity, she read and filtered out potential scripts for film projects. “Steve did not like to read,” she remembered, “so I would read his scripts for him, writing out little synopses to see what might interest him. I knew what would be right for him.”
Of her halcyon years being young in New York, McQueen offered vivid stories of how it was to be there, to be successful, and of all the important theatre people she knew and counted as friends. She was there when Broadway musicals were at their height and the clubs and restaurants were filled with Broadway royalty as well as the new wave of actors then studying in New York, of which McQueen was one.
Along with many soon to be famous cinema legends such as Marlon Brando and Geraldine Page, McQueen, studied new theories of acting at the Actor’s Studio with Lee Strasberg. They were “serious” actors studying methods of honest, non-presentational performances.
“At that time, good actors looked down on musical comedy actors,” said McQueen, although as she noted, what she knew, along with her good business sense, helped McQueen make a quick start in the business. “I think he would have made it eventually without my help,” she said, “but not so quickly.
After her marriage in 1956 and her husband’s ascendant career in Hollywood, Neile stepped out of the performing limelight. “I had to sort of step back but I was happy to stay at home and raise our children.”
In her talk, she will reminisce about the thrills and stories of both their New York and Hollywood years. “My Husband, My Friend” is a rerelease of her original published in 1986, with an expanded family photo album.
Philippines born Adams McQueen is charming in interview, especially for anyone who likes Broadway and Hollywood backstories and gossip. “I have no inhibitions about my life,” she said, promising to add some fun and sauce to her talk with Santiago.
The event is free to the public.