"Hell Breaks Loose on Location"
This article appeared in the December 1961 issue of
TV Radio Mirror Magazine
"A feud? They say it was a regular donnybrook! Steve McQueen and Bobby Darin trading snarls and dirty looks--maybe a couple of punches, too--then Nick Adams getting the rough side of the tongue from both parties. I tell you, I got it straight from one of the extras. Talk about bad blood among the movie stars! Sinatra-and-Duke-Wayne was pink tea compared with McQueen-and-Darin. It's the feud of the year."
The above is an actual quote, and it sums up one of the hottest rumors making the rounds of Hollywood. It has appeared in certain columns in various parts of the country. And, by now, it has been magnified and distorted to the point where a few simple facts have taken on the look of mayhem and attempted murder. What are the few grains of meat in this goulash of hearsay, guesswork and falsification? Checked out carefully, they boil down to this:
They were shooting a war picture, "Hell Is For Heroes," on the Price Ranch in Cottonwood, some twenty miles from Redding in northern California. It doesn't just get hot up there---the mercury hits 115 degrees. The scene was supposed to be near the Siegfried Line in Germany, December, 1944, and the special-effects department had gone all-out, with every gimmick in the book, to make it authentic . . . scorched earth, shell craters, trees black with smoke and flame... a stark, frightening fragment of war's horror. With the sun blazing overhead, director Don Siegel calls for action. Steve McQueen, Bobby Darin, Nick Adams, Fess Parker and Bob Newhart get into place. The action starts, the cameras begin grinding--then everything halts.
Perspiration is streaming down each actor's face. The makeup men mop up. Siegel says, "Let's try again." The cameras roll, but it s the same story. They go at it four times before Siegel is satisfied and yells, "Cut and print!"
Immediately, McQueen--soaked to the bone--whirls and darts for his portable dressing room without a word to anyone. At almost the exact instant, Bobby Darin rushes for a shady spot where his wife, Sandra Dee, is waiting. The other actors, swabbing their faces and necks with kerchiefs, scatter for shade and a shower.
This much is true. These are the facts. The rest is built up of "maybes," "ifs" and "might haves." It is typical of the way such rumors get off the ground and blow up into cyclones of scandal and legend. For that reason, it's worth exploring the alleged feud between singing sensation Darin and Wanted--Dead Or Alive McQueen.
First of all, why do people jump to such conclusions on the basis of such meager evidence? In this instance, there were two jumping-off points. You can call them "character" and "external circumstances." The external circumstances are simply the heat that turned even the mildest of the cast into a grouch. And the nature of the roles being played. Men under fire are apt to be loners, surly, silent, introspective and extremely touchy. Actors--playing such parts, simulating the actual conditions of war and battle--are also apt to assume the attitudes of real-life soldiers. They, too, become raspy and violent. Anywhere you touch them, you hit a nerve.
Let us examine the element of character. One well-known actor, who asked to remain anonymous, said at once about the rumor, "This one could very well be true. I've worked with both Darin and McQueen and, in my humble estimation, they're the hardest guys in the business to work with. They have egos a mile long, they want things done their own way, and they are complicated fellows who can't help bringing problems to any job. I'd say they were bound to clash."
Steve McQueen's reputation for "being difficult"---Hollywood's euphemism for a hard-headed temperamental attitude--goes back to his Wanted--Dead Or Alive days. The TV series had scarcely become popular before Steve was making threatening noises about quitting. His reason was blunt and fundamental. In a couple of segments, he felt the show had slid slightly from the line his own thoughts were taking. The moment he sensed it was not running parallel to his own idea of perfection, he began raising the roof. It was not until he was doing his first big movie, "Never So Few"--with Frank Sinatra, whom he admires sincerely--that he got a solid piece of advice from director John Sturges.
Steve had been discussing with Sturges his desire for an out from his CBS-TV contract. Sturges promptly told him that all art, all entertainment values, were a compromise in the long view. Sturges counseled: "Fish or cut bait-do the series as best you can under the existing conditions, or get into another line of work. You won't find it any different in the movies, on Broadway, or even in the little art theaters."
Days of soul-searching followed. Steve brooded, growled at everyone who crossed his path, and took the matter up again and again with his talented and exotic wife, Neile Adams. The decision, achieved the hard way, finally came. Steve would stick with his bounty-hunter role and do the best he could with it. But, to this day, he has retained the reputation of being a
man with a great load of personal responsibility on his back. When he feels he is right about something, his first
impulse is to blurt it out and fight for it, even though it goes contrary to the opinions of his producer, director and co-stars.
Another element in his character is the competitive drive. It has always been strong in Steve. He's always pushing hard for the top spot. "I don't want to be second-best," he points out. "Man, I'm not built that way. A runner-up is the most pathetic creature I know, because he came so close to being top dog."
On the other hand, it must be admitted that, when Steve comes into contact with greatness in another performer, he is just as anxious to be first with his orchids as he is with scallions for a bad job done. He got along beautifully with his fellow actors in "Never So Few," and his comment after a scene with Sinatra was an awed "He's perfect." But his relations with Yul Brynner, with whom he co-starred in "The Magnificent Seven," were about as hot-headed and sore as his feud with Darin is supposed to be.
Yul's frank credo is: For an actor, success depends not only on talent and technique, but on egoism and selfishness. When an actor steps on stage or before the cameras, says Yul, he must defend his ground from intrusion by other actors as though it were sacred. His feud with Steve began when he got the notion that Steve was getting smart-alecky, trying to steal the picture. Steve got riled because he thought Yul was acting "the big star" on the set. Yul is like a rock, Steve like a dashing wave. They still do not speak kindly of each other.
About Darin, Steve has this to say, "I've never hid my feelings before. If Bobby and I were on the outs, don't you think I'd come right out with it?"
Bobby's reputation for brashness and pugnacity dates from his first acting assignment in "Too Late Blues." Perhaps he was suffering from some of the personality problems undergone by McQueen in "The Magnificent Seven," when Steve was trying so hard to "prove himself" as a star. In any event, Bobby definitely did not endear himself to either the cast or crew of "Blues." Co-star Stella Stevens, though the film was completed months ago, still admits she'd rather not talk about Bobby. "He does have a very pretty and talented wife" is her somewhat double-edged comment. And certain members of the company were not speaking to Bobby "unless absolutely necessary" by the end of filming.
Bobby is like McQueen in many ways. He relentlessly pursues his star. He made up his mind to make his career in show business when he was eighteen. "I set out to become a star at twenty-one and the greatest star of all by twenty-five," he modestly allows. It is one of the statements that tend to
act like dust in the eyes of his fellow performers. But, in his own way, Bobby is a dedicated showman. He is a
conscious perfectionist and demands the same of all who work with him. "He doesn't mind stepping on toes, all
in the name of improving a scene or an action," one technician ruefully points out.
This stepping-on-toes naturally resulted in a wave of rumors about a blow-up with Nick Adams, and then the big explosion with McQueen. But, aside from characters and reputations
of the principals involved, the heat and the demands of their roles, there seems to be no solid evidence of a feud, fist
fights, or anything but the usual tantrums that are an inevitable adjunct to a difficult show. "Fights? We were
too busy dodging rattlesnakes," snorts Nick. "We killed seventeen rattlers while we were sweltering in that heat.
Naturally, we were not exactly relaxed and cozy."
"I heard the rumors," Bobby chuckles with a twisted grin of derision. "The fact is, we all led the quietest kind of
life. If we hadn't, we'd have passed out. Sandy was with me and Steve's wife Neile had us over for dinner and taught
Sandy how to cook some Spanish dishes, and she gave us lots of tips that will come in handy for our baby. But, for
seven weeks, we were living in something like war. Even getting up at four in the morning didn't help us with the
heat. We began shooting at six and, by noon, we could have used another night's sleep. By the end of a day, we were so exhausted, we couldn't have argued with each other if we wanted. We were just too tired. I'm not saying nobody ever blew his stack. But, under the circumstances, we were a pretty
tame lot. I'm personally not feuding with anybody."
So this is all that there is to "Hollywood's hottest feud." But the fact remains that, in the minds of many observers of the movieland scene, there lingers an attitude of "Where there's
so much smoke, there's bound to be fire." The prevailing notion is that you can't bring together an all-male cast of
strong personalities such as McQueen, Darin, Adams, Harry Guardino and James Coburn, under rugged overheated conditions, without having the fur fly. It may be taken for granted that
--after all the denials are in, after investigation proves there is very little substance to the sound and fury--a small residue of sly gossip about "the feud" will continue to crop up.
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