My first reaction upon learning that yet another book had been published about Steve McQueen was, I admit, “What! Yet another book cashing in on the legend of the King of Cool! Will this never stop? Can’t he rest in peace?”
But then a review copy of the book arrived and I started turning pages and, yes, there were some of the customary photos you’d expect of McQueen at Le Mans back in the early 1970s for the making of the movie. But there also was McQueen sitting at dinner in a family’s home, and more images of he and his wife with this family — and we learn that even though he was a half-hour late for the baptism ceremony, McQueen would be godfather to the family’s infant son, Benedikt.
Although McQueen and the making of Le Mans are the focus of this book, the perspective is very different. At first, the story is told through McQueen’s co-star, Siegfried Rauch, the father in the family photos and the father of Benedikt.
For the first 60 or so pages, the book is sort of a Rauch family album, with the actor’s — and his son’s — memories of McQueen and the making of the movie, and Rauch’s reaction to actually driving a race car at 330 km/h and how the German actor ended up in the role of Erich Stahler, Ferrari-driving arch rival to McQueen’s Porsche-driving Michael Delaney, and how they became close and long-time friends off the track.
Those pages are chock full of previously unpublished photos and wonderful interviews. But there’s much more — another 150 pages — to this book, and in them editor Hans Hamer tracks down seemingly everyone still living who was involved in the movie and lets them tell their stories, quite candidly and sometimes rather critically, about McQueen and the making of the movie.
Among those sharing is David Piper, the racing driver who lost his right leg as a result of a crash during the filming. And Derek Bell, a multi-time Le Mans race winner who shares stories about scaring McQueen — and then about McQueen’s revenge.
Richard Atwood and Hans Hermann, drivers of the Porsche that actually won the race, have quite poignant things to share about their experiences. Stuntmen talk about their roles. Several folks discuss the day that Porsche banned McQueen from driving its 917 during the rest of the filming.
There are stories about life in the months spent on the movie set, and praise and criticism for the final product. There are stories about the cars used in the movie — and their fate. There’s even a chapter on the blue Heuer watch McQueen wore in the film, and another featuring the cook (now an acclaimed chef) who worked in Solar Village (temporary home to the movie crew) and his recipe for “Steve Steak.”
I’m glad to admit that my initial reaction was wrong. You really cannot tell a book by its cover. And perhaps it does take decades for people to be freely candid not only about what happened and why, and to be frankly honest about our heroes — in life and in film.
This book is much more than a Rauch family photo album. It’s something McQueen fans and Le Mans the movie fans will find fascinating, whether at first glance or after repeated returns to its pages.
Our Le Mans: Siegfried Rauch, Steve McQueen — The Film, The Friendship, The Facts
By Hans Hamer (editor)
Delius Klasing, 2017
Hardcover, 218 pages