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Film

How Steve McQueen once terrified Bruce Lee

@Russellisation

As cinema began to embrace its commercial potential, the value of the film star grew exponentially from the 1960s, with icons such as Paul Newman, Elizabeth Taylor and Steve McQueen emerging to take the industry by storm. It wasn’t much later that Bruce Lee would also break into the Hollywood mainstream, a martial arts master who gained popularity through his influential action movies as well as his curious relationship with McQueen.

Becoming friends in the mid-1960s as Lee’s series The Green Hornet gained popularity, the martial arts icon became infatuated with the Porsche 911S Targa owned by McQueen and was soon convinced of purchasing one himself. 

As quoted in Bruce Lee: A Life by Matthew Polly, Lee visited Bob Smith’s Volkswagen-Porsche dealership in Hollywood for a test drive of the very same car as McQueen and once he was finished, he called his friend up and told him “Steve, I’m going to get a Porsche like yours”.

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Worried that Lee had not considered the risk of purchasing such a hot rod, McQueen, who was close to becoming a professional race car driver, offered to take the actor out for a spin in the Porsche, telling Lee, “It’s a hot car, but if you don’t know what you are doing you can get into trouble with this thing”. 

Whilst Lee was expecting to be encouraged into buying the high-speed flashy car, McQueen had other ideas, intending to scare the actor off purchasing the vehicle. 

“OK, Bruce, you ready?” McQueen told him on the roads of the San Fernando Valley to Mulholland Drive before the Bullitt actor revved the engine and began to speed around the twisting roads of the Santa Monica mountains. “What do you think of this power, Bruce?” shouted over the roar of the engine as he continued to perform dangerous tricks on the tight corners of the Los Angeles hills. 

Looking round to check on his friend, the driver saw Lee crouched down in fear in the footwell, shouting, “McQueen, you sonovabitch!…McQueen, I’ll bloody kill you! I’ll kill you, McQueen! I’m gonna kill you!”. 

Seeing the rage on Lee’s face, McQueen made his way back home with the two still at each other’s throats, with both being terrified they would get hurt as a result. “Steve, slow down,” Lee cried out. “You won’t hit me, will you, Bruce?” McQueen pleaded,” the two hilariously discussed until the driver finally pulled over and Lee announced, “I will never drive with you again, McQueen. Never!”. 

Featuring two Hollywood icons in a thrilling and farcical cinematic situation, it’s a surprise that this genuine moment of real-life movie magic has never made its way onto the big screen. 

Take a look at Bruce Lee discussing his love for his friend, Steve McQueen, below.