The recent Quentin Tarantino film Once Upon A Time in Hollywood has a host of incredible stars in it. Either as members of the cast, which includes Leonardo Di Caprio and Brad Pitt, or as drifting figures of a time in Hollywood that is, for the most part, best forgotten. One such figure is ‘The King of Cool’ Steve McQueen.
The star is a small but crucial piece of the puzzle as he, alongside Roman Polanski, Jay Sebring, and Polanski’s wife and Sebring’s former lover, as well as up-and-coming actor, Sharon Tate attend a typically swinging bash at the Playboy Mansion. It’s a scene rooted in truth, unlike the climax of the film, and sees McQueen play somewhere close to his apparent off-screen persona. In short, he was guarded, attracted to almost every woman he saw, and intrigued by Sharon Tate.
Tate represents an ethereal central figure in Tarantino’s story, despite her lack of dialogue, as she defies the history books to get her Hollywood ending and avoid death. In reality, of course, we know that this wasn’t to be. Sharon Tate along with her unborn child (she was eight and a half months pregnant) Jay Sebring, Abigail Folger and Wojciech Frykowski were all slain by members of the infamous cult the Manson Family. The group were having dinner at the Polanski residence when the violence rang the doorbell to their California mansion. But one attendee never arrived, Steve McQueen.
The actor had been good friends with hairstylist Jay Sebring after copious amounts of excess at the famous Whiskey-A-Go-Go had led them into each other’s embrace. It was at this venue that they would first clasp eyes on the beautiful starlet Sharon Tate. Rumours would swell that after their hedonistic evenings they would engage in booze-fuelled threesomes. Something which would allegedly continue even after she married director, Polanski.
This put McQueen’s name on the invite list to almost every party either Tate, Polanski or Sebring would throw – and they threw a lot. He would’ve likely met the same fate as Tate and Sebring had he of not followed his legendary libido down another path. As Neile Adams, his first wife remembers, McQueen “ran into a chickie and decided to go off with her instead”.
The act, as adulterous as it was, would indeed save his life as he later learned that he was dangerously high on Charles Manson’s infamous ‘Kill List’. While Manson would never get to fully achieve his ambitions of total chaos the horrific event would have a lasting impression on McQueen. “Going off with that girl saved his life. After that, he became more paranoid and wouldn’t let me go anywhere without a gun,” says Adams.
He too would take up arms in a bid to defend himself. It was noted that from that horrific night in 1969 McQueen would not go anywhere without his loaded Magnum pistol in his holster, or shoved down his trousers.
A Magnum, affectionately known as a hand-cannon, is a more than ridiculous gun for anyone to own. Let alone someone with a temper like Steve McQueen. The actor even drawing it at Neile Adams during a heated conversation about her illicit affairs. He was hardly one to talk.
The fact was that the events which took place on the evening of August 8th 1969 would not just shape the lives of Sharon Tate, Abigail Folger, Jay Sebring and Wojciech Frykowski – and their family and friends – nor only a dangerous actor with a quick temper and a loaded Magnum, it would change America for good. This was the night that Hollywood got weird.