How Steve McQueen was nearly killed after being holed up in a Mexican brothel with Robert Vaughn
Some of the stories involving iconic actor Steve McQueen can, quite understandably, seem too ludicrous to possibly be true. A man given the nickname ‘The King of Cool’ had a reputation to uphold and, without fear of repercussions, the true antihero of Hollywood didn’t hold back.
With a legacy defined having become a pioneering figure of the 1960s counterculture of the time, McQueen’s personal life and his ‘unique’ lifestyle choices attracted a wide-ranging type of personalities. With heavy drug use and a tendency to disappear for days at a time, McQueen took his The Magnificent Seven co-star Robert Vaughn under his wing in 1960 as a night away from filming took an unconventional turn.
The iconic Western film, directed by John Sturges, tells the tale of a group of seven gunfighters hired to protect a small village in Mexico from a group of marauding bandits. McQueen, taking method acting to a whole new level, found himself holed up in a Mexican brothel on Good Friday after getting wasted on margaritas in the hours that proceeded that moment.
Recalling the bizarre situation, actor Vaughn explained: “They said, ‘How many girls would you like?’ And Steve said, ‘SEVEN! We are ‘The Magnificent Seven’ and we want seven girls’. Even though not all seven of us were there,” in an interview with The Daily Mirror. “Steve was notorious for never carrying money. I didn’t know this as it was the first time we’d ever been out together.”
“It seemed to me that we were just two very drunk Americans, and I wasn’t feeling very magnificent, but I did not object to Steve’s gluttonous suggestion,” Vaughn would later detail in his memoirs. “I was flush with both pesos and dollars, having been too sick with an upset stomach in Cuernavaca to spend my daily allowance. So Steve and I adjourned to a room with many large pillows and the seven women. “
After hours inside the brothel with their seven women, the sobering morning light crept through the windows and reality dawned for Vaughn and McQueen as a return to the set of huge budget blockbuster was calling them. With two bouncers watching their every move, it was time to pay up. “He pulled out his Diners Club card, the madam of the house looked at it and went over and got a very tall, big Mexican guy and he shook his head and said, ‘NO’,” Vaughn remembers.
It was at this point, more than slightly disheveled and feeling the remnants of the night before, that the actors knew a decision needed to be made. “We just ran,” Vaughn added. “I jumped out the window and ended up climbing over a wall, and as I dropped down on to a street I thought, ‘This is the end for me’.”
Vaughn continued: “I landed on moist grass, sprang up and ran to the high wall surrounding the villa grounds, where I scrambled up a trellis and flung myself on to the edge of the wall. Eyeing the 12ft drop to the street below, I saw two bulky Mexicans standing there as if on guard. I dropped to the ground, expecting to be apprehended if not beaten to a pulp.
“I stood up and smiled wanly at the two men. They merely smiled, remarked, ‘Buenos noches,’ and strolled away.
“The next morning, Steve arrived on the set 45 minutes late and badly hungover.”