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Why Steve McQueen Lived in Santa Paula, California


A Quaint, Little Town in Ventura County

Many people don't know that Steve McQueen once lived in a quaint, little town in Ventura County, some 65 miles north of Los Angeles, California.

He lived in Santa Paula the last few years of his life. He wanted a quiet place where he could be inconspicuous and fly his biplanes and raise his horses in privacy.

He lived in a hanger at the Santa Paula Airport for two years before his house was built near the South Mountain of Santa Paula.

Santa Paula, a slow paced agricultural town, is predominantly a working class town composed mainly of Mexican Americans. It's a place where a large number of movies, TV shows and commercials are made. Movies like Carrie, Joe Dirt, Bubble Boy, and The Philadelphia Experiment were made here. TV shows like Leave it to Beaver, The Thorn Birds, and parts of West Wing were also made here. And, most recently, the Progressive Insurance commercials with Flo were shot here. But film making goes way back in Santa Paula with Charlie Chaplin making silent films here as well.

So Santa Paula is not foreign to Hollywood; they just don't get too excited when they see a celebrity. They treat them just like anyone else.

Famous McQueen Quotes

“I live for myself and I answer to nobody.”

“I would rather wake up in the middle of nowhere than in any city on earth.”

"I really don’t like to act. At the beginning, back in ’51, I had to force myself to stick with it. I was real uncomfortable, real uncomfortable."

“I don’t believe in that phony hero stuff.”

"Stardom equals financial success and financial success equals security. I’ve spent too much of my life feeling insecure. I still have nightmares about being poor, of everything I own just vanishing away. Stardom means that can’t happen.

The King of Cool

I had a mancrush on Steve McQueen. He was the epitome of cool back in the 60s and 70s when he was so popular and became the highest paid actor in Hollywood.

He was always quiet and stoic but at the same time he was courageous and calculated and his mind was always problem solving--no matter what the challenging situation was--whether it be in Bullitt, Papilion or The Great Escape. You just knew that he would figure things out, get out of any predicament with a great deal of low-key confidence.

He was always himself. He was unique in the fact that he was an earthy hero--not tall or particularly muscular, but tough and real--and you believed it. His movies reflected who he was in real life as well--a counterculture hero, a guy willing to take risks, an alpha-male who could handle himself in any situation.

And If you read where he came from, his chaotic and abusive childhood, you could understand why he evolved into The King of Cool.

The King of Cool Before Movies

Steve McQueen was born in Beech Grove, Indiana in 1930. His mother was an alcoholic and a prostitute and his dad was a stunt pilot who abandoned the family before Steve was born. On several occasions, his mother was unable to care for Steve as a child and so his grandparents took care of him at Uncle Claude's place for a few years. Then he moved back with his mother and his step-father. Steve McQueen was unlucky enough to have two step-fathers, and they were both physically and emotionally abusive.

Steve, diagnosed as a dyslexic, left home at age 9 and lived on the street, hooked up with a gang and engaged in petty crimes like stealing hubcaps.

Steve McQueen's life was like a merry-go-round of chaos and drama. He kept rebelling, living on the streets and moving back and forth from Uncle Claude to his mother. As a child, Steve never felt secure or stable anywhere.

Eventually he was deemed incorrigible by the courts and ended up in a reform school called the California Junior Boys Republic in Chino. Surprisingly, he became a model student there and also started to develop a fascination for movies.

After the reform school experience, Steve became a drifter, joining the Merchant Marines, becoming a towel boy in a brothel, a lumberjack, working on an oil rig, and touring with a traveling carnival. His wide range of life experiences no doubt were invaluable to his success as a Hollywood actor.

His life seemed to become more disciplined during his stint in the marines perhaps because of his need for structure and stability.

Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood.

Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood.

More Chaos in Hollywood for Mr. McQueen

Hollywood had too many temptations for Steve McQueen. And he was unable control his libido and his drug habit. If he wasn't sleeping with every woman in LA, he was getting high and watching soap operas.

Steve McQueen was married three times and in at least two of those marriages, he cheated on, physically abused, and used drugs with his wives.

McQueen’s essential mistrust of women, which originated from being abandoned by his mother, led Steve to be an over-controlling husband and a raging chauvinist.

He not only mistreated women, but he was extremely competitive with men as well, especially with male actors. He frequently acted out his insecurity with them. For example, he urinated on James Garner's balcony because Garner beat him to making a movie about racing cars.

His abuse by the hands of his step-fathers seemed to play a role in this insecurity with other men--along with the abandonment by his mother led him to have ongoing conflict with women. He abused helpless and innocent women just like he was abused when he was a helpless child. It seems, in fact, that Steve McQueen identified with those who abused him--their power and control--and consequently overpowered the women who loved and adored him.


Escape to Santa Paula

There's no place better to escape the glitter and glamour and the temptations of Hollywood than the little Mexican-influenced agricultural town of Santa Paula, where blue collar people work the oil wells and harvest the citrus fields. It is a place where the people are friendly and the air is clean. The town is surrounded by mountains and a few miles from the Ventura coastline. It's a place where the sounds of Mexican music fill the air all the way up to its beautiful, starry sky.

Steve McQueen chose Santa Paula because he wanted to move back to a simpler life, a town that reminded him of Slater, Missouri. It was a place he could have a ranch full of horses, fly his planes, grow avocados and recreate himself. So in 1979, he decided to buy a ranch in Santa Paula with his soon to be third and final wife, Barbara. Things would be different, he hoped, a life of peace and stability.

No Getaway or Escape from Cancer

Indeed, Hollywood stars may project something special, something magical. But it is all an illusion. They are people with the same amount of pain and hardship as the rest of us. There's no great escape from the human condition.

There was, perhaps, no Hollywood star with as much baggage as Steve McQueen. There's no one who had so many bizarre and crazy experiences as Steve McQueen that included prostitutes, drugs, Vietnam, Charles Manson and many other experiences too numerous to mention.

Steven McQueen led a double life. He was both a victim and a victimizer. He was both a hero and an anti-hero. He was both a good father and terrible husband. His short life was fully of chaos and contradictions.

In 1979, he was diagnosed with mesothelioma, which is an asbestos-related cancer. A lot of people think he got it due to racing cars, while others think he got it in the Marines. The cancer spread quickly.

Sometime in 1980, he went to Juarez, Mexico, to undergo an apricot treatment, which was banned in the U.S.. In November of 1980, he underwent surgery to remove cancerous tumors in his stomach. Twenty-four hours later, at 3:45 A.M. on November 7, he died of two heart attacks. He was fifty years old.

He may have died in an obscure hospital in Mexico, but he still lives in the hearts of many. Especially those who knew and loved him in Santa Paula, California.


© 2014 Mark Tulin


Mark Tulin (author) from Long Beach, California on July 17, 2017:

Jeff, I think I heard that as well. Steve was one clever guy. Thanks for your contribution.

Jeff Horton on July 17, 2017:

One reason he went to church in Ventura is he wanted a certain Pilot to teach him to fly. The Pilot refused but added if he started to go to church. In Ventura he would teach him. Reference was a Book written y Grady Ragsdale A Pilot from Santa Paula whom worked on Steve's Ranch. I lived in Santa Paula at the time. Steve was into collecting old things offered over 8000.00 to the owner of valley hardware for his collection of old Model planes that hand in the store. Wayne told him several times they weren't for sale. First hand information.

Mark Tulin (author) from Long Beach, California on July 16, 2017:

Great anecdote, Howard. I would have framed that newspaper.

Howard Blasingame on July 16, 2017:

It is true that Ventura & especially Santa Paula is very small, but Steve McQueen was able to have a private life by insisting that everyone around him respect that & he was unrecognizable with a shaggy beard & hair. One morning at The Chili Hut, a tiny local favorite, my friend Mike saddled up to the breakfast counter for a coffee & grabbed the newspaper. Several of us were stunned & carefully watched the man next to him quietly leave. "Mike, you just took that fellas newspaper." Mike, always polite, was surprised, " I did? Gosh, I didn't mean to, I didn't realize it was his." "You just took Steve McQueen's newspaper."

Mark Tulin (author) from Long Beach, California on July 16, 2017:

Wow, thanks Alan and Jean for those enlightening and personal comments. McQueen was such an intriguing man.

Jean Yarbrough on July 16, 2017:

My mom owned a junk store in Santa Paula . Steve McQueen would buy cross ties from her for his farm . But most of all he would sit and talk to her like a mom. Has was also very good to his elders . My mom really liked Steve for the time he would just and talk to her .

Alan Monroe on June 12, 2017:

Six months before his death, Steve McQueen became a Christian.

He found Jesus and his life then was complete.