The Coolest Man Who Ever Lived
“Movies bore me; especially my own."
• Robert Mitchum
Who is the coolest man who ever lived?
Well, the arbiters of cool can certainly discuss the question: Sean Connery, Daniel Craig, and Humphry Bogart come to mind. But the correct answer (with the possible exception of Robert Mitchum) is Steve McQueen.
The distillation of this coolness is the movie Bullitt, with McQueen playing the eponymous San Francisco Police Department lieutenant. He was at the height of his career when he took the part, coming off the almost as cool The Thomas Crown Affair and before that his best role in The Sand Pebbles (and a year before that The Cincinnati Kid), the man was on a roll!
The screenwriter was Alan R. Trustman, who had also written The Thomas Crown Affair. At the time McQueen said of him "I don't know how, but the son of a bitch knows me." And after watching Bullitt you must agree.
Besides McQueen's icy coolness, you get a straight-ahead police procedure, with Lt. Frank Bullitt trying to figure out who killed a mob witness. In between clues, the greatest car chase ever filmed, and the romancing of a beautiful girlfriend, McQueen displays sartorial confidence wearing a dark blue turtleneck, a brown tweed elbow-patched sport jacket, and incongruous chukka boots¹. And if the whole look couldn't become any cooler it included a quickdraw holster that was popularized by Frank Toschi, an inspector in the San Francisco Police Department who at the time was working the Zodiac Killer case.
All that and his girlfriend is played by Jaqueline Bisset!
The movie was filmed entirely on location in San Francisco with the city becoming another character in the movie: The Mark Hopkins Hotel, The Emarcadero, Nob Hill, Russian Hill, Grace Cathedral, SFO, Taylor Street, etc. But one rather pedestrian scene with Bullitt shopping at a local grocery store has become iconic, due to the man, his coolness, his wardrobe, and a publicity still.
The corner of Clay and Taylor - Nob Hill, San Francisco (McQueen on left)
When I approached the above location I noticed a gentleman taking the exact same photo I wanted to take. I made a deal with him, I would take his photo, if he would take mine. I spent a few minutes trying to correctly frame him in the shot and wish I could show you my work product. He did a fine job while spending quite a bit of time posing me.
The above location was and is outside a convenience store called VJ Grocery, named so, as it was originally opened on Aug. 15, 1945. The business is a neighborhood fixture helped by a seemingly endless supply of Bullitt fans who reenact the above scene. Though with many also mimicking the scene where Bullitt buys some frozen food.
I am sure though, that most do not mimic the above with such meticulousness.
Besides coolness, piercing blue eyes, and style, McQueen and I share a connection to the U.S. Naval Services².
You can watch the movie Bullitt here courtesy of WitFoH.com (and the Internet Archive).
Rushed for time, then listen to the soundtrack by Lalo Shifrin³ . . . it's almost as cool as the protagonist.
Nov 23, 2022
¹ Everything the reader/turtleneck wearer ever wanted to know about Frank Bullitt's wardrobe can be found here.
² The U.S. Naval Services comprises two uniformed services: the United States Navy and the United States Marine Corps. McQueen served in the Marine Corps from 1947 - 1950.
³ Lalo Schifrin maintained the connection to San Francisco by scoring Dirty Harry three years later and to car chases by composing the original theme to Starsky & Hutch four years after that.
“I live for myself and answer to nobody."
• Steve McQueen
Frank Bullitt (on left)