Mesa Musings: A brush with the King of Cool — his house, that is

Sean, Fred and I were 18. The three of us were dedicated theater students at Orange Coast College, a small junior college in Orange County. The campus was in Costa Mesa, an insignificant little burg that almost no one had heard of beyond a 10-mile radius outside Los Angeles.

Sean had recently moved to Newport from Hollywood, where his dad had worked in the motion picture industry.

Sean, Fred and I shared a single passion. We regularly offered homage to the "King of Cool," Steve McQueen. As far as we were concerned, McQueen was a demigod straight from the slopes of Olympus.

McQueen was the guy who once said: "I live for myself and I answer to nobody." What cheeky hubris!

In October of '63, Sean, Fred and I were involved in a theatrical production at OCC. One night at rehearsal, Sean let it slip that he knew where McQueen lived.

"You know where McQueen lives?" Fred cried in amazement. "Let's go. Tomorrow!"

The next morning dawned crystalline, and we set out from campus for Hollywood in Sean's high-performance truck and skipped our classes.

There was no San Diego (405) Freeway then, so we made our way up Harbor Boulevard to the "Santa Ana Freeway," and hightailed it to the Hollywood Boulevard exit.

We did the obligatory "cruising" of Hollywood and Sunset boulevards, then headed to the Steve Allen Playhouse on Vine Street to see the locale where "Stevo" (schmock! schmock!) taped his riotous, five-nights-a-week syndicated "Steve Allen Show."

We were huge fans — as were all American college students.

Finally, we headed to McQueen's mansion somewhere in the Hollywood Hills.

Our driver, Sean, obviously knew where he was going. Before long, we were pulling up in front of McQueen's palatial digs.

Sean turned off the engine, and we sat and stared at one another for a long moment. Now what?

Fred opened the passenger door and bravely led the way up the driveway to the front door. Boldly, we rang the doorbell.

A gentleman, looking quite like a butler, answered. He stared suspiciously at the three college youths standing at his doorstep, grinning sheepishly back at him.

"May I help you?"

Sean cleared his throat.

"Hi. Is, um, Steve here?"

The butler informed us that Mr. McQueen was on location, shooting a film.

Shooting a film? Of course he's shooting a film! He's a freaking movie star!

In retrospect, I've learned that McQueen filmed three movies in 1963: "The Great Escape," "Soldier in the Rain" and "Love With the Proper Stranger." The first two rank among my all-time favorites.

I'd like to think that while I cooled my heels on his front porch, McQueen was shooting his infamous motorcycle leap over a barbed wire fence — pursued by a brigade of Nazis — in "The Great Escape."

On our way out we peeked around the corner of the house and spied the large pool in the backyard, and the spectacular view of the Los Angeles basin.

We sat for a moment in the truck and beamed. We'd just been to Steve McQueen's Pad! How cool was that? Had he been home, we were convinced he'd have visited with us.

Finally, Sean broke the spell and turned the key in the ignition. His truck growled to life.

"Now, we're going to the best burger joint in America," Fred promised. Fred had grown up in Glendale and was intimately familiar with the Los Angeles milieu.

This was 1963, before McDonald's had cornered the world's burger market.

Fred guided us to Tommy's, an unpretentious, ramshackle hut at Beverly and Rampart boulevards. It was packed, and Fred was right. I dined on the best cheeseburger I've ever eaten!

That night at rehearsal we had a story to tell.

"You guys did what?" the girls screeched. "Steve McQueen's house?"

Yeah. He's a cool guy.

Unfortunately, my history, political science and English professors were not similarly impressed. I racked up three unexcused absences in a single day!

JIM CARNETT lives in Costa Mesa. His column runs Wednesdays.

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