Multiple Steve McQueens

There can be only one! Well, that might be true for the immortals in Highlander, but apparently it doesn't apply in the entertainment business for people named Steve McQueen.


It's tough to top the original actor, born in 1930 as Terence Steven McQueen.  During his much-too-short life (he died in 1980 at the young age of 50), he went by his middle name and became one of the finest stars ever to grace the screen, the epitome of cool, from his early work in B-movies like The Blob to his hit television series Wanted: Dead or Alive, going on to make some truly classic motion pictures -- The Magnificent Seven, The Great Escape, and Bullitt, among others.  I even enjoyed his appearance in the campy Towering Inferno.


Now there's another Steve McQueen in town, the extremely talented director whose handful of films already showcase his extraordinary vision -- Hunger, Shame, and the current movie that's generating a lot of award buzz, 12 Years a Slave.


Finally, we have a young actor named Steven R. McQueen. He was born Terrence Steven McQueen II.  Is it coincidental that he has the same name as the star of the original Thomas Crowne Affair? No, because he's actually the original Steve McQueen's grandson! He plays Jeremy Gilbert in the popular show The Vampire Diaries and there have been hot rumors that he might be under consideration to play the superhero Nightwing in either the series Arrow or the much-anticipated movie Batman vs. Superman.

The Screen Actors Guild and Actors Equity forbid any two members in their unions from having identical working names.  It's a valid restriction, since a performer's name is part of his or her brand identity, and you can't have someone else unfairly getting gigs because he shares the same name as Tom Hanks for example, or have a mediocre actress tarnish the reputation of Jennifer Lawrence because they happen to have an identical monicker.

That's the reason why some entertainers decide to use stage names instead of their birth names, to avoid confusion with similarly named existing performers. Stewart Granger was born James Leblanche Stewart and we already had a Jimmy Stewart. Michael J. Fox invented his middle initial (his actual middle name is Anthony) because there already was a thespian named Michael Fox who had a long career from appearances on Hopalong Cassidy in 1954 right up to NYPD Blue in 1995. Michael Keaton was born Michael John Douglas, so he changed his name so as not to conflict with the Michael Douglas the world already knew (whose famous father Kirk Douglas ironically had changed his name from Issur Danielovitch Demsky!)

There are a bunch of other fascinating name changes -- singer David Bowie was born David Robert Jones, but didn't want to be confused with Davy Jones of The Monkees; and actor Albert Brooks was born Albert Einstein, (I kid you not).  I can write a whole separate essay about stage names (and probably will).

Back on track to my original point.  The original Steve McQueen has left a wonderful legacy, and I look forward to seeing the body of work that will come from the young director and from the young actor who share his name, both of whom are showing tremendous promise today.

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