McQueen added: “I don’t like people pawing me. ‘Take your hands off me’, I said. What had I got to lose from a little fight? I’ve got a busted nose and teeth missing and stitches in my lips and I’m deaf in the right ear.”
Brynner even hired an assistant with the sole job of monitoring McQueen’s misdemeanours and counting how many times he fidgetted during scenes.
In response, McQueen complained that Brynner’s horse was bigger than his and ridiculed his fancy, ivory-handled gun as a desperate attempt to get attention.
When things got so made that it was being reported in the press, Brynner grandly issued a press statement: “I never feud with actors. I feud with studios.”
James-Garner and Steve McQueen in The Great Escape
The film made McQueen a star but the bad blood with Brynner continued until his dying days., when he was struck down by cancer in 1980.
He called Brynner to thank him, saying: “You coulda had me kicked off the movie when I rattled you but you let me stay and that picture made me, so thanks”.
Brynner apparently told him, “I am the king and you are the rebel prince: every bit as royal and dangerous to cross.”
He forgave McQueen, as had James Cogburn. Another co-star, The Great Escape’s James Garner was publicly scathing about the actor’s behaviour – and the reasons for it.
Garner said: “Like Brando, he could be a pain in the a** on the set. Unlike Brando, he wasn’t an actor. He was a movie star, a poser who cultivated the image of a macho man. Steve wasn’t a bad guy. I think he was just insecure.
“You could always see him acting. That’s the kiss of death as far as I’m concerned.”