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|Exclusive interview with Barbara Leigh.|
Barbara Leigh was a highly successful fashion model in the 60's and 70's who also worked in film with some of the greatest directors, and alongside some of cinema's biggest stars. In addition to this she holds a
cult status to this day among legions of Vampirella fans around the world as the first and "Original Vampirella" . |
Her autobiography, The King, McQueen and the Love Machine, released both in book, and now audio CD format, tells the story of her intimate relationships with three of the most famous and powerful men in Hollywood - Elvis Presley, Steve McQueen and movie mogul James Aubrey.
In this exclusive interview Barbara talks candidly with McQueenOnline about her relationship with Steve.
MO: The first time you met Steve was at the audition for Junior Bonner. What were your first impressions of him when you walked in?
Barbara: Well, first of all I was surprised to see him there, because they didn't tell me that he would be there. He was very low key and he was dressed in, kind of like, sandles... flip flop sandles, and jeans and a t-shirt, so he wasn't dressed like a movie star... and we sat on the floor, and he was really very sweet, he's not a big man... he wasn't a big man, so he's not overpowering, it's like if you saw him and you didn't know he was Steve McQueen and hadn't seen any of his movies, you might think he's a charming, average looking guy... of course once you start getting to know him then his....the magic comes out. So we sat on the floor and we read our lines together, and Sam Peckinpah stopped us at one point and gave me a little direction, I wasn't the best actress (laughs)...
MO: You were just getting started in acting...
|Barbara and Steve on the set|
Barbara: I was just getting started, but I also was so intimidated by these two men there.... that.... I wasn't as loose as I could be.... so whatever it was.... Sam had a
different image in his mind of who he wanted, and it wasn't me, but I was the look that Steve loved... So I did my best, and when I left the reading I never thought anything
else about it, or even about Steve either. I was walking out, exited the building, and it was a long walkway to the front of the building where the street was where I parked
my car, and I heard somebody calling my name, and I turned around and it was Steve... he was running to catch up with me, so I stopped, he came up to me, and he said to me, more
or less, that he thought I was "darling", and he wasn't sure that I would get the part, but he would love to take me to dinner, and could he have my phone number. So what do you say.....
when someone like a movie star..... like Steve McQueen.... that I loved from The Great Escape, and thought he was the cutest thing in the world , what do you say...? So of
course I said yes. So I gave him my phone number and I left. And by the time I arrived home, there was already a message from him, asking me to give him a call, which I did, and
then we set up and had a dinner date... a date..... and from that point on we were together.|
MO: From the get go, before he got to know you too closely, he actually made it clear to you that you weren't going to get the part in the film. So he was very honest about that....
Barbara: Yes, he was very honest about it, and I thought that was... you know... that attracted me to him right there.... because... he wasn't.... you know, a lot of guys in Hollywood pretend they're producers and directors, they even have cards they give out out here... I see that all the time at Playboy, they get big Playboy cards to catch them all the time... so... he wasn't like that, he didn't try to tell me I was gonna get the part and go to bed with me or anything... he was right up front with it. So then the relationship that we had was female and male.... not actor and actress, you know, it was like, more of a personal "he and me" thing.
Barbara and Steve together in Junior Bonner
MO: That's the other thing that stood out in your book. Because with Elvis Presley and James Aubrey everything started instantly on the first date, but you describe an almost old fashioned dating ritual with Steve.
Barbara: Yeah, I didn't want to be a one night stand with him, and I thought I would give him a little run for his money (laughs) you know.... play hard to get just a bit.... because I was afraid if we.... and I wanted to be with him, who wouldn't want to be, he was magical... you know... you have this movie star beside you, and you're young and sexual, it was the free love and hippy days... it was easy to find yourself making love to somebody attractive to you, but I wanted it to be more than that. So.... basically, we had three days before became lovers and that was fine... I got to know him a little bit, and build up the tension, it was more exciting for him too, because I'm sure every girl that he met practically wanted to go to bed with him. Same thing with Elvis.
MO: Do you think that he may have actually been taking you more seriously and respectfully than some of those other guys? Your description of him leading up to him asking you to move in with him.... it almost seems like you could have become wife number two.
Barbara: I think I could have been, and especially you know once I had known it was his child (editor's note: Barbara became pregnant with Steve's child during their relationship), and if we were together, I would have had the baby, and of course... you know.. I made the wrong decision, I turned to a different man because I was in love with James, and there was something about James, that he was like a father figure to me, and kind of a foundation that I never had... he was the privileged, educated, kind of Rock of Gibralter person, where both Steve and Elvis were very much like me, country bumpkins, and didn't have a great upbringing and didn't have any money and didn't have a lot of education so we were kind of all alike, the three of us were alike.
MO: James was a more emotionally powerful figure in your life...
Barbara: Have you ever seen the movie The Fountain Head, with Gary Cooper? That's who Jim Aubrey was - he was a Howard Roark, and Howard Roark is a character of a man that doesn't change his principles and would go against whatever to stand up for what he is and who he is and what he believes in, and that was who Jim Aubrey was, and he was a very different kind of person and that was like a fantasy... he WAS like a movie star, that you would think would be.. he didn't look like a movie star, but his demeaner was.. where the other two, except for knowing that they were movie stars and seeing them on TV and all, if you had met them and didn't know anything about them..... you wouldn't know....
MO: Do you think, looking back, that you should have accepted Steve's offer (of a commited relationship)?
Barbara: Oh yeah I think so. I don't know how long it would have lasted because I was so immature in those days and he hadn't quite settled down either.. he still had a lot of wild oats to sew, which he did with Ali and then he settled down.. but he really kinda settled down with Barbara Minty more, he settled down.. married her, but I think once he became ill then all his wandering days and all that stuff was long gone, because he was concentrating on other things... but I do think that it would have been nice if I had made that choice because I really do regret having the abortion, it's something I will regret for the rest of my life, I do not dwell on it, but I'm always asking for forgiveness, I believe I've been forgiven for that, 'cos we were young and I didn't have any parents or anybody....
MO: That's right, you had a hard start in life, and you didn't have anybody...
Barbara: Yeah, there were no foundations for me, I didn't have anybody to give me advice, no one I could trust. Men were always using me... but that was OK.. because they also gave me love and the affection that I didn't have when I was growing up, so.. It's a vicious world out there but I got through it.
MO: Yeah, exactly, and the important thing as you said is about forgiveness, and that you understand that you made mistakes, and you regret them, and there's nothing more that you can do as a human being than that.|
Barbara: No, no I can't, and I would never do that today. I'm totally pro choice but if a miracle happened, I would never abort ever again in my life. I wish people didn't but I still do believe in pro choice.
MO: Getting back to Junior Bonner, now of course you did eventually get the role.. How did that transpire?
Barbara: He (Steve) called me up one day and said he had a surprise for me. And his surprise was that I got the part. What happenened, was Tiffany Bolling, who was cast for the part by Sam, and his choice, she became ill when she was on location, so they needed to replace her quickly. And of course, if Steve had his way, he was gonna put me in there, that way we could be together. And so it just worked out perfectly. So they gave me the part, and flew me in.
MO: Were you together on set a lot?
|Recent photo of Barbara|
Barbara: I was always there. It was like Elvis. I didn't leave his side. That's the way he liked it.|
MO: How did Steve and Sam Peckinpah get along?
Barbara: Well they got along OK. You know... Sam, when he wasn't shooting was drinking, and he had a wild crazy personality... and Steve as well, but Steve didn't really drink that much so he could maintain... Sam had to give into Steve, but there were times Steve gave into Sam, you know directing and certain things.. so they seemed to be OK, but I think definitely Steve was boss, always boss.
MO: What's your favourite scene in the film?
Barbara: I really love the scene, I'll tell you the scene that I loved the most - was when he and Robert Preston were doing the milking - when they were roping the cattle, then they milk them... and they were partnering together.. they had the best time, he had the most fun.
MO: They were getting along well?
Barbara: Robert Preston and Steve, they always got along great, always.
MO: There were a lot of big stars and well respected actors in Junior Bonner...
Barbara: Robert Preston, he's one of the greatest actors, he's gone now, but .. the same with Ida Lupino, she was a legend, also a director and a producer. They were really the "old school" actors. And after work they would go back to 'The Prestonion' hotel (laughs), and all the room's doors would be open, it's like a long corridor... and they would bring their chairs outside the door, and they would drink, and they were big drinkers... And they'd sit there and have their bourbon or their vodka, and it was just so much fun. And I didn't stay there really, I had a room at 'The Prestonion', but I stayed with Steve at his little house which he rented, except when his kids came, then I would go to my room at 'The Prestonian', so that's how I got to see some of the things that these actors did.
And there was Joe Don Baker, I think he was a little more conservative. The other one was Ben Johnson, the legendary cowboy, he was another person that kind of hung out with Robert Preston and Ida. It was really interesting.... I'd never been around real cowboys before.
MO: Did Steve socialize much with the rest of the cast during filming?
Barbara: When he wasn't shooting he was with me every second. He was into having this romantic relationship with me. We had just become lovers. He was on top of the world. He was making this film, he was having this hot romance with me. He liked everybody, but we didn't hang out with anybody. We were alone, we ate breakfast every morning together in his trailer... his cook scrambled us eggs with salsa. We were together during the breaks, we were together afterwards, we were together!
Steve & Barbara on screen together in Jr Bonner
MO: You mentioned Steve's private house...
Barbara: Steve's little house kind of was at the foot of this mountain, so we had a little porch, and we would sit out there every morning and drink our tea. He wasn't a coffee drinker, he drank tea.
And he was very moody in the morning. He's not one that wake up all energetic like me (laughs). He was just really quiet and you just had to let him unwind, and slowly you could approach him and all.
MO: Reading the book, I got the impression that in a way you and Steve were opposites, in that he could be a moody depressive person..
Barbara: Yeah, he could be. Yeah, definitely.
MO: Wheras you seemed to be a person who had a very bright outlook on life...
Barbara: I did, you know, and I think that's the thing, when I was growing up in the children's home... I know this because my teachers and sponsors told me... I never had that attitude of "ooohhhhh"... I was always happy, bubbly, like I was living in the white house (laughs). I was a happy person, I was never depressed about my situation. And I think that that drew people too me. And, so... I don't know... maybe that was it, maybe that was what attracted them.. I know that these men weren't just attracted to me because of my beauty or my body, because there were more beautiful women with better bodies than mine. But when they met me they just liked me.
MO: You had a great combination of looks and personality...
Barbara: I hope so (laughs).
MO: Junior Bonner is one of my favourite McQueen films, and I hope they eventually do a Special Edition DVD for it. Do you think there were any deleted scenes, or anything like that, that we might see on DVD one day?
Barbara: Some of the scenes were cut out. There was one hotel scene, which I'm always sad that was cut out. I don't know why they cut it out...
MO: Can you tell me more about it?
Neile: Right before the end of the film, when he was leaving. We were laying on the bed, it wasn't like a big love scene, but we were laying on the bed and talking, and necking just a little bit, and then you saw us come out of the hotel room, and get in his car, and he took me to the train station.
MO: Junior Bonner wasn't a big success when it came out, but it has achieved a high status among film buffs today...
Barbara: In the day that they made it, it wasn't a hit, because rodeo films were just not hits for some reason. They've done a lot of rodeo films.. even The Misfits with Marilyn Monroe and Clarke Gable was a bomb until after they both died, and then they brought it back, but.. there's not a big population that love rodeo, so it just wasn't a hit. It's gotten more recognition since he died.
MO: Changing the topic... What sort of cars and bikes was Steve driving or riding at the time?
Barbara: Well he had some Harley's, he had all kinds of bikes, I can't remember all the different ones he had, but I know that he had a Harley Davidson that we rode all over Palm Springs and up to the mountains when I got sunstroke that time. He drove porsches, he loved Porsches, he had an old army tank too there at his house in Palm Springs. The car that I remember that he drove was a Porche.
MO: So the Porsche was his favourite get around car?
Barbara: I think so. You know.. it's like his personality.
MO: You were dating Steve during the time of the Manson's scare... Do you have any recollections of that issue coming up between you both?
Barbara on the cover of romance mag
Barbara: Oh, it's amazing, and I can remember that so well.
You know, this is the God's truth, I'm not telling a lie. I was invited to go to the Tate house that night. Because Jay Sebring, he was the one that was murdered, and Sharon Tate's dear friend and hairdresser, he was one of the first people I was introduced to when I came to this town, and he was the sweetest man.. I never dated him, but he took me too parties. It's kind of like, I was 19, 20 years old... and I was... I think that this is the terminolgy to describe young girls in this town... I was "party candy". I was a girl that you invite to come to your party because you want pretty girls around, but not necessarily anybody talks to you, because you're not sophisticated enough, you don't have the clothes, you don't have the speech down, or the dialogue, but you're invited to come to these parties because people want to have pretty girls. And I really believe that that's what I was. And Jay had invited me to Sharon Tate's.. I'd been up there twice before that night. And the reason I did not go that night was because the time I had gone before, it was like, nobody talked to me, I just sat there, and like I said, I was just a pretty girl, a wallflower. And of course I didn't understand it, in those days, why I was invited to all these parties, and things like that, but as I got older I looked back, and thought "oh, that's it" (laughs), and it made sense to me, and it was OK.. you know, 'cos people still do that today.. "lets get lots of pretty girls", you know... So I didn't go that night, and thank God I didn't go, because then I wouldn't be here today.
And Steve and I were talking about that, and he also was fearful. I remember laying on his bed in Palm Springs.... I remember Steve taking out his shotgun from underneath the bed, it was a sawed-off shotgun, which, you know, you don't see those very often...
MO: So you were there on the bed and Steve pulled out a sawed-off shotgun (laugh)...
Barbara: (laughs) Yeah, I know... and he said "well if they come after me they have this to face", and then I went "Oh my God", and he put it right back under the bed, and you know, then we just went on with our life, but that discussion did come up that weekend.
MO: Did he carry a gun around with him?
Barbara: No, no I never saw a gun on him... Elvis did, he didn't. I never saw Steve carrying a gun. He may have had one in his car, but I never saw it.
MO: Did Elvis ever talk to you about Steve, besides calling him a "motorcycle hick"?
Barbara: Yeah he did, once I did the film (Junior Bonner), he was a little jealous, because they were both really up and coming stars at that time. They were so totally different in some ways, and so similar in others. But Elvis had the foundation of the mother love and the father love that Steve really didn't have. But he (Elvis) was a hick, you know, and I mean that in an affectionate way, because I was (laughs). Meaning that he was from the South, and when you're in the South, you don't get exposed to the greater world, in those days... Today of course, you're exposed to everything, because of the internet, and it's just a whole different world.
MO: As you said, Steve didn't have the benefit of a loving childhood. Did he talk to you about his childhood?
Barbara: We did, when we first got together we shared our childhoods. It made us closer together, because we felt like.... we were like.... we could have been brother and sister from our childhood - that parallel.
MO: For sure, that's one of the things that stood out to me in your book, that parallel - the fact that you had no family as a child.
Barbara: I think I came a long way from where I started, I got myself here and God took over and helped me and guided me... but I have had a lot of knocks along the way and made a LOT of bad decisions.... but anyway I don't live in the past, I live in the future and I live in the now and I just try to not make the same mistakes...
MO: That's all we can do.
Barbara: That's all we can do. Is be as positive as I can.
MO: Can you tell me about the genesis for your book, The King, McQueen and the Love Machine?
Barbara: Now you know... I never claimed to be anything with Elvis, other than just another girlfriend, and I never claimed to be a great girlfriend. All I ever did was tell my story, and here's how it came about... Marshall Terrill wrote me a letter, and he asked me if I would be interested in writing a book on Elvis. He said that he had written a book on Steve McQueen, which he enclosed, and he said that he couldn't find me at the time, and he always regretted that he couldn't interview me for the book. He later found out through the celebrity convention circuit that I was doing some shows - because the guys in New York decided to find the original Vampirella and they got together and they found me through Playboy, and they brought me to New York, and 100's of fans turned out to see me, and after that I started doing a few shows. So that's how Marshall found me.
So he wrote me this letter, and I called him up, and he flew out to meet me, and we decided do this project together. So then I went in to Arizona (he lives in Arizona), and I stayed in his family summer home. But the thing is is that... there are so many books on Elvis... and I said to him, "really I wasn't important", all I could do was tell my story... So once he got to know me, then he thought, "well this would be a better story, about the three of you," so we did all these tapes, we drove around for days, all through Prescott (laughs fondly) doing these tapes... and so I told him, you know.. basically.. my story, about during that time.
Well then after he tried to start transcribing it all up, he got totally lost, because he hadn't really written about a woman's life, he was a man's writer, that's what he'd only done before me, and then after me Barbara Minty. So we basically had a little tiff, and he said "well then you write it," and I said "OK, well then I will". And what I did, is I had saved my appointment books through all those years, so I pulled them out, and every day I would write like 15 to 20 pages long hand, you know.. turning my diary pages, and then I faxed them to Marshall, and then he typed it up, and then our book got really big, like 500 pages (laughs), and then he edited it down, and edited it down, and edited it to tell the story that it tells. So it was really my story, it was a bigger story, but you can't tell everything I guess, so it is what it is.
And then when I did my audio book Marshall took my book and he abridged it down (laughs) to tell the story that the audio book tells....
MO: Transcribing from tape and editing is a HUGE and painful job!
Barbara: That's why I love Marshall so much, he transcribed my audio book as well as the first one! (laughs)
MO: Tell me more about the audio book...
Barbara: The audio book is brand new, it's on amazon, it's getting great reviews. It tells you my story. And here's why it's so great.... you get to hear Joe Esposito, he talks at the beginning.. does the introduction, and then he plays himself throughout the audio book with Elvis. And Paul Casey plays Elvis (and he's one of the largest Tribute artists here), he's really good, he's a darling, wonderful man. And then I got Tim Thomerson to play Steve McQueen, and if you pull up Tim Thomerson's website and you look at him you'll see why I chose him. And then David Hedison, he just did an incredible job as Jim Aubrey. It's just really good.
I got a call yesterday from someone who has the largest Elvis Presley travelling memorablia show in the country. This guy calls me on Friday and tells me he just heard my audio book, and he's going on and on about how exciting it is. And people have been writing to me, and they tell me they have my book, they have my audio book, and they say what a wonderful experience it is, because even though it's the same story, it's like hearing something new over again.
MO: Are you in the audio book, talking?
Barbara: I talk. I narrate the whole book, and I play myself. So people who've never heard my voice are really excited because now they can put a voice to the face. And I have different pictures on my disk that are not in my book, and not on my website. I try to make everything new.
Like my next project, a coffee table book. I've got 180 never before seen pictures. It's a book of pictures, that tells a story.
MO: You are a very busy woman. Will you be doing any Vampirella appearances in the near future?
Barbara poses with Vampirella!
Barbara: I will next year, next October (2009) I plan on being in New Jersey for the Chiller Theatre. Which is incredible. One of the biggest celebrity conventions in the US. They have so many big stars. Linda Evans is going to be there.... Tipi Hedren... they always have the horror stars.
MO: Tell me about your last meeting with Steve at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel... (editors note: when the two met up again in 1976 after having not seen each other for several years).
Barbara: We had dinner, he tried to spark a little romance, it certainly wasn't there for me. I did adore him but I didn't feel any romance at all. He was like my brother. I couldn't go back. Once I'm not with a man as a lover, I don't think I could go back to him as a lover. There was just no attraction for me. But I loved him so much, you know, I just did, there was something wonderful about him, and I felt like he was a brother... That was the problem, we were so much alike, and I wanted a more sophisticated person... that's what I wasn't, and what I didn't have, and you know people want what they don't have (laughs).
MO: But as you said, looking back, you think that maybe that was a mistake?
Barbara: Oh yeah. I should have stayed with Steve. I don't know how that would have worked out, but I know that I would have had my child, and that would have been worth everything.
|It was a great pleasure talking to Barbara and doing this interview, but what is not apparent in the interview is that she was in considerable pain while doing it,
because Barbara has Grave's disease. Among it's symptoms are terribly painful eyes, which she was suffering with. But she soldiered on nonetheless.|
Through her experiences with the illness, Barbara has come to be a spokeswoman for the National Graves' Disease Association. For more information on this little known yet horribly debilitating illness, you can read this letter which she wrote about her experiences: BARBARA'S STORY
For more information on Barbara you can visit: