Steve McQueen's uncompromising vision for ''Wanted Dead or Alive''

McQueen never wanted to play a boring ol' hero.

Try your best to picture a time before Steve McQueen was the King of Cool. Before Bullitt made his Great Escape from the Towering Inferno, McQueen was bounty hunter Josh Randall on TV's Wanted Dead or Alive. For three seasons, CBS aired the show, centered around McQueen, making him the star he would be in movies. The show's finale was the last time he would act on the small screen. 

"I wouldn't take a part as a sheriff," said McQueen in a 1960 interview with journalist Dick Kleiner for the Newspaper Enterprise Association. "I don't want to play a goody-gumdrop."

It was McQueen's belief, from the beginning, that his character should have a bit of a mean streak. Bounty hunters aren't notorious for being polite. However, the show's production history was fraught with compromise between McQueen and the producers. While McQueen pushed for edginess and realism, the folks making the show pushed instead for a kinder, gentler main character. They wanted viewers to connect with Randall as a bounty hunter with a soft heart.

"But not anymore," said McQueen. "I'm not compromising anymore. From now on, he's going to be real rank."

If McQueen had his way, Randall would have been killed "a few times," just to prove to viewers that the show was meant to be taken very seriously. That was impractical for obvious reasons, but it didn't stop McQueen from pushing for vision for the program. 

Around this same time, Wanted Dead or Alive got a bigger budget, which directly affected the way the show was written and directed. Fights were photographed with more immediacy, as handheld cameras were brought in for production. That would help the show take on more of the gritty, realistic tone that McQueen wanted out of it.

Even in McQueen's toughest, bad-to-the-bone vision of what Josh Randall could be, the actor knew that sometimes, Randall would have to flee, rather than fight. McQueen was pretty tough himself, but even he knew when to run and hide.

"Brave men," said McQueen, "aren't fools. Only idiots risk the odds."

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14 Comments

cperrynaples 8 months ago
Actually quite a few characters have been "killed" on TV! Most notable is James Garner, who was shot in the final episode of Nichols and replaced by his twin brother!
Wiseguy70005 cperrynaples 8 months ago
Chin Ho Kelly was killed at the end of the 10th season on the original Hawaii Five-0 (1978) but when Stephen J. Cannell wrote the 1997 pilot for a continuation of the series Chin Ho was back played again by Kam Fong. Cannell didn't know he had been killed!
cperrynaples Wiseguy70005 8 months ago
I believe Chin Ho was also in the 2010 reboot played by a different actor!
Snickers 9 months ago
So did McQueen get the role on Wanted dead or Alive before or after The Blob"? Still remember McQueen being chased by a lump of cherry Jello.
Snickers BrittReid 9 months ago
Thanks, really wasn't sure when.
MichaelPowers Snickers 8 months ago
Steve always made sure to leave The Blob & The Honeymoon Machine off his resume. He hated both films.
Snickers MichaelPowers 8 months ago
They did a sequeal to the blob and McQueen wanted nothing to do with it. He did blunder in the fact that when he did the movie he was given the option of taking pay or part of the profits from the movie. Decided on a payday which turned out to be the wrong choice since the movie did well and he lost out on thousands of dollars.
cperrynaples Snickers 8 months ago
Believe it or not, that sequel starred Larry Hagman who also directed it! You have to understand it was the lean period between Major Nelson & J.R. Ewing!
Snickers cperrynaples 8 months ago
Hey, like anyone you took work were you could find it.
MsRockford74 9 months ago
I love Wanted Dead or Alive, probably because of Steve McQueen as Josh Randall. I think I like it better than Have Gun-Will Travel. (Shh!)
PierreKhoury MsRockford74 8 months ago
Like both of them. Have Gun-Will Travel had a great theme song!
Runeshaper 9 months ago
"Brave men," said McQueen, "aren't fools. Only idiots risk the odds."

Says it all right there.
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