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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