Newman and McQueen both got into acting, racing, and watches.
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How these two icons of cool got so closely associated with racing and watches

Timepieces, when paired with a proper suit, may make the man. But, as far as chronographs are concerned, Steve McQueen and Paul Newman were the men who made these watches cool.
| Jan 04 2019

Steve McQueen

Born Terence Steven Mcqueen in 1930 to a single mother in Indiana, the young Steve grew up with his great uncle. His Uncle Claude gave him a red tricycle on his fourth birthday that started the actor's interest in racing. When he left his Uncle's farm to live with his mother at age eight, he was given a gold pocket watch. It had the inscription, "To Steve - who has been a son to me."

The young McQueen did not adjust well to life with his mother and her new husband in the city. As a result of abuse from his stepfather, he joined street gangs, committing petty crimes and eventually being committed to a boarding school.

Photograph from IMDb

After serving as a merchant marine as well as a US Marine, McQueen began to look into studying acting at the Sanford Meisner's Neighborhood Playhouse. He played bit roles in several plays before deciding to move from New York to Hollywood. There, he played more bit parts on television series, gaining the attention of directors with his skill driving vehicles and drawing guns.

At 29, he got a significant break when Frank Sinatra removed Sammy Davis, Jr., from the film Never So Few and gave the role to McQueen. Its director, John Sturges, cast him in his later movies, The Magnificent Seven and The Great Escape (but the movie's notable motorcycle leap was done by his friend and fellow cycle enthusiast Bud Ekin). McQueen would earn his only Academy Award nomination in 1966 for his role as an engine-room sailor in The Sand Pebbles.

McQueen followed his Oscar nomination with 1968's Bullitt, one of his most famous films, in which he drove a Ford Mustang during the long auto chase through San Francisco. This would start a long series of auto-related films, including the original The Thomas Crown Affair in 1968, Le Mans in 1971, and The Getaway in 1972.

Yet, it was McQueen's Le Mans, though poorly received at the time, that would turn the movie star into one of the most iconic watch endorsers in history. In it, he wore a blue Heuer Monaco. The blue-faced watch and the blue-eyed actor have been linked ever since.

McQueen had also considered being a professional race car driver, participating in the British Touring Car Championship in 1961 and the 12 Hours of Sebring endurance race in 1970 (where he won second overall). He was even invited by Jackie Stewart to drive a Porsche 917 in the 1970 24 Hours of Le Mans. McQueen, however, opted to drive the Porsche for the film instead.

 

Paul Newman

Born in Ohio in 1925, Paul got an early start in acting upon the encouragement of his mother. He served in the US Navy in World War II in the Pacific theater. Hoping to be a pilot, Newman was instead trained as a radioman and gunner when it was discovered he was color blind.

After the war, he completed his Bachelor of Arts degree in drama and economics. He later attended the Yale School of Drama for one year before moving to New York City to study under Lee Strasberg at the Actors Studio.

Photograph from IMDb

He made his Broadway theater debut in the original production of William Inge's Picnic in 1953. On the live television broadcast of Our Town, a musical adaptation of Thornton Wilder's stage play, Newman starred opposite Eva Marie Saint and Frank Sinatra. Newman would gain mainstream fame for his portrayal of the lead boxer Graziano in Somebody Up There Likes Me (1956). He won best actor at the 1958 Cannes Film Festival for The Long, Hot Summer. He would go on to make other hits like Hud (1963), Cool Hand Luke (1967), The Towering Inferno (1974), Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969), and The Color of Money (1986).

Yet, it was while training at the Watkins Glen Racing School for the 1969 film Winning that Newman first became interested in motorsports. It's "the first thing that I ever found I had any grace in," he said. He would go on to compete in the events of Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) and the 1979 24 Hours of Le Mans where he finished second place overall.

Newman would go on to form several racing teams competing in Indy Car, Can Am, and Champ Car racing series.

Though Newman never endorsed a watch in any of his films, he was the most visible fan of the Rolex Daytona. He first received one as a gift from his wife, Joanne Woodward, in 1972, and wore it every day. Since he was so closely associated with the watch, the Daytona design he preferred was nicknamed the "Paul Newman" edition. It featured a clean face with barely any inscriptions or markers, solid colored sub-dials, and a tachymetric scale beginning at the three o'clock position.

In 2006, in keeping with his interest in racing and as a nod to his role as Hud Bannon in Hud, he provided the voice of Doc Hudson, a retired race car in Disney/ Pixar's Cars. This was his final role for a major feature film before his passing in 2008. His Daytona was still on his wrist on his deathbed.