is his pistol better than mine?

Robert Vaughn’s first film appearance was as an uncredited extra in The Ten Commandments (1956), playing a golden calf idolater and also visible in a scene in a chariot behind that of Yul Brynner. In 2009 he wrote a book about his experiences in Hollywood, though I don’t think writing is really his forte.

Young Robert Vaughn found here

“In 1960 I was signed up for The Magnificent Seven, playing alongside Steve McQueen and Yul Brynner. Steve was intensely competitive. It wasn’t enough just to be successful – he had to be more successful than anyone else.

image of Steve McQueen found here

The rivalry between McQueen and Brynner was clear from the start. Steve started knocking on my door around 6.30am, an hour before we were due on set. Our conversations were always along the same lines.

‘Man,’ he would say in that husky whisper, ‘did you see Brynner’s gun on the set yesterday?’

image found here

‘I can’t say I noticed it, Steve.’ ‘You didn’t notice it? It has a fucking pearl handle, for God’s sake. He shouldn’t have a gun like that. It’s too fucking fancy. Nobody’s gonna look at anything else with that goddam gun in the picture.’

Of course, what Steve meant was that nobody would be looking at Steve McQueen.

Two days later, there was another early-morning knock on the door. ‘Did you see the size of Brynner’s horse? It’s goddam gigantic.’

Brynner, Connery and horse found here

This time I had noticed. ‘Actually, Steve, I’ve got the biggest horse of the Seven.’

McQueen shook his head. ‘I don’t give a fuck about your horse,’ he replied. ‘It’s Brynner’s horse I’m worried about.’

***********************

On Good Friday, work on The Magnificent Seven shut down and Brad Dexter suggested Steve and I visit what he called ‘one of the finest brothels in North America’.

Having spent nearly a decade wandering LA’s Sunset Strip, I’d met many ladies of the evening. I considered many of them friends, and had made it a rule not to do business with them. But I decided to tag along anyway.

image found here

We were driven to a lavish high-walled hacienda in a quiet district of Mexico City, where the blonde madam welcomed us like visiting dignitaries at an embassy cocktail party.

There were seven girls in the room. In stumbling Spanish, Steve told the madam that all seven should stay ‘because we are the Magnificent Seven’.

It seemed to me that we were just two very drunk Americans, and I wasn’t feeling very magnificent, but I did not object to Steve’s gluttonous suggestion.

image found here

I was flush with both pesos and dollars, having been too sick with an upset stomach in Cuernavaca to spend my daily allowance. So Steve and I adjourned to a room with many large pillows and the seven women.

If you’ve never experienced sex for seven, you’re undoubtedly interested in the salacious details. I can only say that, due to the tequila, we did more laughing than anything else.

Near midnight, I recalled that filming was scheduled for the next day. I said to Steve: ‘Let’s pay our bill and get out of here.’

I was yet to hear about Steve’s famous habit of not carrying money. He replied: ‘Hey, man, could you loan me some dinero?’

image by William Claxton found here

The bill came to something like $700 – pretty big money in the Sixties. I had about $400 on me, along with several hundred pesos, and I offered the whole wad to the madam.

‘I’m paying for three and a half senoritas, including tip,’ I said, hoping for a laugh.

The madam didn’t smile. Instead, she snapped her fingers and a huge hombre entered the room. Fixing a hostile glare on me and Steve, he reached out, grabbed my money, and asked: ‘How you plan to pay the rest?’

I smiled at Steve. He smiled at the hombre. The hombre … he no smile back.

image found here

Suddenly a light seemed to dawn in Steve’s alcoholic haze. Pulling out his wallet, he produced a Diners Club booklet containing coupons for use at restaurants. ‘How about these?’ he asked, pathetically. The hombre moved towards us. Several more mean-looking Mexicans materialised.

On cue, Steve and I spun around and pushed through some swing doors. Steve dashed towards the right, while I ran left down a long hall ending in French doors, and vaulted over a balcony.

image found here

I landed on moist grass, sprang up and ran to the high wall surrounding the villa grounds, where I scrambled up a trellis and flung myself on to the edge of the wall.

Eyeing the 12ft drop to the street below, I saw two bulky Mexicans standing there as if on guard. I dropped to the ground, expecting to be apprehended if not beaten to a pulp.

I stood up and smiled wanly at the two men. They merely smiled, said ‘Buenos noches,’ and strolled away.

The next morning, Steve arrived on the set 45 minutes late and badly hungover.

He’d talked his way out of the brothel by promising to pay the balance in full and to tip generously. His years on the street had served him well.

I’d like to have read Steve McQueen’s version of these two tales, or maybe Robert Vaughn needed a ghost writer to sharpen things up. What do you think, am I being too hard on RV’s storytelling abilities?

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48 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Yul Brenner in Tarus Bulba, the King and I and as Pharaoh – great. But after having been so set type casted he seemed miscasted in just about anything else. Especially an American western. Snort. Sort of like Mr. Spock playing Hamlet or Barbara Stanwyck playing a nun.

    • Oh but he was great in Westworld

      • That movie was such fun! That robot just would not die.

  2. Considering that McQueen was married to Neile Adams at the time, I should imagine that he would have taken legal steps to stop this story from being published. I don’t like RV, he’s always struck me as a bit of a grannypants.

    • It was published quite a long time after Steve McQueen had died

  3. I’m reminded of the movies with Robert Conrad where they had to find short people to work opposite him so that he didn’t appear small. Nowadays, they’d just use CGI to make the tall people look short.

    • Was Conrad as short as Alan Ladd?

  4. I don’t read many biogs – but I imagine they’re often like this one – missing the intersting bits of detail.
    Sx

    • I think Robert Vaughn’s is a pretty bad example. I’ve read some fabulous autobiographies – Edmund White’s, Quentin Crisp’s and Janet Frame’s for instance

  5. He has a pretty flat style, but I like the image of the secret-agent-style escape from a Mexican brothel. Now we know how Vaughn was so convincing as Napoleon Solo.

    • I always liked the way Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin rolled off the tongue. Great names.

      • Oh, I had almost forgotten cute Illya. Though I have never before or since seen that name Anglicized that way or even borne by a man.

  6. RV’s storytelling felt a bit like his acting. But it did the job.

    BTW, I’m surprised you didn’t use this opportunity to post some of the famous nude photos of Yul Brynner. Two are on show here–be sure to scroll far enough for both: http://cuentosdebarro.blogspot.com/2009_06_01_archive.html

    Were they jeabous of Brynner’s pistol? Perhaps.

  7. Nice pistol Brynner had… ;)

    As for the writing, it is rather flat, but then again, he’s not vying for a Nobel in Literature.

    • You’re right, I shouldn’t be so picky

  8. Apart from Eli Wallach, I think RV is the only ‘name’ left from the Mag7 – so no-one is going to disagree with anything he says now.

    I never got over a hero called ‘Chris’. Nothing wrong with Chris, but it’s not ‘hired gun’ enough – it should have been Cletus, or Sagebush, or Mad Dog…..

    • I vote for Cletus

  9. ‘I don’t think writing is really his forte’
    How embarrassing that would be!
    I can’t even imagine.
    Honestly.
    Really.
    I’m being completely serious right now. ;)

    • I’m attempting to refer to myself here…
      I sure hope it comes across that way.
      Did I mention writing is not really my forte’?!

      • Yes you did ;-)

  10. I’ve lost many a nights sleep wondering about the exact height of that feckin great horse ridden by oul baldy himself.

  11. I enjoy autobiographies but when they’re just a series of heavily name-dropped celeb. anecdotes (and RV’s sounds just like it fits the bill) then they get pretty boring.

    The best autobiography I’ve read recently is the three volume opus by George Melly which is deliciously salty and very well written. Volume two is the splendidly titled Rum, Bum and Concertina.

    • Such a great title…. I had to google him

  12. Ha! What a great story.

  13. Now that’s a real man – sex for seven while recovering from the trots. Positively heroic!

  14. He probably could’ve used a ghostwriter to tidy things up, but sometimes its best to let the celebrity write everything in their own words and let it stand or fall on its own merits.

  15. There was a story going around…the way I heard it, Eli Wallach’s trousers ripped as he swung a leg across the saddle.”God God! Did you see Eli Wallach’s ballocks!” cried some wag.
    I wonder if that was true?

  16. The writing is sort of stale and bare bones, but it kept me reading. I liked the story. RV comes off as a bit catty, though. I don’t care if Steve McQueen was a tightwad. He was hot!

  17. In that first photo of Steve, I’d have like to sample his success for myself. As for the memoir writing, it’s not too awful: I particularly liked the subtle detail of escaping from the hombres onto “moist grass”.

  18. I didn’t find the writing that bad. . .but do these celebrities really write their books anyway? I would think most are ghost written (or at least heavily edited), even if they don’t say so.

  19. Steve McQueen was a true role model

  20. I remember reading that Steve did stuff when the camera was on Yul as well, he’d just be kicking dirt off his boot or playing with his hat in order to distract the viewer. I really must watch that movie again, perhaps a movie night NM?

    I always liked James Coburn, so lanky and relaxed.

    The King

    • Here we are, look at Steve when he’s on the coach with Yul at around the 1 minute mark, loads his gun twice, fiddles with his hat, great stuff.

      The King

      • I see what you mean, though I still only have eyes for Yul. And his brynners ;-)

  21. You are not being too hard on RV’s storytelling ability. I know – I was one of the seven Mexican women involved and I can tell you that Steve McQueen was a true gentleman, paid for everything and tipped me particularly generously (perhaps you would like to give me a six figure contract in exchange for my memoirs?)

  22. Since RV starred in The Man From U.N.C.L.E., one of the seminal TV series of my childhood, I am willing to give him a pass. Fun factoid: In that series, his character’s name was Napoleon Solo. The cribbed that name from a James Bond novel. Solo was a small-time hood in Goldfinger.

    I am a fountain of useless info.

    I almost hit Quentin Crisp on my bike once in the East Village. Not on purpose.

    P.S. Five days ’til Daisy and counting.

    • Pencil me in for August

      • Aw! I spent all my dimes …oh! wait! I still have a couple hundred bucks. Anyone got a free ticket?
        I’m kidding, of course, but would be great to meet up with you guys.

  23. I hope the seven girls weren’t as tangled up as the ones in the pic, or the tequila wouldn’t be the only obstacle to doing the business.

  24. That is my 3rd favorite picture ever of Yul Brynner, Sean Connery and a horse.

  25. “The bill came to something like $700 – pretty big money in the Sixties.”

    This is true. Many people forget back in the Sixties the $700 bill was 14 feet long and impossible to carry around in your pocket, so I’m not surprised he didn’t have it on him.

  26. RV told his story, he didn’t portend to write a novel. mcqueen was a douchenozzle. i’d bet anything he bashed a few fags’ heads open with a baseball bat in his day.

  27. Taras Bulba is the film I remember Brenner in most vividly.

  28. My mother was a huge Steve McQueen fan. And Paul Newman too. She knew Sylvester Stallone’s mother in real life.

    I liked Yul Brynner in the horrible sci fi film called “Westworld”. He was a gunslinging robot with a terrifically menacing stride.

  29. [...] but that’s two more stories–anyway later in the day, I happened upon a piece at nursemyra’s about Robert Vaughn’s autobiography–in particular a salacious story about the making of [...]

  30. I just want to know more about the sex for seven.


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