Steve McQueen was a superstar in the early 1970s, the highest-paid actor in Hollywood, but he was also a motorcycle enthusiast, making him doubly cool. McQueen's biker life intersected with his movies, which understandably made producers nervous. The movie star hung out with the brothers Dave and Bud Ekins at Bud's Triumph and Honda dealership. They introduced him to off-road motorcycle racing.
This closeness led McQueen to tap Bud as his stunt double for “The Great Escape,” which like “The Magnificent Seven” was directed by John Sturges. Filmed in Germany in 1962, “The Great Escape” was released to great acclaim the following year. According to McQueen’s biographer, William Nolan, McQueen made sure “The Great Escape” would have plenty of motorcycle scenes for himself and Bud. “John and I worked a hairy motorcycle chase into the script,” McQueen told Nolan for his book, Star on Wheels. “By inserting this cycle sequence into ‘The Great Escape,’” Nolan wrote, “Steve had outfoxed the studio; now the executives had no choice. Steve would race. On film, and at their risk.”
In the end, Ekins, who died in 2007, would spend three months in Germany shooting “The Great Escape,” and he would continue to double for McQueen throughout the actor’s too-short career (McQueen died of mesothelioma in 1980). But as Ekins told Matt Stone in an interview, McQueen did most of the motorcycle riding captured in “The Great Escape” himself. “I really didn’t do much of it,” Ekins said. “Anything where he may get hurt, that’s what I did. There’s a chase sequence in there where the German stunt riders were after him, and he was so much a better rider than they were, that he just ran away from them. So, they put a German uniform on him and he chased himself! I rode as a German soldier too, but he chased himself several times in the movie.”
Read more stories about Steve McQueen and his biker buds at Collectors Weekly.