As well as being a movie star and salad dressing entrepreneur, Paul Newman was also a fairly successful car racer from the early 1970s right up until his death in 2008. His main rival as a movie star during the 1970s was Steve McQueen – and they famously battled over top-billing in disaster movie The Towering Inferno (1974). But McQueen wanted to compete with Newman in several different ways – and race car driving was one.
The Towering Inferno screenwriter Stirling Silliphant reportedly said that the two stars went back and forth with him regarding their lines, and sneaked behind each other’s backs. It has also been alleged that McQueen asked Silliphant to add twelve lines of dialogue for his character, so he had the exact same number as Newman.
Newman’s lifelong friend, A.E. Hotchner wrote a book called Paul and Me. Hotchner claims that he visited Newman on the set of The Towering Inferno and said that Newman was very unhappy with McQueen – going so far as to call him “chicken shit” for counting up the lines in the screenplay. Their rivalry led to them getting “staggered but equal” billing in The Towering Inferno.
In 2015, a documentary called Winning: The Racing Life of Paul Newman was released. The co-writer of the documentary, Adam Carolla said [via Yahoo] that McQueen had a one-sided rivalry with Newman. McQueen saw Newman’s success in racing and Hollywood and wanted to be better than him. Newman on the other hand, was just a racer. He didn’t have any on track beefs, he just went out, raced his heart out, and left nothing on the track. Emotion didn’t play a part in it.
Dick Barbour, of Barbour Motorsports, trained both men and stated, “Paul was a very methodical driver. He wasn’t a natural like Steve. McQueen picked it up immediately.” However, Newman had more success in this arena too, and McQueen mainly kept his racing and stunt-driving on-screen.
If you’re a fan of car chases and burning buildings, check out our guide to the best action movies.