50 Years of On Any Sunday: Steve and Mert

The other two stars of On Any Sunday were both skilled and competitive riders

Words by Mitch Boehm     
Photos courtesy of the Bruce Brown and Malcolm Smith archives

Malcolm says McQueen was always very competitive and worked very hard at leading whenever we rode together, but crashed a lot during those final days. “At the end of the third day we all jumped into Bruce’s hot tub,” Malcolm says. “Steve was a mess; what wasn’t black and blue was skinned up, or both! Still, Steve was a very competent rider and loved motorcycles.”

“You expect movie stars to be magnets,” Malcolm added, “but Steve was in another league. People – women especially – noticed him everywhere he went, but he was usually quite good about the attention and autograph seeking unless they were rude. He also had a helluva sense of humor. I remember riding with him to Mexico in his hopped-up Ford pickup to do the sand dune filming, and at the border toll booth he just blasted through, knowing that Bruce – who was right behind us – would pay for both of us. He was very funny at times.”

They’re not on Harleys or Indians, but Steve McQueen (left), Mert Lawwill (middle) and Malcolm Smith (right) have taught us again and again over the years why we became motorcyclists in the first place. Epic stuff…

Malcolm didn’t meet Mert until filming began. “I figured [Mert] and Steve would be main attractions, and throughout filming I had no idea my bits would figure so prominently. Bruce never let on, and I’m not sure he actually knew how it would all shake out until he finished filming and got into the editing booth. Mert was a very good rider in all conditions, and also quite technically proficient. He built and maintained his own race bikes, and in later years built and patented trick suspension systems for downhill bicycles, and also high-end prosthetic arms and hands for amputee motorcycle, snowmobile, bicycle and ATV riders.”

Maybe the craziest thing of all happened months later as the guys were up at Bruce’s ranch riding for fun and doing hill climbs, some of which were on actual Marine land, as Bruce’s ranch butted up against Camp Pendleton acreage. They came around a corner in a forest and rode smack into a platoon of marines in camo, with camouflaged tanks and guns lined up nearby.

“We couldn’t see them until it was too late,” Malcolm told me, “and we were spooked. As soon as Bruce realized what was happening, he stopped his motorcycle, asked one of the marines who the commanding officer was, walked over to the guy in charge and said, ‘General Brown here. I hope things are going well. Carry on.’ The guy saluted, we started the motorcycles, and rode away. Amazing!”

This is Part 8 of a 10-part series Thunder Press is publishing throughout January to celebrate On Any Sunday.

Read Part 1 HERE

Read Part 2 HERE

Read Part 3 HERE

Read Part 4 HERE

Read Part 5 HERE

Read Part 6 HERE

Read Part 7 HERE

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