The Petty Reason Steve McQueen Wanted The Script For Towering Inferno Changed

They're still somewhat popular today, according to Collider, but in the main, the heyday of the disaster movie genre was the 1970s. As Den of Geek reports, 1974 was, in particular, a banner year for the genre, with films like "Earthquake!" and "Airport 1975" selling out theaters across the country.

Also released in 1974 was what may be the most quintessential disaster movie of all time. "The Towering Inferno" is, according to film critic Roger Ebert's website, about a group of people trapped in the upper floors of an impossibly-tall skyscraper as a fire rages. Ebert called it "by far the best of the mid-1970s wave of disaster films."

One of the film's stars was one of the biggest actors of the time, the legendary leading man Steve McQueen. According to Screen Rant, though he was a handsome box-office draw who could sell out nearly any theater, he was also a giant pill with an unchecked ego. And he apparently threw his weight around to get changes made to the "Towering Inferno" script in order to appease that ego.

'Diagonal Billing'

Steve McQueen may or may not have been the biggest leading man of his day, but by all accounts he certainly expected to be treated as if he were. Or at the very least, the equal of anyone else he shared the screen with.

When McQueen and Paul Newman, another Hollywood leading man of the day, were both cast in "The Towering Inferno," McQueen started making demands. As Goliath reports, the rivalry between the two men transcended just their acting careers: The former was also continually trying to one-up the latter on the racetrack, both men being race car enthusiasts. McQueen wasn't going to, in any way, brook having to play second fiddle to Newman, even if that position existed only in his mind.

To that end, he (or perhaps more accurately, his agent) angled for a compromise when it came to the movie's title card: McQueen's name would be listed first (as readers read left to right), but Newman's would be slightly above it (per Den of Geek). There's even a term for this in the movie industry: "diagonal billing."

Counting the lines

Not only was McQueen steadfastly bent on seeing to it that Newman didn't get a higher billing than his, he also wanted to make sure his costar didn't get more lines, either. McQueen counted them, according to Goliath, allegedly prompting Newman to call his co-star a "chicken s***." When McQueen's math revealed that Newman had 12 more lines, McQueen went to the producers and demanded a rewrite. Specifically, he wanted the same number of lines as Newman, according to Cheat Sheet, and he wanted the last line in the film as well.

Though the two actors were rivals professionally, it seems that, in their personal lives, they didn't let that rivalry come between them. They reportedly were known to hang out a few times in one or the other's trailer to relax after shoots.

Newman continued to have a successful Hollywood career, racking up credits right up until his 2008 death at the age of 83, according to IMDb. McQueen, however, only acted for a few more years. As the El Paso Times reports, McQueen died of heart failure while recovering from cancer surgery in 1980, at the age of 50.