The Great Escape has a star-studded Royal World Premiere at London’s Leicester Square Odeon on June 20, 1963.
By then, Steve McQueen was the undisputed big name, but he was actually paid $87,500, to James Garner’s $150,000.
During filming he had become powerful enough to threaten to walk off the project if he wasn’t given a bigger role, and he made various other ego-driven demands.
Sir Richard Attenborough later said that working with the American was one of the hardest moments of his entire career.
But it was the infamously genial and easy-going Garner who made the most damning comments about McQueen.
Steve McQueen begged forgiveness from co-stars when he was dying
McQueen had previously also starred alongside James Cogburn and Charles Bronson in The Magnificent Seven and had frequently infuriated his cast mates on that shoot, while repeatedly particularly clashing with Yul Brynner.
This time, he rarely mingled with the cast, which also included Donald Pleasance, staying separately at a private chalet and being driven to set each day in a studio-hired Rolls Royce.
Despite no motorbikes featuring in the original true story of the WWII Stalag Luft III prison break, McQueen had insisted his part be rewritten to showcase his riding skills.
And when he noticed his character was off-screen for a 30-minute section he demanded more screen time or he would quit. Director John Sturgess considered writing him out completely but was blocked by the studio.
Garner also revealed that when McQueen threatened to quit Sturgess started restructuring the film so that he would be the main star instead.
He added: “I didn’t see how it could work, so I sat down with Steve and asked what the problem was. He said he didn’t like the part because he wasn’t the hero and the stuff they’d had him doing was corny.
“Steve could be a stubborn little cuss, but the director added some motorcycle stunts to pacify him and changed his character to a guy who goes out to reconnoitre the countryside then unselfishly allows himself to be recaptured so he can share information with others.”
Even so, McQueen was not able to complete the iconic daring jump over the fence, and crashed when he attempted it. Instead, his biking friend Bud Ekins was brought in. He later also stunt doubled for the star on Bullit.
They used a 1962 Thunderbird Triumph which was aged to look more period-appropriate.
Garner never bore any grudges and became a lifelong friend of McQueen, who later called Yul Brynner when he was dying of cancer to ask for his forgiveness over his past behaviour.