Steve McQueen's legendary shooting contest with Sammy Davis, Jr.

A friendly competition became the stuff of Hollywood myth!

Sony Pictures Television and Lionsgate

There's a certain competitive undercurrent to Steve McQueen's best work. How he pushed himself as an actor was rooted in how he perceived himself as a sportsman. There are legendary stories about McQueen racing cars and motorbikes, from the Le Mans Grand Prix to dirt roads on Hollywood backlot. Sometimes, it felt like his acting was merely what paid the motorsport bills.

His drive to be the best created some great stories, and one of the most interesting involved a member of the Rat Pack.

During his time on Wanted Dead or Alive, Steve McQueen developed an interest in gun tricks. One of the things that separated that show from the competition on TV was the firearm that McQueen's character wielded. His interest in the gun's design led to a passion for fast draws.

During the filming of the movie Never So Few, Steve McQueen became tight friends with Sammy Davis Jr. In addition to being a consummate song-and-dance man, Davis had the reputation of being the best quick draw in Hollywood. Because McQueen never backed down from a challenge, he soon proposed a competition that would see him face the famous singer/actor in a quick-draw-and-shoot contest. 

According to Dwight Jon Zimmerman's The Life of Steve McQueen, Sammy Davis Jr. accepted the challenge, and a time and date were set.

The prize in the competition would be a nickel-plated commemorative Colt .45 Peacemaker revolver. 

McQueen had an unspoken advantage: In the lead-up to the contest, he secretly trained with firearms experts to better his timing. Meanwhile, Davis' friends, sure of their side's advantage, made side bets with McQueen. When the day finally arrived, though, it seemed Steve McQueen's preparation outpaced Davis' natural skills.

"Well, I guess all that practice paid off," McQueen said, "'cuz I walked away with the Peacemaker."

In addition to the gun, he walked away with all the winnings from the side bets.

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3 Comments

cperrynaples 1 month ago
Ironically, Sammy WASN'T in that movie! He had a falling out with Sinatra so his part went to McQueen! Of course they made up for Ocean's 11!
MichaelPowers 1 month ago
Peter Brown (Lawman, Laredo) was also had a remarkable quick draw.
Runeshaper 1 month ago
Practice makes perfect...or at least helps improve one's draw time lol Great story, MeTV!
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