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Only in Hollywood
Steve McQueen’s Manila-born wife on her life and biopic

By Ruben V. Nepales
First Posted 21:25:00 08/23/2007

Filed Under: Celebrities, Entertainment (general)

LOS ANGELES, California?The announcement in our column on Saturday, that the book of Manila-born Neile Adams (also known as Neile McQueen Toffel) about her life with the late Steve McQueen (?My Husband, My Friend?) had been optioned to be made into a movie, elicited feedback from a reader.

Hubert, who is related to the Salvadors and has done some research on the family tree, shared: ?In your column you wrote, ?... also known as Neile Adams, the entertainer and author, who is said to be related to Philippine show biz?s Salvador clan ...? Yes, Neile Toffel is indeed a part of the Salvador clan. Her mother, Miami is the sister of the late Lou Salvador Sr. Thus, Ms. Toffel is the aunt of Maja Salvador and cousin of Phillip Salvador and the late Leroy Salvador.?

We got to interview Neile via e-mail. The singer-actress-author discussed her life with Steve, the movie project and a sentimental journey back to Manila in the 1960s when, after many years, she once again saw the folks who had raised her.

Neile was incarcerated with her mother in the Japanese prison camp at the University of Santo Tomas during World War II. At age 13, she studied in Hong Kong. She returned briefly to the Philippines and then left to live in the US at 14. She went on to become a Broadway performer and Hollywood actress who married Steve McQueen, and then Alvin Toffel.

She chronicled her life with Steve?whose iconic status continues to grow since his death at 50?in ?My Husband, My Friend,? which is available on www.authorhouse.com.

The Ferrari you gave Steve was recently sold for $2.31 million. What do you remember about the day you gave it to Steve?

I bought the car for $14,000 in 1963 for his 33rd birthday. It was an exciting moment for him and for me. For a car freak like him, it was the penultimate car as far as prestige and engineering were concerned. He went driving down the coast highway ... and promptly rear-ended a car as he turned to look at a pretty girl in a bikini.

What are your thoughts about Steve being such a cool icon until today?

Steve was always a cool icon. Nobody on the scene thought, talked or dressed like he did. He wrote his own script; nobody could touch him as far as originality was concerned. That he seems to be more popular nowadays is a tribute to his having marched to his own drummer. It?s well-deserved.

What items of Steve?s in your personal collection do you cherish the most?

The antique jewelry that he was fond of giving me. And hundreds of photos of us when we were young and beautiful!

You envision the movie adaptation of your book as a ?true life love story set against a glittering Hollywood backdrop.? Can you elaborate?

The thrust of our story is the love we had for each other, which went awry when outside forces destroyed the marriage, but never that love.

What biopics have you admired? Which ones would you like yours to match in spirit and tone?

I liked ?Ray,? ?Walk the Line? and ?The Life and Death of Peter Sellers.? My book?s spirit and tone will set the movie apart from the others simply because the stories of these two people before they got together are unusually dramatic.

Will the movie focus strictly on your life with Steve?

It will cover our lives as a very young couple.

What qualities will you be looking for in actors who will audition to play Steve?

The actor must have the qualities that Steve had. He was both playful and brooding. He saw the world through the eyes of a child. That?s why he was great with kids. He had the instincts of an animal. He was very American. One got the feeling that here was a man who could be very dangerous. I?d rather not say who I would like to play Steve.

For actresses who may want to audition to play you, what qualities will you be looking for?
Anyone can play me as long as they fit the bill. The director and producers will have to come up with the character description. I?m not as objective about me.

Can you share some basic details about your mother, a singer-dancer who was known as ?Miami, Pearl of the Orient??

Her name was Carmen Salvador. She was born in Barcelona to a German mother and Spanish father.

What is your reaction to the following comments from Publisher?s Weekly: ?Like [her husband Steve], she was neglected by a promiscuous mother.?

I think they got it right. I can?t elaborate.

What do you recall when you immigrated as a young girl to the US?

It was lonely, difficult. Yet I was very happy to be in a boarding school surrounded by welcoming kids who didn?t know me. I worked hard and mastered what was required of me. I was not close to my mother. She never worked again as an entertainer and she passed away on March 1, 1977.

When you and Steve were in Taiwan for the shoot of ?The Sand Pebbles,? you made a trip to the Philippines for the first time after 17 years. How did that go?

I was in Manila for a week. I wanted to see what the city, especially Santo Tomas, would look like to my grown-up eyes. I saw my mother?s brother and the woman who raised me. I saw a friend I went to school with. Her name was Sara.

Can you share the story behind that dramatic photo obviously taken during your visit to Manila? Who was ?Binoy?s wife??

After the Spanish-American War, my grandfather, who had fought on the Spanish side, went back to Spain to get my grandmother, my mother and my uncle (Lou Salvador Sr.). He liked Manila and felt a special kinship with Filipinos. He hired a young Filipino named Binoy who was 16 at the time. Binoy took care of my mother and uncle. My grandfather passed away and, soon after, my grandmother. Binoy stayed with my mother, who was 14 at the time and my uncle Lou, who was a little older. When I was born, Binoy took care of me while my mother traveled around the world as a singer/dancer. Chia came into our household when she married Binoy. They had three children. When we left Manila, my mother bought them a house, where they lived for the rest of their lives. I loved them both very much. I don?t know what happened to their children.

Can you talk about your father?

I never met my father.

E-mail the columnist at rvnepales_5585@yahoo.com and read his blog, ?The Nepales Report,? on www.inquirerbloggers.net/nepalesreport.

Previous columns:
On the set with Batman in Chicago ? 08/19/07
Fil-Am actresses should vie for role of Steve McQueen?s wife ? 08/18/07
Giving away over $1M at lunch ? 08/17/07
Watch out, Johnny Depp?here comes Robert De Niro ... ? 08/12/07
Michelle Pfeiffer returns with a bang--as villainess ? 08/11/07
Vanessa Hudgens: ?I love being a Filipina ? ? 08/10/07
No coffee rush for Jackie in RP ? 08/05/07
Remembering Celeste Legaspi ? 08/04/07

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