Earlier this year, Kempt declared a six-month moratorium on Steve McQueen. Amusing and all, but there’s a reason we didn’t sign on. McQueen madness comes in waves, and it’d be a dereliction of duty to ignore the one about to break. Not in fact on the style front; until you burn all your shawl collar cardigans in Tompkins Square it’s useless to debate his permanence and pre-eminence on that score. But we’re feeling more McQueen than ever this summer thanks to various happenings in the land of the King. For starters, his wicked 1976 Porsche 930 Turbo is coming up for auction in August during Monterey Car Week. A new graphic novel called Steve McQueen: Full-Throttle Cool is about to become our favorite beach read. And a documentary about his classic 1971 racing flick Le Mans which debuted at Cannes was just tapped for theatrical release this fall. And we all know that three makes a trend piece.
Will hordes of hoi polloi head out to the Hamptons this summer to watch a bunch of South Americans prance around on a polo field? Not likely. But back in the ‘30s it was a real crowd pleaser. “Every weekend this summer thousands of hot-dog munching spectators have crowded the polo centers of Long Island,” LIFE noted in 1938. “They paid 50¢ each to see socialites, expensive horses, rough-riding action. But mostly they paid to see Tommy Hitchcock, the world’s greatest polo player.”
The fact that he was unabashedly patrician did not stop Hitchcock from becoming a national hero. Under his leadership the U.S. hadn’t lost an international polo match to England since 1921, when Winston Churchill and King George V watched him trounce the Brits on their home turf. He was a born horseman, but his success on the field had more to do with bringing an American aggressiveness to what had always been a gentleman’s game. 45,000 hot dog munchers turned out to watch the opening day of the 1930 Westchester Cup. Fewer than 3,000 were at the Hamptons Cup final last summer.
Blood sports aren’t all that popular these days. But bullfighting, beautiful, brutal and balletic, has been an important part of Spanish culture for hundreds of years. In the otherwise tame artists’ and expats’ town of San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, founded by the Spanish in 1511, we attended a bullfight recently and came away with one of the most authentic, un-touristy experiences we’ve ever had abroad, one that’s seared in our memory forever. While bullfights have been banned in some countries and toned down in others, in San Miguel tradition holds fast. Hemingway wrote that for a country to love bullfighting “the people must have an interest in death.” That’s certainly true in Mexico’s case, think of dia de muertos. Going to see one felt slightly illicit at first, gothic, decadent and antiquated, as befits what the author and bullfighting aficionado called “the only art in which the artist is in danger of death.”
We won’t get into a discussion of animal rights here, but while unquestionably meeting a cruel and bloody end the bulls are said to have a far better life than most of their ilk up until the final hour. And though they haven’t got much of a chance, there’s always the possibility that the bull will do some damage. The matador who risks nothing will never achieve greatness, and the best bullfighters stick their necks out the farthest. Prayers to the Virgin of Guadalupe are given before each event. In San Miguel the bullfight, or corrida, is in fact a corrida de rejones, meaning that the matadors – in this case rejoneadors – are mounted on horses. That may sound safer but repeatedly stabbing a raging, stampeding bull in the back, from the front, on horseback at full tilt while wearing a suit and hat takes serious cojones.
“More heady than love, ladies or liquor is the sporting-goods catalog of L. L. Bean, outfitter extraordinary to men who live so they may hunt and fish,” read Life magazine’s encomium to the entrepreneurial outdoorsman in October of 1941. From modest beginnings in 1911, sales at Leon Leonwood Bean’s Freeport mail order business had surpassed the $1 million mark by 1937. Life showcased a number of innovative items from the Bean catalog, beginning with the famous Maine Hunting Shoe, created when Bean had a seamstress sew elk hide leggings onto a pair of old rubbers to keep his feet warm and dry while duck hunting.
While Michael was off gallivanting in Europe we headed down to Newport at the behest of Bentley to check out the J Class Regatta. Our whirlwind tour included a day on the water watching the yacht races, dinner and drinks at the historic Castle Hill Inn and some time behind the wheel of the new Bentley Continental GT the next day. The sleek J Class yachts, ranging from 119 – 135 ft., were constructed between 1930 – 1937 to compete in the America’s Cup; this was the first competitive J Class regatta in the U.S. since the ’37 Cup, when Ranger (funded by Harold S. Vanderbilt) successfully defended the trophy against the British challenger Endeavour II.
If Steve McQueen was the King of Cool, John V. Lindsay was without a doubt the Mayor of Cool. He was in fact mayor of New York City from 1966 – 1973, and though not exactly the blue-blooded WASP some make him out to be, he certainly exuded an aristocratic elegance and a Kennedy-esque sense of effortless style. A graduate of the Buckley School, St. Paul’s School and Yale, where he joined Scroll and Key, the tall, athletic Lindsay was a Navy gunnery officer during World War II, earning five battle stars through action in the invasion of Sicily and a series of landings in the Pacific theater.
On June 23rd RM Auctions is staging a staggering sale of classic British motorcars during the Salon Privé, an English garden party-style car show and luxury goods fair at Syon Park, the sprawling London estate of the Duke of Northumberland. There will also be a Concours d’Elegance highlighting categories including the Ferrari 250 Competizione and motorcycles from the Steve McQueen era. Dubbed the “Quintessentially English” sale, the auction features a range of desirable examples from famed UK marques made during the last century, with estimates ranging from about £50,000 – £500,000. We were especially taken with some of the hand-finished details on the cars, pictured here.