Most these days are people that head here to get away from it all, and can you blame them? The land is beautiful, the sky is clean, and the people don’t give a damn about you. Talk about paradise!
That said, there’s still many people that think these celebrities should be left their privacy, even in cases when they’re not living here anymore…and sometimes haven’t in decades. Perhaps it’s that kind of attitude and mindset that’s one reason so many famous people come to Montana – the fact that we’ll leave you the hell alone, and expect you to do the same.
That’s the attitude many have encountered in Montana, and many have been flummoxed by it. Perhaps none more so than Hollywood legend, Steve McQueen.
Terence Steven McQueen was born in Beech Grove, Indiana, on March 24, 1930. When the Depression hit he moved onto an uncle’s farm until he was 8-years old, then moved back with his mom and step-dad. The latter beat him, and he began running away and getting in trouble. Another marriage followed, as did the beatings. By the time McQueen was 14-years old he threatened to kill his step-father if he laid hands on him again, and that got him sent to reform school in California.
McQueen spent two years in the school, then did a sting in the Merchant Marine before eventually joining the Navy, in 1947. "Steve's military training in the late 1940s stuck with him for the rest of his life,” his wife Barbara would later write. “He was very proficient with weapons of all kinds. He knew how to field strip a weapon blindfold and expected me to do it as well.” He stayed in until 1950 and then used his G.I. Bill money to study acting in New York in 1952. To make money he competed in motorcycle races.
In 1955 McQueen moved to California again and started getting bit parts in films. “Steve wasn't a method actor,” his wife wrote. “Instead, he started his research by reading all the material that he could get his hands on about the person he was going to play…Realism was his driving force.” It would be a long and slow slog until 1963’s The Great Escape. The film made Steve McQueen a star, thanks in large part to the daring motorcycle scene which he himself suggested.
Cars were big too with him. In my mind, the best McQueen film is 1968’s Bullitt. It earned him an Academy Award nomination, and the enmity of Warner Brothers. The film had gone over budget, so they cancelled the contract for the next seven Steve McQueen films. The film proved a huge success, however, but McQueen wouldn’t have anything to do with the studio’s groveling to get him back.
It’d be about 10 years later that he started coming to Montana a lot. He eventually got a cabin outside Monarck, Montana. He also had one in Hailey, Idaho.
At the time, McQueen sported a long beard, making him barely recognizable, and dressed down, Art told us, making himself look more like an over-the-road trucker than the superstar he was. Mike Art said thought that McQueen’s “bright blue eyes” were unmistakable as they shone through his shaggy beard and curly mane.
“Unless he was doing a movie he looked like a homeless guy. He had the beard, the mustache, long hair, and terrible clothes (often from K-Mart). Nobody recognized him unless they looked really hard….If he shaved, he looked nice.”
“I think he loved the wild ways and that there were no rules—he was a no rules kind of guy…His love for Montana was very true. He liked the way people thought, acted, and dressed, and everything about Montana.”
He liked being unrecognized, something that rarely happened anywhere else. At one point the couple was driving around for a few days before they “accepted the hospitality of a western Montana man” and stayed at his Lolo Hot Springs home for four days fishing. It wasn’t until they went to a restaurant in town that they were recognized and the jig was up.
McQueen had a good heart, too. He made it a point in his film contracts that he get toiletries and other basic household items, which he then funneled back to the Boy’s Republic Reformatory school that he’d attended. He also donated heavily to the Make-a-Wish Foundation.
The pair married in January 1980 and honeymooned in Mexico. By that time, McQueen’s illness was beginning to show itself. Steve McQueen was a huge pothead, smoking marijuana everyday. He drank a lot and smoked a lot of cigarettes and had done his share of blow in the early-70s. “Whenever Steve travelled, it was always with a six-pack of beer in a cooler,” Barbara wrote. His mesothelioma, however, can be traced back to his Navy days, when he worked on asbestos-laden ships.
It was reported in March 1980 that McQueen had terminal cancer. He tried a variety of alternative medical approaches, but nothing could slow it. He developed a tumor that was 5 pounds in his abdomen and went to Mexico in October to have it removed. His body couldn’t handle it and on November 7, 1980, Steve McQueen died. He was 50 years old.
John Clayton Mayer was born in Bridgeport, Connecticut, on October 16, 1977. His dad was a high school principal and his mom taught English at the middle school. Mayer grew up like most kids, playing Nintendo, until the film Back to the Future inspired him to learn the guitar.
In 1997 he headed off to the Berklee College of Music in Boston, and after two semesters dropped out to form a band. It didn’t work out, and Mayer went solo. It took several years, but then in 2002 he released his album Room for Squares on the internet. Columbia Records discovered it and signed him and the album went on to find major success, winning Mayer Best Male Pop Vocal Performance at the 2003 Grammy Awards.
Success after success followed, and Mayer got caught up in the rock and roll lifestyle. He’d said that he didn’t want to start doing drugs or dating wild women, but he did, big time. All of that began to get away from him, especially around 2010. A change was needed, and Big Sky Country seemed the ideal place…for whatever reason. Perhaps he’d heard that other celebrities could escape the limelight in Montana, or maybe he just wanted to get back to the land, or at least have a bunch of it around him to keep others at bay.
- Needing to chill out
- Recover from throat surgery
The “chill out” part can be traced back to what many now think was a disastrous April 20120 Playboy magazine interview in which he “revealed a little too much about his porn addiction and sex life with the likes of Jennifer Aniston and Jessica Simpson.”
“the singer was a tabloid fixture with a reputation as a bit of a douchebag, thanks to a mouth that wouldn't shut up and a trail of brokenhearted A-listers he'd left in his wake.”
Well, it’s a bit more than that – a “multimillion-dollar, 1970s-inspired getaway with a recording studio, gym, and plenty of driveway for his collection of Land Rovers,” Eells says. For the life of me, I can’t find an image of John Mayer’s Montana home.
The big draw for John Mayer, and many other celebrities in Montana, is the anonymity, and even the ‘so what’ attitude that many locals give you even if they do know who you are. Mayer “can go buy groceries at Albertsons or wear his new western hat to the local steakhouse and not feel self-conscious about it.” The Paradise Valley is great for that, and Kat Hobza explained why in a June 2013 blog post about John Mayer in Montana on She Knows:
“Paradise Valley is situated between oh-so-cool Bozeman and the Gardiner entrance to Yellowstone Park, making it home to some of the most spectacular scenery in the world. John Mayer is not the only celebrity to figure this out. Ted Turner owns a ranch outside Bozeman and a steakhouse, Ted’s Montana Grill, where bison is on the menu. (Yes, I’ve eaten there, and yes, it’s amazing.) Tom Brokaw bought a ranch in the Paradise region, and Dennis Quaid lived in Paradise Valley for years before listing his ranch in 2011. (Quaid married third wife, Kimberly Buffington, on his 500-acre ranch in Montana. The couple are now divorced.)”
On top of it, in January 2014 Mayer sold his Manhattan bachelor pad for $3.9 million. There was a lot of speculation at the time that Mayer and Katy Perry might be getting serious. The two were at the Grammy’s together at the end of that month. Perry had been divorced from Russell Brand for a year by that point.
Mayer stayed with Katy Perry until March 2013, but then they got back together again in July. That lasted until May 2014, at which point Mayer is…single. Is that possible? I’m not sure, and I’m not sure you can keep those two lovebirds apart. After all, in February 2015 it was reported that the two had been spotted in Bozeman together. One lucky person even got a photo with ‘em in the Walmart parking lot.
We already saw how he sold his expensive NY and LA homes. I’m not sure how many homes the guy’s got, but maybe this Montana place is it now. He’s certainly trying to make himself popular with the locals.
In January 2013 John Mayer hosted a benefit concert for Montana firefighters in Bozeman. It was to benefit those that lost everything in the Pine Creek Fire that’d burned more than 8,500 acres that summer around Bozeman and Livingston. Zac Brown was another performer.
The show would prove to be the first concert Mayer did after his throat surgery 20 months earlier, in October 2011. The condition was Granuloma, or an inflammation of his vocal cords. The surgery didn’t go as well as it could, so he had another in March 2012.
Hanna splits his time between Montana an Ohio, where he’s Director Emeritus for the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium. He graduated form Muskingum College in 1969 and worked for the Knoxville Zoo. He had a pet shop, petting zoo, wildlife adventure company, and a few other animal-related jobs along the way.
He got his big start with zoos in Ohio, however. That was where he’d gotten his start, in 1978. He decided on the city because his daughter was sick with leukemia at the time. Columbus had a hospital that specialized in that, so he took the job. By 1983 Jack Hanna had his own TV show, called “Hanna’s Ark.”
“I came out to do some speeches,” he says. “Montana didn’t have a zoo then. The next morning I went to catch my Northwest flight and the plane didn’t work, so I rented a car and drove out of Billings into Columbus...to the little town of Nye. The road dead ends in the Beartooth Wilderness...and I couldn’t believe how gorgeous it was and I knew, even though we didn’t have a lot of money, that I was going to buy some land and build a cabin.”
He’d found the Flathead Valley that year and Flathead Lake really impressed him. Many celebrities choose eastern Montana, as Hanna had done, but quite a few eventually realize the wonders that western Montana holds as well. Hanna spent the next several years finding the perfect spot, which was “a few miles outside of Bigfork.” The new location was a 400-mile drive from his old spot and across the Continental Divide of the Rocky Mountains.
The best place to find images of Jack Hanna’s Montana home is in a November 2011 Hooked on Houses article. The log cabin is 760 square feet and is named Elk Cabin “because it sits on an old elk farm.” It’s built from 8” x 12” white pine logs that were taken from Idaho. There’s no drywall and the place is quite small. Cozy is how we Montanans like to describe it.
Hanna popularizes Montana animals, such as the time he went to the National Bison Range in 2009 to film and in 2014 he was raising funds for grizzly bear research. He does a lot of stuff in Montana, and I’m sure we’ll be hearing more from him when he retires here full time.