In keeping with Jeff Stein at OnTheDash.com, Don Nunley handed away on Thursday, February 11, 2021, on the age of 81. He was the property grasp of the film Le Mans starring Steve McQueen. One among Nunley’s most vital duties (in watch phrases, that’s) was sourcing and retaining observe of the Heuer Monaco chronographs worn by McQueen throughout filming.
In Nunley’s reminiscence, here’s a reprint of an unique interview Chris Malburg had with him earlier than he handed.
Don Nunley and I had been having dinner one night, and he informed me a few watch he’d just lately offered. He stated it was utilized in a McQueen movie.
“That wouldn’t be the Heuer Monaco, wouldn’t it?” I requested.
“As a matter of truth, it was,” Don stated.
Again within the 1970s, McQueen was the king of cool: he was a world-famous film star and a outstanding racecar driver. In 1970 he positioned second within the 12 Hours of Sebring – an expert race – driving a Porsche 908/02.
His star standing rubbed off on no matter he touched. Working example: the Heuer Monaco utilized in his hit film, which has change into an iconic watch synonymous with each McQueen and motor sports activities.
There are such a lot of pictures in Le Mans of the Monaco poking out from underneath the appropriate sleeve of McQueen’s white Nomex racing go well with with the “Chronograph Heuer” patch on the appropriate shoulder.
Speak about product placement: Nunley was one of many first to faucet this now vastly profitable income supply for filmmakers.
Nunley’s product placement concept for combining the world’s most grueling and well-known automotive race with the equally legendary Heuer model was a stroke of genius.
Timing is important to motorsports, and Heuer was identified for its precision and affiliation to the game even then: the game’s main members truly used the model’s timepieces.
Moreover, motor sports activities additionally appeal to a well-heeled crowd.
These had been the right elements for a match that finally bought the checkered flag. Nunley and Heuer succeeded in linking one of the vital acknowledged high-end watch manufacturers of the period with the megastar of the time.
My pal now admits that he ought to have purchased all of the Heuer inventory he might haven gotten his fingers on.
Le Mans prop choice
“You’ve bought to know,” Nunley informed me, “being the property grasp on a serious movie with the largest star within the trade requires the diplomacy of an envoy mixed with the perception solely a crystal ball can present. The most important mistake a prop grasp could make is just not giving the star sufficient decisions within the props he makes use of all through the movie.
“Once we started the Le Mans undertaking in 1970, Steve McQueen was at his absolute top as a film star. He was simply coming off two hits – Bullitt and The Thomas Crown Affair. That field workplace energy gave McQueen the luxurious of selecting his personal initiatives and setting his personal phrases.”
Nunley described how he assembled the props throughout the context of each the movie and the character McQueen performed: Michael Delaney, a flawed however revered driver with extra on his thoughts than simply racing.
“In the course of the time I labored with Steve,” Nunley continued, “I grew to become a reasonably good choose of what props would make him look good and be pure for him to deal with on set. It was as much as me to pick out a bunch of alternatives for every merchandise. However it was as much as Steve to promote the viewers on his last alternatives.”
In McQueen’s case, the props and wardrobe objects he utilized in his movies typically made their approach into his private assortment. Certainly, in 2011 RM Sotheby’s auctioned the actor’s personal Porsche 911S – which was utilized in Le Mans – for a hammer worth of $1.25 million (with purchaser’s payment: $1,375,000).
On the identical public sale, one in all three racing fits (with helmet) McQueen wore within the movie hammered for $984,000.
The marketplace for film-used Nomex racing fits appears to have softened within the ensuing years. In 2017 one other of the McQueen/Le Mans racing fits hammered for simply $336,000. Nevertheless, this one has a narrative behind it.
After its launch, German teenie journal Bravo sponsored a promotional contest for 2 of the movie’s memorabilia: the Porsche 914 as first prize and one of many remaining white Nomex racing fits (with helmet) as second prize. I can solely assume McQueen’s manufacturing firm donated the 2 objects.
One of many contest entrants was a youngster on the time, hoping to win the Porsche. He bought the second prize as a substitute, the racing go well with. Disenchanted, he folded it up and positioned it in storage for the following 46 years.
The widow of the go well with’s proprietor then contacted Sotheby’s in 2017, the place it was included at public sale.
How the Heuer Monaco was chosen
Nunley informed me that he contacted Jack Heuer to see if he may need an curiosity in offering some items for the movie. His buying record included stopwatches, timing boards, brand patches (for wardrobe), and a number of other chronographs.
Again in 1970, the blue-dialed Monaco with its two subdials and date window retailed for $400. Definitely it wasn’t almost as fashionable as it’s right this moment with its cumbersome 39 x 39 mm sq. case.
That’s till McQueen strapped it to his wrist, climbed into his Porsche 917, and roared into historical past. Right this moment’s retail worth for a brand new Monaco is $5,900.
Nunley’s story goes that he gathered watches from fivepossible manufacturers to be used on the movie that he thought would work and that McQueen would love: Tissot, Omega, Bulova, Rolex, and Heuer. Every model had three or 4 totally different fashions represented on this magnificence contest.
Nunley writes in his e book, Le Mans in the Rearview Mirror: “Steve seemed over all of the watches on the desk. He didn’t say something at first. He was drawn to the Omega. He picked it up and stated, ‘I’d prefer to put on this’.”
Then Nunley identified the Heuer patch on the white Nomex driver’s go well with McQueen had already chosen and informed the actor that Michael Delaney most likely wouldn’t put on an Omega watch when his go well with stated Heuer.
This gorgeous a lot eradicated all different watches however the Heuers.
Jack Heuer had submitted 4 chronograph fashions, three of which seemed just like the opposite watches. McQueen seemed over all of the Heuers, selecting the Monaco even over the Autavia that was extra the racer’s watch with its extremely legible dial and outer rotating tachymeter scale on the bezel.
What a shock, since McQueen wished his character’s costume to be as nondescript as attainable. As a substitute he selected essentially the most uncommon piece in your entire assortment with its outsized, oddly formed case and colourful dial.
What number of Heuer Monacos had been used?
Film props endure from laborious use; that is an trade the place time is cash.
Typically the props – resembling wardrobe and private objects like watches – are offered by the producer free of charge in change for the opportunity of a close-up or two within the movie.
Right this moment, after all, there are substantial charges paid by producers for the privilege of getting their merchandise seem in a movie. To not point out the promoting tie-ins, endorsements, and all the remaining that make Hollywood such a profitable enterprise other than theatrical ticket gross sales.
The precise variety of Monacos utilized in Le Mans is vital due to the great worth hooked up to so few items. It’s a matter of provide and demand.
Nunley wanted six watches. One instantly went lacking, its whereabouts unknown.
Of the 5 remaining Monacos, one was designated for McQueen to put on on set. Nunley saved the ultimate 4 as backup reserves within the occasion that the primaries had been broken or one way or the other additionally disappeared. Of those 4, Nunley saved one as untouched and unblemished, to be used solely in close-up pictures and PR stills.
Within the prop grasp’s lexicon that is referred to as the hero piece.
The place did the Heuer Monacos go after filming?
My pal is actually an authority as regards to movies and the movie trade, and Le Mans is not any exception. So I requested him the place the remaining Monacos went after the movie was launched.
“Figuring out Steve’s popularity for having sticky fingers,” Nunley stated, “I detailed one in all my prop assistants to shadow him on the set and retrieve the watch every time McQueen completed a scene. Even so, one way or the other one of many 5 remaining Monacos nonetheless managed to go lacking – most likely to Steve.”
After which there have been 4.
Nunley purchased all of the timing tools and the watches from Heuer for someplace between $400 and $1,000 so that they had been his to do with as he selected.
Of the remaining 4 Monacos Nunley gave one to an expensive pal. After the pal’s demise, his son (Nunley’s godson) wished to promote the Monaco, so Nunley related him with collector and actual property investor Michael Isenberg in Beverly Hills.
The sale worth for the quantity 4 Monaco was someplace between $40,000 and $50,000.
Nunley offered Monaco numbers two and three on eBay. Right here’s what he informed me.
“The Heuer firm contacted me and made a suggestion to purchase one of many remaining Monacos for $5,000. I wasn’t positive what the honest market worth truly was, however I imagined it to be somewhat greater than that. So I supplied two of the watches on eBay.
There was vigorous bidding, transferring into the $9,000 vary. Heuer referred to as once more and requested if they may purchase the watch for his or her unique supply of $5,000. I informed them that they’d should outbid the high-water mark on eBay of $9,000, however they’d higher hurry since bidding could be closing quickly.”
It seems that a husband and spouse who didn’t know the opposite was even bidding bought each watches for somewhat over the $9,000 bids every.
What concerning the final Monaco?
Nunley gave the ultimate Monaco to his dad, who wore it till he died some years later. “This was the precise watch that McQueen wore within the movie. It was effectively used, each by McQueen and my dad.” So the ultimate Monaco got here again to Nunley.
“I bought a name from a billionaire, one of many Forbes 400,” he stated. “He knew I had the watch and he wished to purchase it. We determined to fulfill at his property. We hadn’t talked worth but. He wished to know if I had every other watches – of historic significance or not – that I could be keen to promote. I did: the final Monaco, a gold Rolex Submariner, a Heuer Carrera, one other Heuer chronograph, and three stopwatches used within the movie.
“Over espresso we talked about Hollywood, actors, Le Mans, and Steve McQueen. I had a quantity in thoughts for all of the items I had introduced. He should have learn my thoughts as a result of he handed me a cashier’s test for that precise quantity. However after seeing the Monaco and the opposite watches, he informed me that he didn’t suppose it was sufficient. So he had his accountant, who was working within the subsequent room, usher in his private checkbook whereas I argued that the primary test was greater than honest. I informed him that if I took any extra money I’d simply put it into my grandkid’s training fund.
“’What number of grandkids you bought?’ he requested.
“He proceeded to write down a test for a really beneficiant quantity supposed for every of my seven grandkids. What a gentleman. Who is aware of, he simply would possibly nonetheless have the Monaco.”
One of many Monacos surfaced in 2012 at Profiles In History’s “Hollywood Auction, hammering for $650,000 with a 23 p.c purchaser’s premium, bringing the sale worth as much as $799,500.
Right here’s how the public sale home described the watch in its catalog:
That is the precise wristwatch worn by Steve McQueen throughout Le Mans manufacturing and in associated photographs. In 1970, Jack Heuer himself delivered a wide range of his chronograph timepieces to Donald Nunley, prop grasp on the set of Le Mans in France. From this choice, Steve McQueen himself selected this particular watch to put on as his character “Michael Delaney” throughout manufacturing and in publicity photographs. In an early instance of product placement, this watch is seen on the arm of McQueen in numerous photographs and the last word movie. In reality, his sleeve is usually conspicuously pushed as much as reveal the look ahead to the cameras.
In 1969 Heuer launched the primary computerized chronograph and broke with custom by making a sq. waterproof case to deal with it. A buckled, black leather-based vented strap completes the good-looking piece. Housed in a purple, spring-hinged case sporting the Heuer brand and a checkered flag motif. The watch is seated in a purple felt base. The watch is in distinctive situation and comes with its unique guide of operation containing a manufacturing unit typed notation that the watch was offered to “24 h at Le Mans 1970.” An orange sticker on the again of the watch bears the reference quantity 1133b (the sticker is rubbed from put on, as McQueen wore the watch extensively in manufacturing) and a notarized letter of authenticity from Le Mans prop grasp Donald Nunley.
Whereas researching this text I got here throughout a single reference that McQueen gave his Monaco to his monetary advisor. This watch could possibly be the one auctioned.
Nevertheless, prop items utilized in movies are typically handled roughly, but this watch was described as being in “distinctive situation.” There’s the conundrum.
Earlier I described the hero watch, which was saved in reserve and in mint situation for close-ups and publicity photographs. Nunley thinks the watch that was the topic of this public sale most likely was the hero watch of Le Mans. Plainly approach.
So if my accounting is correct, I’ve recognized the place 5 of the six Monacos went.
The place’s the sixth? It might have been privately offered to a collector and/or have been the topic of a number of personal gross sales since then. We’ll most likely by no means know till it surfaces publicly.
Wasn’t there a McQueen Rolex Submariner?
Sure there was. McQueen typically wore his private Rolex Submariner on the Le Mans set. Nunley says the actor appeared on days he wasn’t scheduled to work. He appreciated hanging out with the drivers. Typically he’d insert himself as simply one other driver through the filming.
On these days he’d put on no matter white driver’s racing go well with was hanging in wardrobe and his Submariner. Since there have been no close-ups nobody might inform who the motive force was anyway.
McQueen’s Submariner was auctioned by Antiquorum in 2009, the place it hammered for a worth of $234,000 – which appears low right this moment, however set the report for this reference in 2009. The watch was a metal Reference 5512 from circa 1967 with three fingers and no date, however in first rate situation.
It nonetheless looks as if a discount provided that it belonged to Steve McQueen. In all, the actor’s possessions – together with different watches and a motorbike – introduced in a complete of $5.7 million at this New York Metropolis public sale.
Movie star cache
Put a product – any product – within the fingers of a celeb and you’ve got a successful mixture that’s assured to understand through the years. Examples of the celeb premium are rampant.
Daniel Craig’s Omega Planet Ocean utilized in On line casino Royale introduced $255,565, the best worth ever paid for a James Bond watch. Nevertheless, it’s helpful to know that this watch was offered on the first-ever themed public sale, Antiquorum’s OmegaMania, which was an occasion in itself.
The second highest was Craig’s Omega Seamaster Planet Ocean used in Skyfall, which hammered at Christie’s in 2012 for $254,273. Proceeds went to Orbis, a non-profit offering eye care in creating nations.
Against this, Roger Moore’s Rolex used in Live and Let Die most recently hammered for $365,000, although its earlier activate the rostrum solely introduced $196,056. This could possibly be defined by the persevering with, prolonged public curiosity in each Rolex and auctions.
Throughout its heyday, Antiquorum was within the thick of movie star watch auctions with maybe its finest outcome coming at a 2012 public sale during which it offered Olympic ski champion Jean-Claude Killy’s Rolex Dato-Compax Chronograph (circa 1951) for a hammer price of $614,500.
Simply six years in the past in 2012 Christie’s auctioned Eric Clapton’s 1987 Patek Philippe Reference 2499/100 in platinum for an astounding $3.6 million. With out the well-known guitarist’s provenance the identical reference in yellow gold offered for $539,000 at Bonham’s 2015 Geneva public sale.
Earlier than Main League Baseball started handing out World Collection rings, gamers had been awarded watches. Babe Ruth’s Gruen Verithin pocket watch commemorating the Yankees’ 1923 World Collection championship hammered for $717,000 at the Heritage 2014 New York City auction. The watch was particularly noteworthy because it was Ruth’s first piece of MLB championship hardware.
The Monaco watch was not alone
Nunley collected a lot of different objects from the movie, too.
Two stand out to me as being of best curiosity: hand-carved small mannequin vehicles by somebody on the set. “These had been so intricately detailed and so effectively finished, they had been really artworks. One was of the Porsche 922; one other was of a Ferrari.” Nunley offered them to Mike Isenberg in Beverly Hills.
Lastly, Nunley saved the unique Le Mans script.
Nevertheless, there have been so many modifications – typically each day and typically throughout the identical day – that he stopped retaining observe of them. The modifications got here on different-colored pages to establish which model they had been.
Nunley started simply shoving the coloured pages into the again of his script, which he had properly certain. And he offered it to Isenberg for $three,000. Later Isenberg informed him that was essentially the most cash ever paid for a script not signed by the actor or director.
In order that’s my story of Steve McQueen’s Heuer Monaco.
What started as dinner with a long-standing pal took me on a thriller tour of what truly occurred to one of many movie trade’s most well-known props – as informed to me by the Le Mans property grasp himself.
Don Nunley is the creator of a e book about Le Mans entitled Steve McQueen: Le Mans in the Rearview Mirror.
* This text was first printed on June 26, 2018 at The Real Story Behind Steve McQueen’s Heuer Monaco: Exclusive Interview With ‘Le Mans’ Property Master Don Nunley.