As he came off the road with The Who and moved on up to his home in Trancas, near Malibu, California, Keith Moon really, truly thought he was going to finally be content. In particular he foresaw a close personal friendship with his new next-door neighbor Steve McQueen, recent star of Papillon and The Towering Inferno.
But having reached to the top of his own profession, the actor had become a social and professional recluse, spurning all offers, even demanding a fee of $50,000 ($200,000 today) just to read a script. He had grown his hair long, sprouted a beard, and put on weight.
And, just like Moon with his wife Kim and his girlfriend Annette Walter-Lax’s modeling, McQueen flatly refused to let his wife Ali MacGraw maintain her own lucrative career. Having soared to the peak of the ladder in just three movies, including Love Story, she suddenly dropped out of the race. Steve and Ali had holed up in Trancas and retired.
So used to being everyone’s best friend, Moon found himself stonewalled instead. For the first time in his life he was living next door to someone from a similar working-class background also at the peak of their popularity, with so much apparently in common, and the guy didn’t want to know.
McQueen wasn’t rude about it. In fact, when Moon, Annette, and his personal assistant, Peter "Dougal" Butler, moved in to Victoria Point Road, he and Ali invited them for a drink. Moon and Annette sat there sipping white wine, both of them feeling quite overawed and yet simultaneously underwhelmed. Conversation was cordial but it was stilted. This was not going to be an easy relationship.
Moon planned a housewarming. After all, why build a beach-side palace for $350,000 ($1.3 million in 2014 prices) if you can’t let your friends share some of the spoils? Somewhere in the midst of arranging the event, Moon walked the 50-odd yards next door to the McQueens.
The intention was apparently to issue an invitation. But encountering only Chad, McQueen’s 16-year-old son from his previous marriage, Moon succeeded in antagonizing the boy no end through offers of – or a request for – drink and drugs. There were reports that Moon pushed into the house, that a fight broke out, that the McQueens’ dog bit Moon and Moon bit it back. Certainly a confrontation took place.
McQueen didn’t like anyone knocking on his door at the best of times. An addled Keith Moon f***ing with his kid was beyond forgiveness. It’s a wonder he didn’t come round and personally flatten the diminutive drummer. Perhaps he paused to register the publicity it would attract. Besides, like many with money, he had his own way of doing things. He called in an ex-FBI agent.
In Los Angeles, where connections are everything, a connection saved Moon from prosecution or worse. McQueen’s personal business manager Bill Maher was a friend of Moon’s personal lawyer, Mike Rosenfeld. At Maher’s suggestion, a sit-down at the Malibu District Attorney’s office was arranged. Moon was to be hauled in and raked over the coals. Hopefully the matter would rest there.
The night before the meeting, Moon got dressed up in his favored Nazi uniform – as Rommel in jodhpurs, binoculars, knee length boots, leather coat and cap – and hit the bars. When Rosenfeld came round to fetch Moon at Malibu in the morning he found his client dressed as a Nazi.
“You’re not going out like that, are you?” the lawyer inquired like the most exasperated of mothers.
“The only way I go,” replied Moon with hungover obstinance, “is if I go like this.”
So he did. He marched bleary-eyed into a police station to meet Steve McQueen, an-ex FBI agent, the local D.A. and a handful of lawyers, looking like Field Marshall Rommel after a heavy night on the town.
He was greeted with an almost collective sigh of dismay.
“Is there any significance to your clothing?” the D.A. eventually asked.
“My client is shooting a commercial this morning,” replied Rosenfeld before Moon could think up any other, less plausible, excuse.
McQueen just laughed. He didn’t want to ruin it for the lawyer, but he’d seen Moon in his Nazi uniform perhaps a dozen times already, marching his troops up and down the beach, in and out of the ocean. It was almost to be expected.
Nonetheless, Moon came out of the D.A.’s office with a rare understanding of a boundary not to be crossed. He never went knocking at the McQueens’ door again.
But like a sitcom hammering home new takes on old jokes, the antagonism continued. Moon had built a giant French window looking over not the ocean, but the McQueens’ house. The reason, he confided to Butler, was in the hope of seeing Ali McGraw in the nude, to which end he frequently resorted to his binoculars.
McQueen, unaware of the intrusion, took umbrage to the spotlights that shone over his house from Moon’s private bathroom, and twice shot them out in the middle of the night when the light of Leo upset his tranquility. Moon took to spying on Ali on the beach in the hope she would sunbathe topless.
Annette found herself unwittingly caught up in it all one day while sunbathing herself in the private, deserted stretch of Pacific sand. Dozing off, she was startled to be woken by a tap on the shoulder. She looked up to see a grizzly man with a lengthy beard underneath which lurked the rugged good looks of a famous movie idol.
“You’re on my sand,” grunted McQueen. Demurring to his evident knowledge of the matter, she picked up her items and moved a few yards down the beach, over the invisible demarcation line.
From the book MOON: The Life and Death of a Rock Legend by Tony Fletcher. Copyright C 1999 by Tony Fletcher. Reprinted by permission of It Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.