Ruby Neilam Salvador “Neile” Adams (born July 10, 1932) is a Filipino actress, singer and dancer who made more than twenty appearances in films and television series between 1952 and 1991. Most notably famous for being the first wife of iconic and enigmatic star, Steve McQueen, being married to the man from 1956-1972.
Neile was born in Manila, in the Philippines July 10, 1932 . Her mother, Carmen Salvador, was of German, Spanish, and Filipino descent, and her father was of English, Chinese, and Filipino ancestry. Her mother, a dancer, was the sister of basketball player and actor Lou Salvador. She was a girl on an island with star’s in her eyes, and the world was her oyster.
But the Japanese invaded Pearl Harbor and all Hell broke loose in Manila. Japanese occupation began and Neile and her mother were taken prisoner and were put in a concentration camp on the grounds of Santo Tomas University where they would spend three terrifying years.
Liberated by America, Neiles family would find freedom in the United States, she’d enrol at the Katherine Dunham School of Dance. With a prize scholarship and exotic beauty, Neile Adams could feel her dreams waiting for her around the corner. She became a model for crime and detective magazines (which Steve McQueen would modestly do around the same time, the pair never meeting at these shoots). It was a decent way to make money but embarrassed her mother and she quit speaking to her.
She’d bump into a young, blonde actor around restaurants, but the two didn’t formally meet until Neile was on a date with actor/producer Mark Rydell. McQueen would privately make it known to Rydell that this young exotic gorgeous woman, Neile, was going to be his! The two fell madly in love, opening each other’s eyes to new worlds and passion neither had known before. The two lovers would marry November 2, 1956, only four short months after meeting.
The pair starred in a memorable episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents television series in 1960 called “Man from the South” based on a short story by Roald Dahl. Though Neile’s charisma and clear star potential always shines through in any scene, it was her husband who insisted his wife give up her day job on stage and film, and take on the full-time duties of being a housewife. Without hesitation, the young budding starlet succumbed to her man’s ego and a custom of the times, and gave up on her own dreams of stardom and used her own already established Hollywood connections to help Steve McQueen’s acting career get off the ground, and thrive. For years, as his career failed to ignite, he leeched off the successful dancer’s money — spending her earnings on new cars, drugs and other women.
When he landed a small role in the film of Harold Robbins’s trashy novel, “Never Love A Stranger”, only days passed before he embarked on an intensely sexual affair with the film’s leading lady actress Lita Milan — and then proudly told his wife about it. According to Neile: ‘Lita would be the first in a long line of flings that would plague me throughout our married life. OK, I thought, I can handle it — I have to — as long as he doesn’t flaunt it.’
Full of inadequacy and doubt, the young dancer settled into a life of staying home to raise her two children with McQueen, and evenings of seclusion, boiling up high grade Peyote Steve would by from the Navajo Indian, while Steve would disappear getting stoned off cocaine, LSD, amongst other experimental drugs with his abundance of Hollywood-hanger-ons.
McQueens philandering ways would prove to save his life on one fateful day. He was invited to a party at Sharon Tate’s house on the afternoon of August 7, 1969, which he had every intention of attending, until a phone call from a blonde mistress of his at the time distracted him from the festivities. He barely avoided the Charles Manson Massacre, where Sharon Tate, amongst others he knew well and others he never knew where all savagely murdered.
The constant betrayals and drug fuelled arguments would prove to be more devastating for the once infectiously loving couple. Neile Adams could no longer live within a tumultuous marriage and a life of disillusioned success. After incidents of adultery accusations, loaded gun death threats and an escalating abusive marriage she would be the one to file for divorce and the two would be divorced by 1972. Neile remained to be one of McQueens closest confidantes until he would pass away from lung cancer in 1980.
“My life and times with Steve had spanned twenty-four years. More than half my life at the time of his death. They were over now. Gone. Finished.
That he loved me and that I had been the most important person in his life, I have no doubt. That I loved him and that he had been the most influential person in mine cannot be denied.
Good-bye, my friend. You are missed. It sure was one hell of a ride.”
Neile would go on to find another love for herself. She met Alvin Toffel at a luncheon for her friend, Princess Grace of Monaco. He was as interesting a man as he was handsome and confident enough to live with and support Neile’s memories of the iconic Steve McQueen. He was an air force fighter pilot and an engineer with the Gemini and Apollo Space programs. He and Neile married on January 19, 1980 and would remain husband and wife for the rest of his life when he passed in 2005.
Neile has written an in depth and honest perspective about her life and marriage to McQueen in her Memoirs, My Husband My Friend. She also offers many commentaries in various Steve McQueen specials, always honouring the memory of her late and beloved husband. We wanted to take some time to honour and appreciate Neile herself who lived through so much and still shines bright like a true star.