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Joel McCrea Overview:

Legendary actor, Joel McCrea, was born Joel Albert McCrea on Nov 5, 1905 in South Pasadena, CA. McCrea appeared in over 90 film roles. His best known films include Union Pacific (as Capt. Jeff Butler), Foreign Correspondent (as John Jones), Sullivan's Travels (as John Lloyd Sullivan), The More the Merrier (as Joe Carter), The Palm Beach Story (as Tom Jeffers), The Virginian (as The Virginian) and Ride the High Country (as Steve Judd). Early on in his career, McCrea appeared as an Extra in the silent classic, The Divine Lady (1929) starring Corinne Griffith. McCrea died at the age of 85 on Oct 20, 1990 in Woodland Hills, Los Angeles and was cremated and his ashes scattered at sea.

Early Life

Joel Albert McCrea was born on November 5th, 1905 in South Pasadena, California. Even as a small child McCrea was fascinated by the movies, often seeing them filmed in his hometown. His interest only grew when, at the age of 9, he and his family moved to Hollywood. Thanks to his father's work as utility executive for the L.A Gas and Electric Company, the McCrea's enjoyed a comfortable middle class life. Despite this comfortable life, the young Joel McCrea was instilled with a powerful sense of work ethic and began working as boy. He took a job as a newspaper delivery boy for the Los Angeles Time, delivering papers to Cecil B. DeMille and others in the film community. By the time he began attending Hollywood High School, the movie business was thriving and soon the tall athletic 15 year old began his career in the film industry as a part time stunt double and horse wrangler. After graduating high school McCrea went off to attend Pomona College. While in higher education he took classes in acting, public speaking and drama. He also gained began acting the stage, first for his schools staged production and then at the Pasadena Playhouse.

Early Career

After finishing college, McCrea returned to Hollywood to continue his career in show business. From 1927 to 1928 he worked as bit player in the industry, continuing his work as a stunt double and even acting in small, uncredited parts in forgettable films like The Fair Co-Ed, The Enemy and Freedom of the Press. The next year he signed a short-term contract with MGM studios and appeared in his first major role as Todd Sayles in The Jazz Age. He then returned to string of small, often uncredited roles in films like The Divine Lady, The Single Standard, and Framed. After leaving MGM in 1930 he signed a contract with RKO Studios and that same year starred in his first feature film The Silver Horde. While at RKO he made friends will star Will Rogers, whom he shared a mutual love of horse riding. Roger's helped the young actor develop a business mind, advising the 24 year old to buy a ranch with the money he was making. The advice turned out to be right on the money, and before the end of the 1940s McCrea was a millionaire.

During his early years RKO Studios McCrea quickly established himself as versatile actor, equally comfortable in both comedy and drama. He starred in a string of films of varying genres including Lightin', Kept Husbands, Girls About Town, and The Lost Squadron. In 1932 he starred in King Vidor romance-adventure flick Birds of Paradise. The pre-code era film caused quite a stir among audiences and critics a controversial scene in which McCrea's co-star Dolores del Rio swam naked. That same year he starred opposite Fay Wray in the big screen adaptation of the Richard Connell short story The Most Dangerous Game. In 1933 he starred opposite young actress Frances Dee in the romance Silver Cord. The two actors hit it and off and were married not long after production for the film ended. Their marriage would last until his death in 1990.



Film Success

During the rest of decade, McCrea continued to build his career and reputation as an actor.  In 1937 he starred opposite his wife in the big budget western Wells Fargo, a genre he had always wanted to master. Two years later he starred in another large-scale Western, this time opposite Barbara Stanwyck in Cecil B. DeMille's Union Pacific. The film, along with John Ford's Stagecoach, are considered to be have helped mature and revolutionize the western from cartoon-ish genre to a mature, adult genre able to convey serious and complex ideas.

By the start of the 1940s McCrea had reached the height of his career. In 1940 he starred opposite Laraine Day in the Alfred Hitchcock spy-thriller Foreign Correspondent. The next year he starred with Veronica Lake in the Preston Sturges socially conscious comedy Sullivan's Travels. In the film McCrea played unhappy director, John L. Sullivan, who escapes his cozy Hollywood life to live as a hobo and see "the real world." At the time it's release, Sullivan's Travels was a moderate box-office success with mixed critical reviews. Over time, over, the films reputation grew and is now considered one of the best socially conscious comedies ever made. They next he worked with Sturges again, this time opposite Claudette Colbert in the screwball comedy The Palm Beach Story. He scored another successful comedy with the 1943 George Stevens film The More the Merrier. The next year he starred in the successful Western Buffalo Bill. Two years later he starred in another successful western, Stuart Gilmore's The Virginian.

The Western Life

 After the success of The Virginian McCrea focused his career mainly around the western. Having been a rancher most of his adult life, the aging actor said western felt more natural to him than any other genre he acted. Towards the end of the decade he starred in films such as Four Faces West, Colorado Territory, and Stars in My Crown. In the early 1950s he extended his western fame into the medium of radio, starring in the Western procedural police drama, Tales of the Texas Western. For the rest of the 1950s  McCrea continued to star in a strong of western hits including Saddle Tramp, Cattle Drive, and Shoot First. In 1955 he took his turn as famed gunman, Wyatt Earp, in the Jacque Tourneur film Wichita. By the end of the decade McCrea expanded his western horizons once again, this time taking his cowboy boots to the small screen by starring in the television series Wichita Town. In 1962 the veteran actor worked with director Sam Peckinpah for the film Ride the High Country. He take a four year hiatus from the screen, returning in 1966 with The Young Rounder before taking another four year hiatus. He appeared in two films in 1970, Cry Blood, Apache and Sioux Nation. Six year later, he starred in his final film Mustang Country and then retired from the show business in 1978.

Later Life

Before entering retirement, McCrea sold 1,200 acres of his southern California ranch to an oil company. His only stipulation was that drilling must not take place within sight of his home. The company agreed and by the time he entered retirement in the late 1970s, McCrea has made millions. He eventually donated several hundred acres of his property to form the Conejo Valley YMCA in Thousand Oaks California. Thanks to his shrew business dealing, McCrea was able to live the rest of his life in relative peace. Joel McCrea died on October 20th, 1990 of pneumonia. He was 84 years old.

(Source: article by Minoo Allen for Classic Movie Hub).



He was honored with two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in the categories of Radio and Motion Pictures. In addition, McCrea was inducted into the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum . McCrea was never nominated for an Academy Award.

BlogHub Articles:

Warner Archive Blu-ray: Randolph Scott and in Ride the High Country (1962)

By KC on May 22, 2017 From Classic Movies

One of the most amusing things about Ride the High Country is that as aging cowboys, Randolph Scott and are in some ways playing themselves. While director Sam Peckinpah was at the beginning of his career, and still finding the style that would have film fans cooing about "balletic viole... Read full article

10 Things You May Not Know About

By Stephen Reginald on May 10, 2017 From Classic Movie Man

10 Things You May Not Know About (1905 – 1990) was one of the most underrated stars from Hollwyood’s Golden Age, in my opinion. Unfairly labeled as the poor man’s Gary Cooper, McCrea was a talented actor in his own right. Here are some things about McCr... Read full article

THE BLOGATHON: The Virginian (1946)

By Caftan Woman on Nov 4, 2016 From Caftan Woman

November 5, 1905 - October 20, 1990 The Blogathon is hosted by Toby Roan of 50 Westerns of the 50s. Click HERE to enjoy all the contributions to the celebration. Handsome and athletic entered the movies as an extra in the late 1920s and... Read full article

From the Archives - and Frances Dee

By The Metzinger Sisters on Sep 20, 2016 From Silver Scenes - A Blog for Classic Film Lovers

This featured photo from the archives depicts that real-life cowboy with his wife Frances Dee bedecked in rancher's apparel. McCrea and Dee were both box-office drawing actors when they met on the set of The Silver Cord ( 1933 ). The McCreas owned a 3,000 acre spread in Thousand Oaks, Ca... Read full article

: Stalling Director Preston Sturges

By Judy on Jan 23, 2016 From Cary Grant Won't Eat You

This essay is part of Cinema Maven’s Symbiotic Collaborations blogathon, featuring wonderful director/star pairings. Click here for all the great entries. When I was a kid, my sisters and I used to play with the record player. We loved to speed it up to make it sound like Mickey Mouse. I menti... Read full article

See all articles

Joel McCrea Quotes:

John Neville Sr.: You're getting more like your mother every day.
Mrs. Claire Collis: I should think that would make you very happy.
John Neville Sr.: It does. And a little apprehensive.

Sam Houston: You may have wondered why I delayed this attack for so long. I wanted Santa Ana to be positive we were running for the United States and then I wanted the Mexican army in a position from which it could not retreat. That's where it is right now. The Bay of San Jacinto is at their backs. All right are there any questions, gentlemen? Good luck - and remember the Alamo!

Elsa Knudsen: My father says there's only right and wrong - good and evil. Nothing in between. It isn't that simple, is it?
Steve Judd: No, it isn't. It should be, but it isn't.

read more quotes from Joel McCrea...

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Joel McCrea on the
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Joel McCrea Facts
Very well-respected as a horseman, he was regarded as one of the two best riders in Western films along with Ben Johnson, who had been a real cowboy.

Katharine Hepburn was a friend of McCrea's and McCrea's wife Frances Dee. Hepburn also felt that McCrea was one of the best actors she had ever worked with and was always disappointed that his career wasn't more successful (she thought he should have been ranking alongside Spencer Tracy or Humphrey Bogart).

A big sight gag in Sullivan's Travels (1941) was the juxtaposition of the big McCrea with his leading lady, Veronica Lake, who apparently was 16 inches shorter. For some shots of the film, however, Lake had to stand on a box so their heads could be seen in the same shot.

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Cowboy Museum Hall of Fame

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