Joel McCrea

Joel Albert McCrea (November 5, 1905 October 20, 1990) was an American actor whose career spanned a wide variety of genres over almost five decades, including comedy, drama, romance, thrillers, adventures, and Westerns - which he became best known for.

Joel McCrea
McCrea in Four Faces West (1948)
Joel Albert McCrea

(1905-11-05)November 5, 1905
South Pasadena, California, U.S.
DiedOctober 20, 1990(1990-10-20) (aged 84)
Woodland Hills, Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Resting placeRemains scattered into the Pacific Ocean
Alma materPomona College
Years active1927–1976
Frances Dee
(m. 1933; his death 1990)
Children3, including Jody McCrea

He appeared in over one hundred films,[1] among them Alfred Hitchcock's espionage thriller Foreign Correspondent (1940), Preston Sturges' comedy classics Sullivan's Travels (1941), and The Palm Beach Story (1942), the romance film Bird of Paradise (1932), the adventure classic The Most Dangerous Game (1932), Gregory La Cava's bawdy comedy Bed of Roses (1933), George Stevens' romantic comedy The More the Merrier (1943), William Wyler's These Three, Come and Get It (both 1936) and Dead End (1937), Howard Hawks' Barbary Coast (1935), and a number of western films, including Wichita (1955) as Wyatt Earp and Sam Peckinpah's Ride the High Country (1962), opposite Randolph Scott.

With the exception of the British thriller Rough Shoot (1953), McCrea appeared in Western films exclusively from 1946 until his retirement in 1976.

Early life

McCrea was born in South Pasadena, California, the son of Thomas McCrea, an executive with the L.A. Gas & Electric Company,[2] and Louise "Lou" Whipple.[3] As a boy, he had a paper route delivering the Los Angeles Times to Cecil B. DeMille and other people in the film industry. He also had the opportunity to watch D. W. Griffith filming Intolerance, and was an extra in a serial starring Ruth Roland.[2][4]

McCrea graduated from Hollywood High School and then Pomona College (class of 1928.[5]) There he had acted on stage and took courses in drama and public speaking, while also appearing regularly at the Pasadena Playhouse. As a high school student he worked as a stunt double[4] and held horses for Hollywood cowboy stars William S. Hart and Tom Mix.[2]

The strapping 6'2½" McCrea variously worked as an extra, stunt man, and bit player from 1927-28, when he signed a contract with MGM. He was cast in a major role in The Jazz Age (1929), and got his first leading role that same year in The Silver Horde.[2] He moved to RKO in 1930, where he established himself as a handsome and versatile leading man capable of starring in both dramas and comedies.


Ad of Joel McCrae and Dolores del Rio from Bird of Paradise in The Film Daily, 1932
McCrea with Fay Wray in The Most Dangerous Game (1932)

In the 1930s, McCrea starred in Bird of Paradise (1932), directed by King Vidor, causing controversy for his nude scenes with Dolores del Río. In RKO's The Sport Parade (1932), McCrea and William Gargan are friends on the Dartmouth football team, who are shown snapping towels at each other in the locker room, while other players are taking a shower. In 1932 he starred with Fay Wray in The Most Dangerous Game - which used some of the same jungle sets built for King Kong (1933) as well as cast members Wray and Robert Armstrong, and was filmed at night while King Kong was filmed during the day. He was originally intended for Jack Driscoll in King Kong, which went to Bruce Cabot.

In 1934 he made his first appearances with two leading ladies he would be paired with often, Miriam Hopkins in The Richest Girl in the World, the first of their five films together,[6] and Barbara Stanwyck in Gambling Lady, the first of their six pairings.[7]

McCrea in Alfred Hitchcock's Foreign Correspondent (1940)

Later in the decade he was the first actor to play "Dr. Kildare", in the film Internes Can't Take Money (1937), and starred in two large-scale Westerns, Wells Fargo (1937) with his wife Frances Dee, and Cecil B. DeMille's Union Pacific (1939).[8]

McCrea reached the peak of his early career in the early 1940s, in Alfred Hitchcock's thriller Foreign Correspondent (1940), a romantic comedy, The More the Merrier (1943), directed by George Stevens, and two comedies by Preston Sturges: Sullivan's Travels (1941) and The Palm Beach Story (1942).[9]

McCrea with Veronica Lake in Preston Sturges' Sullivan's Travels (1941)

McCrea also starred in two William A. Wellman Westerns, The Great Man's Lady (1942), again with Stanwyck, and Buffalo Bill (1944), with character actor Edgar Buchanan and a young Maureen O'Hara. After the success of The Virginian in 1946, McCrea made Westerns exclusively for the rest of his career, with the exception of the British-made Rough Shoot (1953).

By that time the multi-millionaire McCrea had long been working his own ranch in Ventura County outside of L.A.. Specializing in Westerns was not merely a return to what he had done earlier in his career, but a genre he immensely enjoyed. As he described it (in a 1978 interview):

I liked doing comedies, but as I got older I was better suited to do Westerns. Because I think it becomes unattractive for an older fellow trying to look young, falling in love with attractive girls in those kinds of situations.... Anyway, I always felt so much more comfortable in the Western. The minute I got a horse and a hat and a pair of boots on, I felt easier. I didn't feel like I was an actor anymore. I felt like I was the guy out there doing it.[2]

On November 19, 1950, McCrea appeared on Television Theatre in an adaptation of Foreign Correspondent.[10] In the early 1950s, McCrea starred as Jace Pearson on the radio series western, Tales of the Texas Rangers. In 1955 he was Wyatt Earp in Wichita directed by Jacques Tourneur. The Hollywood Foreign Press Association awarded the film with "Best Picture - Outdoor Drama" that year.

In 1959, McCrea and his son Jody starred in the NBC-TV series Wichita Town, which lasted only one season. Earlier he had turned down the lead in Rawhide, feeling it would make too heavy a workload. A few years later, McCrea united with fellow veteran of westerns Randolph Scott in Ride the High Country (1962), directed by Sam Peckinpah, after which he did not make another feature film until The Young Rounders (1966). Four more years were to pass before his next film, but 1970 saw the release of two: Cry Blood, Apache, again with his son Jody, and Sioux Nation. He made his final film appearance in 1976, in Mustang Country.


In 1968, McCrea received a career achievement award from the L.A. Film Critics Association,[11] and the following year he was inducted into the Hall of Great Western Performers at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

For his contribution to the motion picture industry, McCrea has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6901 Hollywood Blvd. and another star at 6241 Hollywood Blvd. for his contribution to radio.

Personal life

McCrea married actress Frances Dee in Brooklyn on October 20, 1933,[12] after they met while filming The Silver Cord.[2][13] The couple had three sons, Jody, Peter and David. Joel and Frances remained married until his death 57 years later.

McCrea who was an outdoorsman who had once listed his occupation as "rancher" and his hobby as "acting" had begun buying property as early as 1933, when he purchased his first 1,000 acres (400 ha) in a then unincorporated area of eastern Ventura County, California, which later became Thousand Oaks, California. This was the beginning of what evolved into a 3,000-acre (1,200 ha) spread where McCrea and his wife Frances lived, raised their sons, and rode their horses.[2][14]

By the end of the 1940s, McCrea was a multi-millionaire, as much from his real-estate dealings as from his movie stardom. In the early 1960s, he sold 1,200 acres (490 ha) of land to an oil company, on the condition that they would not drill within sight of his home.[4] McCrea's perspicacity may have stemmed from his friendship in the 1930s with fellow personality and sometime actor Will Rogers. McCrea recounted that "the Oklahoma Sage" gave him a profound piece of advice: "Save half of what you make, and live on just the other half."[15]

McCrea supported Thomas Dewey in the 1944 United States presidential election.[16]

McCrea made his final public appearance on October 3, 1990, at a fundraiser for Republican gubernatorial candidate Pete Wilson in Beverly Hills.[2] He died less than three weeks later, on October 20, at the Motion Picture & Television Country House and Hospital in Woodland Hills, California from pneumonia, at the age of 84.[17]

After his death his family ultimately donated thirty five acres of McCrea's former ranch to the newly formed Conejo Valley YMCA for the city of Thousand Oaks, California.[18] They also donated 75 acres to the Conejo Open Space Conservancy Agency (COSCA), which designated it the Joel McCrea Wildlife Preserve;[19] and five acres to the Boys and Girls Club of Camarillo.

Partial filmography

  • Torrent (1926, stunts)
  • The Fair Co-Ed (1927) as Student (uncredited)
  • The Enemy (1927) as Extra (uncredited)
  • The Five O'Clock Girl (1928) as Oswald
  • Dead Man's Curve (1928) (uncredited)
  • Freedom of the Press (1928) (uncredited)
  • The Jazz Age (1929) as Todd Sayles
  • The Divine Lady (1929) as Extra (uncredited)
  • The Single Standard (1929) as Blythe - One of the Philandering Men (uncredited)
  • So This Is College (1929) as Bruce Nolan (uncredited)
  • Dynamite (1929) as Marco - Her Boy Friend
  • Framed (1930) as Waiter at the Casino Club (uncredited)
  • The Silver Horde (1930) as Boyd Emerson
  • Lightnin' (1930) as John Marvin
  • Once a Sinner (1931) as Tommy Mason
  • Kept Husbands (1931) as Richard 'Dick' Brunton
  • Born to Love (1931) as Barry Craig
  • The Common Law (1931) as John Neville
  • Girls About Town (1931) as Jim Baker
  • Business and Pleasure (1932) as Lawrence Ogle
  • The Lost Squadron (1932) as Red
  • Bird of Paradise (1932) as Johnny Baker
  • The Most Dangerous Game (1932) as Bob Rainsford
  • The Sport Parade (1932) as Sandy Brown
  • Rockabye (1932) as Jacobs Van Riker Pell
  • Scarlet River (1933) as Joel McCrea (uncredited)
  • The Silver Cord (1933) as David Phelps
  • Bed of Roses (1933) as Dan
  • One Man's Journey (1933) as Jimmy Watt
  • Chance at Heaven (1933) as Blacky Gorman
  • Gambling Lady (1934) as Garry Madison
  • Half a Sinner (1934) as John Adams
  • The Richest Girl in the World (1934) as Tony
  • Private Worlds (1935) as Dr. Alex MacGregor
  • Our Little Girl (1935) as Dr. Donald Middleton
  • Woman Wanted (1935) as Tony Baxter
  • Barbary Coast (1935) as Jim Carmichael
  • Splendor (1935) as Brighton Lorrimore
  • These Three (1936) as Dr. Joseph Cardin
  • Two in a Crowd (1936) as Larry Stevens
  • Adventure in Manhattan (1936) as George Melville
  • Come and Get It (1936) as Richard Glasgow
  • Banjo on My Knee (1936) as Ernie Holley
  • Internes Can't Take Money (1937) as James Kildare
  • Woman Chases Man (1937) as Kenneth Nolan
  • Dead End (1937) as Dave
  • Wells Fargo (1937) as Ramsay MacKay
  • Three Blind Mice (1938) as Van Dam Smith
  • Youth Takes a Fling (1938) as Joe Meadows
  • Union Pacific (1939) as Jeff Butler
  • They Shall Have Music (1939) as Peter
  • Espionage Agent (1939) as Barry Corvall
  • He Married His Wife (1940) as T.H. Randall
  • Primrose Path (1940) as Ed Wallace
  • Foreign Correspondent (1940) as John Jones
  • Reaching for the Sun (1941) as Russ Eliot
  • Sullivan's Travels (1941) as John L. Sullivan
  • The Great Man's Lady (1942) as Ethan Hoyt
  • The Palm Beach Story (1942) as Tom Jeffers
  • The More the Merrier (1943) as Joe Carter
  • Buffalo Bill (1944) as William Frederick 'Buffalo Bill' Cody
  • The Great Moment (1944) as William Thomas Green Morton
  • The Unseen (1945) as David Fielding
  • The Virginian (1946) as The Virginian
  • Ramrod (1947) as Dave Nash
  • Four Faces West (1948) as Ross McEwen
  • South of St. Louis (1949) as Kip Davis
  • Colorado Territory (1949) as Wes McQueen
  • The Outriders (1950) as Will Owen
  • Stars in My Crown (1950) as Josiah Doziah Gray
  • Saddle Tramp (1950) as Chuck Conner
  • Frenchie (1950) as Sheriff Tom Banning
  • Hollywood Story (1951) as Joel McCrea
  • Cattle Drive (1951) as Dan Mathews
  • The San Francisco Story (1952) as Rick Nelson
  • The Lone Hand (1953) as Zachary Hallock
  • Rough Shoot (1953) as Taine
  • Border River (1954) as Clete Mattson
  • Black Horse Canyon (1954) as Del Rockwell
  • Stranger on Horseback (1955) as Judge Richard 'Rick' Thorne
  • Wichita (1955) as Wyatt Earp
  • The First Texan (1956) as Sam Houston
  • The Oklahoman (1957) as Dr. John M. Brighton
  • Trooper Hook (1957) as Sgt. Clovis Hook
  • Gunsight Ridge (1957) as Mike Ryan
  • The Tall Stranger (1957) as Ned Bannon
  • Cattle Empire (1958) as John Cord
  • Fort Massacre (1958) as Sgt. Vinson
  • The Gunfight at Dodge City (1959) as Bat Masterson
  • The Crowning Experience (1960) as Prologue narrator
  • Ride the High Country (1962) as Steve Judd
  • The Young Rounders (1966)
  • Cry Blood, Apache (1970) as Pitcalin as an Older Man
  • Sioux Nation (1970)
  • Mustang Country (1976) as Dan (final film role)

Radio appearances

  • This Is Hollywood – "Along Came Jones" (1946)[20]
  • Tales of the Texas Rangers - 1950 to 1952


  1. "Joel McCrea Filmography". AFI Catalog. American Film Institute. Retrieved 23 September 2020.
  2. Joel McCrea at the TCM Movie Database
  3. 1930 United States Federal Census
  4. Erickson, Hal Biography (Allmovie)
  5. Pomona College Alumni Directory, 2000, p. 294.
  6. McCrea and Hopkins appeared together in The Richest Girl in the World (1934), Barbary Coast (1935), Splendor (1935), These Three (1936) and Woman Chases Man (1937).
  7. McCrea and Stanwyck appeared together in Gambling Lady (1934), Banjo on My Knee (1936), Internes Can't Take Money (1937), Union Pacific (1939), The Great Man's Lady (1942) and Trooper Hook (1957).
  9. McCrea also appeared in Sturges' The Great Moment, which was filmed in 1942 but not released until 1944 because of studio interference. The film was not a success and marked a decline in Sturges' career.
  10. "Television Highlights of the Week". The Boston Globe. November 19, 1950. p. 20-A. Retrieved May 4, 2021 via
  11. Awards,; accessed April 7, 2018.
  12. New York City, Marriage Indexes, 1907-1995
  13. McCrea and Dee appeared together in six films: The Silver Cord (1933), One Man's Journey (1933), Come and Get It (1936), Wells Fargo (1937), Four Faces West (1948) and Cattle Drive (1951).
  14. Flans, Robyn (February 7, 2017). "McCrea family's Hollywood legacy lives on at Conejo ranch". Ventura County Star. Retrieved 2020-07-23.
  15. Ragan, David Movie stars of the '30s: A complete reference guide for the film historian or trivia buffStars of the '30s, 1985, Prentice-Hall, ISBN 0-13-604901-X
  16. Critchlow, Donald T. (2013-10-21). When Hollywood Was Right: How Movie Stars, Studio Moguls, and Big Business Remade American Politics. ISBN 9781107650282.
  17. Flint, Peter B. (1990-10-21). "Joel McCrea, Actor, Dies at 84; A Casual, Amiable Leading Man". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2016-01-09.
  18. Flint, Peter B. (1995-06-16). "Conejo District Acquires 220 Acres of McCrea Ranch for Parkland". The Los Angeles Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-12-02.
  19. Joel McCrea Wildlife Refuge,
  20. "'Hollywood' Star". Harrisburg Telegraph. December 21, 1946. p. 17. Retrieved September 7, 2015 via

Further reading

  • Nott, Robert Last of the Cowboy Heroes: The Westerns of Randolph Scott, Joel McCrea, and Audie Murphy, 2000, McFarland & Company, Inc., ISBN 0-7864-2261-0
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