Joel McCrea (1905-1990)

Joel McCrea
Joel McCrea

Joel McCrea was an American actor and film star who appeared in almost 90 movies in a career spanning 6 decades. He started as a romantic lead and then became one of Hollywood's biggest box-office Western stars.

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He was born Joel Albert McCrea on November 5, 1905 in South Pasadena, California, and whilst growing up, was able to observe Hollywood movies being made in locations around his home. The movie business was thriving and McCrea got the bug early to be an actor. Whilst attending Hollywood High School aged just 15 the tall, athletic youth began doing part time work as a stunt double and he went on to Pomona College where he first acted on stage and then began to appear regularly at the Pasadena playhouse.

After spending a year working as an extra he was selected for a speaking role in the 1929 movie 'The Jazz Age' and later that year he was given his first leading role in 'The Silver Horde.' He was signed up to a contract with RKO where Will Rogers, an established comedian, helped his budding career. McCrea was handsome, tall and well-built and was soon in demand as a leading man in romantic dramas.

He made many romantic films during the 1930's with 'Girls About Town' in 1931 one of his earliest and 'Rockabye' with Constance Bennett and 'Bird of Paradise' with Dolores del Río, both in 1932. He continued to act the graceful partner to beautiful women in films such as 'Gambling Lady' with Barbara Stanwyck in 1934, 'Barbary Coast' with Miriam Hopkins in in 1935, 'These Three' and 'Come and Get It' in 1936, and William Wyler's 'Dead End' in 1937.

By now he was one of the most popular stars in Hollywood and he became the first actor to portray Dr. Kildare on screen in the movie 'Internes Can't Take Money' in 1937. In the same year he began his long love affair with the Hollywood Western when he starred in 'Wells Fargo' with his wife Francis Dee, followed by Cecil B. DeMille's 'Union Pacific' in 1939.

McCrea reached the peak of his popular success by the early 1940's when he starred in such films as Hitchcock's 'Foreign Correspondent' in 1940 and he proved particularly adept at the light comedy of director Preston Sturges, for whom he made 'Sullivan's Travels' in 1941, with Veronica Lake, and 'The Palm Beach Story' the following year.

He then began to concentrate almost solely on the Western genre, which he enjoyed immensely. He was well-respected in Hollywood as a horseman, and was regarded as one of the best riders in Western films. He raised his own horses, was a passionate outdoors man and large-scale rancher. In 1942 McCrea starred in a William A. Wellman Western, 'The Great Man's Lady', again with Barbara Stanwyck, and then Wellman's 'Buffalo Bill' in 1944. After 'The Virginian' in 1946, which was a great success, McCrea made westerns exclusively for the rest of his Hollywood career, and he made many of them - no less than 25 Westerns between 1946 and 1966, the most significant being Sam Peckinpah's classic 'Ride the High Country' in 1962 with Randolph Scott.

Apart from three more films during the 1970's, all Westerns, McCrea enjoyed his retirement as a wealthy gentleman rancher.

He had married actress Frances Dee in in 1933, meeting her whilst filming 'The Silver Cord'. They had three sons and remained together for 57 years until his death.

Joel McCrea died from pneumonia on October 20, 1990 in Woodland Hills, California. He was 84.

Joel McCrea Academy Awards

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Joel McCrea Filmography

Torrent (stuntman)
The Enemy (extra)
The Jazz Age
The Silver Horde
Girls About Town
Business and Pleasure
The Sport Parade
The Most Dangerous Game
Bird of Paradise
Bed of Roses
Gambling Lady
The Richest Girl in the World
Private Worlds
Barbary Coast
These Three
Two in a Crowd
Adventure in Manhattan
Come and Get It
Internes Can't Take Money
Dead End
Wells Fargo
Union Pacific
Espionage Agent
He Married His Wife
Primrose Path
Foreign Correspondent
The Palm Beach Story
The Great Man's Lady
The More the Merrier
Buffalo Bill
The Great Moment
The Unseen
The Virginian
Four Faces West
South of St. Louis
Colorado Territory