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McCrea, Joel

McCREA, Joel



Nationality: American. Born: Joel Albert McCrea in South Pasadena, California, 5 November 1905. Education: Attended Hollywood High School; Pomona College, graduated 1928. Family: Married the actress Frances Dee, 1933, sons: Jody, David, Peter. Career: Extra in several films in mid-1920s; 1928—stock contract with MGM, followed by 1929 contract with RKO; 1930—first featured film role in The Silver Horde; followed by a succession of starring roles; later worked with Paramount and Samuel Goldwyn; after 1946—played only in Western films; 1959–60—in TV series Wichita Town. Awards: Life Achievement Award, Los Angeles Film Critics, 1987. Died: In Woodland Hills, California, 20 October 1990.




Films as Actor:

1927

The Fair Co-Ed (Wood); The Enemy (Niblo)

1929

The Jazz Age (Shores) (as Tod Sayles); Single Standard (Robertson); Dynamite (DeMille) (as Marco); So This Is College (Wood)

1930

The Silver Horde (Archainbaud) (as Boyd Enerson); Lightnin' (King) (as John Marvin)

1931

Once a Sinner (McClintic) (as Tommy Mason); Kept Husbands (Bacon) (as Dick Brunton); Born to Love (Stein) (as Barry Craig); The Common Law (Stein) (as John Neville, Jr.); Girls about Town (Cukor) (as Jim Baker)

1932

Business and Pleasure (Butler) (as Lawrence Ogle); The Last Squadron (Archainbaud) (as Red); Bird of Paradise (Vidor) (as Johnny Baker); The Most Dangerous Game (Pichel and Schoedsack) (as Bob Whitney); Rockabye (Cukor) (as Jacob Van Riker Pell); The Sport Parade (Murphy) (as Sandy Baker)

1933

The Silver Chord (Cromwell) (as David Phelps); Scarlet River (Brower) (as himself); Bed of Roses (La Cava) (as Dan Walters); One Man's Journey (Robertson) (as Jimmy Watt); Chance at Heaven (Seiter) (as Blacky Gorman)

1934

Gambling Lady (Mayo) (as Garry Madison); Half a Sinner (Alias the Deacon) (Neumann) (as John Adams); The Richest Girl in the World (Seiter) (as Tony Travers)

1935

Private Worlds (La Cava) (as Dr. Alex MacGregor); Our Little Girl (Robertson) (as Dr. Donald Middleton); Woman Wanted (Manhattan Madness) (Seitz) (as Tony Baxter); Barbary Coast (Hawks) (as James Carmichael); Splendor (Nugent) (as Brighton Lorrimore)

1936

These Three (The Loudest Whisper) (Wyler) (as Dr. Joseph Cardin); Two in a Crowd (Green) (as Larry Stevens);Adventure in Manhattan (Ludwig) (as George Melville); Come and Get It (Wyler and Hawks) (as Richard Glasgow); Banjo on My Knee (Cromwell) (as Ernie Holley)

1937

Interns Can't Take Money (Santell) (as Dr. Jimmie Kildare); Woman Chases Man (The Woman's Touch) (Blystone) (as Kenneth Nolan); Dead End (Wyler) (as Dave Connell); Wells Fargo (Lloyd) (as Ramsay MacKay)

1938

Three Blind Mice (Seiter) (as Van Smith); Youth Takes a Fling (Mayo) (as Joe Meadows)

1939

Union Pacific (DeMille) (as Jeff Butler); They Shall Have Music (Melody of Youth) (Mayo) (as Peter McCarthy); Espionage Agent (Bacon) (as Barry Corvall)

1940

He Married His Wife (Del Ruth) (as "Randy" Randall); The Primrose Path (La Cava) (as Ed Wallace); Foreign Correspondent (Hitchcock) (as Johnny Jones)

1941

Reaching for the Sun (Wellman) (as Russ Elliot); Sullivan's Travels (Sturges) (as John Sullivan)

1942

The Great Man's Lady (Wellman) (as Ethan Hoyt); The Palm Beach Story (Sturges) (as Tom Jeffers)

1943

The More the Merrier (Stevens) (as Joe Carter)

1944

Buffalo Bill (Wellman) (title role); The Great Moment (Sturges) (as W. T. G. Morton)

1945

The Unseen (Allen) (as David Fielding)

1946

The Virginian (Gilmore) (title role)

1947

Ramrod (De Toth) (as Dave Nash)

1948

Four Faces West (Green) (as Ross McEwan)

1949

South of St. Louis (Enright) (as Kip Davis); Colorado Territory (Walsh) (as Wes McQueen)

1950

Stars in My Crown (Tourneur) (as Josiah Doziah Grey); The Outriders (Rowland) (as Will Owens); Saddle Tramp (Fregonese) (as Chuck Conner); Frenchie (King) (as Tom Banning)

1951

Hollywood Story (Castle) (as himself); Cattle Drive (Neumann) (as Dan Matthews)

1952

The San Francisco Story (Parrish) (as Rick Nelson)

1953

Lone Hand (Sherman) (as Zachary Hallock); Shoot First (Rough Shoot) (as Lt. Colonel Robert Tanie)

1954

Border River (Sherman) (as Clete Mattson); Black Horse Canyon (Hibbs) (as Dee Rockwell)

1955

Stranger on Horseback (Tourneur) (as Rick Thorne); Witchita (Tourneur) (as Wyatt Earp)

1956

The First Texan (Haskins) (as Sam Houston)

1957

The Oklahoman (Lyon) (as Dr. John Brighton); Trooper Hook (Warren) (as Sgt. Hook); Gunsight Ridge (Lyon) (as Mike Ryan); The Tall Stranger (Carr) (as Ned Bannon)

1958

Cattle Empire (Warren) (as John Cord); Fort Massacre (Newman) (as Vinson)

1959

The Gunfight at Dodge City (Newman) (as Bat Masterson)

1962

Ride the High Country (Guns in the Afternoon) (Peckinpah) (as Steve Judd)

1970

Cry Blood, Apache (Starrett) (as Pitcairn)

1974

The Great American Cowboy (doc—for TV) (as narrator)

1977

Mustang Country (Champion) (as Dan)

1980

The Oklahoma (Lyon)

1990

Preston Sturges: The Rise and Fall of an American Dreamer (Bowser—TV doc)


Publications


By McCREA: article—

Interview with P. McGilligan and Allen Eyles, in Focus on Film (London), no. 30, 1978.

On McCREA: books—

Thomas, Tony, Joel McCrea: Riding the High Country, Burbank, 1991.

Birchard, Robert S., King Cowboy: Tom Mix & the Movies, Bur-bank, 1993.


On McCREA: articles—

Eyles, Allen, "Joel McCrea," in Focus on Film (London), Win-ter 1976.

Bodeen, DeWitt, "Joel McCrea and Frances Dee," in Films in Review (New York), December 1978.

Obituary, in Variety (New York), 21 October 1990.

Barron, F., "Joel McCrea," in Hollywood: Then and Now, no. 3, 1991.

Hicks, J., "Joel McCrea," in Films in Review (New York), Septem-ber-October 1991.

Hicks, J., "Joel McCrea (Part 2)," in Films in Review (New York), November-December 1991.

Morris, R., "Role Models," in Movieline (Escondido), October 1992.

Berg, A. Scott, "Joel McCrea: A Ranch For the Star of Sullivan's Travels," in Architectural Digest (Los Angeles), April 1994.


* * *

Of the great American male film stars, Joel McCrea is arguably the most underrated. In a career that lasted over 30 years, his characters ranged from tuxedoed escorts for the likes of Kay Francis and Constance Bennett in Girls about Town and Bed of Roses to adventurers in The Most Dangerous Game and Bird of Paradise, from Western "heroes" in Colorado Territory and Ramrod to comic leading men in The Palm Beach Story and The More the Merrier. But in spite of his extraordinary filmography, it is unlikely that McCrea will ever become a screen icon of the order of a John Wayne or a Gary Cooper, since, among film heroes, he is one of the least prone to self-mythologizing—with the possible exception of his role in Peckinpah's Ride the High Country; and perhaps not coincidentally, he virtually retired after its completion. His search for adventure is seldom more than that and largely free of any sort of neurotic drives. It is this fundamental sanity of McCrea's that probably appealed to Gregory La Cava and Preston Sturges, and which forms the emotional center in the extraordinary series of films that McCrea collaborated on with these two directors. The dramatic tone of the La Cava and Sturges films could range from melodrama (Private Worlds) to comedy (The Palm Beach Story), or an audacious mixture of the two (Primrose Path, Sullivan's Travels), but in most of them McCrea remains an essentially passive male figure surrounded by chaos and insanity. The narratives tend to be controlled by either the female or the subsidiary male characters, and even when they are not, McCrea's attempts at control (as in Sullivan's Travels) generaly result in total disorder.

While McCrea projects an obvious heterosexuality, it is so relaxed that, in fleeting moments, a film will eroticize him. He becomes the object of an aging widow's affections in Sullivan's Travels and she hopefully peers down at him from a second-story window as he chops wood for her, shirtless and sweating. His highly photogenic torso is also featured prominently in The More the Merrier as he takes a shower while beating his arms against his chest and barking like a seal, a primeval mating call that is answered in the film by a sexually unfulfilled Jean Arthur. And Bird of Paradise is one of the most erotic of the pre-Production Code films, in which McCrea and Dolores Del Rio set up an idyllic romance, largely unhampered by dress codes.

McCrea appeared in a few films after Ride the High Country but they are less than memorable and he seems to have done them more as a lark than anything else. Ultimately, these late films emerge as nothing more than postscripts in his career rather than presenting any sort of revisionist portraits of him. For those who traffic in puncturing the "myths" of popular culture, Joel McCrea was given precious little with which to work.

—Joe McElhaney

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