Sunday, November 5, 2017

Born Today November 5: Joel McCrea


Known mostly for his appearances in westerns, actor Joel Albert McCrea, who was born on this date, actually had a career that started at the end of the silent era and spanned all the way into the 1970's; and, he had roles in just about every genre of film along the way.  He was born in South Pasadena, CA. into a well off family (his father was an oil and gas executive).  His boyhood paper route was along a route that had him delivering to film insiders, even to Cecil B. DeMille.  This, along with any early opportunity to see D. W. Griffith's epic Intolerance, gave him the acting bug.  He managed to his find stunt work as teenager.  He is uncredited, but he worked as a stunt double on three films when he was a young man.  The first of these was Pernod and Sam in 1923, when he was 18.  In the meantime, he had graduated from high school and went on to attend Pomona College.  While in college he took courses in drama and voice and worked in stage appearances.  This led to two acting jobs in two films in 1927, a year before he graduated from college.  The first of these was The Fair Co-Ed with Marion Davies and Johnny Mack Brown.  His first credited role came in 1928 in Cosmipolitan's all sound musical The Five O'Clock Girl in the role of Oswald.  In late 1928, he was signed to a contract with MGM (he had previously appeared in that studio's late Lillian Gish silent The Enemy in 1927).  His first starring role came in 1929 in The Jazz Age, a partial silent, starring Douglas Fairbanks Jr.  He spent the rest of 1929 in mostly bit parts, aside from Dynamite, which was directed by his former paper route customer DeMille.  With the dawn of the 1930's, his star began to steadily rise, with his last minor uncredited role coming in Framed in 1930.  Though it would be a goodly number of years before he became associated with westerns; the early 1930's found him acting in almost every genre but that one, including a turn in the Fay Wray horror The Most Dangerous Game (1932) (ironically his last uncredited appearance came in a western: Scarlet River with Tom Keene and Lon Chaney Jr. a genre he was by no means associated with at the time).  By the mid-1930's he was a top-star, appearing opposite actresses such as Barbara Stanwyck and Maureen O'Sullivan (he had also created a stir with his scenes in King Vidor's 1932 Bird Of Paradise with Delores del Rio).  By the late 1930's he was becoming the western star that he is known for today, though he continued to appear in a variety of films from comedy to intrigue.  He was the star of Alfred Hitchcock's 1940 Foreign Correspondent and had a very memorable turn as David Fielding in the 1945 creepy film noir The Unseen.  McCrea came late to television, accepting a starring role in the 1 season western Wichita Town, which ran in 1959 and 1960 and co-starred his son Joel and would mark his only foray into the world of the small screen.  His acting began to slow after the show's cancellation and two early 1960's film appearances, one of which was Sam Peckinpah's Ride The High Country (1962).  He was in one additional minor film in the 1960's and made just three film appearance in the 1970's (two in 1970).  He last film appearance came in 1976 in Mustang Country featuring Robert Fuller and John Wayne's son Patrick.  He then retired to his working ranch.  He was active in his land management from that point on (he had regarded his real job as a rancher and once listed acting as a hobby).  McCrea died in 1990 in the Motion Picture & Television Country House & Hospital, where he was battling pneumonia.  He died on the 20th October at the age of 84, just shy of his 85st birthday.  He was cremated and his ashes were scattered at sea.  In addition to a star of the Walk of Fame for his motion picture career, he also has a star for his work in radio.

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