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
The Fair Co-Ed (Wood); The Enemy (Niblo)
The Jazz Age (Shores) (as Tod Sayles); Single Standard (Robertson); Dynamite (DeMille) (as Marco); So This Is College (Wood)
The Silver Horde (Archainbaud) (as Boyd Enerson); Lightnin' (King) (as John Marvin)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
Three Blind Mice (Seiter) (as Van Smith); Youth Takes a Fling (Mayo) (as Joe Meadows)
Union Pacific (DeMille) (as Jeff Butler); They Shall Have Music ( Melody of Youth ) (Mayo) (as Peter McCarthy); Espionage Agent (Bacon) (as Barry Corvall)
He Married His Wife (Del Ruth) (as "Randy" Randall); The Primrose Path (La Cava) (as Ed Wallace); Foreign Correspondent (Hitchcock) (as Johnny Jones)
Reaching for the Sun (Wellman) (as Russ Elliot); Sullivan's Travels (Sturges) (as John Sullivan)
The Great Man's Lady (Wellman) (as Ethan Hoyt); The Palm Beach Story (Sturges) (as Tom Jeffers)
The More the Merrier (Stevens) (as Joe Carter)
Buffalo Bill (Wellman) (title role); The Great Moment (Sturges) (as W. T. G. Morton)
The Unseen (Allen) (as David Fielding)
The Virginian (Gilmore) (title role)
Ramrod (De Toth) (as Dave Nash)
Four Faces West (Green) (as Ross McEwan)
South of St. Louis (Enright) (as Kip Davis); Colorado Territory (Walsh) (as Wes McQueen)
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)
Hollywood Story (Castle) (as himself); Cattle Drive (Neumann) (as Dan Matthews)
The San Francisco Story (Parrish) (as Rick Nelson)
Lone Hand (Sherman) (as Zachary Hallock); Shoot First ( Rough Shoot ) (as Lt. Colonel Robert Tanie)
Border River (Sherman) (as Clete Mattson); Black Horse Canyon (Hibbs) (as Dee Rockwell)
Stranger on Horseback (Tourneur) (as Rick Thorne); Witchita (Tourneur) (as Wyatt Earp)
The First Texan (Haskins) (as Sam Houston)
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)
Cattle Empire (Warren) (as John Cord); Fort Massacre (Newman) (as Vinson)
The Gunfight at Dodge City (Newman) (as Bat Masterson)
Ride the High Country ( Guns in the Afternoon ) (Peckinpah) (as Steve Judd)
Cry Blood, Apache (Starrett) (as Pitcairn)
The Great American Cowboy (doc—for TV) (as narrator)
Mustang Country (Champion) (as Dan)
The Oklahoma (Lyon)
Preston Sturges: The Rise and Fall of an American Dreamer (Bowser—TV doc)
Interview with P. McGilligan and Allen Eyles, in Focus on Film (London), no. 30, 1978.
Thomas, Tony, Joel McCrea: Riding the High Country , Burbank, 1991.
Birchard, Robert S., King Cowboy: Tom Mix & the Movies , Bur-bank, 1993.
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.
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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.