Happy 111th Birthday, Joel McCrea!

Joel McCrea, who was born 111 years ago today in South Pasadena, California, is a favorite of ours. Though he eventually settled into a long run of western pictures, he had previously proven to be adept at many other types of roles, too, from screwball and romantic comedies to thrillers and dramas. Here are 10 JM Did-You-Knows:

  • McCrea’s father was an executive with the L.A. Gas & Electric Company; his mother was a Christian Science practitioner. McCrea had a paper route, delivering the Los Angeles Times to D. W. Griffith and other prominent members of the film community.
  • McCrea graduated from Hollywood High School and was a member of the class of ’28 at Pomona College. While in college, he took drama courses and appeared in school productions and also in plays at the Pasadena Playhouse.
  • While in high school, McCrea was already working in the film industry. An adept horseman, he worked as a stunt double and “reins holder” for stars such as William S. Hart and Tom Mix.
  • Just out of college, McCrea signed with MGM, appearing in The Jazz Age (1929) and earning his first lead role in The Silver Horde (1930). In 1930, he signed with RKO and began to establish his reputation as a handsome leading man.
  • McCrea was good friends with Will Rogers, and the Oklahoma cowboy did much to boost McCrea’s career. It was Rogers who encouraged McCrea to put his money into real estate, and that advice made McCrea a millionaire. In fact, he earned more money in real estate than he did as an actor over his 50-year career.
  • Katharine Hepburn, close friends with McCrea and his wife, actress Frances Dee, admired McCrea’s abilities as an actor, ranking him with Humphrey Bogart and Spencer Tracy.
  • McCrea came by his affinity for all things western—roping, riding, ranching—naturally. His grandfather was a stagecoach driver who survived confrontations with Apache Indians.
  • McCrea turned down the lead role in The Postman Aways Rings Twice (1946) that eventually went to John Garfield.
  • McCrea got to meet Wyatt Earp in 1928 and had the chance to portray the western legend in Wichita (1955).
  • McCrea had the opportunity to reunite with his The More, The Merrier (1943) costars, Jean Arthur and Charles Coburn, in The Impatient Years (1944), but declined the role, which would have found him playing a serviceman, saying, “If I’m too old to be called, I was too old for that kind of show.”

Happy birthday, Joel McCrea, wherever you may be!

Joel McCrea

Happy 106th Birthday, Jack Carson!

Character actor and funny man Jack Carson was born John Elmer Carson 106 years ago today in Carman, Manitoba, Canada. Here are 10 JC Did-You-Knows:

  • Though born in Canada, Carson’s family moved when he was four to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, which he considered his hometown. Carson’s father worked in the insurance industry.
  • Carson became interested in acting while attending Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota. An imposing figure at 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds, his first collegiate role was Hercules. An inadvertent pratfall so amused a pal that he convinced Carson to pair with him in a vaudeville act—Willock and Carson.
  • As vaudeville began to lose its lustre, Carson turned his eyes to Hollywood, quickly finding success playing small roles in RKO pictures (he appeared in 14 films in 1937 alone). Beginning in 1938, he also frequently found work in radio, which led, in 1943, to Carson getting his own program, The Jack Carson Show.
  • Carson specialized in comedic roles, but he proved more than capable of handling dramatic parts, too, in such pictures as Mildred Pierce (1945) and Roughly Speaking (1945).
  • In the 1940s, while on occasional hiatuses from pictures, Carson disappeared for weeks at a time, and only his wife at the time, Kay St. Germain Wells, knew his whereabouts. It was eventually revealed that Carson had been touring as a clown with the Clyde Beatty Circus. “[Audiences] loved me and my routines,” Carson later said.
  • Carson appeared in seven RKO pictures with Ginger Rogers, with his character losing Rogers’ character to a rival in each of the first six. In the seventh, Lucky Partners (1940), his character finally got the girl.
  • From 1942-49, Carson appeared in 13 feature pictures with actor Dennis Morgan.
  • Carson was a trained pilot and tried to volunteer for the U.S. Army Air Corps and the Army during World War II. He was rejected by the former because of his height and by the latter because he had flat feet. Instead, he entertained the troops in the South Pacific.
  • Carson became an American citizen in 1949.
  • In 1957, Carson recorded an album entitled, Jack Carson Sings Favorite College Songs (here’s one track from the album).

Happy birthday, Jack Carson, wherever you may be!

Jack Carson