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

Hollywood Shorts: Windows

Charles Ray was a popular juvenile star in the 1910s and ’20s, but by the ’30s, his career was on the rocks, and he turned to writing. Here’s another in a series of offerings from his book, Hollywood Shorts, a collection of short stories set in Tinseltown.
*    *    *
Windows, windows, nothing but windows up and down the narrow hotel court. He had sat counting them many times lately, during the long hours of waiting for a telephone call from Central Casting Office.
But the waiting was all over now. Thoughts of a possible career had faded. He would have to seek employment at anything he could find. This was the end.
Momentarily his eyes rested on the lighted window straight across the court—her window. He had never met the occupant of that apartment, but had often gazed into the windows from the dark recesses of his own room. Not a nice thing to do; yet his actions were not those of a peeping Tom. They were more like a Romeo, with Romeo’s mood and lines:

“O that I were a glove upon that hand,
That I might touch that cheek!”

Just now, as he saw his dream girl move into view to answer her telephone. “Tomorrow,” he read easily on her lips, and from her expansive frown, realized that the single word did not satisfy the party on the other end of the wire.
Quite distraught, she started pacing the floor, twisting her handkerchief, seeming ready to burst into tears.
He could not summon any pity for her. His own troubles surmounted any that another human could possibly have. No one could be placed in the same miserable, deplorable condition as he.
The girl’s pacing and turning afforded clear scrutiny of her beauty. Jet-black hair fell in fluffy waves over a well-chiseled brow, crowning a lovely face with glory. He sensed long lashes, veiling eyes that he felt sure were golden brown. Too thin a figure, he criticized unconsciously.
Stopping abruptly in her pacing, the girl lifted her head haughtily and said: “Come in.”
The door swung open, revealing the clerk. He carried a bunch of keys, and ordered the emotional girl into the hall.
The eviction made the boy’s blood run cold. Grabbing several envelopes, he rushed out to the mail chute, and stood as if occupied, to listen.
“But had I only known,” he heard his dream girl plead.
“You can’t tell me that the manager hasn’t warned you many times,” the clerk insisted, demanding her key. “Six o’clock tonight was the limit of his endurance, he told me to inform you. I do hope you will understand that this duty is painful to me,” he concluded, bolted the door, and left the evicted girl crying against the wall like a child locked in a closet.
Edging very close, the sympathetic boy stammered: “May I—could I be of any assistance?”
She looked up through moist eyes which he saw were hazel.

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