In a world where the majority of Western stars were phonies, Joel McCrea was the real deal. Joel McCrea was an actor that made a name for himself in lighter fare before deciding that he only wanted to do Westerns. This decision came after he appeared in the 1946 film The Virginian. While working on the film, Joel also decided that he wanted to become a rancher. He gradually became less interested in acting and more interested in ranching, to the point where he listed his occupation on his income taxes as a rancher. By the time of his death in 1990, Joel McCrea was as much of a Western legend as any of the characters that he had portrayed in his numerous films. Join Facts Verse as we explore how Joel McCrea was exactly the kind of man we hoped he’d be.
Joel McCrea Was the Real Deal
To most people, Joel McCrea was a legendary actor that lent a good deal of credibility to his acting roles. However, to Joel McCrea’s grandson, Joel was a rancher first and foremost. That grandson’s name is Wyatt, and he has recently been going about converting his grandfather’s old ranch into a museum meant to carry on the late actor’s legacy.
Wyatt spent quite a bit of time on his grandfather’s ranch growing up, but he didn’t realize that his grandfather was also an actor until one fateful day during his school years. When Wyatt was only 10, his teacher casually let slip that she had seen his grandfather on television. Wyatt had no idea what she was talking about, and the teacher was unaware that she had let slip information that Wyatt had somehow not yet become privy to. That evening, Wyatt returned to his family home and asked his mother and father what his teacher had meant when she said that she had seen his grandfather on television. Lo and behold, Wyatt was given the revelation of his grandfather’s stardom.
It doesn’t seem as if Joel McCrea was keeping his means for paying the bills a secret from his grandson. Rather, it seems that Joel’s time working as an actor was so unimportant to the man that it never came up naturally in conversation. Instead, Joel’s attention and passion were all directed firmly at his ranch. Despite the fact that Joel McCrea started out as an actor and became quite wealthy as a result of the profession, the actor grew to consider himself more of a rancher than a thespian by the end of his days.
Joel McCrea Went from Actor to Rancher
Joel McCrea’s transformation from actor to rancher was gradual. The actor started out performing in lighter fare before making a name for himself in Westerns. After performing in the 1946 Western film The Virginia, Joel decided that he never wanted to work outside of Westerns again. From then on, it was only a question of time before Joel decided to give up acting all together and dedicate all of his efforts to maintaining his ranch.
Given that Joel McCrea rarely talked about his acting, grandson Wyatt grew to think of him in a much different light than much of the public. Realizing that his grandfather was actually a big Hollywood star didn’t change Wyatt’s perception of the old man, as Joel was still the loving and hard-working figure that he had always been. When Wyatt thinks of his grandfather today, he thinks of his grandfather working on the ranch. Comparatively, the majority of the actor’s fans undeniably think of him gracing the screen!
Though Hollywood didn’t mean much to Joel McCrea, Joel McCrea certainly meant a great deal to Hollywood! Over the course of the actor’s career, he appeared in nearly 100 movies. The actor’s career spanned around five decades, though he still considered himself a rancher first and foremost by the time all was said and done. The government initially took issue with Joel listing his occupation as a rancher on his income taxes. However, they were forced to accept that Joel was really a rancher when they came knocking on his door and he showed them his calluses.
As a half-actor/half-rancher, Joel McCrea had a great deal to prove in both fields. Joel’s work as an actor gave him money to fund his ranching endeavor, and his work as a rancher gave him some standout authenticity on the screen. Though Joel was initially faking it on the big screen like anyone else, there came a point where the actor truly stepped into his Western roles. If you’re enjoying this video so far, be sure to hit the like button to show your support! Also, subscribe to the channel if you’d like to be among the first to know when more Facts Verse videos are on their way!
Joel’s Grandson Is Paying His Respects
Joel McCrea’s ranch once spanned well over 2,000 acres, but grandson Wyatt has whittled the land down to a little under 300 by donating the majority of the property to the California Park Service. This donation allowed for all of the buildings on the donated land to be given status on the National Register of Historic Buildings. Grandson Wyatt is converting the remaining 300 acres into a museum in honor of his grandfather. Wyatt says that he’s doing this so that he can preserve a piece of California history.
The news that Joel McCrea was just as much of a Western legend off the screen as we was on should come as a pleasant surprise to those who may have feared that he was just another Hollywood phony. While John Wayne was busy rationalizing the fact that he never served in the war, Joel was getting his hands covered in calluses on his ranch. Joel’s affinity for ranching made him a natural when it came to horseback riding, and he was considered to be one of the absolute best riders in all of Hollywood. Joel even had a pretty good sense for riding before he became a rancher.
Wyatt was nearly 30 years old when his grandfather died, and he has since gotten married and started a family of his own. Wyatt may be sad that his grandfather isn’t around to see his blossoming family, but he’s glad that his family is around to help him pay respects to his grandfather with the creation of this new museum. One of Wyatt’s favorite memories of his grandfather is when Joel took him out for ice cream and ended up buying ice cream for every kid in the vicinity. Joel was certainly a generous person, and he liked to share his wealth with as many people as he could.
Joel McCrea Grew Up Around Hollywood
Though Joel McCrea ended his life on the ranch, he started it in Hollywood. Joel was born in South Pasadena, and happening across film shoots was a common occurrence as the future star was growing up. Joel’s physicality and athleticism allowed him to start working as a stuntman during his high-school years. Following this, Joel would become more and more interested in acting. He explored his acting talents while attending Pomona College, during which time he could be found performing at the Pasadena Playhouse.
It wasn’t long before Joel McCrea was appearing in films. His first role in a film came via 1929’s The Jazz Age, and more films followed. His first leading role was in the picture The Silver Horde, which led to him getting signed with RKO Pictures. There, Joel’s fame increased.
Over the course of the 1930s, Joel McCrea starred mostly in romantic comedies. It wouldn’t be until the 1940s that more Western roles started coming the actor’s way, which is when he got his taste for the genre. Prior to Joel deciding that he only wanted to do Westerns, some of his biggest film roles were in hits such as Union Pacific and Foreign Correspondent. The former picture was from director Cecil B. DeMille, while the latter picture was an early work from Alfred Hitchcock. Another classic film that Joel appeared in around this time was the Preston Sturgess-directed Sullivan’s Travels, which was released in 1941.
Joel Was a True Western Legend
Joel McCrea’s first big Western came in 1942. This film was called The Great Man’s Lady, and it also starred Barbara Stanwyck. A Western called Buffalo Bill followed in 1944, and 1946’s The Virginian came next. It was on the set of The Virginian that Joel decided that he never wanted to work outside of the Western genre again. Joel made good on his promise, and he went on to appear in a number of notable Western films over the course of the next few decades.
One of the most memorable of the many Westerns that Joel starred in during the later part of his career was 1962’s Ride the High Country, which was an early feature from director Sam Peckinpah. Sam would go on to turn the Western genre on it’s head with the ultraviolent The Wild Bunch, putting an end to the traditional Western for good.
The grittiness of The Wild Bunch could be seen as a critique on the phoniness of Hollywood Westerns, but Joel McCrea was an antidote to this phoniness well before the iconic Western film premiered. Still, a wholesome guy like Joel McCrea had no place in the Western genre once things started getting bloody, and he soon packed up his bags and retired to his ranch. By this point, Joel had already stacked up enough bucks that him and his family never had to worry again. Joel was married to the same woman from 1933 until his death, and that woman was actress Frances Dee. Together, the pair had three children. Joel passed away from pneumonia in 1990, and Frances passed away in 2004. At the time of Joel’s death, he was 84 years old.
Joel McCrea may be best known to general audiences as a Western film star, but his grandson knew him first and foremost as a rancher. Now it’s time to hear from you: did you know that Western legend Joel McCrea maintained a ranch that spanned over 2,000 acres, and that his grandson has converted that ranch into a museum? As always, like this video to show your support, and subscribe and hit the notification bell if you’d like to be among the first to know when more Facts Verse videos are on their way!