Joel McCrea — Joel and the Glamor Girls (1936) 🇺🇸

January 04, 2022

McCrea marches on to new screen importance — the colorful story of a mighty colorful movie man.

by Margaret Angus

The producers first took an active interest in the Joel McCrea case when they discovered that he was a pretty kisser. Joel was six feet two inches tall in those days, and still is in these days, and could embrace a movie queen gracefully without having to stand on a box or wear French heels as did some of the other heart-breakers of the screen. Furthermore he could plant a neat kiss right on the Glamorous One’s beak without smearing her lipstick — a kiss that would send the entire female population of Omaha swooning into the aisles.

“For years,” said Joel, “I didn’t do a thing in pictures but stand around waiting until the star was ready to be kissed. When the director shouted, ‘You love her, kid, give her the business,’ I registered what I considered love and looked exactly like a calf about to cavort through the clover. It seems to me that I stood around sets for years just waiting to kiss somebody.”

Sam Wood was the first producer to notice that Joel was a pretty kisser. Joel had the leading role in a college dramatic show while he was attending Pomona College, and playing opposite him was the daughter of Sam Wood, and of course the proud parent drove down to Pomona to see what his cherished offspring could do in the way of histrionics, and thus does Fate work, kiddies, for Papa Wood was so impressed with Joel’s manner of kissing his daughter that he promptly started him on his movie career. But the joke was on Joel. Joel was sort of a Merlon of the Movies and he thought the studios demanded his services because of his ability to ride the wildest of mustangs, wear chaps and a sombrero, and twirl a mean lariat. Was he surprised when he discovered that all they wanted him to do was stand discreetly in the background, wear white tie and tails, and kiss the leading lady. Alas, for Cowboy McCrea.

By the early spring of 1935 Joel had kissed his way up to Claudette Colbert in “Private Worlds” — except that for the first time in his career Joel didn’t have to kiss the leading lady. The shock was too much for him. He found himself raving like a high school kid over the unkissed Colbert, and even today, a whole year later, he claims that Claudette is his favorite actress and that one of his greatest ambitions is to do another picture with her. So you see, girls, mother was right — boys like girls best who don’t kiss. Incidentally, “Private Worlds” established Joel definitely as an actor, and not just a handsome heart interest, and he gave such a grand performance as the young doctor in that picture that immediately the picture was previewed Sam Goldwyn, who has a canny eye for talent, signed him on a long-term contract with a telephone number salary. Since then Joel has been able to fill in the waits between kisses with some enviable acting culminating in his recent excellent performance in “These Three.” He’s an actor now in the big time, and simply rarin’ to go after a meaty character role.

Strange to say, Joel has never let the Glamor Girls who have swung around his neck from time to time go to his head — or heart. (Of course there was that romance with Connie Bennett some years ago though neither Joel nor Connie took it seriously so neither will we). I’m quite sure I wouldn’t trust my boy friend with Miriam Hopkins, Merle Oberon, Irene Dunne, Greta Garbo, and the Bennett girls, but Frances Dee doesn’t seem to fret about it at all. He may do palpitating love scenes with Miriam Hopkins one month, and make ardent love to Merle Oberon the next month, and crush little Joanie Bennett to him in a mad embrace the third month, but “it don’t mean a thing” to Joel. The minute the last “take” of the day is finished Joel doesn’t linger to hold hands behind the sound booth but he rushes right home to the “little woman” and his babies. Nerts to the Glamor Girls!

Joel has two sons now: David Thomas, who has reached the ripe old age of five months, and Joel Dee, who is two years old and very handsome — but how could he help being, with Joel as a father and Frances as a mother? Any telephone conversation with the McCrea household is punctuated with, “Go away now, Daddy’s talking” — “That’s a good boy, don’t annoy Daddy when he’s talking” — “Frances, call my son” — all of which might lead you to believe that Joel prefers babies about his neck to Glamor Girls.

As you doubtless know, Joel who had been one of those “nice” — (and how he hates that word) — young men about town for several years, beauing the elite of moviedom and Pasadena society, suddenly became very Frances Dee-conscious when he made a picture with her at RKO — the “Silver Cord” it was and Joel was supposed to have a mother complex but the only complication he really had was how and when can I marry Frances Dee. The studio strictly opposed marriage. But Frances went East on location and Joel said to hell with the studio and took the first plane out of town and he and Frances were married in Connecticut while the publicity department tore its hair. Frances is the ideal wife for Joel, and vice versa. Besides being an excellent wife and mother and home-maker she has found time during their three years of marriage to make several pictures, particularly noteworthy being “Becky Sharp” and “The Gay Deception.”

When they aren’t working, and over the week-end when they are, the McCreas live on a 1400-acre cattle ranch in the San Fernando Valley. With high mountains all around and not another house in sight for miles and miles it is the most peaceful place in the world, and if Joel or Frances ever develop nerves they ought to be severely spanked. The “rancho” was built two years ago — Joel and Frances moved in on Christmas Eve — and was recently chosen by the Architectural Forum as one of the hundred best small houses built in America in the past three years. Consisting of three bedrooms, a nursery, a small dining-room and kitchen and a tremendous living-room with a log fireplace, the house nestles under a high hill covered with California poppies, and if you say you’ve ever seen anything more lovely you’re lying. It is furnished with rare old American furniture which would send a collector into spasms of ecstasy. The furniture originally belonged to Major John McCrea, Joel’s grandfather, who came to California in ‘49 to fight Apache Indians with General Phineas, and from this hearty grandsire Joel_ not only inherited this quaint old furniture but also his love for horses, and his burning desire to be a cowboy.

When he was a kid in Pasadena, and later in Hollywood, (Joel is one of the few “native sons” in pictures), Joel went to the movies every week to see Bill Hart, he of the two guns, and everything that Bill did on the screen young Joel would proceed to do when he got home. “I’m gonna be a cowboy when I grow up,” Joel told anybody who would listen. “I’m going to be just like William S. Hart.”

So imagine the poor kid’s dismay when his nurse pulled his chaps and spurs off him, washed his face until it shone, put sissy clothes on him, and sent him to the Hollywood School for Girls. Was he burned! Even to this day Joel blushes when he tells about it. “Hollywood was just a small town in those days,” Joel said, “and there was no other private school for discriminating parents to send their children to. Fortunately I met Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., there and with Doug, Jr., imitating his father all over the place and with me imitating my idolized Bill Hart, we made things plenty noisy and rough-house.”

When he was fourteen and attending the Hollywood High School, Joel continued to remain faithful to Bill Hart, but slipped just a little bit. The “slip” was Gloria Swanson. She was his Dream Girl of the screen. She was the girl he was going to marry. His was a terrific “crush” for la Swanson. But he got over it. Miss Swanson and Mr. McCrea are not very friendly now, and he has no intention of marrying her. Well, anyway, he never did outgrow his cowboy complex and as soon as he made enough money he insisted upon realizing his life’s ambition: a horse and cattle ranch. It was when he was making “Lightnin’” with Will Rogers that he definitely decided on the ranch. “You need an anchor to windward,” Will Rogers told him, “you need to get outdoors, and see things grow, and face reality. This artificial life of lights and grease paint will get you if you don’t.” So on Mr. Rogers’ advice Joel bought those 1400 acres only forty-five miles from Hollywood, and with the beauty and inspiration of the good earth you can be quite sure the silly superficiality of the cinema will never “get” Joel McCrea. When not working on a picture he rides the range every day, brands cattle, shouts orders to his cowboys, rounds up horses, and gets as dirty and bronzed as any kid could ever hope to get.

The most frequent guests at the McCrea Ranch, (the McCreas don’t go for that “open house” business), are Gary Cooper, Lew Ayres and Ginger Rogers, all of whom are old friends. Gary and Lew and Joel are the best of buddies, and you can be quite sure that Joel’s ranch brings out the Montana in Gary, for the minute he arrives he jumps on a horse and rides like mad. Except for these friends the guests are mostly Joel’s and Frances’ relations. The McCreas are great on “family.”

But even “unusual” movie people like Joel and Frances are never quite content, it seems — (if I had that ranch I’d never leave it, not even to see a Clark Gable picture) — for at the present moment the McCreas are plotting a trip to Spain. It seems that next to becoming a cowboy Joel has always wanted to see Spain — it’s his idea of the most romantic and adventurous country in the world, and he’ll never be perfectly happy until he sees the ancient wonders of Granada, the bull fights of San Sebastian, and the quaint Basque country; yes indeed, Joel has been reading every book on Spain this last year that he can get his hands on. Well, it so happens that Frances has a deal on to do a picture with Robert Donat, and Joel would like to do a picture for Korda, so they could both go to London, (the babies are going, too), and work for several months and then take a marvelous vacation in Spain. That’s the plan, anyway. Mr. Goldwyn, Joel’s boss, might say no.

Joel likes to be an active part of things. He can’t stand to sit in a grandstand and watch horses race, or boys play football — no sir-ee, he wants to be out there on the horse’s back, or out there with a half-back on him. Consequently he cares nothing for races and sports unless he can participate in them. He loathes bridge with fine and beautiful loathing, and he can’t say much for most parlor games; he’d much rather read a book. Conversation is not a lost art with him and after dinner on the McCrea ranch you’ll be asked to talk, and listen to Joel talk, and what’s more you’ll love it. He likes bright scarfs, salami and roast lamb, and could eat ice cream and chocolate cake three hundred and sixty-five days of the year. He never gets fat. When he was in high school he made the championship Volley Ball Team of the Santa Monica Beach Club and he still goes to the Club at least one Sunday out of the month to play volley ball with the boys — he’s captain of the team. He’s a very loyal, constant kind of a guy.

Joel has one parlor trick of which he is very proud. It seems that while he was making “Barbary Coast” and “Splendor” with Miriam Hopkins the set was over-run with fortune tellers as Miriam simply goes mad for them though she swears she doesn’t believe a thing they tell her. So Joel got interested in the “mystic” racket and one day a publicity man told him how he could hypnotize people. Joel tried it and it worked. He is very proud of being a hypnotist. I walked on the set one day when he was hypnotizing Helen Westley and it looked pretty authentic to me, though I don’t know, I don’t know!

Joel has made screen love to such charmers as Miriam Hopkins, left, and Merle Oberon, above, but the Glamor Girls have never gone to his head. At top, that happy wedded couple, Joel and Frances Dee.

Lower, riding herd on his 1400-acre ranch in San Fernando.

No wonder Marion Davies is startled. Words of wisdom from a wit like Charles Ruggles are unexpected. Collaborating in this scene from “Hearts Divided” are comical Edward Everett Horton, and ditto Arthur Treacher.

Source: Screenland MagazineJuly 1936