Joel McCrea (1905-1990)
- Johnny Mack Brown, Coquette, 1929. Mary Pickford's and United Artists's first talkie won her an Oscar. She tested McCrea: "Whenever I'd see her, we'd hug and kiss and she'd say: Have you been reading your Bible and being a good boy?"
- Lawrence Gray, Marianne, 1929. Marion Davies wanted Joel after seeing his Born To Love tests with Constance Bennett during a weekend at the Hearst ranch. Once Bennett heard of Marion's interest, she grabbed him for her own film.
- Charles Farrell, Liliom, 1930. He spent a full day shooting a test with Mary Philbin for director Frank Borzage - with mood music from Danny Borzage's accordian! McCrea got the role - and lost it when "they decided not to split up the Janet Gaynor-Charles Farrell team. In the end, Farrell was in it, but Janet wasn't." The test came in useful. He showed it to director Henry King and got the juvenile lead in a Will Rogers movie, Lightnin'.
- Johnny Weissmuller, Tarzan The Ape Man, 1931.
- Bruce Cabot, King Kong, 1932.
Producer-director Merian C Cooper’sfirst idea for RKO Production 601 was to use the same stars (and jungle set) from RKO Production 602, The Most Dangerous Game- Armstrong, Joel McCrea and Fay Wray.While poorErnest B Schoedsasck fumed on his shoot, Cooper borrowed Bob and Fay for hours - but never McCrea. Because, Fay revealed, McCrea quite simply wanted a bigger pay-chequeto play John Driscoll.Having been told by the Kong stuntmen that he was really just doubling McCrea in some action scenes, Cabot stormed off the movie until Cooper begged his return, confirming that Cabot and not McCrea was the leading man. Same night, Joel took David Selznick's wife to dinner with George Cukor and noticed the bouncer on the door. Yes, of course, he wanted to get into movies, said Jacques Etienne Pelissier de Bujac. McCrea passed his details on to Irene for David, then head of RKO, who duly tested the bouncer and christened him: Bruce Cabot. But having been told by the Kong stuntmen that he was really just doubling McCrea in some action scenes, Cabot stormed off the movie until Cooper begged his return, confirming that Cabot and not McCrea was the leading man.
- Gilbert Roland, Call Her Savage, 1932. Off-screen, Roland wed Constance Bennett when she failed to hook Joel.
- Gene Raymond, Flying Down To Rio, 1932. Raymond played a better piano... Director Thornton Freeland wanted McCrea for the amorous flier and dance band leader Bond, Roger Bond. Didn’t matter who wuz who as soon as Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers started dancing The Carioca. Superstars were born!
- Neil Hamilton, What Price Hollywood? (aka Hollywood Merry-Go-Round), 1932. Constance Bennett’s waitress is discovered by drunken LA director Lowell Sherman… hey! this is the matrix for A Star Is Born. McCrea and Bruce were in contention for her polo-playing millionaire husband
- Norman Foster, Rafter Romance, 1933. Ginger Rogers-Norman Fostef replaced DorohthyWilson-McCrea, in the days when young Joel looked like the young JFK
- Robert Young, Spitfire, 1934. No matter what Kate Hepburn promised - "it's going to be a big hit" - McCrea was not interested. She had the worst hill-billy accent ever and he later sent her Ashton Stevens' column: "It will be well if all those connected with this one will forget it as quickly as those who see it."
- Robert Montgomery, Forsaking All Others, 1934. One of future writer-director Joseph Mankiewizc's first MGM jobs was tailoring this flick for a trio that never even saw his script Plan A: McCrea and George Brent as best pals, one of them leaving Loretta Young at the altar. Plan B became: Montgomery, Clark Gable, Joan Crawford, turning the Hays Office censors purple by using such injurious words as tramp, sex appeal and - oh no, cover your ears! - “nudist wedding.” PS Joel took Montgomery's role the next year in Private Worlds.
- Randolph Scott, She, 1934. RKO wanted Joel and his wife, Frances Dee, and settled for Randy and Helen Gahagan. It was her first and last film, a huge flop, killing her career. Mrs Melvyn Douglas then turned to politics, being crushed by a nefarious Senate campaign by her opponent Richard Nixon. Or, as she was first to call him... Tricky Dicky..
- Henry Fonda, The Farmer Takes A Wife, 1935. Bypassing the Broadway stars, the studio gave June Walker's role to Janet Gaynor and Fonda's was set for McCrea. Except he was far too busy.
- Cesar Romero, The Devil Is A Woman, 1935.
"Von Sternberg froze me out of it... All I had to do was snap my fingers and say: 'Cup of coffee' to the waiter. And it was 39 takes... He said, 'You don't sound sincere when you order a cup of coffee... It's no good.' And I said, 'Neither am I - with you.' And he said, 'But you have a contract. Miss Dietrich wanted you, you have to do it.' And I said, 'You don't know me [or his wealth, around $5m at the time]. I don't have to do any more motion pictures. I can get out of the industry. I'm a cowboy at heart'." Joel complained to studio head Manny Cohen who said: "That sunuvabitch, this is the last picture he's going to make for Paramount'." And it was. Dietrich was used to such imperious behaviour. "One of the problems was her asking for me in the first place... Joe was jealous. Interesting how all those powerful men always wanted the women who rejected them."
- Jon Hall, The Hurricane, 1937. "I don't look native, I look like an Irish cop," said an astonished McCrea. Producer Sam Goldwyn was adamant: an actor could play anything. "I never claimed to be an actor," laughed Joel. "I'm just a guy who rides well." And so, Fresno's Charlie Locher (aka Lloyd Crane in 1936) was re-born as Jon Hall.
- Douglas Fairbanks Jr, The Rage of Paris, 1938. "Eighty million Frenchmen can't be wrong," screamed the hype. Hollywood men were. McCrea and Melvyn Douglas both spurned poor Danielle Darrieux.
- James Stewart, Destry Rides Again, 1938. McCrea and Gary Cooper were first saddled up as The Man from Montana (working title), until it was decided to wait for Stewart to wrap Mr Smith Goes to Washington before making his first Western.
- John Wayne, Stagecoach, 1938. Gary Cooper’s wife, Rocky, never forgave herself. “I read it and advised him to turn it down. Stagecoach...! It made a star out of John Wayne [in his 80th film!] but we turned it down.” (We?) Rocky was not alone. McCrea and Errol Flynn also passed.
- William Holden, Arizona, 1939. First, Gary Cooper, then McCrea and James Stewart, proved that Holden, the new golden boy was, as an anonymous New York Times critic phrased it, not “yet sufficiently far from knee-pants to seem credible as [Arthur’s] protective knight in armor.” He was 22, she 40.
- Cary Grant, The Howards of Virginia, 1940. Joel did not like "the outfits, the wigs and stuff."
- Gary Cooper, North West Mounted Police, 1940. The mighty Cecil B DeMille’s first choice for his Texas Ranger Dusty Rivers - “Isn't that a contradiction in terms?” - aiding the Mounties in his first Technicolor film. During the six months pre-production period, McCrea dropped out,Cooper fell in as Cary Grant and Fredric March were unavailable. (Coop and Joel were said to have been lovers; likewise Joel and Lew Ayres. McCrea was wed to Frances Dee for 57 years).
- Ray Milland, Arise My Love, 1940. Paramount began pushing their UK import into Claudette Colbert films previously ear-marked for Joel.
- Henry Fonda, The Lady Eve, 1940. For his deliciously sexy comedy, director Preston Sturges went through various combos for the con-woman chasing an heir to zillions… In 1938, the rascally gal was Claudette Colbert. In July, the couple was McCrea and Madeleine Carroll, then Ray Milland and Paulette Goddard. By August, Carroll and Fred MacMurray. In September, Fox loaned Henry Fonda to join Goddard - and they wound up as Fonda and Stanwyck… at her wicked best. And then Sturges claimed he wrote it for her. Oh really!
- Robert Preston, The Night of January 16, 1941. Producer Walter Wanger refused to release him for Claudette Colbert or Barbara Stanwyck.
- Henry Fonda, Tales of Manhattan, 1941. Or Tails, at first, as the anthology tales were - flimsily - linked by a tail coat passed from one owner to another. For the second stanza, McCrea and Irene Dunne became Rogers and Henry Fonda. In all, six vignettes (WC Fields’ story was cut until DVDays) by 20 writers (only a dozen credited) from 40 bought stories.
- Ralph Bellamy, Lady In A Jam, 1941. Irene Dunne was the lady - in the last film of McCrea pal Gregory La Cava. "He sent word to me, didn't send any script (he'd come in and give two or three pages a day). I was committed to do something else..." "That's too bad," said La Cava, "we would have had a lot of fun together."
- John Wayne, Reap The Wild Wind, 1941. “He's some writer... the picture will be forgotten. But a picture with me...” That’s how director CB DeMille tried to persuade Joel to drop Preston Sturgess’ Sullivan’s Travels! CB then asked Duke only to be staggered by him, insisting on a re-write - something that was never ever suggested on a CB film! “There is a possibility of developing [Jack] into a great character… by making him an individualist played boldly and impulsively instead of… a plodding dullard. He doesn’t need to be a mental giant - maybe a little short on logic, but must not be dull - must possess a definite sense of humour to help him through two or three melodramatic situations that arise.” De Mille read this - to his three writers. “If an actor can see what’s wrong and work it out, why couldn’t you?” Duke was never yelled at during the shoot, was invited to lunch every day by CB - who even used him as assistant director for a fight sequence.
- Robert Cummings, Saboteur, 1942. Hitchcock’s unavailable choices were far better than the flashy Cummings - McCrea or Gary Cooper.
- Frederic March, I Married A Witch, 1942. McCrea had no wish to work again with Veronica Lake, his (then pregnant) co-star in Sullivan's Travels. She did not get on well with March, either - in one scene shot from their waists up, she dug her foot into his family jewels. McCrea-Lake made one other film, Ramrod, 1947
- Gary Cooper, For Whom The Bell Tolls, 1943. "I've turned down almost as many pictures as I've accepted because I didn't think I was adequate for them... never because of the money." Columbia boss Harry Cohn never talked money with him: "You own more land than anybody but Mr. Hearst."Also losing out to Coop: Robert Donat, Ray Milland, Tyrone Power.
- Lee Bowman, The Impatient Years, 1944. Jean Arthur, Charles Coburn loved the play-it-again idea for the previous year’s More The Merrier trio. McCrea did not. OK, Lee, now you stand over here…
- Gary Cooper, The Story of Dr Wassell, 1943. Soon as he heard President Roosevelt on the radio recounting this heroic tale of US Navy doctor rescuing 13 far from walking-wounded sailors from the USS Marblehead out of WWII Java, CB De Mille started prepping a movie. “True, such a thing did happen,” agreed New York Times critic Bosley Crowther, “But not this way, we’ll bet a hat!” Certainly, neither Cooper or McCrea were in their 60s, like Corydon Wassell, but as Crowther added, this was “hoopla warfare in a Technicolor blaze.”
- Zachery Scott, The Southerner, 1945. Not many people turned down the visiting French directing giant Jean Renoir. Joel did. And his wife, Frances Dee. They preferred a Western in which not a single shot was fired. Four Faces West.
- John Garfield, The Postman Always Rings Twice, 1946.
WTF?! First, cardboardy Gregory Peck, then kindly McCrea - for the tough-guy drifter, lover and killer… "Moving in with Lana Turner to bump off her husband… This isn't the image I want," said McCrea. He would have been laughed off the screen in the film that the censorious Breen Office tried to ban because the James M Cain book was “unwholesome and thoroughly objectionable.” In short: Perfect for Garfield…. And Jack Nicholson in 1980. While McCrea’s idol had always been William S Hart, "the right-over-evil guy who rode off into the sunset," within variations of his own family - frontier folk, ministers, preachers, bankers, farmers, one grandfather who started as a stagecoach driver, another who was in the 1849 Gold Rush.
- Robert Mitchum, Pursued, 1947. Duel in the Sun scenarist Niven Busch also wrote this Western for his wife, Teresa Wright. He was extremely fussy about who would play the heroine’s hero. McCrea and Robert Taylor were too old! Montgomery Clift (Teresa’s choice), too young, too small. And Jack Warner downright refused to consider Kirk Douglas.
- David Brian, Intruder in the Dust, 1948. William Faulkner’s novel led to his 1949 Nobel Prize and a sea change in Hollywood’s depiction of African-Americans. McCrea was first choice for the lawyer defending a black man on a murder charge that is plainly more about him being proud, noble, even arrogant; he “would rather be lynched in fiery torture than surrender his stolid dignity,” said the New York Times. Juan Hernandez’s performance was a major breakthrough for black actors, even though while shooting in Faulker’s (segregated) home town of Oxford, Mississippi (the model for his book’s Jefferson), Hernandez was banned from all hotels and had to stay with a local black undertaker’s family.
- Will Rogers Jr, The Story of Will Rogers, 1952. Joel was a great buddy of Rogers, offered a Fox contract because of him, yet felt unqualified to play him. "All I'd do would be to ape him." Said director Michael Curtiz: "That's the first sunavabitch actor who said he wasn't good enough. So I don't want him!" He took Junior Will who had already played Senior in three films.
- Van Heflin, Shane, 1953. Although firm friends with veteran director George Stevens (and Jr) ever since The More The Merrier in 1943 - "I would have worked with him for nothing" - McCrea backed away from the "backward" married guy role. He didn't want people thinking he could not carry a film on his own.
- John Payne, Tennessee’s Partner, 1954. Plot-heavy B horse opera pitting an ex-wrestler (Payne) against the future 40th US President (Ronald Reagan). With Rhonda Fleming and Coleen Grey to keep you interested… well, awake.
- Fred MacMurray, At Gunpoint, 1954. Aka Gun Point… ! McCrea was first chosen for the sudden Western hero that his small turns against. The poster uncannily resembles a first draft of Roy Litchenstein’s celebrated June 21, 1968 Time magazine cover (The Gun In America) in the aftermath of Robert Kennedy’s assassination.
- Rock Hudson, Giant, 1955.
- Spencer Tracy, Bad Day At Black Rock, 1955. After Riot In Cell Block II, director Don Siegel could do whatever he wanted at Allied Artists. He gave AA chief Steve Broidy "the best screenplay I've ever read," by actor Don McGuire. with McCrea postponing retirement to take the lead. Next day, Broidy said No. McGuire immediately went over to MGM. McCrea did not. Tracy was not interested until production chief Dore Schary ordered only one usable armn for the hero. “Never knew an actor who could resist playing a cripple. ” Result: Tracy’s fifth of nine Oscar nominations.
- Randolph Scott, Seven Men From Now, 1955. Actor Paul Fix brought Burt Kennedy’s script to Batjac, better than anything Wayne had read since The Searchers - which he’d just finished, so too early for another vengeful Western. When McCrea, Gary Cooper and Robert Preston passed, Mitchum tried to buy the project. Finally, as producer, Duke rescued Scott’s fading career with this first of five Westerns (programmers, really) with director Budd Boetticher - all written by Kennedy for Wayne… who eventually let Kennedy direct him in The War Wagon, 1966, and The Train Robbers, 1972.
- Anthony Perkins, Green Mansions, 1959. WH Hudson's novel was snapped up by RKO in 1932 for Joel and Dolores Del Rio - until their first outing, Bird of Paradise, flopped.
- Randolph Scott, Ride The High Country, 1962. The millionaire veterans (pals since the mid-20s) switched saddles. "I'm not gonna destroy my image in my last picture." said McCrea. Scott (worth around $100m) took an opposite stand: "I've played the straight, honest guy so damn long this would be more interesting."
- Richard Attenborough, The Flight of the Phoenix, 1965. When director William Wellman was thinking of stepping out of retirement, he asked McCrea anc to ride along… with John Wayne. They both agreed when Wild Bill changed his mind about the project. Robert Aldrich later made it with Stewart and Richard Attenborough. McCrea retired twice - making it stick in 1962.