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Vancouver Sun (23/Oct/1990) - McCrea recalled as last great film cowboy



McCrea recalled as last great film cowboy

The death of Joel McCrea was seen as an end of a Hollywood era, another passing of a show business cowboy who personified the Old West.

"He was the last great A-western film cowboy," said John Langellier, director of research at the Gene Autry Western Heritage Museum.

"Along with Randolph Scott and certainly a few others such as John Wayne and Gary Cooper, he created the strong, silent stereotype of the rugged western hero. There will never be another like him. His death marks the end of an era."

McCrea died Saturday at age 84 in the Motion Picture and Television Fund Hospital. His wife of 57 years, actress Frances Dee, and son, Peter, were with him at the time.

McCrea will be cremated and his ashes scattered at sea, Peter McCrea said. McCrea also leaves sons Jody and David.

Descended from pioneers — one grandfather fought Apache Indians and drove stagecoaches — McCrea's early ambition was to own a ranch.

"He loved the outdoors. He loved the West and history of the West," said producer Walter Mirisch, who worked on six films with McCrea.

While most of his 87 roles were westerns, McCrea also was adept at light comedy and drama. He was the trenchcoat-wearing reporter in Alfred Hitchcock's 1940 Foreign Correspondent.

One of McCrea's 1941 comedies, Sullivan's Travels, was listed by the Library of Congress as one of 25 outstanding films worthy of preservation.

In a 1985 interview, McCrea said he always "wanted to be the guy who rode off into the sunset," to represent "right over evil."

Born in South Pasadena, he grew up in Hollywood and got his start in movies as a volunteer "horse holder" for western stars such as Tom Mix.

At 12, McCrea got his first paying job riding a horse in a movie mob scene.

Bob Ward, a friend who said he first met McCrea in 1947, said McCrea told him about a conversation he had with Will Rogers, who "told him he was not a very good actor so he'd better buy some real estate."

In the 1930s, McCrea and his wife bought a ranch in Ventura County, near Los Angeles, that eventually totalled almost 1,200 hectares.

McCrea later made millions of dollars when he sold parcels to developers.