Posts Tagged ‘will rogers’

Joel McCrea’s beginnings

Friday, February 8th, 2013


How Joel McCrea got his start




Nearly ruined career when, teamed with Dorothy Jordan, he took her to dinner with the Boss’, who married her


By Allan R. Ellenberger


When Joel McCrea was 12 or 13 years old, attending the Gardner Street grade school in Hollywood, Ruth Roland was making serials in the hills above Sunset Boulevard. McCrea, who was big for his age, had an ambition to be a cowboy, and used to hang around and watch the Roland troupe in his spare time and sometimes even was allowed to hold the horses.


A New York stage actor came out to play Ruth’s leading man. His job was to be rescued from some dire predicament by the heroine every reel or so.


“That guy could act all over the place,” McCrea recalled, “but when they brought on the horses he was scared stiff. That was how I got to ride his horse in a couple shots. They dressed me all up in buckskins, and for two days’ work I was paid $5. Boy that appealed to my Scotch blood! Five dollars for having a swell time. Right then I forgot about being a cowboy and decided I was going to be an actor.”


But it took McCrea eight years to get his second film job. Belonging to one of the town’s “oldest families,” he mixed with the film crowd and was on speaking terms with most of the celebrities of the early days.


“But as far as getting a job was concerned,” he say, “it didn’t do me a bit of good. I was invited to dinner at the homes of the big shots and they were always awfully nice to me, but nobody seemed to think I was an actor.”


At the Santa Monica Beach Club one day, Conrad Nagel and Mitchell Lewis took McCrea aside and tried to persuade him to give up the idea of  acting.


“Listen, Joel,” Nagel said. “We like you, and we don’t want to hurt your feelings, and we wouldn’t tell you this if we didn’t like you, but you just haven’t got a chance. You haven’t got the stuff. Give it up and go into business.”


Jack Mulhall happened to overhear them. “Listen, kid,’ he told McCrea, “don’t listen to those birds. I haven’t got anything either, but I’ve been getting away with it for seven years now, and they pay me $3,750 a week at First National.”


McCrea got his first break, just out of Pomona College, when he bought a trench coat and was so proud of that he wore it all the time, rain or shine, around the RKO lot. He picked up some extra work there. He wore the coat so much that Bill Sistrom, who later became an associate producer, finally noticed it.


“What do you wear that for?’ Sistrom wanted to know—probably thinking that he had a role that called for it.


 “Oh, because I like it,” McCrea answered.


“What do you do around here?’ he asked.


“I’m an actor,” he told him.


“How do you know you are?” demanded Sistrom.


“Well, I would be if they’d give me a chance!” McCrea replied.


“How’d you like to play a lead? Sistrom asked.


“I thought the guy was crazy,” McCrea said, “especially when he shoved a script at me and told me to report to George Archainbaud, the director, and tell him I was to play the lead in The Silver Horde (1930).”


 Archainbaud said no; they already had somebody, and, anyway, McCrea was too big. Sistrom insisted McCrea was the guy for the part and everybody else said he wasn’t and there was a terrific argument but Sistrom out yelled everybody. The next thing McCrea knew he was leaving for Alaska and he had his first major role. He asked Sistrom afterwards how he managed it.


Louis Wolheim with Joel McCrea in The Silver Horde (1930)


 “Well,’ Sistrom said, “I’d always wondered how much influence I had around here, so this looked like a good time to find out.”


It was Louis Wolheim who saved McCrea on that picture. After he’d been yelled at all day for lousy work, Wolheim would jump in and give everybody a hard time for making things tough for McCrea. Then when the day’s shooting was over, Wolheim would really bawl him out.


“Why, you dumb, lazy so-and-so,” Wolheim told him. Then he would go over the script with McCrea, word by word. A former university math professor, Wolheim was just a natural born teacher.


Two roles with Will Rogers in Lightnin’ (1930) and Business and Pleasure (1932) boosted McCrea’s popularity after that. Rogers liked him because he could talk horses and cattle to McCrea and the latter could make intelligent answers.



Winfield Sheehan,” McCrea recalled, “who didn’t know me from Adam, used to see me on the Rogers set, and knowing that I was a friend of Will’s, had his secretary call up RKO every year for three years, one month before my option was up, and offer to put me to work, I think that was the only reason RKO ever kept me.


After McCrea made Bird of Paradise (1932) with Dolores del Rio, and the gorgeous tan which he had spent years in acquiring got a chance to be immortalized in celluloid, the studio intended to team him with Dorothy Jordan in a series of stories. That was when McCrea came nearest to inadvertently wrecking his screen career. Merian C. Cooper, then production head of RKO, came on the set one day and asked McCrea what he thought of Dorothy. “She’s a swell girl,” said Joel.


Dorothy Jordan and Joel McCrea in The Lost Squadron (1932)


“Yes, but can she act?” Cooper asked.


“I think she can,” McCrea replied. “She’s not as good as Loretta Young,”


McCrea had visions of the team breaking up. He’d been spending considerable time promoting himself with the various studio bosses who were flashing through there at the time, and was having a hard time keeping up with the changes in executive personnel. He finally persuaded Cooper that he at least ought to get acquainted with Dorothy Jordan, and when Cooper invited him over to dinner one night, Joel took Dorothy with him, after spending an hour or more telling Dorothy that their jobs depended on her making a good impression on the boss.


When they arrived for the dinner, it was one of those “love at first sight” things. McCrea scarcely saw Dorothy for the rest of the evening; within a week she and Cooper were engaged, and very shortly afterward, married. And there went the McCrea-Jordan team. For eleven months McCrea did absolutely nothing but pick up his pay check each Wednesday. Stories had been bought for him and Dorothy. Every two or three months Cooper would hand him a script, say that Dorothy was coming back to work, ask him to study his part and see what he thought of it. One or two of the stories were finally used for Ginger Rogers. Dorothy Jordan decided to raise a family, instead.


Merle Oberon, Joel McCrea and Miriam Hopkins in These Three (1936)


Eventual free-lancing and then a Goldwyn contract followed for McCrea. After attending a preview of These Three (1936), in which he co-starred with Miriam Hopkins and Merle Oberon, he came out and asked one of the boys in publicity department: “Who is this guy McCrea I’ve been seeing? he said. “It can’t be me.”


McCrea had come a long way since the days when Louis Wolheim taught him dialogue. Known as one of the most unspoiled of the younger celebrities, who didn’t kid himself about the part “breaks” had played in his career. His life as a youngster in Hollywood, growing up with the films, had helped him keep his balance while marriage to Frances Dee and a couple of young sons gave him a sense of responsibility.


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Will Rogers at Hollywood Heritage

Monday, December 6th, 2010


Evening @ the Barn



Hollywood Heritage Presents

an “Evening @ the Barn”

Tribute to Will Rogers

(with Rogers’ great-granddaughter Jennifer Rogers-Etcheverry in-person)   


Wednesday, December 8, 2010

at 7:30 PM

at the Hollywood Heritage Museum



2100 North Highland Avenue (across from the Hollywood Bowl).

General admission is $10 ($5 for Hollywood Heritage members). 

Free parking. Refreshments available


William Penn Adair “Will” Rogers (November 4, 1879 – August 15, 1935) was one of the best-known celebrities in the 1920s and 1930s. This tribute to the cowboy humorist — who starred in the Ziegfeld Follies on Broadway, wrote a nationally syndicated newspaper column and became Hollywood’s biggest box-office star — will commemorate Rogers’ passing with an evening of film clips and recollections. Rogers perished in an Alaska plane crash 75 years ago.


Jennifer Rogers-Etcheverry, Will Rogers’ great-granddaughter, will be on hand to discuss the legacy of her famous relative. Jennifer has been involved in the Rogers family business since 1991 and now serves as the family spokesperson and media contact. She travels throughout the year to promote the legacy of Will Rogers, including riding in the Rose Parade with Sons and Daughters of the Reel West.


“The tribute to Will Rogers is a wonderful event to celebrate the life of one of the greatest Americans to ever live”, says Rogers-Etcheverry. “Will’s wisdom and quotes are timeless and we applaud the Hollywood Heritage Museum for helping to keep his memory alive.” Jennifer will be joined by Todd  Vradenburg, Executive Director of the Will Rogers Motion Picture Pioneers Foundation and Board President of the Will Rogers Ranch Foundation.


Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment has graciously allowed the museum to host the first public screening of several documentaries that were produced expressly for their popular Will Rogers DVD Collection. The first is entitled “Back to the Ranch” and features personal interviews with Rogers’ family members at the re-dedication of the Will Rogers Ranch in Pacific Palisades. The second, “Jane Withers Remembers…” features heartfelt stories from the beloved child star who was befriended by Rogers when they were both making films at Fox Studios.


In addition, Hollywood Heritage board member and film historian Stan Taffel will offer rarely-seen Rogers movie clips from his personal film collection.


A raffle for gift baskets filled with unusual Will Rogers – related memorabilia will also be held.


The Tribute to Will Rogers is being produced by Hollywood Heritage Board member Bryan Cooper and Barn Committee member Dave Greim.


For additional information please visit: or



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Thanksgiving in Hollywood, 1931

Thursday, November 26th, 2009


How Hollywood stars celebrated Thanksgiving in 1931




Hollywood’s basis for Thanksgiving sometimes ranged from gratitude to an indulgent fate for the renewal of an option to thanks for a new divorce. But whatever the individual cause for thanks. the favored of filmdom in 1931 joined the rest of the country in celebrating the Thanksgiving season.


Marlene Dietrich observed the holiday entertaining a few guests and, for the occasion, allowed little Maria to dine with the grown-ups. Others who celebrated quietly at home were Dolores Costello and John Barrymore who entertained Lionel Barrymore and Helene Costello; Kay Francis and her husband, Kenneth McKenna; Buster and Natalie Talmadge Keaton, their two sons, and Norma and Constance Talmadge; Vivian Duncan and Nils Asther and their new daughter, Evelyn. The Robert Montgomery’s, also assisted their young daughter (five-week old Martha who died at 14 months of spinal meningitis) in her first Thanksgiving, while the Reginald Denny’s also had their young son to initiate.


Ruth Chatterton and Ralph Forbes travelled to Arrowhead for the occasion. Marie Dressler, accompanied by her house guest, Lady Ravensdale, and Claire du Brey, drove to the desert and dined at the La Quinta Hotel. Wallace Beery spent Thanksgiving in New York, as did Joan Crawford and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.


Clark Gable spent the holiday in the mountains. Jimmy Durante cooked his own turkey, decorating it with  an original dressing, but declining to reveal the recipe.


Ben Lyon and Bebe Daniels celebrated the day in San Francisco with the opening of Bebe’s play, The Last of Mrs. Cheney. Janet Gaynor was Europe-bound, accompanied by her husband, Lydell Peck and mother. Maurice Chevalier  was joined by his wife, actress Yvonne Vallee,  for his first Thanksgiving. Tallulah Bankhead arrived in town for formal dinner plans. Two new sets of newlyweds — June Collyer and Stuart Erwin and Carole Lombard and William Powell — observed the day at home.


Victor MacLaglen presided over a huge dining table which was a part of the Tuder furniture imported from England for his Flintridge home.


From several places across the country, the Will Rogers clan collected in time for turkey. Will, Jr. was home from Stanford, and Jimmy arrived from Roswell, New Mexico.


Wherever you are and whatever your plans, I hope you have a fabulous Thanksgiving. 



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Douglas Fairbanks Memorial…

Friday, December 12th, 2008

The Douglas Fairbanks Memorial



May 23, 1883 — December 12, 1939



By Allan R. Ellenberger


When actor Douglas Fairbanks died of a heart attack at his Santa Monica home on December 12, 1939, the world mourned with all of Hollywood. Following funeral services in the Wee Kirk o’ the Heather at Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Fairbanks’ casket was placed in a crypt next to Will Rogers, who, at the time, still awaited entombment in Claremore, Oklahoma.



The final resting place of Douglas Fairbanks at Hollywood Forever Cemetery is a stately marble sarcophagus estimated at the time to have cost $40,000. Add to that the cost of perpetual care and other expenses incidental to the building of the sarcophagus would bring the ultimate expenditure to about $50,000. At the time, it was one of the most costly of its kind in Southern California.



The crypt is set in front of four tall pillars of white Georgia marble, behind which is a panel that is inscribed: “Douglas Fairbanks, 1883-1939.” A bas relief bronze profile of the actor is positioned over the inscription.



In front of the sarcophagus is a long, narrow reflection pool, which, at the time, was lined with hedge trees.




The dedication ceremonies at Hollywood Cemetery were scheduled for May 25, 1941 – two days after the actor’s 58th birthday. Fairbanks’ close friend, actor Charlie Chaplin was selected to deliver the eulogy. Doug, Jr., who was touring South America at the time, could not return in time for the service. The simple ceremony was attended by 1,500 persons, including many of Fairbanks’ friends.


Fairbanks’ widow, the former Lady Sylvia Ashley, adorned in a white dress and veil, arrived at the ceremony with Chaplin, Robert Fairbanks (Douglas’ brother), Mrs. Fred Astaire and her sister, Mrs. Basil Bleck. Mrs. Fairbanks sat with the group in the first row of seats nearest the sarcophagus. Behind her were Norma Shearer and Kay Francis.


After the opening prayers by the Rev. Neal  Dodd, pastor of St. Mary’s of the Angeles Episcopal Church, the widow placed her bouquet in the as yet unsealed end of the marble sarcophagus. Then, with trembling hands, she drew the cord unveiling the inscription and bas relief bust of her husband.


Chaplin’s eulogy was brief.


“We are gathered here to pay tribute to the one who might well be termed a great man. To name him thus would have brought incredulous laughter to his lips. That he was even a great artist he would have been the first to deny. Yet this modesty was but another facet of his greatness, and there were many facets.


His was a happy life. His rewards were great, his joys many. Now he pillows his head upon his arms, sighs deeply – and sleeps.


To the youth of a decade ago he was the epitome of knightly courage and romance… And as he worshiped heroes, so too did he worship those qualities a hero should possess.”


Relating Fairbanks’ versatility, Chaplin praised him most as the “eternal boy” – always fresh in viewpoint and interested in what each day would bring. Chaplin concluded with the inscription from Hamlet chiseled on the marble sarcophagus:



“Good night, sweet prince, and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.”



As he spoke, Fairbanks’ widow wept as she sat on the marble bench behind the sarcophagus.


Following Chaplin’s eulogy, Rev. Dodd read the memorial rites as Fairbanks copper casket was placed in the sarcophagus and the end was sealed.


In the section reserved for friends and family were the actors nieces: Shirley Burden, Mrs. Henri Chappellet, Mrs. Owen Crump and Leticia Fairbanks.


Other celebrities at the ceremony included Fred Astaire, Joseph Schenck, Randolph Scott, Bull Montana, Ruth Rennick, Richard Barthelmess, Daryl Zanuck and many more friends of Fairbanks.


Following the ceremony the crowd was permitted to file past the marble-columned memorial which faced a tree-lined reflection pool.



Fifty-nine years later, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. was laid to rest along with his father in the sarcophagus.



This photo was taken in the mid 1990s before the Cassity family bought the cemetery and it was in bankruptcy. El Nino ravaged Southern California that year, including the Fairbanks Memorial.


TRIVIA: For years there was a rectangular opening approximately one inch wide on the east side of the sarcophagus in which you could look in and see the top of Fairbanks copper casket. Over the years people tossed coins on top of the casket that remained there until Doug Jr. was interred with his father. Today that opening is still there.




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