Joel McCrea

Few Hollywood stars worked with more great directors and talented co-stars than Joel McCrea. On Wednesday, Jan. 18, Joel’s son Peter McCrea will tell stories of his father’s illustrious career at the Easton Public Library. His talk will be followed by a screening of the classic film comedy that was a turning point in Joel McCrea’s rise to fame: “Sullivan’s Travels.”

Joel McCrea was born and raised in the heart of Hollywood before Sunset and Vine were even paved roads. As a young boy with a paper route, he shared with one of his clients his dream to someday own a ranch. It just so happened that client was William S. Hart, America’s first mega western superstar. The famous movie cowboy told young Joel McCrea he had the same dream as a boy and advised him to go into the movies when he grew up, to make a lot of money so he could buy a ranch of his own, just like Hart did.

As a young man, Joel McCrea decided to follow Hart’s advice and go for an acting career. Within a few years he went from being an extra and a stuntman to winning featured roles in dozens of films, working with legendary directors like Alfred Hitchcock, Howard Hawks, King Vidor and William Wyler. Plenty of work came his way, but Joel McCrea knew that some of the best starring roles he landed were ones that bigger stars rejected or were too busy to play.

Peter McCrea with his father, Joel McCrea, and mother, Frances Dee, who was also a movie star.

“In the beginning, I got several good pictures that my great friend, Gary Cooper didn’t want,” he told his son many years later.

All that changed one day in the early 1940s, when Preston Sturges searched out Joel McCrea at the Paramount Pictures commissary to tell him he’d written the starring role in his next big film, “Sullivan’s Travels,” especially for him. Joel McCrea told Sturges, “They don’t write scripts for me, they write them for Gary Cooper, and if they can’t get him, they use me.” “Not this time,” replied Sturges.

Hollywood star Joel McCrea appears with co-star Veronica Lake on the cover of film magazines from around the world during the release of “Sullivan’s Travels” in 1941.

Who was Preston Sturges? From the mid 1930s to the mid ’40s, Sturges wrote and directed some of the greatest American comedies. Again and again, he charms us with stories that are unpredictable and often surprising. Almost all feature-length movies are structured in three acts. By the end of the first act in Preston Sturges’ films, you’re hard pressed to guess how things will resolve themselves. Sturges loved to present impossible puzzles, then solve them before disbelieving eyes, leaving audiences laughing and amazed!

In “Sullivan’s Travels” Joel McCrea plays a successful low-brow comedy movie director who longs to make an important, serious drama. What happens next? You have to see for yourself, when we present the movie that inspired generations of filmmakers, from Fellini to the Coen brothers, and helped establish Joel McCrea as a major Hollywood star.

Please join us on Wednesday, Jan. 18 at 7 p.m. at the Easton Library for a lively discussion of the life and career of Joel McCrea, led by his son, Peter, followed by “Sullivan’s Travels,” one of the major comedies of the 1940s written and directed by Preston Sturges.

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