Western Legends Roundup in Kanab, Utah Part I
Who could have ever predicted that when I watched and admired the famous actor Joel McCrea on the big movie screen many years ago, that I would someday meet and chat with his handsome grandson, Wyatt McCrea? Not me, that’s for sure! But, that was exactly what we did at the 12th annual Western Legends Roundup held in Kanab, Utah, from Aug. 25-28.
Every movie, radio and early television fan remembers and loved actor Joel McCrea for the classy gentleman he was, both on and off screen. And Wyatt McCrea is the perfect person to represent his grandfather and his career at events like the Western Legends Roundup. He loves to brag that his grandparents were married for 57 years, an uncommon Hollywood statistic.
Older than McCrea, Will Rogers, (who called him “Joe”) was one of his grandfather’s best friends. He suggested Joel save his money for a California ranch, investing in California land when he could afford to do so with the wages he earned acting. He took that sound advice and early on, was a multi-millionaire and community benefactor. The McCrea family and the Rogers family are friends to this day.
Joel McCrea’s grandparents were early California pioneers. He wasn’t only an “on-the-screen” cowboy. He was a real cowboy with all the hard work, sweat and love of the animals that it entailed. On their family ranch that he and his former-actress wife, Frances Dee built, all of their three sons learned to be working ranch hands at an early age. She also loved ranching and gave up her film career to be a wife and mother to the boys.
McCrea was a tall, handsome man who started his film career working as an extra in early Hollywood before getting his big break playing the lead role. During his career he made 80 films. He played all kinds of parts but, after making a western, McCrea decided that was his favorite part to play. Historically true westerns are what he is remembered for. Films like “Union Pacific” (1939) with Barbara Stanwyck, “Buffalo Bill” (1944) with Maureen O’Hara, “The Virginian” (1946), “Ramrod” (1947) with Veronica Lake, “The Outriders” (1950) with Arlene Dahl, “Cattle Drive” (1951) with Dean Stockwell, and “Trooper Hook” (1957) with Barbara Stanwyck were classic McCrea films.
From 1950-52, he had a 30-minute radio show, sponsored by Wheaties called, “Tales of the Texas Rangers.” The Texas Rangers in history consisted of 50 lawmen covering 260,000 square miles of Texas land. He was Ranger Jace Pearson and his horse was named Charcoal. The show went on TV from 1955-57 where he played the same part. It was described as a western version of “Dragnet” because of the style of dialog.
Joel McCrea’s final movie was “Ride the High Country” (1962) with Randolph Scott. There is a story saying that, after reading the script about aging cowboys, Randolph Scott and Joel McCrea tossed a coin to decide who would play which part and who would get top billing. (Randolph Scott also retired after making this movie).
McCrea made one more film. In 1976, he filmed an acclaimed, award-winning, documentary called “The American Cowboy.” Who better to describe the American West than Joel McCrea?
Kanab is a Paiute Indian word meaning “The Place of the Willows.”
Kanab, Utah, was aptly named “The Hollywood of the West.” Although at the present time, westerns are considered “out of style” and not made there, it is the perfect place to hold a Western Legends Roundup. From the days when Tom Mix filmed “Deadwood Coach” in 1924 to TV shows “The Lone Ranger,” “Gunsmoke,” and “Death Valley Days,” Kanab has earned its own place in cinema history.
In the next article, we will tell you about the three Parry Brothers who brought Hollywood to their town and how they did it. We will tell you about some of the other stars who were there: James Drury (“The Virginian”), Clint Walker (“Cheyenne”), Peter Brown (“The Lawman”), Lee Meriwether (“Barnaby Jones”), Bridget Hanley (“Seven Brides for Seven Brothers”), Ed Faulkner (“McClintock” and other John Wayne movies), William Wellman Jr., Cheryl Rogers, the daughter of Roy Rogers, and stuntmen and actors from the T.V. mini-series “High Chaparral.”