It is doubtful if any film actor has ever summed up a long career more modestly, more succinctly or more accurately than Joel McCrea: “I did the best I could without trying too hard.” In view of his having starred in eighty films over a thirty-year period during what is generally regarded as Hollywood’s Golden Age, it is a remarkably modest summation.
His is an extraordinary filmography, one that has seldom been given much attention, possibly because McCrea himself was a man who never sought much attention. If it was his wish to avoid attention, he was successful because he is the most underrated of all the male stars of that Golden Age. His contemporaries—Gary Cooper, Clark Gable, James Stewart, John Wayne, Cary Grant, Spencer Tracy, James Cagney, Henry Fonda, Humphrey Bogart—have all been well assessed.
Hopefully, this biographical essay and comprehensive filmography by author and film historian Tony Thomas will serve to remind us of the significant contributions of Joel McCrea.