More from California

This is the last article from my California trip. Tomorrow I will be on my way to the Telluride Film Festival for more networking.   I will continue to keep you up to date on the progress of Footprints in the Dew and I will also be posting my weekly article.

        Down The Road with the Original Buffalo Dale

Welcome back.   San Bernardino was on my list of stops on this adventure and I didn’t know much about the town except there were a number of Indian legends about the area and during the golden age of film in Hollywood there was a majestic hotel tucked back in the mountains where many of the stars stayed.

There was another interesting place in town I wanted to see that you Will Rogers fans may not know about and that’s the California theater. The theater has one of the two stage curtains that Will owned and which he would send ahead to any theater where he was scheduled to make an appearance. Three days before his fatal plane crash Will had done a benefit for the Red Cross in San Bernardino and after his death no one came to claim the curtain and it has hung there ever since. The curtain itself has what appear to be thousands of small stones glued onto it in a very unusual pattern. Although it is very frail, the curtain continues to be used for most shows because audiences are still eager to see something associated with Will Rogers.

During our visit we stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn which was a great choice. The hotel was an easy stop right off Route 10 and is conveniently located for many of the attractions we went to, the theater, the history museum and Pharoh’s Water Park. We had a beautiful view of the mountains right from outside our spacious room and the hotel offers a business center, free Wi-Fi, a great pool and a hot tub. On a scale of one to five I’d definitely give this one five buffalo.

Another stop on our trip was the town of Ventura which is on the coast just a few miles away. I had been told to check out the Channel Island National Park while I was there because the islands are quite historic. The many small islands which make up the park were once home to early American sheep ranchers and farmers who shipped their goods inland. One of the islands also served as an early day prison where the worst offenders were held. The start of our voyage to experience the islands first hand was Ventura which also happens to be the largest offloading port on the west coast for squid (aka calamari).  The numerous fishing boats in the harbor also bring in red sea urchin,ridgeback prawns, warty sea cucumber and rock crab. The harbor was recently named as one of the top seafood offloading harbors in the nation and trucks line up all day long to pick up seafood that is then shipped around the world.

Tucked in among the fishing boats is the Island Packers Excursions fleet. They are the only state licensed excursion line taking visitors to Santa Cruz Island which I especially wanted to see. The early morning boat ride takes an hour and a half and on the way I saw seals, California sea lions, hundreds of dolphins and migrating whales. Great white sharks are also occasionally seen in these waters. You also pass by several offshore oil rigs which operate 24/7 and are interesting to see in action.

The boat drops you off on a narrow catwalk in the harbor and leaves you on the island until 4:30 in the afternoon so you pack in anything you might want during the day because there are no cafes or other services on Santa Cruz. Time went by way too fast as we hiked through the mountainous center part of the island, explored underwater caves and swam in a protected harbor with seals. On the return trip the seas were rough but the Captain had warned me that this was frequently the case later in the day and it added to our adventure.

When we got back to the harbor we were definitely ready for dinner.  I knew the seafood in the area would be good and the family owned Spinnaker Seafood Broiler was recommended because they buy their fish right off the boats. The restaurant has been run by the same family for several generations and they take great pride in their food. The big thing I hadn’t anticipated was the great price. With no middleman or fuel surcharges to get the product to your table, dinner was unbelievably delicious and cheap. I had everything the captains brought in including a wonderful seafood appetizer and our bill was still only 12 dollars and change per person. A person really needs a full day to explore this peninsula which is called Ventura Harbor Village but unfortunately I just didn’t have it. If you want to know more you need to call the Ventura Chamber of Commerce which I’ve found is always a good way to start a trip to a new place.

Coming next week its Whitey Bulger who was captured in L.A. just days before I got there. Also: it’s called The Big Event and it happens every year in Yukon, OK when buyers come from around the world to bid on premiere registered Angus cattle. Till then I’ll see ya down the road….




The Life of Joel McCrea continued…

This week I am still in California and visiting the McCrea Ranch where I explored Joel’s private office and learned a lot about the early days of Hollywood. I hope that some of the contacts I have made during this trip will pan out and bring me back here soon.

            Down The Road with the Original Buffalo Dale

Welcome back.  Will Rogers had become an important friend and advisor to 27 year old Joel McCrea by the time McCrea bought his own ranch in 1933. He and his wife Frances purchased several hundred acres in an unincorporated area of Ventura County just outside of the town of Moorpark, CA which lay just north of Will’s place in Santa Monica. Joel was seeing Will on a weekly basis when he hired architect John Byers to design his house. He wanted a simple place where he could support himself and his family by running the ranch in case his movie career ever went south.

Throughout the 1930s and 40s Frances made over 50 films including Four Faces West co-starring with Joel.  Like her husband, Frances loved their new ranch and gradually her career took a back seat to her projects there, like lining the driveway with eucalyptus trees and planting a garden. Joel also preferred to be on the ranch, milking the cows before breakfast, taking care of the chickens and working on his haying machine. He grew barley and wheat and the health conscious couple also grew most of their own food.

Nevertheless, Joel continued to work in movies and his starring roles in films like Buffalo Bill, Colorado Territory and Ride The High Country made him a giant in the film industry. Friends like Gary Cooper and Alfred Hitchcock loved Joel’s and Frances’ down to earth characters and visited them at the ranch whenever Joel wasn’t  on location.

The 1960s brought change to the McCrea Ranch when Joel donated a large piece of the ranch for the construction of a new YMCA in Moorpark. He also began selling some outlying parcels of the now very valuable property. The money from these sales along with what he had earned in his film career made him one of the richest actors in Hollywood.

In 1973 he became Chairman of the Board of the Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City and he was also very involved with events at the Will Rogers Museum in Claremore traveling there often. Through the years following his death, Joel continued to think of Will and his love and respect for him was evident in remarks he made at the Will Rogers Museum when he said “I owe everything I have and am to Will Rogers”.

Joel’s last movie was Mustang County with Robert Fuller and Patrick Wayne and it is a little known fact that he always used his own horses in his westerns. Dollar and Sandy were his favorites and they are both buried on the ranch.

Because they never smoked or drank and lived very healthy lifestyles, the later years were very good to both Joel and Frances. His favorite spot on the ranch became the bunkhouse which was full of mementos and awards along with a few old leather chairs where he liked to receive guests. They would visit about the early days of Hollywood and up to the end Joel was always the same friendly, all American guy William Randolph Hearst had met in 1927.

After their deaths both Joel and Frances were cremated and had their ashes scattered on the property where they had been so happy together. Today the eucalyptus trees that Frances planted are 80 years old and 70 feet tall. The house the couple loved sits as it always did and walking around the barns and the bunkhouse you wouldn’t be surprised if Joel came around the corner.

Their story has never before been told to the general public but the McCrea family has donated the ranch to the Conejo Recreation and Park District and a  new Visitors Center will be opening there soon. Check out for the date of the official grand opening.

Next week another Okie connection pops up in Los Angeles. Till then I’ll see ya down the road…


Joel McCrea Ranch

This week my travels in California continue with a visit to the Joel McCrea ranch and a chance to go behind the scenes at this property which is not yet open to the public.What I am learning and the contacts I am making hold great promise for my project.

Down The Road with the Original Buffalo Dale

Welcome back.  In response to many requests this week and next I’ll be bringing you the in-depth story of a man I recently wrote about who despite his huge success in the golden age of film stayed true to his roots, living the simple life of a cowboy whenever he could.

Joel McCrea was born just outside Los Angeles, California on November 5, 1905. His paternal grandfather had been a Calvary officer and a stage coach driver and his mother’s parents were “49ers” who had come to California in a covered wagon. Growing up in a middle class family Joel went to grade school in Hollywood with the children of Louis B Mayer, Cecil B. Demille and Douglas Fairbanks. He got his first real job in 1914 delivering newspapers in the area and many of his customers were the silent screen stars of the time including William S. Hart. By the time he was in his teens McCrea was a strapping 6 feet 2 inches and very handsome.  He also rode horseback very well and started doing double work for actors which led to small acting parts in films. In 1927 while portraying a football player in The Fair Co-Ed he was spotted by William Randolph Hearst who immediately took a liking to him and started telling all his movie friends that Joel personified an All-American boy.

Although he would rather have been on a horse with a rope in his hands working cattle, McCrea’s natural good looks and charm were more and more in demand in the film industry.  The year was 1931 and fame was coming on fast. He was now always in the company of female stars such as Constance Bennett, Gloria Swanson and Joan Crawford but he met his true love when a studio arranged a date with another upcoming star named Frances Dee.  Joel never smoked or drank and in between movies he preferred to be in the country avoiding the Hollywood scene which was something he and Frances had in common. She had been an extra on the Paramount lot before a recent starring role in The Playboy of Paris with Maurice Chevalier made her famous. Then in 1933 when Joel and Frances co-starred in The Silver Cord the two fell madly in love and married on October 20, 1933 in Rye, New York where Frances was on location. Despite the Hollywood trend, their marriage lasted until Joel’s death fifty-seven years later.

Frances was a real perfectionist in her acting and encouraged Joel to take his craft more seriously.  When his new friend Will Rogers recommended Joel for the juvenile lead in Lightnin it was the beginning of a long and successful career. His first big film for MGM was Wells Fargo followed by The Barbary Coast directed by Howard Hawks with Edward G. Robinson and a young Walter Brennan.

During these years Joel and Will Rogers became close friends and the pair rode together regularly on Will’s Santa Monica ranch. In later years after Rogers’ tragic death, Joel would credit Will for encouraging him to buy his own ranch.  Will had told him “You need to get out of this town regularly to get a perspective on it and there’s no better place than the back of a horse herdin’ cows…”

Next week I’ll continue the story of Joel McCrea who always listed his occupation as rancher on his tax return and was proud to show the calluses on his hands to prove it. If you can’t wait to learn more about the ranch go to  Till next week from his ranch I’ll see ya down the road.




Will Rogers Ranch

This post continues my reporting from my trip to LA….

Down The Road with the Original Buffalo Dale

Welcome back.  Every year over 250,000 people visit the Will Rogers Ranch in Santa Monica, CA and during my two day visit there I learned that this includes not only Americans but also folks from every other country around the world who flock to see the home of this famous cowboy from Oklahoma.

In 1928 as Will began working in movies more and more he moved to California and bought 500 acres of land just a mile from the shoreline and right off the soon-to-be-famous Sunset Strip. The first building on the property was a simple one story cabin but before long a second story was added with additional bedrooms for guests. That expansion was followed by the construction of another three bedroom home for the family which is connected to the first building by a patio. This is where Will and his wife Betty started raising their kids.

Will loved all the new gadgets that were invented during his era and he was the first in the area to have both a telephone and central heat for his home. His guests at the ranch were the “who’s who” of his time including film stars, business tycoons and six Presidents (past, present and future) as well as many plain working folks.

Earning $500,000 a year, Will was able to indulge his love of horses and he kept 20-30 head on hand for his guests’ pleasure. Even though he did not play golf, he built a golf course for guests which was clearly visible from the picture window in the living room of his house. Just to the right was a polo field and up the hill on the left was a massive set of barns with an indoor riding arena for use in bad weather.

Will loved to read and soon his personal library was filled with first edition books signed by the authors, including a copy of The Wizard of Oz.  Many of the authors were also frequent guests at the ranch. The main house was decorated with original drawings and bronzes by Charles Russell along with gifts from Frank Phillips and fancy saddles from Leo Carrillo, all of which are still on display today. This collection is the second most valuable in the California parks system, topped only by the treasures in the Hearst Castle.  Recently Leland Wilson, who had acquired every book written about Rogers, donated his entire collection of 2,000 books to the home adding to the spectacular library.

Will died in 1935 and as many of you know he is buried in Claremore on the grounds of the memorial there. But here are a few things you may not have heard about him:

His great grand daughter Jennifer Rogers who is the granddaughter of his youngest son Jimmy was a founding co-director of the Will Rogers Ranch Foundation and today she serves as the Treasurer for the Board. Jennifer travels around the country promoting the Ranch.

Will had two favorite horses, Soapsuds his roping horse who died in 1949 at the age of 32 and Bootlegger, his polo pony who also died in 1949 at the age of 33. Both horses are buried next to their stalls at his California ranch.

Will Rogers Jr. fought in the Battle of the Bulge with General Patton and served as a tank commander.

The famous singing cowboy and actor Roy Rogers named himself after Will.

Next week it’s the Joel McCrea ranch in Moorepark, CA just outside of Los Angeles. The ranch is not open to the public but I got a behind the scenes tour you won’t want to miss. Till then I’ll see ya down the road….