Visiting McCrea Ranch
As a classic film fan I’m constantly exploring the area looking for ties to the Golden Age of Hollywood. A couple of years back I learned of the McCrea Ranch in Thousand Oaks. The longtime home of the star of such hits as Foreign Correspondent and Sullivan’s Travels it’s occasionally open to the public. But Thousand Oaks is a bit far from me and I never seemed to have the opportunity to visit. This year, I resolved to change that and booked tickets for a recent film screening and tour.
Joel McCrea and his wife, the actress Frances Dee, lived in the ranch for several decades. They farmed, raised livestock and generally avoided the Hollywood lifestyle. In fact, Joel McCrea considered himself a rancher (even filing his tax returns as one!) and stated that he acted so that he could continue to pay for his ranch. Joel and Frances were married for 57 years and raised three sons in Thousand Oaks. After their passing the land and home was donated to the Conejo Recreation and Park District.
It truly is an idyllic slice of paradise and it’s no surprise the McCrea’s chose to live here. Peaceful and serene it’s the exact opposite of Hollywood. Which is not to say they avoided all aspects of celebrity. Several stars visited the property and Alfred Hitchcock was a regular guest. In fact, after milking the cows Frances would save buttermilk just for him to come by and drink!
Our visit began in the Visitor’s Center where we were treated to a screening of the little seen One Man’s Journey. A sweet tale it starred Lionel Barrymore as a beloved doctor who could never escape the small town he practiced in. Joel McCrea and Frances Dee both had small supporting roles in the film and after it was over we were treated to a visit by Wyatt McCrea their grandson. He explained the film was chosen for viewing because it was where his grandparent’s fell in love. He spoke fondly of both them and his time spent on the ranch.
After the screening we were given a tour of the various buildings surrounding the visitors center. The McCrea ranch is so large that the actual residence is 1.5 miles away. It’s rarely open for visitors so we had to content ourselves with a few outbuildings.
Since the ranch went directly from the family to the recreation district it’s filled with original objects like the truck Joel bought new in the 1930’s.
And the bunkhouse where he would come to watch sports on television because Frances didn’t allow one in the main house.
In fact, after Joel died Frances moved to the bunkhouse and it’s left just as it was when she was alive.
The McCrea ranch is a true delight. I loved every minute of my visit there and am excited to return. In May there’s going to be a cowboy cookout with a tour of the main house. You can be sure I’m already marking my calendar!