Two actors whose personal lives could not have been more different star in this 1947 thriller, Joel McCrea and Gail Russell.
Joel was born in swanky South Pasadena to a utilities executive. Cecille B. DeMille was on his paper route. At 6’3″ with eyes of blue, Joel made the ladies swoon. He wanted to make movies to earn money for a ranch. In a wink he was signed to MGM.
McCrea is now fondly remembered for starring in Preston Sturgess comedies, Foreign Correspondant, and a slew of westerns. But prior to that his early pre-code parts were pure beefcake– shirtless, even bottomless! Bird of Paradise shot in 1932 is a great example. Island life is authentically recreated when McCrea and co-star Delores del Rio playfully swim in the nude in their private paradise. Check out the lobby card* for a clothed shot of our stars.
Early in his career McCrea became fast friends with fellow ranch lover Will Rogers. Rogers adviced McCrea to invest half of his earnings every year not only to save up to buy a ranch, but to have something to fall back on since “he wasn’t that good an actor”. McCrea took this to heart. He and wife Frances Dee bought up large chunks of real estate in Ventura County. It is now, due to their donation of the land, Thousand Oaks, California.
Gail Russell was signed by Paramount right out of High school. But it wasn’t her idea. It was mom’s. Russell’s mom pushed her to make the studio rounds. Maybe she thought it would bring the horrifically shy child out of her shell, instead it made her life a William Holden rehash.
I was possessed with an agonizing kind of self-consciousness where I felt my insides tightening into a knot, where my face and hands grew clammy, where I couldn’t open my mouth, where I felt impelled to turn and run if I had to meet new people. When my parents had guests, I would run, get under the piano and hide there.” IMDB
A little nip calmed her nerves on the set of her first leading role, The Uninvited. After the movie she suffered a nervous breakdown. But, that’s OK! Let’s not let that get in the way of making money! Back to work. Six movies later, and a truck load of vodka, she starts making movies with John Wayne. Wayne and Russell become friends. Problem is no one buys the friends story.Wayne’s wife Chata shoots a loaded gun at him and names Russell in the divorce proceedings.Paramount drops Russel in 1950 due to ther problems (and probably the Wayne divorce scandal). Russell’s drinking escalates rapidly. Several drunk driving incidents pile up. In one she drives through the window of Jan’s restaurant in Beverly Hills and pins the janitor under the wheels of her car. When she fails to appear in court, officers found her drunk and unconscious at home. Roles dwindled. Sadly, In 1961, she was found dead in her apartment at the age of 36.
Mint. Window Card. The Unseen. 1947.