A DAY AT THE RANCH

by Ruth Mundsack

Let me tell you what I did this Saturday…

On any normal Saturday morning I would be sleeping in a bit, but not this Saturday. When Alexa sounded the alarm I had requested Friday night, I got right up very ready to start my day. It was our TCM Backlot Members Meet-Up for a Day at the McCrea Ranch in Thousand Oaks, CA. This is the Ranch and home of Classic Hollywood film stars Joel McCrea and his actress/wife Frances Dee. McCrea bought the Ranch in the 1930’s on the advice of fellow actor Will Rogers in case his acting career didn’t work out. He met and married Frances Dee in1933 not too long after he bought the Ranch. There is where they raised their family of three boys and ran a Ranch with cattle for the 57 years of their marriage. For more information about the McCrea Ranch here is the McCrea Ranch Foundation and their Facebook page.

Today the Ranch is 280 acres that has a bunk house, a Visitors Center, the family home and other smaller structures and sheds for equipment and such. Our day began early as we were all coming from different parts of Southern California to Thousand Oaks. We had Club Members from Palm Springs, San Diego, Orange County, Long Beach and Los Angeles ( #FriendsofTCM Classics of Hollywood ). The Presidents for the Clubs are Craig Ewing ~ Palm Springs Classic Film Club, Julia Castlen ~ San Diego Friends of TCM, Patrick Reynolds and Kathleen Poulos ~ The Reel OC and yours truly ~ Silver Screen LBC-Classic Film Club. When we first started planning, I suggested what would help make this a successful event is if people got together and carpooled. And for the most part, that is what everyone did. We had a head count of 30 people. It was a very fun group who were just as excited as I was for this day, to not only tour the Ranch but to meet fellow like-minded Classic movie lovers like themselves.

I drove up with two of members of Silver Screen LBC – Classic Film Club: Stacey Clifford and Allison Warnock. After a stop at the Starbucks drive-thru we were on the road to the Ranch. With three of us in the car we were able to use the carpool lane and eighty minutes later we were at our exit. We made a stop to pick up our group order of sandwiches for our Picnic from Jersey Mike’s , (which is 10 minutes from the Ranch). We got there 20-mins before our order was scheduled for pick up, so it gave us a moment to stretch. We ran into Patrick Reynolds and a friend putting in a sandwich order for themselves. They joined us for the day. Once our order was ready, we were back in the car and at the Ranch 10-mins later. It was a beautiful, very clear day in LA with a bit of a wind that died down a little later.

It began with lots of hugs from those we knew already, who are #ReelFriends and #ReelFamily and then meeting new people from the different clubs. We milled around the Visitors Center looking at all the memorabilia of the careers of Joel McCrea and Frances Dee. We saw pictures of the working farm and the family both at work and at play.

About 11:15am we went out on the deck where the staff had set up tables and chairs for us to set up and gather for our picnic. We had a wonderful spread of goodies that different Clubs members brought to share. We enjoyed a good lunch in the sunshine, mixing and mingling with each other, the Staff and Wyatt McCrea, Joel’s and Frances’ oldest Grandson and the keeper of the flame. After lunch we gathered in the on-site theater for a Welcome Video that Wyatt McCrea introduced to us. Actor Bruce Boxleitner narrates the video, riding out of frame on horseback as he starts to tell the history of the McCrea Ranch. It was very good and informative. When the video ended Wyatt McCrea had a question and answer period before we headed out for a tour of the Ranch.

We were able to see the newly refurbished Bunkhouse, the Milk house used to milk cows, separate the milk and make butter. They have a work area that holds some of the ranching equipment they used on the Ranch over the years. We got to see where Frances Dee wrote phone numbers down on the wall near the phone, and a few of Joel McCrea’s size 11 boots. The Bunkhouse sits not too far from the road and in his later years Joel would sit out there and wave to people. On occasion, people would stop, and he would invite them for a chat. Wyatt talked about sitting there as a kid listening to his Granddad ‘Potts’ tell stories of his days in Old Hollywood. Joel McCrea grew up in Hollywood before it had a paved road!! He delivered newspapers to DeMille and the likes when he had a paper route at 12 years old.

After the Ranch tour we settled back into the theater and Wyatt introduced the movie THE GREAT MAN’S LADY starring McCrea and Barbara Stanwyck. I really liked the movie and heartily recommend it. Brian Donlevy was also in it; he is the kind of actor who shows up in so many movies and is very versatile.  

  

After the movie, some of the group bought items from the Gift shop that really helps the McCrea Ranch Foundation. Wyatt McCrea signed books for those who purchased them. Before we said our goodbyes, we had a chance for each Club to take a photo with Wyatt and took one Big group photo with the Ranch looking beautiful in the afternoon sunlight. Everything worked out so well with us arriving on time, that we were able to end on time to let our members ~ who came from such a distance ~ get back home in a timely manner driving through LA on a Saturday.


Photo Credit: Carley Michelle Hildebrand


So, with lots of hugs and last-minute pictures with Wyatt under our belt, we packed up the picnic leftovers and hit the road. A fabulous time was had by all and we are excited for our NEXT adventure. I can’t wait to see where we will be going next …. Palm Springs, San Diego, Orange County, Long Beach or Hollywood. I know wherever we are, we will be having a fun-filled Classic Hollywood time together.

 

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