An Interview with Peter McCrea
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A friend sent me a newspaper article1 that said the McCrea ranch would be available for touring.

Yes, the ranch will be a 300-acre public park, but I'm not sure what the schedule is going to be. It's not open yet — their budget was reduced by the state — they were going to fix up the property and do quite a bit of work, so it may be some time.

I've seen pictures of dogs around the ranch. Were there family pets?

Yes, both Mom and Pop were absolutely nuts about animals. And animals loved them. Mom hadn't grown up with any animals. Pop had a burro and a dog and a cat as a young boy. He bought his first horse when he was in high school. He was an unbelievable horseman. Pop had horses in his blood from day one, and Mom loved to ride too.

Frances Dee and Joel McCrea on their ranch, circa 1937.
This photograph of Frances and Joel on their ranch in 1937 was their favorite of themselves.

At one time on the ranch, we had twenty-six cats. In those days, people would see a ranch and if they couldn't keep their cat they wouldn't always take them to the pound. They would just drop them off at the ranch figuring they would be taken care of, and they were. We had six stray females and they all had kittens...tons of cats! We had as many as nine dogs at one time...rescue dogs. Mom and Pop liked rescue dogs or dogs that were given to them, so there were a lot of mutts running around.

They had a monkey too. I've forgotten how it happened, but Mom got this spider monkey, and the monkey just loved Pop. All animals loved Pop. When I was born, the monkey was jealous of me. So they took him to a local zoo, which was a very nice place. They put the monkey in the cage with a whole bunch of other monkeys; he was playing around and was quite happy. They went into the office to sign some paperwork, and when they came out to get in the car the monkey was reaching through the cage with his arms out, calling to Pop. It broke his heart; he couldn't give him away. So they took him back. They tried to keep him away from me, but he would get jealous and they were afraid he'd bite me. Eventually a friend took him and the monkey was happy with him.

Did the monkey have a name?

Chico. That monkey was probably the most exotic animal they had. Then they had goats, which would roam wild on the ranch. Part of the ranch has some high cliffs, and the goats used to live up in the rocks. My brother Jody, one time when he was little, was up there with the goats in the rocks, and the Billy goat started pushing him toward the edge of the cliff. Pop was way down below and he saw this happening, and Jody was wrestling with the Billy goat and finally got away. Pop thought, "We've got to give away that Billy goat." The next day, Pop rounded up the goats and brought them into the corral. Then he went into the house to have lunch. When he came out, Jody was sitting in the corral with the goats. He was crying and wiping his tears with the Billy goat's ears. So Pop said, "Well, we can't give away the Billy goat now."

Continue to the next page of the interview.

FOOTNOTES

1 The article — titled "Hollywood couple gives much to Ventura County" — was published in the Moorpark Acorn on January 20, 2006, and can be seen at their web site.

Photograph of the McCreas is from the collection of David Guss, and is used with permission.

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