Cary Grant is my all time favorite actor as well as being both a film and style icon. I’m a bit embarrassed that as an obsessive fan, he was not the first actor in my Introduction Series. So, this one may be a quite a bit longer than my usual actor introductions.
Archibald Leach was born in 1904 in Bristol England to an alcoholic father and an over-protective but emotionally detached mother. He was an only child whose parents were working class, but his mother nurtured his fascination for theater and performance while his father impressed on him the value of quality apparel. At nine years old, his mother just disappeared from his life with no explanation. His father finally told Archie that she had died. Only years later in his middle age, did he learn that his mother had been committed to a mental institution.
As a young teenager he dropped out of school and joined an acrobatic travelling team which toured around England. Eventually he went with the troupe to tour in America where he took many odd jobs, but continued to hone his performance skills. It was during this time, that he began to craft the persona of Cary Grant for which he would later become famous.
Still Archie Leach, he began studying the mannerisms, speech, posture and other attributes of the cultured, educated crowd he wanted to mimic. He also began to practice his speech, dropping the English accent he was born with and developing what would be come known as a transatlantic accent which was cultured, but untraceable to any particular place. After ten years of this type of work, he moved into films in 1932 where he changed his name to Cary Grant and ultimately had a very successful career until his retirement in 1966.
Grant was married five times. His second wife was incredibly wealthy and an heiress of the Woolworth fortune. Three of his wives were actresses. His longest marriage was to his third wife Betsy Drake, an actress, who introduced him to the use of LSD as a way to deal with emotional issues and as an alternative of sorts to psychotherapy. Grant’s only child and daughter was born to during his fourth marriage to actress Dyan Cannon. Grant had other relationships, but the only significant love affair outside of his marriages was with actress and Italian bombshell Sophia Loren. They carried on a passionate affair, he fell in love with her and continued to pursue her even after she chose another man.
Grant was not only popular in films, but also in his personal life. He was well-respected and had many good friends from a wide spectrum not limited to the film industry. Counted among his friends were business associates, journalists, fashion designers, musicians and others. Some of his close friends throughout his life were names like Frank Sinatra, Jimmy Stewart, Grace Kelly and Prince Rainier, Ingrid Bergman and Gregory Peck. He was known and admired by people like Howard Hughes, Merv Griffin, Ralph Lauren, Kirk Kerkorian (one-time owner of MGM) George Barrrie (founder of Faberge), William Randolph Hearst Jr., Quincy Jones and others. It is said that he was a very generous actor and person. Grant was thoughtful to write down things about people he noticed or that they had done for him and send a note of thanks or appreciation later. When he finally learned the truth about his mother’s whereabouts, he took care of her for the rest of her life and made an effort to travel to England to visit her regularly.
Even without his earnings from his film career Cary Grant was one of the wealthiest men in Hollywood and an astute business man.
“Before computers went into general release, Cary had one in his brain” -David Niven
After retiring from film, he enjoyed time with his daughter Jennifer. He also took a position on the board of directors at Faberge, as well as MGM and a few other companies. He continued to be offered numerous film roles, but never returned to the big screen. He finally passed away at the age of 82 from a stroke, but still remains a well-loved and popular figure.
After his early years working in various live performance outlets, Cary Grant was offered work and a contract with Paramount Pictures. His early pictures show the making of his Cary Grant persona, but still lack that depth he would later develop. Many of these early roles were in dramatic films, but still showcased him as a sophisticated, wealthy man, often playboy, with few responsibilities. Actress and queen of the double entendre, Mae West claimed to have discovered Cary Grant and featured him in two of her films. They were so successful that they saved Paramount from bankruptcy After over twenty films in a period of four years his contract ended and he became one of the first freelance actors of the studio period. This is a pretty amazing accomplishment in an era where the studios owned everything from their talent (actors, directors, writers etc.) to the movie theaters themselves. If you weren’t under contract and promoted by a studio, you didn’t make it in Hollywood.
Cary Grant eventually segued into romantic and screwball comedies where he really found his niche and excelled. Even though, he was a popular actor many of his films were not financially successful, yet he continued to grow in demand. His transition to comedy genres greatly helped with this growth and he continued to make mainly comedies up until WWII. After the war, Grant made more drama films than comedies and he was a rare actor who excelled at both. Grant was so popular that he often got first choice of new scripts before they were offered to anyone else. He voluntarily turned down many excellent roles which lead to the success of the actors who did end up playing those parts .
“There are actors in this town who made important careers for a long, long period just by taking the parts that Cary Grant turned down.” -Louis Jordan
Altogether Cary Grant made a total of 72 feature films, in various genres. He was successful in most, except for his two roles in historical dramas. He became a leading man early in his career and remained one until the end , despite continuing to age. He never played a villain on film, although in Suspicion, one of his films with Alfred Hitchock, Hitch wanted his character to be revealed as one. But upon playing the film for test audiences, the ending had to be changed, because they would not accept Grant as anything other than a romantic leading man and hero.
Grant was twice nominated for an Oscar, both times for dramatic parts. He lost both times and was greatly disappointed. However, the Academy did eventually give him an honorary Oscar towards the end of his life which was presented to him by good friend Frank Sinatra.
Cary Grant is widely believed by many in the film industry to be one of the greatest actors ever to appear on screen. He regularly graces the top of many favorites lists. The American Film Institute has him and his films at the top of many of their lists, including, naming him as the second greatest male star of classic film after Humphrey Bogart. Grant also leads all actors in their list of the top 100 U. S. love stories with six romantic films.
Grant’s own words – “Mostly, we have manufactured ladies— with the exception of Ingrid Bergman, Grace Kelly, Deborah Kerr and Audrey Hepburn.”
“Grace Kelly is possibly the finest actress I’ve ever worked with” even though they only made one film together.
Katharine Hepburn -Grant and this Hepburn made four total films together, several of which are considered comedy classics, but were unsuccessful at the time. Over five years they appeared together in Sylvia Scarlett, Holiday, Bringing Up Baby and The Philadelphia Story. Grant on Katharine Hepburn -“She was this slip of a woman and I never liked skinny women. But she had this thing, this air you might call it, the most totally magnetic woman I’d ever seen, and probably ever seen since. You had to look at her, you had to listen to her; there was no escaping her.”
Irene Dunne -Another beloved co-star pairing, Dunne and Grant made three films together, The Awful Truth, My Favorite Wife and Penny Serenade. The Awful Truth is considered an excellent and favorite example of screwball comedy. Penny Serenade is a drama for which Grant was nominated and lost an Academy Award. Grant on Dunne – “Her timing was marvelous. She was so good that she made comedy look easy. If she’d made it look as difficult as it really is, she would have won her Oscar. ”
Deborah Kerr -Kerr is most well known for her role opposite Grant in An Affair to Remember. But they also made two other films together including, Dream Wife and The Grass is Greener.
Ingrid Bergman -Another popular co-star, Bergman and Grant made two films together, including famous Hitchcock film Notorious and Grant’s personal favorite, Indiscreet. Bergman was basically exiled from Hollywood and the U.S. after a very public affair which ended her marriage. Grant remained her loyal friend and always spoke in her defense. When she won an Oscar for her role in the film Anastasia, Grant accepted it on her behalf.
The Philadelphia Story (1940) -originally a stage play specifically written for and starring Katharine Hepburn. Hepburn is a young heiress on the cusp of marriage with three suitors, including her fiance, her ex-husband and a tabloid reporter. Nominated for six Oscars, it won two, including a supporting actor win for James Stewart.
The Bishop’s Wife (1947) -this popular holiday classic stars Grant as an angel who appears as an answer to the prayer of a bishop who needs both personal and professional help. It was the basis for the remake The Preacher’s Wife which starred Denzel Washington and Whitney Houston.
To Catch a Thief (1955) -an Alfred Hitchcock film and Grant’s only collaboration with Grace Kelly. Set in Monte Carlo, Grant is a retired jewel thief under suspicion thanks to a copycat thief. Kelly is an heiress wise to his identity who pursues him relentlessly. Grant had announced his retirement from film due to the belief that he was getting too old to play romantic leads. Hitchcock lured him back and he continued acting for many more years.
An Affair to Remember (1957) – who hasn’t heard of this love story about two people who meet, separate and agree to meet at the top of the Empire State Building in six months? It’s referenced in many films, including Sleepless in Seattle. Affair was almost and exact remake of an earlier film called Love Affair. It was then remade again in the nineties with the title Love Affair and starred Warren Beatty and Annette Bening.
North by Northwest (1959) -another popular Hitchcock and Grant film, this one features the iconic image of Grant in a grey suit being chased by a crop duster in an empty field. Grant plays a man mistaken for a double agent.
MY FAVORITE FILMS
Having seen all but three of his 72 films, it’s hard to narrow down my favorites, but I generally prefer his comedies since that has always been my favorite genre. I have kept this as short as possible and it is in no way a full list.
Topper (1937) -No matter how many times I watch this, it always makes me giggle. Grant is one half of a ghost couple who must perform a good deed to get to Heaven. His wife picks their former uptight banker and they end up completely disrupting his life. This one had some pretty good special effects for its’ time. It was one of Grant’s big comedic breakthrough films.
Bringing Up Baby (1938) -my very first introduction to classic film which gave me a lifelong love of Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn and screwball comedies. Hepburn is a wacky heiress who railroads Grant’s shy, nerdy character into helping her deliver a tame pet leopard to her grandmother.
The Philadelphia Story (1940) – another favorite, thanks to the pairing of Grant and Hepburn and the addition of James Stewart. What’s not to love. There is a great scene between Grant and Stewart where the latter is drunk. It was completely ad-libbed and just brilliant.
Arsenic and Old Lace (1944) –another hilarious Grant comedy about potential insanity. He plays a character who discovers that his beloved aunts are killing lonely old men and burying them in the basement. Meanwhile his uncle believes he is Teddy Roosevelt and his criminal brother has returned unexpectedly with a face transplant.
Charade (1963) -Grant co-stars with Audrey Hepburn about a woman whose husband is murdered and then finds herself being followed by several of his former colleagues who are looking for the fortune he stole from them. Set in Paris, Audrey is gorgeously dressed by Givenchy. It’s just fun and charming.
EXTRAs -I have read numerous books about Cary Grant. These are my favorites and give a good picture of who Cary Grant was not just in his career but also in his personal life; Good Stuff by daughter Jennifer Grant, Evenings with Cary Grant -Recollections in His Own Words by Those Who Knew Him Best and Cary Grant – A Celebration of Style -literally an entire book on why and how Grant is a style icon. Giorgio Armani is a co-author.
Did you Know? Ian Fleming modeled his famous James Bond character on Cary Grant and Christopher Reeve used him as the inspiration for his portrayal of Clark Kent in Superman.
“Everybody wants to be Cary Grant. Even I want to be Cary Grant.”
“My screen persona is a combination of Jack Buchanan, Noël Coward and Rex Harrison. I pretended to be somebody I wanted to be, and, finally, I became that person. Or he became me.”
“I’ve often been accused by critics of being myself on-screen. But being oneself is more difficult than you’d suppose.”
“Actors today try to avoid comedy because if you write a comedy that’s not a success, the lack of success is immediately apparent because the audience is not laughing. A comedy is a big risk.”
“The secret of comedy is doing it naturally under the most difficult circumstances. And film comedy is the most difficult of all.”
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