I have been a faithful fan of Cary Grant the actor for over twenty years. In that time I have read every book I could find about him to learn more about the man behind one of the most famous personas in cinematic history.
I have always been interested in biographies. I have read biographies about many of my favorite film stars. Over time, I have realized that I prefer the ones that focus on the individual’s personal background. While it is always interesting to learn about an actor’s career, who he worked with, why he chose certain projects, etc. I prefer it when those facts don’t overwhelm their actual story.
So, having done all the work of reading numerous books about Cary Grant, I am now sharing with you my three of my favorites.
Cary Grant: A Celebration of Style
With this specific title, a foreword by Valentino and an afterword by Michael Kors, one would expect a detailed view of what makes Cary Grant a fashion icon. But this book is so much more than that. Yes, we do get a very specific and well researched look into Grant’s personal style. Grant learned early how to hide his perceived flaws. He knew how to manipulate his wardrobe to present himself at his best. Here we learn fascinating details such as how Grant had his wardrobe tailored to hide his wide neck. Or how he practiced standing with his hands in his pockets to find the most flattering stance so that his pockets would never bulge. This dissects the ingredients of his personal appearance, from the change in his hair part, to his exacting standards for his wardrobe even to the point of returning his handmade shirts to his tailor in Asia if the cuff measurements were off by even 1/8th of an inch. Though he believed in investing in a well made wardrobe he was also fastidious enough in its’ care to make it last for years.
But Celebration of Style goes well beyond the dissection of Grant’s wardrobe. It also delves deeply into the creation of Grant’s public persona. Have you ever wondered how a troubled boy from a broken home in Bristol England became a man known world wide for his glamour, sophistication and wit? This book answers that question. It identifies Grant’s deliberate and disciplined approach to creating his image. While not often discussed he was an autodidact who deliberately pursued self-education in many forms. He was highly observant and mimicked the manners, speech and habits of the upper class company he found himself in. Through sheer determination, rigid self-discipline and practice Grant transformed himself in a way that few people ever have. Overall, this book is not just a glimpse but a fascinating study of the creation of Grant’s public image and one which I highly recommend.
Evenings with Cary Grant -Recollections in His Own Words and by Those Who Knew Him Best
This book is laid out in the familiar biography format, starting with Grant’s early life and following a linear time line of his career. But it is better than most biographies because it is riddled with quotes from Grant himself as well as those who knew him personally. Reading this book feels a lot like sitting around the table and conversing with friends. Many of the facts listed in the book are corroborated by personal statements which add emotions to otherwise lifeless facts. It also adds life and color to details many fans are already familiar with. I actually learned a few new things about Grant which I never knew before including his romance with Phyllis Brooks. Other amusing anecdotes include a party he co-hosted with James Stewart, his friendship with Frederique Jordan (wife of Louis) and his dedicated letter writing skills. Evenings with Cary Grant is one of the most human biographies I have ever read. It must have taken much time to collect quotes and memories from all those who personally knew Grant. And it is obvious the author did a thorough job as there are over seventeen pages listing the names of those quoted. These are not limited to Grant’s film career, but also include those who were part of his personal life, his business dealings as well as people he met while out and about. It certainly adds an authenticity to the story of Cary Grant.
Good Stuff: A Reminiscence of My Father, Cary Grant
According to Cary Grant one of the roles he always longed to play was that of father. It is one he waited a long time to fill. With the birth of his only child Jennifer, he finally got that chance.
Unlike books written by the children of other classic film celebrities (i.e. Bette Davis and Joan Crawford), Jennifer’s memories of her father are more loving and golden. She was born towards the end of her father’s career. Grant was also very careful to shield her from his own celebrity. Thus her memories paint a picture of the man that very few knew, the private Cary Grant. While he did have outside commitments and interests, this is a glimpse into Grant, the family man. Jennifer shares his impressions of his personal history as well as his deliberate actions to save mementos of hers. Included, are personal photos and little notes he sent her over the years. We are also privy to his relationship with his last wife Barbara Harris. Jennifer doesn’t shy away from the more exacting traits of her father’s character. But overall it is clear that Jennifer and Grant were the loves of each others lives.