Who Was Cary Grant?
Can we really ever know what someone is like by watching them on screen? We may feel like we do, but Cary Grant is the perfect example of someone who had a very different public and private persona. The actor was the perfect suave and debonair leading man, starred in some of Hollywood’s most iconic productions and always looked great doing so.
Grant’s daughter and fourth wife released memoirs recently that give us a glimpse into the late actor’s life and reveal that his character was more complex and fallible than we could have ever imagined.
Despite hailing from England, whose inhabitants are often pale-skinned, Cary Grant never appeared in a movie without sporting the perfect tan. His tan did not come out of the makeup kit, and he is actually well known for barely wearing any. It was all his own, and he spent plenty of time in the sun to keep it up.
But just being tan wasn’t enough, Cary Grant maintained his physique as well. In fact, the actor never weighed more than 180 pounds during his entire life. Proving that maintaining his good looks was still a priority even after he left show business.
No Stars to Be Seen
One amusing encounter occurred while Cary Grant and fellow British actor Michael Caine were engaged in conversation outside a Los Angeles hotel. They were approached by a fan who only recognized Caine. The woman went on to tell him that although she had spent two weeks in town, Caine was the only movie star she had seen.
She then addressed Grant and told him that you never get to see the big Hollywood stars. He wholeheartedly agreed and began to laugh.
The Real James Bond
The role of James Bond in 'Dr. No' was actually offered to Cary Grant first, before Sean Connery accepted and played the iconic spy. Grant reportedly believed that he was too old for the part because he was 58 years old at the time.
That is somewhat ironic, because the creator of 007 himself, Ian Fleming, has said that the inspiration for James Bond was, in fact, Cary Grant. He based him on the actor’s roles in 'Notorious', 'To Catch A Thief', and 'North by Northwest', to name just a few.
The Stage as a Second Home
Cary Grant did not have an easy childhood, and he used the stage as an escape from his problems. Although he received a scholarship to attend grammar school, he was kicked out at the age of 13, allegedly for sneaking into the girls’ bathroom. Not long after, he left home to try his luck with a comedy troupe, which played shows both in England and across the pond.
In 1927, he was cast in the Broadway musical 'Golden Dawn'. This was the beginning of his stage career, and led to other parts, which more often than not were critically acclaimed. Four years after his Broadway debut, in 1931, Grant was signed by Paramount Pictures.
A New Name
Cary Grant was born as Archibald Alexander Leach, but when he began at Paramount, the executives had some reservations about the name. One even said to him that, “Archie just doesn’t sound right in America,” prompting the actor to admit that, “It doesn’t sound particularly right in Britain, either.”
The first name he came up with was “Cary Lockwood,” but the higher-ups felt it sounded too much like other stars. While going over a list of names, he stopped on Grant and the rest is tinsel town history. In 1941, Archibald Leach legally changed his name to Cary Grant.
Second Time’s the Charm
No one can dispute the fact that Cary Grant is the epitome of Hollywood success, which makes it even more surprising that the actor failed his very first screen test. He was spotted by a talent scout from Fox Film Corporation in 1928, who was interested in casting him in a movie.
The opportunity, however, fell through after he failed the screen test for having too thick a neck and sporting a bowlegged walk. He may have missed his chance for stardom in the silent movie era, but once talking films became all the rage, he became a great success.
First Time on Screen
Grant’s first movie was a comedy from 1932 titled 'This is the Night'. The film did well and was the first of many hits for the actor. He soon made a name for himself as a good looking and sophisticated leading man in such films as 'Merrily Go to Hell', 'Hot Saturday', and 'Madame Butterfly'.
In 1933, he starred alongside Mae West in the films 'She Done Him Wrong' and 'I’m No Angel'. The starlet took credit for discovering Grant, despite his appearance in several Hollywood movies previously. Unfortunately, Grant went on to face a string of box office flops which put his entire career in jeopardy.
“Most Spectacular Run Ever”
But Grant would not quit, he kept working and eventually, his career took off again, beginning with the comedy 'The Awful Truth', which was released in 1937. The films that followed were all massive hits that ended up being, according to Benjamin Schwartz, a critic for The Atlantic, “the most spectacular run ever for an actor in American pictures.”
Grant went on to star in what are considered two of the greatest comedies of all times, 'Bringing Up Baby' and 'The Philadelphia Story'. He also received critical acclaim and was nominated twice for Best Actor at the Academy Awards, once in 1941 for 'Penny Serenade', and once in 1944 for 'None but the Lonely Heart'.
The War Effort
Although Cary Grant was not a soldier in World War II, he did receive the Kings Medal for Services in the Cause of Freedom. There are rumors that he earned it by spying on both his colleagues and his wife at the time, Barbara Woolworth Hutton.
The Woolworths were one of the wealthiest families around and were suspected of sending aid to the fascists. The actor also gave away all of his earnings from two films to support the British and American war efforts.
Mr. Nice Guy
In all his years on screen, Cary Grant never once portrayed a villain. This was an intentional move by the studio to keep audiences from feeling anything remotely negative about the actor. The only somewhat controversial role that Grant ever took was in Alfred Hitchcock’s film 'Suspicion', from 1941.
In the film, he plays a husband whose wife believes that he is going to murder her but, in the end, he is revealed as innocent. Hitchcock claims that the ending was changed at the direction of the studio in order to maintain Grant’s “heroic” image.
Hitchcock Was a Fan
The actor caught the attention of and soon became one of Alfred Hitchcock’s favorites. The legendary director chose Grant to star in some of his most iconic films including 'North by Northwest', 'Notorius' and 'To Catch a Thief' with Grace Kelly. Although, similarly to Hitchcock, Grant never took home an Oscar for any of his movies.
He also never won a Golden Globe even though he was nominated in the Best Actor category five times in six years. Some people claim that Cary Grant was not the kind of actor that wins an Academy Award due to his effortless style of acting.
A Free Agent
At the time, actors usually worked with one of the big studios for their entire careers, but Grant was so successful by the beginning of the 1940s, that he decided not to renew his contract with Paramount and become a free agent. He then began to hand-pick his own parts and became more and more selective over time.
The first role he picked after leaving Paramount was in the 1946 Hitchcock film North by Northwest with Eva Marie Saint. Grant remained a free agent and worked with whichever studio he chose until his retirement.
Quitting the Biz
In 1966, when Cary Grant was 62, his first and only child was born. It was a girl named Jennifer and after her birth, Grant retired from acting, but he was not just a stay-at-home dad. Grant became a businessman and joined the board of directors for the cosmetics company, Fabergé, which is no longer in business.
Despite some opinions that the appointment was just for show, Grant proved that he had a head for business. He later went on to serve on other boards, such as Hollywood Park, which became Pinnacle Entertainment, and Western Airlines, which merged with Delta in 1987. In 1975, he joined the board director for MGM Studios.
Grant did officially retire after the birth of his daughter, but he unofficially quit appearing in movies more than ten years earlier, in 1952. At that time, he began to believe that his type of acting was old-fashioned and that the method acting being showcased by James Dean and Marlon Brando was the future.
He was also not acting as a form of protest against the shunning of Charlie Chaplin by Hollywood for his liberal point of view. He did agree to appear in 'To Catch A Thief' after Alfred Hitchcock convinced him.
Although the actor semi-retired in 1952, people were still surprised by Grant’s official retirement. Even Alfred Hitchcock could not lure him back this time to star in the movie 'Torn Curtain'. Over the years, many important directors approached Grant and asked to work with him, including Howard Hawks, Billy Wilder, and even Stanley Kubrick, but Grant said no to all of them.
The only time the actor appeared on screen for the remainder of his life was in the audience and backstage in the Elvis Presley concert documentary, 'Elvis: That’s the Way It is'.
His Final Curtain Call
In the final years of his life, Cary Grant toured America including some of his old vaudeville haunts with his one-man show, 'A Conversation with Cary Grant'. He would get up on stage, answer audience questions and screen clips from his films. Sadly, just before one of these performances, in November 1986, Grant suffered a stroke.
He passed away later that night and, per his wishes, his ashes were scattered in the Atlantic Ocean. His daughter, Jennifer, and his wife, Barbara, inherited most of his estate, which was worth between $60 and $80 million. The man was gone, but the legend remained.
Wives One, Two and Three
When Grant passed away, he was married to Barbara Harris, who was his fifth wife. Grant’s first marriage to Virginia Cherrill took place in 1934. She accused him of domestic abuse, and they called it quits. He married one of the richest women in the world, Barbara Hutton, in 1942.
They were married for three years before they separated. Grant’s next marriage was to a fellow actress by the name of Betsy Drake, and the pair actually stayed together for 12 and a half years, which for Hollywood is quite a good run.
Wives Four and Five
The third divorce was probably brought about by Grant’s affair with his 'The Pride and The Passion' and 'Houseboat' costar, Sophia Loren, ironically written by Betsy Drake, his wife at the time. He tied the knot again in 1965 with Dyan Cannon, another actress and the mother of his only child, daughter Jennifer, born in 1966.
The couple split in 1986, but Grant did not give up on love. He continued searching and in 1981, he married his fifth and last wife, Barbara Harris, a hotel public relations agent. They were married until his death in 1986.
A Sixth Proposal
Despite his five marriages and four divorces, there was at least one instance in which Grant proposed and was not accepted. While filming 'The Pride and the Passion', the actor had a love affair with his costar Sophia Loren. He was 30 years older than her and married at the time, and she was in a relationship with producer Carlo Ponti, who was also married.
None of this kept Grant from falling for her and asking her to marry him. Loren said no and later went on to marry Ponti. The spark between them rekindled years later when they were working together on 'Houseboat'.
“Each New Marriage Is More Difficult”
When asked about his marriages, Cary Grant would say this: “It seems that each new marriage is more difficult to survive than the last one,” and also added, “I’m rather a fool for punishment. I keep going back for more, don’t ask me why.”
Although some might say that getting married five times does seem foolish, in the end, it appears that Grant found the right match. His marriage to Barbara Harris which began in 1981, only ended due to the tragic circumstance of his stroke.
A Rocky Start
According to Grant’s friend, Prince Rainer of Monaco, he finally did manage to make it work. Rainer said that in his last marriage, Grant was the happiest he had ever seen him. This happiness was not easily won, it took a lifetime of trial and error.
The 2017 documentary, 'Becoming Cary', includes a segment in which Grant talks about his first marriage and why it was doomed. He says, “I doubt if either of us was relaxed enough to trust what we had,” he recalled. “My possessiveness and fear of losing her brought about the very thing I had feared: the loss of her.”
Dyan Cannon, Cary Grant’s fourth wife, published a memoir about their marriage and life, titled 'Dear Cary'. In the book, she talks about how much she liked Grant when they began dating, but that over time she began to see a dark side to him. She states that he was demanding and controlling, going so far as to ask her to alter her appearance and to give up on her acting career.
Following their divorce, Cannon’s career picked up and despite her ex-husband's criticism, she ended up being nominated for three Academy Awards.
A Different Man
Cannon talks in her book about the changes that took place in Grant’s behavior and attitude towards her following their engagement. She wrote, “He’d started criticizing my appearance and was agitated on our wedding day,” and added, “The following day, my ring finger started to swell up and we had to find a plumber to blowtorch my wedding ring off. If that wasn’t a sign, I don’t know what was.”
That does seem quite telling and makes you wonder if similar personality changes and bad omens occurred with any of his other wives.
A Difficult Pregnancy
Grant and Cannon’s problems did not end once they were married, and additional issues came up when Cannon was pregnant with the couple’s daughter, Jennifer. She talks about the changes in their relationship in her memoir, “By the time I was pregnant, [Grant] had also withdrawn from me physically – which is hard because, before that, we had been all over each other. Things became polite, almost cold, between us.”
Although Grant was ecstatic about being a father and doted on Jennifer, that was still not enough for the couple to make their marriage work.
Always with Him
Although Grant’s marriages didn’t typically last long, he carried the memories of all of his ex-wives with him. There was always a gold chain around his neck which held three charms.
Each one represented the religion of his previous wives: a St. Christopher medallion for Virginia Cherrill who was Roman Catholic, a small cross for Barbara Hutton and Betsy Drake who were Protestants, and a Star of David for Dyan Cannon who was Jewish. The necklace can even be seen in some of his films.
Grant met Barbara Harris when he was on a business trip to London. She was 47 years younger than him and they had a long-distance relationship for several years. In 1978, she finally agreed to move to California to be with him.
They lived together for three years before Grant decided to ask her to marry her, but first, he asked for 15-year-old Jennifer’s permission. The couple had a small wedding on the terrace of their Beverly Hills house and then had lunch inside, which the bride had prepared that morning.
Despite his public persona, Cary Grant was often unhappy and suffered from depression. He tried many experimental therapies to help with his condition and discovered a popular, and at the time legal, psychedelic compound. He claimed that the compound helped him find inner peace and urged Cannon to also partake in order to save their marriage, even though she told him she disliked taking it.
Looking back, she says, “When we split up, I was terribly depressed. I had a breakdown and ended up in a psychiatric hospital – the doctors said it had contributed to my mental state.”
His Road to Stardom
Cary Grant came from humble beginnings. He was born in Bristol, England under the name Archibald Leach. He began performing and moved to the U.S., where he made a name for himself as a performer. It took him a few years, but he eventually went on to become one of Tinseltown's brightest stars. He acted side by side with some of the biggest names in an era that has since become known as the Golden Age of Hollywood.
Despite being nominated, Grant never won an Academy Award for any of his roles, but he did receive an honorary Oscar for his lifetime achievements. Although Grant has the ultimate rags to riches story, his life behind the camera was not exactly a fairytale.
Living in the Past
To the public, the legendary actor always seemed on top of the world, but for Grant, acting was his way to escape the problems that he had faced when he was a child and was still dealing with as an adult. At the age of 31, Grant found out that his mother, whom he believed dead for over twenty years, was actually alive and had been in a psychiatric hospital in England the entire time.
After his third wife, Betsy Drake, broke things off, Grant sought help from a psychiatrist who encouraged him to take recreational drugs. He felt that the drugs were beneficial, and thanks to them, he “went through rebirth” and confronted his issues. The actor even left the doctor who was treating him $10,000 in his will.
Loving but Strict
Cary Grant’s fourth wife is not the only one to have published a book about her time with the actor. His daughter Jennifer, who was with Grant for the last twenty years of his life, also wrote about their relationship in her 2011 memoir, 'Good Stuff: A Reminiscence of My Father'.
She speaks freely about his loving nature but also about his strict stands on certain things, specifically makeup. Grant believed that women should not wear makeup and she recalls that she once got into big trouble when her father found eyeshadow in her room.
Trick or Treat
Jennifer recalls a story that shows just how committed Grant was to being in her life. On one Halloween when she was growing up, her father rented a house in the neighborhood where she was trick-or-treating so that he could see her in her costume and hand her some candy.
She says, "At the time ... I was embarrassed, I think, by the extent of his love and devotion to me. So I just sort of ran up and got the candy and gave him a hug and left. It's moments like that that I look back on — and I regret those moments. I wish I'd just sat down and said, 'Oh, thank you Dad!'"
After Cannon and Grant were divorced, he was dedicated to not missing anything in his daughter’s life. Grant then began meticulously keeping a literal fireproof vault that held photographs, audiotapes, letters and Super 8 films, all carefully labeled.
It was important for him to keep this archive because all of his records were destroyed in the bombings of WWII. He left this collection to his daughter and she believes that it has helped her understand him better as a father.
The Value of Money
Although the rumors claim that Grant was famously cheap, his daughter refutes the claim. She says, “I always found him generous to a fault but he wasn’t reckless with his money, which was rather rare in Hollywood. He’d grown up with nothing and he wasn’t about to fritter it all away".
"His attitude was he knew he could walk into any shop and buy whatever he wanted. He just didn’t have to. That taught me the proper value of money.”
People who worked with Grant, however, tell a different story about his thrifty nature. There was even a rumor that he removed the buttons from his old shirts before getting rid of them. Grant did not deny the rumor.
He actually told the interviewer that he thought it was a good idea to keep the extra buttons around and that he gave the shirts to the maid so that she could polish the furniture without scratches. Stating, “I think it’s a very sensible procedure and should be adopted as a household tip.”
Despite his caution with money, Grant could be surprisingly generous at times. He bought his friends gifts suddenly and unexpectedly, and even gave Cannon a sable coat after their bitter divorce.
He explained that he felt his mean image was undeserved, saying, “I’m sure I have that reputation because I don’t gamble or go to nightclubs or give huge parties, and because I don’t believe in giving gifts at Christmas. I give presents when I feel like it.”
A Tale of Two Muffins
An incident that took place at the Plaza Hotel in New York perfectly exemplifies the duality of Grant’s nature regarding money. He ordered coffee and English muffins sent to his room for breakfast. When the food arrived, there were only three half slices on the plate. Grant could not understand why the menu said muffins in plural if he only received a muffin and a half.
No one knew why, so he eventually called Conrad Hilton in Istanbul only to discover that an efficiency expert had found that most people leave the last half muffin and decided not to serve it. He summarized the experience by saying, “It cost me several hundred dollars in phone calls, but ever since, I have always gotten four slices of muffin at the Plaza.”
Grant did not have an easy time growing up. His father had his mother committed to a psychiatric hospital when he was only nine, due to her manic episodes and severe depression. His father was drinking heavily and made a decision to tell his son that she had passed away.
It was only at the age of 31, two decades later, that Grant found out that his mother was still alive. In the meantime, his father had moved on, married again and started a new family.
Missing Front Tooth
Can you spot what’s wrong with this Hollywood leading man’s smile? It is hard to see, but he only has one front incisor. Apparently, he chipped the other one while playing on the ice as a small child. He didn’t want to get in trouble, so he went by himself to a nearby dental college and they removed the tooth entirely.
His father was none the wiser and over the course of several years, Grant’s other teeth compensated for the loss by shifting and covering the gap. The only person who ever reportedly noticed was a sharp-eyed cinematographer.
The Basis for Superman’s Alter Ego
Cary Grant’s influence on Hollywood cannot be denied, but in one case he gave inspiration not to the hero, but to his bumbling alter ego. Christopher Reeve, who is remembered for his iconic portrayal of Superman, claimed that he based Clark Kent’s behavior on Grant’s goofball character in 'Bringing Up Baby'.
Ironically, when the movie was released, it did not do very well in the box office, but it is now considered a comedy classic.
Rumors abounded that Cary Grant was, in fact, gay or bi-sexual, but neither his daughter nor his fourth wife believed this to be true. Jennifer actually stated that “Perhaps he had what Virginia Woolf described as ‘an androgynous mind’.”
As for her mother’s assertions that Grant had a “dark side”, Jennifer responded that “She was his wife. I was his daughter. The relationships are quite different. It was lovely to read about their romance, but the details of their dissolution were difficult. Sadly, he’s no longer around to give his perspective on their marriage. He never wrote an autobiography.”
Chevy Chase Allegations
Grant seemed glib about the rumors regarding his homosexuality, claiming that they actually helped him pick up women who were interested in proving them wrong. However, he was not happy when comedian Chevy chase implied that he was gay during an interview.
It didn’t seem that Chase made the comment with any real intent and that he was just trying to be funny, but Grant wasn’t laughing and sued the comedian for $10 million! They ended up settling out of court and it is believed that Chase paid him a whopping $1 million for his unfortunate joke.
Cannon and Grant - The Musical
Dyan Cannon, who is now in her eighties, is working on a Broadway musical that she will also star in. She has been writing it for years, and it focuses on insatiable cravings. She explains, “It’s about all the things we need in life until we get them and then think, ‘There’s something else I need…’ All those things that we need in life.”
The play has received the support of Tony Award-winning director, John Doyle, and Cannon has written a special part which is based on the life of Cary Grant.
Cannon sums up the relationship she had with Grant by saying, “As much as I loved him then – and how could I not as he was kind and funny and charming – I’d have to say I’d also fallen in love with his image and expected that image to make me happy, which was impossible.”
Following his death, she stated, “I felt so much love for him. I love him more now than when we were together — I understand him much better.”
Being Cary Grant
Grant was the perfect leading man and offered audiences an escape from their ordinary lives in the movie theater. However, for years he dealt with inner turmoil and his difficult past. It seems that by the end of his life, he had come to terms with his demons and had found some peace, although he never quite bought the dream he was selling.
He said, “I have spent the greater part of my life fluctuating between Archie Leach and Cary Grant, unsure of each, suspecting each.” When an interviewer once told him, "Everybody would like to be Cary Grant", Grant is said to have replied, "So would I."
Still an Icon
Although Grant passed away more than 30 years ago, his status as a movie star has not diminished. He was ranked the #1 Movie Star of All Time by Premiere magazine in 2005. The American Film Institute named him the second Greatest Male Star of All Time of American cinema, after Humphrey Bogart, in 1999.
He was voted the sixth Greatest Movie Star of all time by Entertainment Weekly and was chosen by Empire (UK) magazine as one of the 100 Sexiest Stars in film history.
Commemorated in Art
Grant has also been immortalized in art. A life-sized bronze statue of the actor is on display in his native town of Bristol in Millennium Square. It was unveiled in 2001, by his widow, Barbara Jaynes, to commemorate 70 years since his Hollywood debut.
Grant was also commemorated in the form of street art. Graffiti artist Stewy added him to his library of hand-cut, life-size stencils of British icons and animals, which can be found in the streets of the city of Bristol.