July 13: Added a 'Trivia' section with fascinating facts and rumours on Cary Grant. Just added details of his own personal favourite list of his movies, the original ending of 'Suspicion', the mystery of Cary Grant's mother's disappearance; why he was circumcised; details of the death of his brother, John, four years before his birth; Deborah Kerr quote; one of the last visits to Bristol; his thoughts on death; and his death. Read more here.
In 2004 Cary Grant, one of Hollywood's most celebrated actors, would have been 100. To mark his anniversary, May's Cannes Film Festival momentarily turned the full force of its flashbulb-popping attention on the icon at the premiere of a new feature-length documentary about his eventful life and career.
'If someone can't find anything bad to say about you, you are a tightwad or a homosexual.' - Cary Grant
'Do your job and demand your compensation - but in that order’ ~ Cary Grant
Name: Cary Grant
Birth name: Archibald Alec Leach
Born: 18 January 1904
Birth place: Horfield, Bristol, England, UK
Height: 6' 1½" (1.87 m)
Barbara Harris (11 April 1981 - 29 November 1986) (his death) Dyan Cannon (22 July 1965 - 21 March 1968) (divorced) 1 daughter Betsy Drake (25 December 1949 - 14 August 1962) (divorced) Barbara Hutton (8 July 1942 - 30 August 1945) (divorced) Virginia Cherrill (10 February 1934 - 26 March 1935) (divorced)
Died: 29 November 1986,
Davenport, Iowa, USA
Cause of death: Stroke
Buried: Ashes scattered in California, USA
But it is also spiced up with references to Grant's extraordinary marital record - he had five wives - and speculation about whether or not he was bisexual. Bizarrely, between marriages, he spurned his own bachelor home and chose to live instead with a rugged actor named
Randolph Scott, prompting inevitable rumours.
The premiere's guest of honour was Grant's widow Barbara. Grant died in 1986 and there was a period when she had difficulty coping with hearing his voice, let alone seeing his movies, but she has overcome the loss. She says:
'Then, it was just too sad for me. But it's wonderful that he's on screen again - it means he will live on through celluloid. And these days, I'm just very happy to see him.'
After his death at the age of 82, Barbara found she couldn't even bear to remain in the Los Angeles bachelor house that became the couple's marital home. 'I moved out for a time to readjust to a life suddenly without him, but I've returned again. Cary bought it in 1946, but I think some of his wives didn't think it was quite grand enough. So, whenever he got married, he'd go and live somewhere else with them to try and keep them happy.'
Barbara was born in East Africa, attending an English boarding school from the age of ten. She met Grant
in 1976 when she was head of public relations for the Royal Lancaster Hotel in west London. He stayed there on visits to London as a director of Faberge. She was 28 and he was 75. 'We liked each other from the start,' she says, 'but for two years we were just great friends. I never envisaged having any other kind of relationship with him, but because he was such an extraordinary individual, regardless of the 47-year-age gap, I couldn't stop falling in love with him. even though I knew that our time together would probaly be limited, the quality of it was extraordinarily important to me and I wouldn't have changed it for the world.
'At the beginning, when we were just friends,' she says, 'Cary would call from the U.S. to tell me he was coming over, and I would take him down to see his relatives in Bristol and to see my parents. He would come in my Mini. He would be sitting with his knees up to his nose because he was so tall. I instantly liked him as a person. We used to have great fun just talking and laughing. He would ask me for more personal details about my life. I had a boyfriend and he used to tease me about him.'
Two years after they first met, Grant was invited to Princess Caroline's wedding in Monaco. 'Gregory Peck and his family, the Sinatras - everyone was there, and they were all at a famous restaurant called La Chaumiere up in the hills,' says Barbara. 'One of them said to
Cary, "You're all by yourself. Isn't there anyone you'd like to have here?" and he said, "Yes, there is, but she won't have anything to do with me." And that was sort of true because, although I did enjoy his company immensely, he was so much older than me.
'But his friends persuaded him to call me to see if I would agree to join him in France. He was convinced I wouldn't want to, but I agreed to give it a try.
'At first I wasn't sure and hesitated, and then I suddenly decided, "Yes, I'd love to come over." It was then that the whole relationship started for us. We stayed in a lovely hotel and I spent a lot of time in Gregory Peck's house while Cary was at the wedding. Afterwards, he hurried back to be with me.'
Although Barbara found herself surrounded by the cream of Hollywood who had arrived for the royal wedding, it appears she wasn't fazed by any of it. 'It doesn't matter what field they're in,' she says, 'you either like people or you don't. I've always been far more interested in the person than I was in the name. Both with Cary and anyone else I met.'
Even when Grant decided he wanted Barbara to go over to Los Angeles to see if she would like to live there with him, she went for three weeks to test the water. 'He showed me everything, introduced me to all his friends, and by then I was absolutely caught. I moved to the U.S. to be
with Cary.' The couple married in 1981. Grant was 77
and Barbara was 30.
Before proposing, Grant decided to visit his daughter, Jennifer, whom he'd had with his fourth wife
Dyan Cannon. Jennifer was still at school and Grant wanted to find out how she would feel about him marying Barbara. 'Apparently, Jennifer burst into tears,'
says Barbara. 'To begin with Cary thought she was upset, but, to his relief, it was tears of joy.' She later learned Jennifer was hugely relieved that her father had at last found someone he could be happy with. Two weeks after he visited his daughter, Cary proposed. 'He did actually go down on his knee,' says Barbara, laughing
at the recollection.
The closer Barbara came to Grant, the less important the age difference became. She says:
'I often thought about it before I ever went to America. But I wouldn't have gone if I didn't think I could manage the situation,' I became less aware of it the more I got to know Cary, because he had such an inquisitive mind and was interested in everything. He was wonderfully fit and had a great physique. He looked better than an awful lot of people I knew who were 30 years his junior.'
In contrast to Barbara's experiences, some stars in the new documentary claim it was hard to get beyond the
Cary Grant image - and he was certainly protective of the persona he created that charmed cinema audiences. He rarely gave interviews and avoided chat shows.
It is said Ian Fleming modelled the James Bond character with Grant in mind, but Grant turned down the flattering role.
Yet Barbara says, 'For me he was so open. He would talk about himself, about anything. I thought he was very easy to get to know.'
But Grant did put an extraordinary distance between his Hollywood status and poor childhood.
He was born Archibald Leach in 1904
to Elias Leach, who earned his money pressing suits and progressed too slowly to satisy his wife Elsie's dreams. The family was trying to make a living in what was then the slums of Bristol; Elsie suffered a mental breakdown in 1914 and, when she suddenly vanished, her son was told she had gone on holiday. His father decided it was better to have his nine-year-old son believe he had been abandoned that know his mother was committed to a mental asylum. At 16, after being expelled from school, he joined a comedy troupe travelling across Britain. This was where he learned pantomine and pratfalls, and the brilliant comic timing he was to call on for his lighter film roles.
After the troupe did a stint in the U.S., Grant decided to stay on. 'It was very tough, he had hardly any money at all. He would do anything from stilt-walking to selling ties on street corners,' says Barbara. He performed in theatres until landing a studio contract
with Paramount, taking the first name Cary from a character he played in a Broadway stage play and his surname from a list of studio suggestions.
Almost immediately he won major roles alongside Hollywood's most glamourous leading ladies, including Carole Lombard and Marlene Dietrich. It didn't take long for Mae West to spot him and cast him as her love interest in She Done Him Wrong. Off screen, he wed actress Virginia Cherrill in 1934 after a whirlwind romance - but they were divorced after less than a year, with Grant returning to the Malibu beach house he had previously been shaing with handsome Western star Randolph Scott.
But the camera still loved him and he went on to co-star with Deborah Kerr, Ginger Rogers, Doris Day, Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly and Sophia Loren. In the late 1930s he was even reunited with his mother, having discovered she was still living in the same institution she had been taken to following her breakdown. Relations were strained between mother and son - despite his fame she didn't know him, but he supported her for the rest of her life.
Grant's second marriage was to Woolworth heiress Barbara Hutton; it only lasted three years. She wanted Grant to be constantly by her side and hated it when he went off filming. He left without taking a penny of her fortune.
In the documentary, it is third wife Betsy Drake who alludes to the rumours about Grant
and Randolph Scott. In it, she says, 'For goodness sake why would I believe Cary was homosexual when we busy enjoying sex?' But she goes on to say, 'Maybe he was bisexual. He lived 43 years before he met me. I don't know what he did.'
Barbara will have none of it. 'People were saying, "Oh, my goodness, there must be something going on between the two men." It wasn't the case at all. The house was known to have women going in and out like running water. Once a rumour starts it is just perpetuated. As Cary would say, "If someone can't find anything bad to say about you, you are a tightwad or a homosexual."'
What is certainly true is that Grant and Scott were rarely
alone - the house they shared was also occupied by Scott's wife, to whom he was married for 43 years before his death in 1987. In 1965, Grant married Dyan Cannon, becoming
a father at the age of 62 with the birth of Jennifer. Barbara says:
'I think Cary had wanted children beforehand. Part of the reason he didn't have them, he said, was his own selfishness. He was too involved with his own career. But Jennifer meant the world to him.'
Barbara, in marked contrast, says she and Grant often wished they could have had more time together. Now 52, one of her biggest regrets was that she never had a child of her own. 'We did talk about it and we were trying to have a baby. In fact, when he died, that very month we thought that I was pregnant. But if I was, I lost the baby.'
She has never forgotten the day Grant died. She was travelling with him on one of his lecture tours. 'During a rehearsal I noticed that he was becoming a little bit confused, and that wasn't like him. He called me up on to the stage and asked me to stay with him. Then he said he really wanted to go and just rest, and walked off into the dressing room area It was at that stage that I realised there was something seriously wrong. We called for an ambulance. At the hospital they said he was having a massive stroke. He could have died in his bed at home, he could have died anywhere. But he was on the road and at least he was doing something that he loved to do.'
On his death, Barbara inherited his house and shares with his daughter the multi-million-pound fortune he left behind.
(Barbara's share was about £30 million). She remarried in 2001, to American businessman David Jaynes. 'Cary made me listen to him. He used to sit me down and say, "I'm not going to be here for all your life and when I'm not here, I want you to marry. I want you to love again and I want you to be very happy." Wasn't that the most generous thing in the world?'
Cary Grant: A Class Apart, is out now on DVD, on Warner Home Video as part of the Cary Grant Signature Collecton box set, which includes Night and Day, Destination Tokyo, Arsenic and Old Lace and North by Northwest
Cary Grant was born Archibald Alexander Leach on Sunday, 18 January 1904 at 15 Hughenden Road, Horsfield, in Bristol. He was born in the early hours of one of the coldest mornings of the year. Like most babies of that time, he was delivered at home in his parents' bedroom.
Grant's parents first child, John, had died four years earlier - just two days short of his first birthday - - in the violent convulsions of tubercular meningitis. The loss had left his mother, Elsie, who was just twenty-two at the time, seriously depressed and withdrawn, and Elias had taken to drink.
His father, Elias James Leach, was a tailor's presser by trade, working at Todd's Clothing Factory near Portland Square. He was a tall, good-looking man with a 'fancy' moustache, soft-voiced but convivial by nature and at his happiest at the centre of light-hearted social occasions.
His mother, Elsie Marie Kingdon Leach, was a short, slight woman with olive skin, sharp brown eyes and a slightly cleft chin; she came from a large family of brewey labourers, laundresses and ships' carpenters. She married Elias in the local parish church on 30 May 1898.
Queen Victoria had died just three yers before his brth and he grew up in a world of gas-lit streets, horse-drawn carriages, trams and four-masted schooners.
Archie Leach was circumcised though it remains unclear whether Grant had a Jewish background or not. There is no record of any Jewish ancestors in Elias's family tree but then it was not a common practice to be circumcised outside the Jewish community
in England. This has led to the controversial rumours, surfacing shortly after Grant's death, that he had been the 'illegitimate child of a Jewish woman, who either died in childbirth or disappeared'. The rumours emanate from two of his biographers, Charles Higham and Roy Moseley. It has to be said there isn't any documentary proof to back it up other than in his entry in Who's Who in America in 1962, Grant listed his mother's name as 'Lilian', not 'Elsie', Leach; and that in 1948 he donated a considerable sum of money to the new State of Israel in the name, according to the authors, of 'My Dead Jewish Mother'. Interestingly, from 1965 the Who's Who reverts back to 'Elsie'. There are numerous inaccuraracies in the entry and also in the Current Biography article in 1941 which also refers to his mother as 'Lilian'. More on this fascinating little mystery in the book.
His parents attended the local Episcopalian Church every Sunday.
Superstitiously, his mother waited six weeks to register his birth.
Grant later recalled: 'We could afford only a bare but presentble existence'.
When Archie was eight years old, his father left the family for a higher-paying job (and, it seems, a clandestine love-affair) eighty miles away in Southampton. He returned to Bristol six months later to his old presser's job. By that time their marriage has disintegrated.
Archie Leach was just nine years old when his mother disappeared. He had just arrived home, shortly after five o'clock, after an ordinary, quiet, uneventful day at school. No-one had mentioned to him that this might happen, not the day before or at any time. Grant himself said later: 'There was a void in my life, a sadness of spirit that affected each daily activity with which I occupied myself in order to overcome it. But there was no further explanation of Mother's absence, and I gradually got accustomed to the fact that she was not home each time I came home - nor, it transpired, was she expected to come home'.
What had really happened to Elsie Leach was that her husband had committed her to the local lunatic asylum, the Country Home for Mental Defectives in Fishponds, a rustic district at the end of one of Bristol's main tramlines. Elias had arranged for the hospital's staff to collect her from their home earlier in the day, and then, after settling her in, he went back to work. He never told his son the truth about the matter.
The asylum at Fishponds ws, by quite some way, the worst of the two institutions for the mentally ill in Bristol at that time. Conditions were filthy, and supervision negligible. It cost Elias one pound per year to keep Elsie inside as a patient. She stayed there for more than twenty years, until, in fact, her husband's death in the mid-1930s...more in the book.
The first Cary Grant knew that his mother was alive came, in Hollywood, after the death on 1 December 1935 of his father from the effects of alcoholism, when a lawyer wrote to him from England to inform him that his mother was in fact still alive. Grant arranged for the provision of an allowance and moved her to a house in Bristol.
His co-star, Deborah Kerr, said of him: 'From Archie Leach to Cary Grant. What a giant step. And yet he became Cary Grant. He really became him'.
The Bristol Evening Post journalist Alison Thomas met him during one of his last visits to his birthplace and recalled: 'A lady colleague of mine took him on a tour of Bristol. He spoke of the Saturday mornings his mother took him shopping, he pointed out the cinema where he'd seen his first Pearl White serials, and he even insisted on being taken to his favourite fish and chip shop. At the end of it all he told me, "I wish she'd asked me more. I was enjoying it so much." At that moment I felt at last Archie Leach had come happily home'.
Towards the end of his life he said: 'Death? Of course I think of it. But I don't want to dwell on it. I must say, I don't want to attract it too soon. You know, when I was young, I thought they'd have the thing licked by the time I got to this age. I think the thing you think about when you're my age is how you're going to do it and whether you'll behave well'.
When he died, suddenly, unexpectedly, it happened in a quiet and remote Mississippi River town in the corn belt of the United States. Grant had agreed to take his Conversation show to Davenport, Iowa. He found that he could fit the trip into his and his wife's schedule for late November 1986, on his way to his annual appearance as a circus judge in Monaco...At four o'clock in the afternoon, Grant arrived at the Adler Theatre to supervise the technical rehearsal. He began to feel nauseous after an hour or so, and was helped from the stage by his wife Barbara into his dressing-room. He refused to allow a doctor to be called, insisting that all he needed was some rest. At six o'clock, he was placed in a wheelchair and taken back to his hotel. In his room, his condition worsened, and Barbara called the theatre to cancel the evening's show. At 7.45 p.m., reportedly against Grant's wishes, a local doctor - Duane Manlove - was called; and advised him he was very ill. Grant still refused to be taken to hospital but the stroke was getting worse. In only fifteen minutes he had deteriorated rapidly. At around 8.45 p.m., the cardiologist, James Gibson, arrived. Gibson and Manlove requested an ambulance. A few minutes later, a paramedic team from the local St. Luke's Hospital arrived. 'Grant kept calling his wife's name,' remembers one of the paramedics, 'and held his hand for her ... As we took [him] out ... he murmured to his wife, "I love you, Barbara ... don't worry." And they squeezed hands.' He was rushed to the intensive care unit, where a CAT scan revealed that he had suffered a massive stroke. At 11.22 p.m., on Saturday 29 November 1986, Cary Grant was pronounced dead. He was eighty-two years old.
Tony Curtis once said of him: 'You can learn more by watching Grant drink a cup of coffee than by spending six months with a Method Actor'. Marlon Brando was similarly impressed: 'Tracy, Muni, Cary Grant. They knew what they're doing. You can learn something from them.'
Mae West said of him: 'I liked his voice first, but I saw right away that the rest of him measured up'.
His own personal favourites of his movies were: The Awful Truth, Bringing Up Baby, Gunga Din, His Girl Friday, The Philadelphia Story, None But The Lonely Heart, Notorious, To Catch a Thief, Indiscreet, North by Northwest, Charade and Father Goose. So me as a fan and webpage editor see that 3 of the 4 Hitch movies he made are in there but not Suspicion, a classic by anyone's account. Grant is absolutely brilliant in the role, coldly enigmatic and playing against type. In the history of cinema it is one of the greatest performances you will see by anyone. But maybe its exclusion is to do with the ending of the film.
The ending that Hitchcock intended featured Grant's character, Johnie Ayegarth bringing his wife a glass of poisoned milk; just before she drinks it, she hands him a letter in a sealed envelope for him to mail. The letter names him as a murderer. Then, still in love with the man she knows is her killer, she drinks the poison. 'I thought the original was marvellous,' Grant remarked. 'It was a perfect Hitchcock ending. But the studio insisted that they didn't want to have Cary Grant play a murderer.'
1941 was the tenth anniversary of his arrival in Hollywood. In it he appeared in three movies and all were among the highest-grossing movies of the year, undelrlining his status as a major star. Indeed, now certainly two of them are among the best films of all time. They were: The Philadelphia Story, Penny Serenade (though enjoyable to watch for me (webpage editor) the ending doesn't sit easily with me) and Suspicion.
In the autumn of 1936, Grant bought out what little remained of his Paramount contract and announced that he was open to offers from other studios. His reasoning was: 'If I had stayed at aramount, I would have continued to take pictures that Gary Cooper, William Powell, or Clive Brook turned down'.
He became an American citizen on 26th June 1942.
RKO allocated Gunga Din two million dollars which was the studio's biggest budget up to that point.
When he joined the board of Faberge, his salary, it was announced, was to be $15,000 per year, with $200 extra for every directors' meeting he attended.
He joined the Bob Pender troupe in 1918.
The curiously camp scene in Gunga Din would be parodied by Peter Sellers in The Party.
When Clint Eastwood was first introduced to him, he turned to others in the room and said: 'Oh, my God. He talks just he does in the movies'.
Before making To Catch a Thief, he was anxious as to how he would look in the new high-clarity VistaVision.
Probaly late in 1917, he made contact with Bob Pender, who was the manager of a fairly well-known troupe of acrobatic dancers and stilt-walkers known as Bob Pender's Knockabout Comedians. He had never achieved the kind of success enjoyed by Fred Karno, but he was an established and respected figure on the music-hall circuit.
It was Pauline Kael who first described Cary Grant as 'the most publicly seduced man the world has known'.
In 1935, it seems, Grant considered marrying Mary Brian, his co-star in The Amazing Quest of Ernest Bliss, which he was making in England.
Phyllis Brooks was engaged to Grant in the late 1930s.
Grant was in hospital recovering from a car crash in New York when divorce proceedings began against Dyan Cannon in 1968.
The critic David Thomson claimed that it was a'conclusive failing of the Oscar system that Grant won nothing for a specific performance', and its belated proposal of the special award was, he said, conceived of 'in shame and confusion'.
Pauline Kael recalls seeing Anthony Quinn sitting in an airport VIP lounge watching Grant in To Catch a Thief, pointing at the screen and annoucing to no one in particular, 'That's the actor I always wanted to be'.
Alfred Hitchcock had to wait in line for another chance to use Grant, having wanted him for Shadow of a Doubt (1943) to play the murderous Charlie, a role that went instead to Joseph Cotten, and for Spellbound (1945) as the psychotic John Ballantine, whom Gregory Peck eventually played, neither of which role would have met with the audience's approval.
Website note: Imagine those films if Grant had played those roles in light of Suspicion, especially the former. Now Cotten was good in the role but Grant would have taken it to another level. So against 'type' it would have been explosive. Sometimes you wish Hollywood had been a bit braver in casting as that is something that would have lived long in the memory. If you read about the studio system, particularly with Grant, it did rob us of some great performances. For example, Grant was refused permission to appear in Frank Loy's Muting on the Bounty, made by MGM (he was signed to Paramount). There are many more examples...
Website note: Just came into my head: imagine if Archie Leach had never invented Cary Grant. Can you imagine a world where there had been no Cary Grant? The big screen would have a big empty hole in it as, if you think about it, there was nobody who could, even remotely, replace him.
'The best and most important actor in the history of cinema...' - David Thomson.
Largely based on Grant's box-office appeal, The Bishop's Wife won positive reviews and was nominated for a Best Picture Oscar.
It's a Wonderful Life was a film originally conceived by Capra and purchased by RKO as a vehicle for Grant.
He may have turned down the role of James Bond in 1961 (at 57, he felt he was too old), but it turns out that Grant had already been something of a real-life Bond - during the Second World War he had spied on fellow stars, looking out for possible Nazi sympathisers. In 1947, he was awareded the King's Medal for Service in the Cause of Freedom for his efforts - and for contributing his fees from two films to the British war effort.
Website note: interestingly, the award was not made public at the time.