'If someone can't find anything bad to say about you, you are a tightwad or a homosexual.'
- Cary Grant
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, A Class Apart.
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 A Class Apart 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?'
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