The Real Cary Grant
There is no greater example of a celebrity portraying themselves far differently in public and private than Cary Grant, as testimony by some of those closest to him proves. Cary Grant will be remembered as one of Hollywood’s greatest actors, whose ageless good looks and on-screen charms made him a favorite of audiences. Memoirs published recently by Cary Grant’s daughter and fourth wife, however, reveal a much more complicated and human individual than we previously knew.
Tan All Year Long
Although he was English, which is a generally pale nation, Cary Grant always appears on film looking very well-tanned. This isn’t makeup — in fact, he didn’t wear makeup very much at all. That’s his actual tan, which he maintained constantly. Besides his year-long tan, Cary Grant worked hard on making sure he stayed good-looking. He never weighed more than 180 pounds as well, which shows that his commitment to looking good was something he held onto until his final years.
You Never See Hollywood Stars
In one funny incident, Cary Grant was with fellow English actor Michael Caine in Los Angeles, having a conversation outside of a hotel when a fan approached them. She only recognized Caine. After telling him how she had been in town for two weeks and Caine was the first star she had seen, the fan turned to Grant and commented on how you never see big Hollywood stars. When Grant heard this, he agreed with the fan, laughing.
Inspiration For James Bond
You may know that Cary Grant was offered the part of James Bond in Dr. No before the role went to Sean Connery. Apparently, Grant didn’t think that the role was right for him, as he was 58 by then. Ian Flemming, who created the character, said that the basis for the classic spy was none other than Grant himself. This was based on his characters for the movies Notorious, To Catch A Thief, and North By Northwest, to name a few.
Escape In Performing Arts
Faced with problems at home, Grant found solace in the performing arts. He had been awarded a scholarship to grammar school but was expelled at the age of 13. Almost immediately, he joined a comedy troupe, performing in both England and the U.S. He landed a role in the 1927 Broadway musical Golden Dawn. This paved the way for more roles on the stage, many of which garnered acclaim by the critics of the day. Eventually, he signed with Paramount Pictures in 1931.
Once at Paramount, its executives confronted Cary Grant about his name. “Archie just doesn’t sound right in America,” one of them told Grant, who had to admit: “It doesn’t sound particularly right in Britain, either.” He suggested “Cary Lockwood,” but Paramount felt the last name was too similar to other surnames in the industry. Going down a list of potential names, the famous actor stopped at Grant, and Cary Grant was born. He changed his name legally to Cary Grant in 1941.
Although he would be later regarded as the archetype for a successful Hollywood actor, Cary Grant actually failed his first screen test. Fox Film Corporation gave him this in 1928 after talent scouts spotted him, with the intention of casting him in a movie they were making. He failed this test, though, because he was deemed to have too thick of a neck and be bowlegged. While he missed the silent era of movies, he was able to find success once studios moved on to talkies.
His first role on-screen was the 1932 comedy This is the Night, the first of a string of successful roles. He quickly established himself as a suave, handsome lead in movies such as Merrily Go to Hell, Hot Saturday, and Madame Butterfly. He acted alongside Mae West for her 1933 film She Done Him Wrong followed by I’m No Angel. She credited herself with having discovered him, despite his having starred in previous Hollywood movies. The following movies failed in the box office, however, threatening to end his career.
“Most Spectacular Run Ever”
Refusing to be deterred, Grant’s perseverance paid off eventually. The comedy The Awful Truth was released in 1937, beginning a string of hits. Benjamin Schwarz, a critic for The Atlantic, called this “the most spectacular run ever for an actor in American pictures.” In the years following, he starred in Bringing Up Baby and The Philadelphia Story, which are counted among the greatest comedies ever. He received two Academy Award nominations for Best Actor for Penny Serenade in 1941 and None But the Lonely Heart in 1944.
War Effort Contributions
Cary Grant didn’t serve directly in World War II, though he received the Kings Medal for Services in the Cause of Freedom. He was allegedly hired to spy on both his fellow actors and his wife, Barbara Woolworth Hutton, at the time of the war. The Woolworth family was one of the richest families and were believed to lend support to the fascists. In addition, Grant donated his complete paycheck from two movies to the war effort.
Always A Good Guy
Interestingly enough, Cary Grant never played a villain. This was because the studio didn’t want the audience to associate him with anything negative. The only exception is Alfred Hitchcock’s 1941 film Suspicion, in which he plays a husband whose wife thinks he’s going to kill her. But in the end, he turns out not to be a villain at all. According to Hitchcock, the studio had ordered the film’s ending changed so that Grant’s “heroic” image would be preserved.
One Of Hitchcock’s Favorites
Grant attracted the attention of legendary filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock, who selected Grant to star in many of his greatest classics. These include To Catch a Thief alongside Grace Kelly, Suspicion, and North By Northwest. Just like Hitchcock, however, he never won an Oscar for one of his movies. He didn’t win a Golden Globe, despite being nominated for Best Actor five times in a six-year period. It has been noted that he wasn’t the kind of actor to win an Academy Award because he made it look too effortless.
Leaving Acting Behind
Grant’s daughter, Jennifer, was born in 1966, the same year he decided to put acting aside and retire. He refocused his attention on the business world and joined the board of directors for the now-defunct cosmetics company, Fabergé. Although this was believed to be a ceremonial appointment, many were surprised to see a shrewd businessman. He later served on other such boards, including Hollywood Park (later Pinnacle Entertainment) and Western Airlines, which merged with Delta in 1987. He was made a director of MGM Studios in 1975.
Although he stopped acting altogether after his daughter was born, he had actually stopped appearing in motion pictures in 1952. He believed that the method acting by the likes of James Dean and Marlon Brando was overtaking Cary Grant’s more traditional approach. In addition, he wanted to protest how Charlie Chaplin was shunned by Hollywood for his liberal beliefs. Despite this, Alfred Hitchcock was able to convince him to come out of retirement to film To Catch A Thief.
An Untimely Demise
During the last few years of his life, Grant would tour cities for A Conversation With Cary Grant. He would screen clips of his films in cities and answer questions asked by the audience. It was ahead of such an appearance that Grant suffered a stroke in November of 1986. He died shortly afterward and his ashes were scattered in the Atlantic Ocean. He left the majority of his estate to his daughter, Jennifer, and wife, Barbara Harris. He was worth somewhere between $60 and $80 million. But that wasn’t the last the world heard of him…
First Three Wives
Barbara Harris may have been married to Grant when he died, but she was actually the fifth woman he married. Grant first married Virginia Cherrill in 1934, but he was accused of domestic abuse and the pair split. In 1942, he married Barbara Hutton, who was counted among the world’s richest women at the time. They broke up in 1945. In 1949, Grant married fellow actress Betsy Drake, and the two remained married for 12 and a half years, which is quite long in Hollywood.
Fourth And Fifth Wives
This divorce was in no small part due to an affair Grant began with Sophia Loren, his costar on The Pride And The Passion and Houseboat, the latter actually being written by Drake. Grant’s next wife was Dyan Cannon, whom he married in 1965. She was another fellow actress and gave birth to his only child, Jennifer, in 1966. After retiring, Grant divorced Cannon in 1968. He continued seeking, however, and eventually married a hotel public relations agent, Barbara Harris, in 1981. The two remained together until his death.
“Each New Marriage Is More Difficult”
Regarding his marriages, Cary Grant would comment on his difficulties. “It seems that each new marriage is more difficult to survive than the last one,” he said. “I’m rather a fool for punishment. I keep going back for more, don’t ask me why.” While that may be the case, don’t forget that he was together with his last wife, Barbara Harris, from their marriage in 1981 until his death from a stroke in 1986.
A Tumultuous Love Life
After many marriages and affairs, Grant’s friend Prince Ranier of Monaco said Grant was finally happier than he had ever seen him during his last marriage. This took a lifetime of trial and error, however. In the 2017 documentary Becoming Cary Grant, Grant says his marriage to Cherrill was bound to fail. “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.”
In 2011, Dyan Cannon, his fourth wife, published Dear Cary, a memoir about their time together. She said that although she had really liked dating Grant at the beginning of their relationship, she eventually noticed a dark streak. He was demanding and controlling, she said, as he told her to give up her dream of acting and to change how she looked. After their divorce, Cannon’s career did better. She was nominated for no less than three Academy Awards, despite his criticism.
Change In Attitude
In her book, Cannon describes a change in Grant’s attitude, which happened to occur after he had proposed to her. “He’d started criticizing my appearance and was agitated on our wedding day,” she wrote. “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.” It would be interesting to hear if his other wives had similar stories!
The issues didn’t end with their wedding and continued into their marriage. During Cannon’s pregnancy with her and Grant’s daughter, Jennifer, there were reportedly additional problems. As Cannon describes it 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.” Even though Grant was delighted with Jennifer and was an adoring father, Cannon reveals it wasn’t enough to save their marriage.
One of the most shocking things about Cary Grant is his use of a popular psychedelic compound, which he discovered when it was still legal. He suffered from depression and underwent many experimental sessions as part of his therapy. He encouraged Cannon to take it as well to save their marriage, although she said she hated it. “When we split up,” Cannon recalled, “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.”
Before becoming a household name, Cary Grant was born in Bristol, England, by the name of Archibald Leach. The young Englishman eventually made his way to the U.S. where he built up a career as a performer. Soon he rose to become one of its Hollywood’s greatest stars, working alongside the industry greats during what is known as the Golden Age of Hollywood. Although he never won an Oscar for any of his performances, he was awarded an honorary one to commemorate his lifetime of work. However, while garnering huge success on-screen, many did not know what was going on behind the camera for Cary Grant.
Outwardly, Grant seemed confident and happy, but performing was a way for him to escape childhood problems that followed him to adulthood. When he was 31, he discovered that the mother he thought had died two decades earlier was still alive, committed in a psychiatric hospital in England. When Betsy Drake, his third wife, left him, he began taking recreational drugs in treatments with a psychiatrist. He said that due to the mind-altering drug, he “went through rebirth” and reportedly could confront his issues. When he died, he even left the doctor overseeing the treatments $10,000.
Dyan Cannon isn’t the only one who has written about her relationship with the Hollywood legend. Although she was only around for the last two decades of his life, Grant’s only daughter, Jennifer, also published a book about their relationship in the 2011 book Good Stuff: A Reminiscence of My Father. Grant was described as quite an authoritarian figure about certain things, along with the love and affection. Specifically, this related to makeup; she recalls getting into major trouble for having some eyeshadow in her room that Grant discovered.
Thrifty, Not Cheap
Grant had a reputation for being cheap, but Jennifer disputes this. “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.” That’s no surprise, as he came from humble beginnings.
Good With Money
Grant’s peers, on the other hand, describe him as extremely careful with money. One rumor said he was so cheap, he’d cut the buttons off his old shirts before he disposed of them. When asked about it, he didn’t deny it. In fact, he told the interviewer that he preferred to keep the extra buttons and that he wouldn’t have to worry about his furniture getting scratched if his maid used the shirts as rags. “I think it’s a very sensible procedure and should be adopted as a household tip,” he said.
Grant’s childhood was not easy. When he was only nine years old, his father had his mother admitted to a psychiatric hospital. She was depressed, and Grant’s father, who resorted to drinking to deal with his issues, didn’t handle it the best way possible for his son. He told Grant that his mother had died, although this turned out to be an outright lie. When Grant was 31, he discovered that she was very much alive. Meanwhile, his father had abandoned his son and to begin a new family with a new wife.
It’s quite hard to spot, but Cary Grant actually only had one front incisor. What happened to the other one? It turns out that the other was chipped when he was a little boy playing on the ice. To avoid getting into trouble, he went to a dental college where they completely removed the tooth. His father apparently never noticed. Over time, Grant’s other teeth shifted and closed over the gap.
Other rumors said Grant was gay, but neither Jennifer nor Dyan said they saw any sign of this. “Perhaps he had what Virginia Woolf described as ‘an androgynous mind,'” Jennifer offered. In response to her mother’s description of Grant’s “dark side,” Jennifer noted 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.”
Although he remarked that rumors of his homosexuality actually helped him get with women, who wanted to prove the rumor wrong, Cary Grant sued comedian Chevy Chase for implying that he was gay during an interview. This seemed to be an offhand comment to be taken lightly, but Grant wasn’t amused. Indeed, Grant sought $10 million before he and Chevy Chase settled out of court for a whopping $1 million, reportedly. It seems that Cary Grant got the last laugh in the end!
“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,” Cannon summarized. After his death, “I felt so much love for him. I love him more now than when we were together — I understand him much better.” Cannon has most recently been working on a Broadway musical she intends to appear in, which will feature her ex-husband.