Five minutes. Five minutes
on a brilliant August day in 1949. Long enough to tell a
story, watch a sunset, buy a handful of flowers. Long enough
for Cary Grant and Betsy Drake to fall in love.
And nine years later, on an
October day in the middle of a Hollywood heatwave, they insisted
they were still in love. But in the next five searing
minutes, they sat here together and composed an epitaph for their
Cary Grant fell in love in five
minutes with a plain litte girl he didn't know, who wore
horn-rimmed glasses and sensible shoes. He fell in love with
her in a ship's dining salon through which Elizabeth Taylor had
walked not five minutes before, in which Merle Oberon sat chatting
across the table from him.
For a few minutes he saw not one
of them. He saw only Betsy Drake.
What was to happen after that
neither of them could possibly have imagined...
The Queen Mary was five days out
to sea. Cary Grant was on his way home from a holiday in
England, where he was born. He had been renewing old
friendships - and forgetting the newest of his bad memories.
But in forgetting, he could not make them disappear. He
smoked too much and drank too much. He stayed up too late at
night and had too much trouble falling asleep. He was tired
It had been like this since the
first serious mistakes. Twice he had married for love - and
twice he had lost. Now he could look back and admit, "I
married lovely women. But I was an idiot and a boor. I
deserved to lose them." But hadn't the knowledge come
too late? Too late to save his marriage to lovely, delicate
Virginia Cherrill, who had laughed off hundreds of his escapades
but who, one day, couldn't laugh any longer. Too late to
save his marriage to Barbara Hutton. He had loved her, too.
For two long years he had lived
in the hope of making her his wife. She had been hurt in the
past - her fantastic fortune had brought her more grief than
joy. He was going to make it up to her, all of it. For
two years he talked, telling her how wonderful it would be.
Finally, she said yes.
She married him in 1942 and the
gift of gab that had won her love was what drove her finally
away. The truth of the matter was that Cary was too clever
for his own good - or anyone else's. There was no
conversation so serious, no subject so delicate that his quick
tongue failed to find an opportunity for a pun, a jibe, a pointed
joke. He couldn't help it; it was the way he was used to
talking. But he had married a woman too sensitive to laugh
when the barb went deep. Time after time she was reduced to
tears; time after time he would pull himself up, furious at
himself and at the world.
"Why did someone like you
ever marry me?" he would shout.
But he couldn't stop, and
eventually Barbara left him, too.
Not good memories, but, at least,
on this brilliant day in August, 1949, they were far behind
him. The trip to England had been fun and wasn't that what
he was most interested in? He'd been to the theater a lot;
the biggest impression had been made on him by a little American
actress he'd never heard of, Betsy Drake, playing the lead in
"Deep Are the Roots." She wasn't beautiful but she
had a glow and she played the difficult role with grace and
intelligence. "Talent there," Cary had remarked to
a friend and then forgotten all about it.
Sailing day had come at last; the
Queen Mary was waiting. His pals treated Cary to a farewell
champagne luncheon. None of them was feeling any pain when
they piled into a convertible and headed for the dock.
But for Betsy Drake, also sailing
for home on the Queen Mary, life was not so much fun.
She didn't really want to go
home. It had taken her years of desperate struggle to get
anywhere in the theater - and now her first big role was
finished. Her parents had been divorced since she was a
child and she had no home, no people, really, to return to.
Just another dreary year of job-hunting with her clippings under
her arm. She was all worn out and it wasn't a pleasant
prospect. Besides, she had a toothache, a perfectly terrible
pain that swelled her jaw and destroyed the fun of the ship's
The first glimpse she ever had of
Cary Grant off a movie screen was when she was standing on deck
and Cary's convertible pulled up to the customs' shed. What
she saw was a slightly high-looking young man, surrounded by
friends, roaring with laughter, lifting his suitcases out of the
back of the car and dropping them in again. For an instant,
she had wished she were a part of them, having fun. Then her
tooth throbbed and she turned away. "As far as Betsy
Drake is concerned," she thought, "this trip is going to
be one long, dull rest."
And it might have been if, two
hours later, as the ship got underway, she hadn't had to pay a
visit to the purser's office. In her sensible flat-heeled
shoes and brown dress, she walked down the corridor just as Cary
Grant pushed open a door and walked in on his way to join Liz
Taylor and her mother for lunch. The ship, leaving the
harbor, lurched violently, Betsy staggered and was pitched against
the wall with one arm above her head, the other at her hip - a
perfect cheesecake pose. Cary grinned, then recognized
her. "He, I saw you in 'Deep Are the Roots.'
Her face burning with
embarrassment, Betsy marched right past him. Later, telling
about it, she told reporters she hadn't heard him say a
word. Later, denying it, Cary maintained she deliberately
cut him dead. At that time, all that mattered was that Betsy
Drake, nobody from nowhere, slammed the door of the purser's
office right in Cary Grant's face!
He spend the next three days
looking for her.
And without success. Betsy,
nursing her toothache, and her humiliation at being practically
thrown into the arms of a movie star the first day out, wasn't
budging from her cabin.
But on the fourth day, she came
up for air. She walked to the deck and stood leaning over
the rail, watching the waves. Actually, nothing could have
kept Betsy Drake down for long. She stood on deck a minute,
then decided on a walk. Walking was - and still is - her
A dozen yards away, down on the
deck, Cary spotted her and his eyes lit up. He was standing
at the rail, talking to Merle Oberon; now he nudged her.
"Merle - there she is.
That's the girl."
Merle turned and looked.
"Fine. Now go introduce yourself."
Cary nodded, grinned, took a step
- and the grin faded. He had never been shy with women,
except once before ....
One morning at the studio he had
been called to the phone. It was house guest Noel Coward
ringing up from Cary's home. "Cary? I've invited
Greta Garbo to tea this afternoon. Try to get home in
time to meet her, eh? She'd like to be introduced ..."
When Cary put the phone down, his
hands were shaking. By mid-morning he had realized the
truth: Garbo, with her incredible beauty, her talent, her
aloofness, was such a legend to him that he was afraid to go home
to his own house and meet her. Noon came and he told himself
not to be a fool, that it would be wonderful to be introduced to
someone he respected and admired as much as he did her. But
he couldn't budge. All afternoon he invented things that had
to be done to keep him at the studio.
It was dusk when he finally
pulled up to his driveway. He walked in - and there in the
living room, standing up, ready to leave, was the fabulous
Swede. Noel smiled happily. "Greta, I'd like you
to meet Cary Grant ..."
Cary opened his mouth - and
nothing came out. In wordless silence he shook hands with
his guest, he bowed. Garbo smiled, said she was happy to be
there, asked a question, waited, stared at him, asked another,
remarked on the weather - and finally gave up.
Cary had still not said a word.
Bewildered, Noel escorted Garbo
to the door. Miserable, Cary trailed after them to Garbo's
car. And there, at long last, he found his tongue.
"Very pleased to meet
you," he burst out to his departing guest. "How
dod you do?"
It became a running gag among
Cary's friends: for once he had been tongue-tied, stricken dumb by
admiration and awe ...
"Cary, Cary ..."
Merle's amused voice brought him back from his reverie.
"Look," he began
haltingly, "it's like this. I don't want her to think I'm
picking her up. You know."
Merle stared at him.
"Well - ?"
"Would you go talk to her
for me? Ask her - ask her to have dinner with us
tonight. Tell her - at the captain's table."
"But I don't know
her," Merle wailed. "I've never met her!"
"That's all right. Go
on. You're a woman, you can do it." He
paused. "If she doesn't want to - you might try telling
her - it's the captain's table."
Merle's mouth dropped open.
Cary Grant, cocksure, debonair, lady-killer Cary not only afraid
to talk to a girl, but afraid she'd need more inducement than just
his name to join him for dinner. She almost laughed, but
changed her mind. Without another word, she headed down the
deck towards Betsy.
When she got there, of course,
she was embarrassed.
Hello. I'm - I'm Merle Oberon, and a friend of mine
Betsy whirled - and stared.
"Of course, Miss Oberon. I recognize you ..."
Merle blushed. "Yes,
well, Cary Grant is a friend of mine and he, he was wondering if
you would join us for dinner tonight. At - at the captain's
Betsy's lips parted
slightly. If there had been a chair, she would have flopped
down into it. Finally she said slowly, "I don't have an
evening dress with me..."
"Oh," Merle said.
That did it. Evening clothes were absolutely obligatory in
the formal dining salon - and everyone in the room stared at the
captain's table, the place of honor. No woman would be
caught dead there without her best gown. She'd be glad to lend
Betsy something but they weren't the same size at all.
"Well," she stared.
Suddenly Betsy smiled. It
was more than a smile, it was a grin. It brought with it the
glow that had lit her performance on the stage, that seemed to
light up her entire life.
"Tell Mr. Grant I'd be
That night Cary was at the table
early. He sat there with Liz Taylor and her mother a few
seats away, with Merle across the table. His evening clothes
were, of course, faultless, He kept his eyes constantly on the
And then he saw her.
She walked into the dining salon
with her brown hair brushed to a shine and parted neatly on one
side. She wore a plain black street-length afternoon dress,
and black shoes. She wore no jewelry because she didn't own
any. The side of her face was puffy with toothache, but she
She walked right across the room
with every eye following her, and her head was held up, and
proud. She never wavered.
Cary Grant, standing up at his
chair to receive her, thought it was the bravest thing he had ever
seen in his life.
She sat down next to him.
Her voice was the husky voice he remembered from the show, her
smile lit up the entire room.
It only took five minutes for him
to realize that he was in love with her. Only five minutes
because it was so obvious.
The rest of the voyage passed in
a daze. The only thing Betsy Drake remembers of it was that
Cary, elegant Cary, put his evening suit in his trunk and went
down to dinner every night by her side in a business suit, to keep
her company. Maybe that was why she fell in love with
him. Or maybe it was because of what no one else had seen,
but she saw so clearly: the deep, basic honesty that the quips and
the bright talk attempted to cover.
Like when he asked her to star in
his next movie with him.
"It's called 'Every Girl
Should Be Married.' The part is perfect for you."
"They'll never give it to
me," she said.
"I'll make them."
"Oh, you can't. They'd
say you were doing it because you - you like me."
"They won't say it after
they've seen you act. And maybe they'll be a little more
perceptive. Maybe they'll say - because I need you so."
Was it possible that no one had
seen that side of him before? Or was it more likely that it
had never been there - until Betsy came along.
Whatever it was, they made the
movie together, and they were a hit. When they were done wit
it, they were more in love than ever.
Cary would drop over to Betsy's
tiny Hollywood apartment and find her, glasses on her nose, poring
over a book.
"What's that about?"
Cary would gasp. "What
on earth are you reading about spiders for?"
Here." She would reach over a stack of books piled on
the floor. "Here's another one on spiders. Go
"I don't want to read about
spiders, for heaven's sake. I thought we'd go dancing."
But Betsy, deep in her book,
would scarcely hear him. Cary would wander around the room
disconsolately; finally bored, he'd pick up the book.
An hour later, Betsy would nudge
him. "Hey, I asked if you want a cup of coffee."
Cary would look up, blink.
"Coffee? Oh, ah, sure. Sure. As soon as I
finish this chapter.
To his amazement, he found
himself reading more and more. He went through Betsy's
entire library finally, fiction, non-fiction, travel books,
science - everything.
"Is there anything at
all," he asked her one day, "that you're not interested
She thought it over.
"Nope, I guess not. How about you?"
"I thought there were a lot
of things," Cary said thoughtfully. "But I guess I
was wrong." He looked around. "Betsy, how
did you ever find time to read so much, do so much?"
"I guess," she said
slowly, "it was because I was alone." She looked
up, and the wonderful smile broke out. "Now, for the
first time, I'm not alone any more..."
As much as she gave to him, he
gave to her. Knowledge of how to dress, how to do her hair,
how to talk to people - all the things she had never had time to
learn, he taught her. With Cary beside her she was no longer
plain. Her friends discovered to their surprise that little
Betsy was pretty after all. No, not exactly pretty.
Beautiful was more like it.
What she did for Cary's soul, he
did for her poise. In both cases it was an undreamed-of
They were married on Christmas
Day, 1949. It was that day because it was the one out of all
the year when Cary's closest friend, Howard Hughes, could be
reasonably sure of not being tied up with business. To keep
the wedding private, they told no one but Howard, drove out to an
airport in a borrowed car, climbed over a back fence onto a
runway, and were picked up there by Howard in a Constellation
airplane. They landed in a deserted field in Arizona and
were taken to a farmhouse to be married. The minister had no
idea who was getting married, and cared less; to Betsy and Cary it
was perfect. To Howard Hughes it must have been somewhat
nerve-racking because, in perfect best-man tradition, he dropped
the wedding ring and he, Cary and Betsy had to crawl around on the
floor looking for it while the minister tapped his foot.
When it was over, Howard phoned
RKO to tell them, kissed the bride and drove them back to the
airport. As they got out of the car, they saw a group of
people waving to them from the hangar. "The
press," Cary groaned, and turned to run. But it wasn't
the press. RKO had sent the news out on the radio via a
special bulletin. A cowboy who had seen the huge
Constellation land put two and two together, gathered up his
friends, and brought a bottle of champagne to toast the newlyweds.
It was a gloriously happy moment.
They came home to a house and
garden in Beverly Hills, to dozens of lavish presents, hastily
bought by their friends (the most expensive came from Barbara
Hutton), to a host of reporters - and to the gossip.
"That little nobody!
Imagine her getting Cary Grant!"
"Don't worry, she won't have
him long. If Barbara Hutton couldn't keep him, nobody
could. Just wait till she starts to run into his past all
over the place..."
There wasn't long to wait.
One of their first guests was
Countess Dorothy di Frasso. Cary, introducing her to Betsy,
took a deep breath and said in a rush: "It was Dorothy, you
know, sweetie, who introduced me to Barbara." It had to
be said, because in any conversation with Dorothy, Barbara would
pop up - they were such close friends. But because it had to
be said didn't mean that Betsy had to like it. Cary watched
her hazel eyes open wider, and wondered anxiously. She would
be polite, no doubt. But afterwards would she tell him to
keep his former wives' old girl friends out of her house and her
life? She would, of course, have every right.
But the look in the brown eyes
was not anger but honest interest. "How do you
do?" said Betsy Drake Grant. "I'd like to meet
Barbara myself, you know. She sent us such a beautiful
And only a few years later it was
Betsy at Cary's side, who performed the last, greatest act of
friendship for the Countess. Dorothy di Frasso died alone in
Hollywood, and the night before her funeral, when the curious and
the sad had finished paying their respects to the body, it was
Cary and Betsy who walked into the mortuary and kept vigil through
the night beside the coffin.
"She hated to be
alone," they said then, simply. And so the two of them,
their faces pale in the dimly-lit, flower-banked room sat all
night long and tried to talk and laugh, so that Dorothy would know
she had friends with her - always.
But Cary's past was to come even
closer than that. There was the time he put down a telephone and
turned to Betsy to say: "I - uh - just spoke to my son.
He'd like to come for a visit ..."
"Your son?" Betsy said,
astounded. "Cary, you haven't got a son!"
Cary turned slightly
purple. "Oh, of course. I mean, my - my
Betsy's voice was even more
bewildered. "But I haven't got a child, so how
can you have a step-son? What on earth...?
"I'm putting it very
badly," Cary sighed. "What I mean is - I know it's
a lot to ask of you under the circumstances, but - it's Barbara's
son Lance. He wondered if he could stay with us a
while. We - we used to be very close."
It was a lot to ask. But
Betsy, looking at her husband, saw deeply as she always did.
Saw how much Cary wanted them to have children of their own, how
deep the hurt had gone when it looked as if there wouldn't be any.
"Of course," she said
softly. "Ask your son to stay with us as long as he
Of course, not everything was
perfect, not right away. There were the little things.
Reading was not Betsy's only hobby: she wrote, she painted, she
swam. Shortly after their marriage she decided to take up