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The Saturday Evening Post - March 1978

Cary Grant Today

by Betty White
(submitted by Barry Martin - Thanks Barry!)

There’s nobody like him left. Gary Cooper, Clark Gable, Humphrey Bogart – the giants who held us spellbound as much with their persona as their talent (or maybe their talent was their persona) are all gone.

But it would be misleading to think of Cary Grant as the last leaf. At 74 with his deep tan, thick thatch of silver hair and magnificent physique, he could pass for a man in his 50s who is in top condition.

A regimen of exercise, moderation in food and drink and a penchant for enthusiasm (“Marvelous!” is his favorite response) add up to a dynamic presence that still causes heads to turn. His effect in a crowd is stunning. “He’s the only actor,” writes a Hollywood columnist, “whom other actors will turn around to see when he enters a room.”

Today Grant divides his time between Hollywood, New York and London, looking after a multitude of business interests. Home base is the rambling Beverly Hills home which once belonged to Howard Hughes and Katharine Hepburn. From his sloping lawn you can see the old Harold Lloyd villa; the Roman Polanski mansion, scene of the Manson family murders; and beyond lie Rudolph Valentino’s estate and Charles Boyer’s lovely Spanish-style manor.

The charm is all there, the clipped British-tinged accent, the stiff-necked turn of the head, the lithe, athletic grace. “Women seem more attracted to me now than ever,” he muses with a grin. Sure he’s gorgeous. But there’s something more. A new ease with himself, with life and with women.

Paradoxically, the screen’s most sophisticated and stylish leading man – the fast-talking editor who wooed Rosalind Russell back to him in My Girl Friday, a pace-setter comedy piece as delightful today as it was in 1940; the sexily sulky federal agent who, as one critic opined, compelled Ingrid Bergman to seduce him in the classic thriller Notorious – the list goes on and on – privately lived in fear of rejection by the women he loved. And it was a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Today Grant looks back on his four unsuccessful marriages with a bittersweet regret: “I never gave them enough of myself.”

Grant’s wives were very different in temperament but amazingly alike in appearance – cool, slim blondes with an aura of high society. Virginia Cherrill, his first wife, was an ebullient actress who fell in love with the Earl of Jersey. The stormy marriage between Grant and Miss Cherrill lasted one year. “No more marriages for me,” said Grant. “It’ll be at least five years before I’ll try it again.”

Nearly six years later Grant married the richest woman in the world, Barbara Hutton. Scrupulously, Grant insisted on a prenuptial agreement that he would have no claim on her fortune. Said Grant, “If she wants to buy diamond over-shoes, that is her privilege. But all routine household items, such as rent and groceries, will be strictly on me.” The newlyweds moved into a huge house with the bride’s son Lance and a staff of 11. Lance later said that Grant was a wonderful father, warm and loving. They saw each other often until Lance’s death in an airplane crash in 1972.

The Grant-Hutton alliance was doomed. “Her friends didn’t like his friends,” said one of Grant’s cronies, “and his friends didn’t like her friends.” At the divorce hearing the heiress testified, “Well, Mr. Grant and I did not have the same friends. On more than one occasion when I gave dinner parties, he would not come downstairs, but would have dinner in bed. When he did come down, he was obviously not amused, and naturally it was embarrassing.”

Later Miss Hutton said, “Since our divorce, we’ve become very good friends. He’s really very sweet and kind.”

There began a long, solemn, introspective period in Grant’s life. He took a small house in Brentwood where he spent little time. His private existence was a marked contrast to the urbane, dashing and witty life he led on the screen.

In 1946 Grant met a fey young actress named Betsy Drake aboard the luxury liner Queen Mary on a return voyage from England. Three years later they were married at Howard Hughes’ ranch in Arizona. Cary was 45 and she was 26. In the early ‘50s Grant stopped smoking with the help of a hypnotist. He gave up drinking and credited Betsy with influencing his new lifestyle. “I believe 60 is the prime of life – it will be for me. I’m learning to relax. Everyone shapes himself. If you decide that you are going to be youthful and fit for the rest of your life, you will be. It’s as simple as that.”

The couple bought a home in Palm Springs, two Rolls-Royces (one for California and one to be kept in London), but they seldom entertained and Grant became preoccupied with yoga, astrology, reading. In 1958 Betsy moved out of their house. “He’s going through a tremendous change. I left Cary, but physically he’d left me long ago.”

It is more than cocktail party psychology to suggest that the mysterious disappearance of his mother caused Grant’s later insecurities with women. He was nine years old when he came home from school one day to find his mother gone. She had been committed to a mental institution, but this was never explained to the boy. He was told only that she was “away.” It was to be more than 20 years before he would see her again – and she never accepted the love or gifts he tried to give her.

Decades later, after two divorces and a third marriage in trouble, Grant tried LSD therapy under the supervision of a psychiatrist – and it turned his life around.

“I was literally reborn. I learned that I could control my life, that I am not a hapless victim. I was making the mistake of thinking each of my wives was my mother.”

Grant doesn’t recommend LSD therapy to everyone. And he certainly doesn’t recommend what today is called “dropping acid” as do-it-yourself therapy. “I wouldn’t dream of trying this course of treatment without competent supervision.”

In a recent interview, Grant said, “I found myself turning and turning on the couch, and I said to the doctor, ‘Why am I turning around on this sofa?’ and he said, ‘Don’t you know why?’ and I said I didn’t have the vaguest idea, but I wondered when it was going to stop. ‘When you stop it,’ he answered. Well, it was like a revelation to me, taking complete responsibility for one’s own actions. I thought, ‘I’m unscrewing myself.’ That’s why people use the phrase, ‘all screwed up.’”

Emotional rebirth, taking responsibility for his own actions – all this was not enough to save his fourth marriage to television and film actress Dyan Cannon. They separated a year later, shortly after the birth of their daughter, Jennifer.

Miss Cannon complained, “Before I married him I knew he was a stay-at-home but it didn’t bother me then, because I was working. Later it became very difficult to stay at home all day and watch TV all night.”

“The best part of my marriage, the best part of my life is my daughter Jennifer.” Grant beams when talking about his 12-year-old daughter.

There have been numerous court battles over Jennifer – where she would live, her education, whether she could leave the country, how long she could stay with her father. Grant now has custody of Jennifer 90 days out of every year. He refused permission for Jennifer to go to London while Miss Cannon was making a film there. But Grant flew her over for a visit himself when he found she missed her mother.

If Grant has made peace with himself and his past, Hollywood has not. He still receives scripts in the mail from producers eager to woo him back to the movies.

His last performance was in Walk, Don’t Run with Jim Hutton and Samantha Eggar. For the first time Grant did not win the girl and audiences found it difficult to accept him in the matchmaker role he chose. He was much too charming and virile to take a back seat to Hutton.

Perhaps the poor reception this movie received influenced him to turn to a new career – as a director on the boards of Fabergé, Inc., and Metro-Goldwn-Mayer.

Grant’s business acumen is probably almost on a par with the unmistakable glamour quotient he can add to any business he enters. One shopper murmurs in awe as Grant made his way to the executive offices of a large department store in Boston. “It’s Cary Grant. I can die happy now.”

Grant was the first star to work for a percentage of the film’s profits rather than a set fee and was the first major star to form his own company and produce his own films. He has always managed his own career, choosing his films. It was not until he left Paramount Pictures and took control of his career that the unmistakable Cary Grant character began to emerge.

“The drama in a Cary Grant movie,” wrote critic Richard Schickel, “always lies in seeing if the star can be made to lose his wry, elegant and habitual aplomb. The joke lies in the fact that no matter what assaults and indignities the writer and director visit upon his apparently ageless person, he never does. His is surely the most ungettable goat in the movie history, and to watch this expert professional bob and weave his stylish way through one of his carefully stylized comedies is a pleasure that never dulls with familiarity.”

Grant’s attention to detail became legendary. He practiced hours to discover the funniest, most effective way to light a cigarette, fasten a cuff link, straighten his tie. No motion was too insignificant.

“I used to stand in the back of movie houses and listen to the audience. If they laughed at a certain piece of business I never forgot it.”

Grant’s perfectionism and rumored miserliness became Hollywood bywords. He is thought to have put one director in a hospital with a nervous breakdown, and more than one star commented, “I’ll never work with him again.”

A Hollywood beauty complained, “He never took me anyplace where he had to spend money.” Said a restaurant owner, “Sure he’s been in here a lot with friends, but I’ve yet to see him pick up a check.”

This last criticism really angers Grant. “So I don’t throw money around. Has anybody looked into how much I give to charity? I do turn off lights when I leave a room, but isn’t that only sensible?”

As an actor Grant has always been the soul of generosity. His leading ladies never look better than when they appear with him. Time and time again fellow actors, directors and writers won Oscars for Cary Grant movies. Wrote director Peter Bogdanovich, “By 1965 Grant had never won an Academy Award. That year, accepting the Oscar for co-wring a Grant vehicle called Father Goose, Peter Stone was perfectly succinct: ‘My thanks to Cary Grant,’ he said, ‘who keeps winning these things for other people.’”

Five year later the Academy recognized Grant with a special Oscar for “sheer brilliance; no actor had ever made acting seem easer.”

Said Alfred Hitchcock, who directed Grant in Notorious, North by Northwest, Suspicion and To Catch a Thief, “One doesn’t direct Cary Grant; one just puts him in front of a camera.”

Grant’s leading ladies have been equally enthusiastic about him. Mae West: “After you’ve seen Cary Grant, what else is there to say?” Doris Day: “It isn’t just that Cary is so fine-looking; it’s also that he actually cares about you.” The late Joan Crawford: “He could so ‘no’ so nicely. I couldn’t help hoping one day he would say ‘yes.’” Suzy Parker: “Who else goes to drive-in movies in a Rolls and totes champagne for refreshment?”

Today the charismatic public figure of Cary Grant has at last merged with the private man. He wisely knew when to switch careers and leave an adoring audience wishing for more, never disillusioning the generations of women who have loved and lusted for him. After 72 successful movies made with the industry’s most glamorous actresses and after amassing a fortune in the millions, Grant has turned his attention to the greatest love of his long and crowded life – Jennifer. “I will advise Jennifer to love someone and to be loved. Anything else she may get in her life is a bonus.

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