She admits going to extremes to please her husband, Cary Grant.
And though the divorce was bitter, she never kept their daughter
from him. He was a doting father, she reveals in this
fascinating interview. "I had to be the strict one. But when
Jennifer was very little, I old her, 'Honey, it's okay to love
"As I grow older, my life just keeps getting better - and this
is the best it's ever been," says Dyan Cannon, sipping chamomile
tea in the cozy living room of her Beverly Hills home. Curled up
in front of a fire on a rainy Los Angeles afternoon, the actress
- just in from a friend's wedding - has kicked off her high
heels, unbuttoned the jacket of her beige suit and settled
comfortably on the sofa.
"Life is different from what I thought it would be," she adds.
"I was so protected, so guarded by adoring, wonderful parents,
that I thought life was just what I saw at home - two people who
had a marriage and a couple of kids and who lived happily ever
after. I was really blinded by this completely idyllic world.
But now, I must say that I've finally come full circle back to
It's been a long trip. The older of two children, Cannon was
born Samille Diane Friesen on January 4, 1937, in Tacoma,
Washington. She was raised in Seattle, where she earned the
nickname "Frosty" after giving amorous high-school boys the cold
shoulder. She left Seattle to pursue a modeling career in Los
Angeles. She eventually gained fame as a giddy, big-screen
sexpot, and as the wife of actor Cary Grant, whom she married in
1965 and had a child with a year later. Along the way, Cannon
experimented with a variety of drugs and pop therapies, embarked
on a period of self-imposed retirement and celibacy and, after
years of soul-searching, found the peace of mind she'd been
Today, at 51, Cannon, who has been married for the past three
years to lawyer/real estate broker Stanley Fimberg, is calling
all the shots in her career.
"I'm having more fun now - in everything I do - than I've ever
had in my life, and that's because I don't have to do anything
now to make my life special," she says passionately. "The gift
of life is special - and this is coming from someone who used to
have to wait for 'Action!' to be called and the cameras to roll
to think that something was going on." She pauses. "That ain't
But the harmony in her life didn't happen overnight. "I've had
to learn how to deal with my heart and my mind and what makes
Dyan run - and that's been my main endeavor over the years,"
Cannon explains. "Finding a husband was just the icing on the
cake. Having a man doesn't make life all right for a woman -
it's learning how to make every moment alive and joyful that
counts. Women spend so much time working on their men, you know?
We've got to do our work on ourselves first."
Working on pleasing her man was reportedly one of the problems
in her relationship with Cary Grant, whom Cannon dated for about
four years before they married, when she was 28 and he was 61.
It was her first marriage - and his fourth. In a 1982 interview,
Cannon revealed that catering to Grant was "the most important
thing in my life - more important than working, more important
than anything. That was the big flaw. I pushed aside everything
that I'd desired to make him happy."
Cannon was so intent on pleasing her husband that she even
consented to undergo LSD therapy - the same medically
administered therapy that Grant believed had been beneficial to
him. "It was something Cary asked me to do, and I thought about
it a lot before doing it," Cannon recalls. Today, Cannon is
reluctant to talk about the therapy, except to say, "I didn't do
it a lot - it wasn't good for me."
After three years of marriage, they went through a bitter
divorce in 1968, amid stories of Grant's violent temper and
rumors that he spanked Cannon in front of the servants an once
even locked her in the bathroom.
"Even though there was pain as a result of those years, we had a
wonderful daughter together," says Cannon. "Cary was very
special. I loved him with all my heart, with all my soul, with
all my mind, and I will always be grateful that we married. I
learned a lot from him. They weren't wasted years."
Having their daughter, Jennifer, born in 1966, helped Cannon
cope with her crumbling marriage. "Motherhood really teaches you
how to be selfless," she explains. "None of us can come to any
greatness until we learn how to get outside the little periphery
of 'me.' When we burst out of that cocoon," she adds, snapping
her fingers for emphasis, "life begins. And nothing hastens that
process as fast as mothering, because you've got to put
something else ahead of yourself."
Jennifer was two years old when her parents divorced, and Cannon
was awarded custody. Grant's visitation rights extended to every
other weekend, as well as a month each summer. "But there were
many, many, many more times when Cary saw Jennifer, and she was
never, ever used as a 'football' between us," the actress
recalls. "when she was very little, I told her, 'Honey, it's
okay to love your dad.'"
Although Grant, a first-time father at age 62, doted on his
daughter - he even retired from show business after she was born
- when it came to actually raising Jennifer, the responsibility
fell to Cannon. "Cary let me make all the decisions. When
Jennifer was little, I'd send the nurse with her anytime she
visited Cary so she would be cared for. When she grew out of
that stage and wanted to go out while visiting him, he'd say,
'Call your mother and find out what time you have to be in,'"
"I wish Cary had participated more in the parenting process, but
I don't think he knew how. I think he thought, 'Go to your
mother.' I think he thought he was doing the right thing. It's
hard to know what was in his head. So I was the heavy, across
the board. I never felt overburdened with Jennifer, though I
didn't like always being the heavy. But she's turned out to be a
great kid, so I must have done something right. That doesn't
mean it was always easy."
Cannon takes a sip of tea. "Nothing is as hard as mothering,"
she continues. "A lot of Jennifer's friends' parents were very
permissive. I was overly strict and overly protective and I
don't regret a minute of it.
"There were times when Jennifer didn't like me, and that was
hard, because your children are the ones you want most on the
earth to love you," Cannon adds. "There was a time when she
couldn't stand the sight of me, when I could see the hatred
coming out of her eyes. And I still had to say, 'Turn around and
get in this house!' It started when she was about thirteen, when
the hormones started to change. Up until then we were incredibly
close, and today we're ... I can't even explain how close we
Their closeness was crucial when Grant died of a stroke in
November 1986, at age 82. "I didn't realize how difficult his
death was going to be for me," Cannon confides. "There was no
love lost when we separated, but over the years we came to be
friends again because of our daughter. Although his death was
surprisingly difficult for me, it didn't change a thing about
the way I felt about him. I'd healed way before that."
But coming to terms with their relationship required that Cannon
go through a lonely, painful struggle to reestablish her
self-esteem after their divorce, when she retreated with
Jennifer to her Malibu beach house and began to put her life
"They were very frightening, very scary years," Cannon
remembers. "I was living at the beach, raising my daughter
alone, and there wasn't really anyone in my life. It was then
that I decided to become truly independent - to learn not to
base my happiness on whether I was with a man or if I had the
right job or the right things. I was going to learn inside what
Determined not to lose her autonomy to a man again, Cannon also
remained celibate for about three years. "Everyone I met I knew
wasn't right," she recalls. She filled the void by sampling a
smorgasbord of therapies, including Freudian analysis, encounter
groups, yoga and meditation. She even installed a padded room in
her house where she could practice "primal scream" therapy.
"The premise of primal therapy is that, as children, we are not
allowed to have feelings ... we're shut down," the actress
explains. "In order to feel those feelings, we have to go back
to that time and feel the original pain. After spending three
years with my eyes swollen," she adds with a burst of explosive
laughter, "I can now tell you it's a crock! You don't have to
feel bad to feel good.
"But I became such a total convert that when I had an engagement
to sing in San Francisco, I called the car rental company and
said, 'Give me the dimensions of your van.' I got pads that fit
eh van and took them to San Francisco, where the van was parked
at the side of the hotel.
"So I'd run outside to 'primal' in the van, and I'd tell my
secretary to stand outside and wait for me," she continues,
laughing uproariously at the memory. "The screams that would
come out of the van ... it would be rocking and rolling! And I'd
come out, and there would be all these people standing there -
and my secretary would be gone!
"But you see," she adds, "I was an earnest seeker. It didn't
matter to me what people thought. I was trying to save my life -
that's what it got down to. I mean, if you're an open flower and
this big wind comes along, it's going to blow you over unless
you're rooted in something stronger than 'I am an actress.' So I
was getting my roots, and I wasn't going to let anything stop
Cannon stopped shopping for the perfect panacea when she
discovered metaphysics. "For about the past ten years that's
been the answer for me," she says. "Every day I read, write and
meditate. I just get quiet and center myself in the truth. I
have never known what I now know inside, and no matter what
happens, nobody gave me that knowledge, and nobody can take it
away. All I can tell you is that life has never been this good."
For Cannon, getting on with her life also meant getting over her
fear of men, which is exactly what she did after meeting Stanley
Fimberg, and marrying him four months later in April 1985. "I
can't believe I had the guts to do that," she says with a laugh,
"because I was so scared. I'd been single for so many years that
I wouldn't even say the word 'marriage' - I called it 'the M
word.' But I'm so glad I let myself do it.
"I think what attracted me most about Stan were his principles,"
add Cannon. "He is a rare man, a miracle. You know how, in the
midst of the ca-ca, an orchid grows? That's what he is."
Cannon is also content with the way her daughter has turned out.
Jennifer, now 22, recently graduated from California's Stanford
University with a major in American studies and is currently
considering career options. "She changes her mind every week,
but she's having a ball," says Cannon. "The things she talks to
me about are confidential, but right now she is working on a TV
special about her father."
Asked if Jennifer feels burdened by the fact that she's Cary
Grant's only child, Cannon replies: "You know something? My kid
is so together. She was raised with moral values. She had a
daddy she loved very much, a mama she loves very much and a good
sense of herself. So I don't think that weighs on her. She's got
a really good center."
These days, so does Cannon, who now stays away from alcohol,
cigarettes and marijuana. Currently starring as a wealthy, wacky
divorcee in Caddyshack II, the actress recently finished writing
her first full-length movie, which she plans to act in and
direct. In the meantime, she's writing songs for an upcoming
album. She also plans to write an autobiography, "but I'm going
to wait on that until I hear the 'yes' in my head, until it's
time," she says. Cannon is even toying with the idea of studying
to become a minister, she explains, "so I'll be able to marry
some of my friends."
In whatever direction she chooses, Dyan Cannon - whose
experiences have helped her emerge a winner - is sure to
succeed. "I'm doing what I've always dreamt of doing," she says.
"I've reached my goal."