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The Ultimate Cary Grant Pages - www.carygrant.net


The New York Times - December 1, 1986; Section A, page 1

Cary Grant, Movies' Epitome of Elegance,
Dies of a Stroke

by Eric Pace
(submitted by Barry Martin - Thanks Barry!)


Note: The great majority of this article is copied directly from:
"The Other Cary Grant"
Hoge, Warren
New York Times Magazine, July 31, 1977, p. 14

Cary Grant, the dashing former acrobat whose gift for sophisticated comedy made him one of Hollywood's greatest stars, died of a stroke late Saturday night in Davenport, Iowa, where he had been scheduled to appear in a fund-raising event.  He was 82 years old and lived in Beverly Hills, Calif.

Devastatingly handsome, practically imperturbable and as elegant as a Cole Porter lyric, Mr. Grant was a beloved figure in American film for over 30 years.  From his first leading role in "She Done Him Wrong" (1933) - it was to Mr. Grant that Mae West uttered the famous, oft-misquoted line "Why don't you come up sometime and see me?" - through his last film, "Walk Don't Run" (1966), he seemed an ageless personification of debonair grace. 

Mr. Grant made 72 films, including "Sylvia Scarlett" (1936), "Topper" (1937), "Bringing Up Baby" (1938), "Holiday" (1938), "Gunga Din" (1939), "Only Angels Have Wings" (1939), "His Girl Friday" (1940), "The Philadelphia Story" (1941), "Arsenic and Old Lace" (1944), "Night and Day" (1946), "Notorious" (1946), "I Was a Male Warbride" (1949), "To Catch a Thief" (1955), "An Affair to Remember" (1957), "North by Northwest" (1959), "That Touch of Mink" (1962) and "Charade (1963).

Although he was twice nominated for an Academy Award - for his portrayal of a star-crossed newspaperman in "Penny Serenade" (1941) and for his impersonation of a London street tough in "None But the Lonely Heart" - it was not until 1970, after his career was over, that he received a special Oscar, inscribed "to Cary Grant, for his unique mastery of the art of film acting."

On screen, Mr. Grant seemed a born aristocrat.  In fact, he grew up as plain Archie Leach, the only surviving child of a garment industry employee in the noisy British port of Bristol.  He broke into show business as an acrobat dancer with a troupe that toured vaudeville houses in Britain's provinces.  Stilt walking was one of his specialties.  Despite the cool reserve of Mr. Grant's film persona, there remained an understated physicality to his comedic approach.

One reason for Mr. Grant's enduring stardom was his distinctive presence, which the New York Times critic Vincent Canby once described as "Slim, buoyant, and projecting humorous intelligence."

His personal style had some endearingly quirky ingredients, including a Cockney flavored but cosmopolitan manner of speaking, a knack of lifting his eyebrows to register comic disbelief and a flair for managing to seem irresistible to the heroine while remaining rather passive and indifferent to her at the same time.

His acting style was crisp, clipped, economical, "He never wasted a moment on the screen," the director Alan J. Pakula said in 1977.  "Every movement meant something to him."

'A Delicious Personality'

"Cary Grant, I think, is a personality functioning, a delicious personality who has learnt to do certain things marvelously well," Katharine Hepburn, who appeared opposite the actor in some of his best-remembered films, once said.

In a New York Times Magazine profile in 1977, Warren Hoge observed: "Nobody doesn't like Cary Grant.  He's a Hollywood monument, and nobody wants to tamper with that."  In the profile, Mr. Hoge analyzed Mr. Grant's enduring appeal:  "While he is of the moment in a very literal way because of his exposure on late-night television movies and his resilient good looks, in another sense he survives the end of his own career in a manner that will probably never happen again.  It will be different for the De Niros and Pacinos."

Unlike Mr. Grant, he wrote, "they are not cultivating a distinctive screen personality who will keep reappearing as the central figure in their films.  They would recoil at such typecasting.  They expose themselves artistically through intense portrayals of a variety of characters across a broad range of behavior.  They would never strut their screen personae before the public eye the way stars of Grant's era were obliged to.  As a consequence, we will never know them the way we think we know Grant; their dimensions in real life will be more lifelike; they will never carry the epic freight that he does."

'Grant Was Changeless'

"He was everyone's favorite uncle, brother, best friend and ideal lover; more than most stars he belonged to the public," David Shipman wrote in his book "The Great Movie Stars: The Golden Years."  "He stayed young.  We loved Gable, Crosby, Cooper as much, but they aged.  The appeal of many of them lay in familiarity unlike us and the world, Grant was changeless."

Archibald Alexander Leach, who would attain world fame under the name Cary Grant, was born on Jan. 18, 1904, the son of Elias and Elsie Kingdom Leach.  While still a schoolboy, he ran away from home and joined the Bob Pender troupe, a group of knock-about acrobats and pantomimists.  With them he sang, danced, juggled and traveled to the United States in 1920.

He liked it here and decided to stay, supporting himself with odd jobs, such as selling painted neckties and working in a vaudeville mind-reading act.  "I used to earn $5 a day, $10 Saturdays and Sundays, as a stilt-walker at George Tilyou's Steeplechase Park in Coney Island," he recalled.

He returned to Britain in 1923, where he played small parts in several musical comedies.  The producer Arthur Hammerstein saw him and brought him back to New York to play the juvenile in "Golden Dawn," a musical with lyrics by Hammerstein's nephew Oscar Hammerstein 2d and music by Otto Harbach.

He later appeared in "Polly" with Fred Allen, in "Wonderful Night," in "Street Singer" with Queenie Smith and in "Boom-Boom" with Jeanette MacDonald.  Both Mr. Grant and Miss MacDonald were given screen tests during their run in "Boom-Boom" but nothing immediately came of it.

In the summer of 1931, he joined the St. Louis Repertory Company and had leading roles in a dozen operettas before returning to Broadway to play Cary Lockwood in "Nikki" the musical comedy version of the film "The Last Flight."

A Hollywood Contract

He then drove his second-hand Packard across the country to Hollywood.  B.P. Shulberg, the president of Paramount Studios, saw a new screen test that Mr. Grant took and immediately offered him a contract.  It was at this point in his career that he abandoned the name Archie Leach for the more euphonious Cary Grant, choosing "Cary" from his most recent role and "Grant" from a list of surnames provided by the studio.  But Archie Leach did not disappear.  The named showed up on a headstone in "Arsenic and Old Lace," and in "His Girl Friday" Mr. Grant muttered that "the last person who said that to me was Archie Leach, just a week before he cut his throat."

Mr. Grant based his screen persona largely on Noel Coward, spending endless hours on practicing his walk, speaking voice and subtle facial expressions.  "I pretended to be somebody I wanted to be and I finally became that person," he once said.  "Or he became me.  Or we met at some point.  It's a relationship."

He made his first film, "This is the Night," in 1932, appearing opposite Charles Ruggles, Lily Damita and Roland Young.  It was a good part, and Mr. Grant achieved a modest success.

Chance to Play a Scoundrel

He appeared in several other films before "She Done Him Wrong" firmly established him as a star in 1933.  In this film, Mr. Grant played a lawman, disguised as a church missionary, who wins he heart of Mae West's bawdy saloonkeeper.  Because he was immediately cast in several other films that called for a breezy, laconic, impeccably well-bred young man, he welcomed the challenge of playing a scoundrel in the RKO Radio Production "Sylvia Scarlett (1938) with Katharine Hepburn.

Mr. Grant's reputation as Hollywood's leading exponent of sophisticated comedy was solidified by a series of classic films in the late 1930's - "Topper" (1937), "The Awful Truth" (1937) and "Bringing Up Baby" (1938).  The 1938 film, direct by Howard Hawks, was particularly hilarious and teamed Mr. Grant with both a troublesome leopard and a wonderfully dizzy Miss Hepburn.

Now firmly established as one of Hollywood's reigning stars, Mr. Grant played in a succession of films, including "Holiday" (1938), "Gunga Din" (1939), "Only Angels Have Wings" (1939), "His Girl Friday" (1940) - a remake of "The Front Page" - "My Favorite Wife" (1940) and "The Philadelphia Story" (1941).  Mr. Grant donated the $125,000 he received for his part in "The Philadelphia Story" to British War Relief.  After the United States entered World War II, he was among the Hollywood stars who entertained the armed forces; he became an American citizen in 1942.

In 1941, Mr. Grant also appeared in "Suspicion," the first of four suspense films he starred in under the direction of Alfred Hitchcock.  The others, all top box-office money makes, were "Notorious" (1946), "To Catch a Thief" (1955) and "North by Northwest" (1959).

One of his most challenging dramatic roles was that of Ernie Mott, a Cockney drifter, in "None but the Lonely Heart" (1944), based on a novel by Richard Llewellyn.  Clifford Odets wrote and directed the screen version, which depicted the slums of London with a vivid realism that some found oppressive, but Mr. Grant's performance was considered by many to be his finest in a dramatic role.

Mr. Grant was one of the first actors to declare personal independence from the studio system; he was a free agent by the early 1940's.  By 1950, his price for a film had gone up to $300,000 and as a result, he made fewer appearances.  Although not all of his later films were critical successes, very few lost money.  In his later life, Mr. Grant received 10 percent of the gross profits of any film he appeared in and reported owned his films outright after seven years.  He chose roles sparingly and usually timed his releases to reach Radio City Music Hall for the holiday season.

One of the best of his last films was "Charade" (1963), a tongue-in-cheek thriller with Audrey Hepburn that poked gentle fun at the mystery film while remaining an excellent example of the genre.

"Father Goose" (1964) called for a complete turnabout from his usual image.  Mr. Grant played an unshaven hermit stranded on a South Pacific island.  The film won an Academy Award for the best screenplay of 1964; in accepting the award, Peter Stone, one of the writers, specifically thanked Mr. Grant, who, he said, "keeps winning these things for other people."

'Hollywood's Most Glorious Era'

Mr. Grant's final film was "Walk Don't Run" with Samantha Eggar.  He then retired from the screen, and in the years that followed turned down repeated inducements to return.  "I have been privileged to be a part of Hollywood's most glorious era," he said in 1970 upon receiving his Academy Award.  "I think there is an even more glorious era right around the corner."

He remained a star even in retirement, because television reruns of his films kept his face before the public, and he capitalized on his continuing celebrity by making promotional appearances on behalf of Faberg, the cosmetics company of which he was a director.  He also served on the boards of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Western Airlines. 

Mr. Grant's private life was more turbulent than his professional career; four marriages ended in divorce.  But in his later years he took great joy in his loving relationship with his only child - his daughter, Jennifer - whose mother was his fourth wife, the actress Dyan Cannon.  "She's my best production," he used say.

In private, Mr. Grant seemed to casual acquaintances to be much the same jaunty figure they had come to know on the screen.  But he suffered bouts of depression, and he pursued strong and serious interests that had nothing to do with his film career.   He was a political conservative and a passionate opponent of smoking, which he himself quit through hypnotism.  In his efforts to understand himself better, he underwent psychotherapy and was treated with the hallucinogenic drug LSD, about which he once lectured to a group at the University of California at Los Angeles.  Still, he retained his sense of humor off screen.

Like other Hollywood idols, Mr. Grant was the subject of rumors, some of which he used to enjoy dismissing with a shrug of his well tailored shoulders.

One was that he was worth $25 million, to which he would say without elaborating, "That's nonsense - too much, bar far."  Another was that he was a tightwad, to which he used to say "Well, you could start by looking at my charity donations."

Mr. Grant stood 6 feel 1 inch tall, weighed about 180 pounds, had silver-gray hair, brown eyes and a cleft chin that became a trademark.  He never wore stage makeup but stayed sun tanned all year round, maintaining his athletic build by regular exercise.

In his earlier days, he won some local renown as one of Hollywood's best tennis players but later preferred riding and swimming.  He had a small but choice collection of French Impressionist paintings.  He was polite, gracious and genial offstage but disliked publicity and was considered somewhat reclusive in his later years.  When the Regency Theater in New York held a Cary Grant film festival recently, Mr. Grant declined to make an appearance but called the theater's manager to thank him personally and to compliment him on the selection of films.

Plans for Weekend Appearance

Mr. Grant had been scheduled to appear at the Adler Theater in Davenport on Saturday night in what was billed as "A Conversation with Cary Grant," which was supposed to be part of a "Festival of Trees" celebration the town was sponsoring.  He seemed healthy during rehearsals but then complained of headaches and nausea and was taken to St. Luke's Hospital.

At 7, the gala audience was told that Mr. Grant's performance would be delayed.  About half an hour later the performance was canceled.  "We really didn't know the specifics," said Diane Suig, the chairman of the festival.  "We just told them the very sad news that Mr. Grant was ill."

"There was nothing that could be done," Dr. James Gilson, a cardiologist who treated the actor, said yesterday.   "There's no intervention when something like this happens."  Mr. Grant's body was flown back to California on Sunday morning; there were no immediate funeral plans.

President Reagan expressed his regret in a statement issued on Air Force One as the President was flying back to Washington from a four-day stay at his California ranch.  "Nancy and I are very saddened by the death of our very dear and longtime friend Cary Grant," the statement read.  "He was one of the brightest stars in Hollywood and his elegance, wit and charm will endure forever on film and in our hearts.  We will always cherish the memory of his warmth, his loyalty and his friendship and we will miss him deeply."

In 1977 Mr. Grant spoke with Mr. Hoge about his death.  "Of course I think about it," he said.  "But I don't want to dwell on it.  I must stay, I don't want to attract it too soon."

"You know," he went on, "when I was young I thought they'd have the thing licked by the time I got to this age.  I think the thing you think about when you're my age is how you're going to do it and whether you'll behave well."

Mr. Grant's first and third wives, Virginia Cherrill and Betsy Drake, were also actresses.  His second wife was the heiress Barbara Hutton.  He is survived by his fifth wife, Barbara Harris, whom he married in 1981, and his daughter.

A Lightness of Heart and Touch
by Vincent Canby

Cary Grant was one of those great Hollywood stars about whom it was seldom said that he could do anything.  He could do a lot of things, up to a point, as the Hollywood community seemed to agree when it dutifully nominated him for an Oscar for his performance in  the exceedingly poetic "None but the Lonely Heart" (1944).

Yet, for Cary Grant to do "anything" was to miss the point (and waste the talents) of this most blithe of film actors, a man whose comic and romantic performances were as complex as the internal rhyme schemes of a Cole Porter lyric - and seemed as effortless.  Though Mr. Grant played Cole Porter in "Night and Day" (1946), a leaden, conventional, utterly fanciful screen biography, it was in his superb comedies - from "The Awful Truth" (1937) to "North by Northwest" (1959) - that the actor best demonstrated the wit and grace exemplified by Porter's words and music.

Like the composer's work, Mr. Grant's isn't easily analyzed.  It appears simply to have happened.  The instinct and intelligence that make it possible are assumed without question  This is probably why he never received an Oscar for a particular performance, though twice nominated (the other time for "Penny Serenade" 1941).  Both nominations were for not especially characteristic roles, which is Hollywood's usual, hapless way of measuring talent.

Extraordinary Natural Resources

To ask Mr. Grant to do a mood piece like "None but the Lonely Heart" or a solemn-faced, period spectacle like "The Pride and the Passion" (1957) was to anesthetize a large part of the actor's personality.  He could do these films more than creditably, but it was like asking Cole Porter to write a hymn on behalf of the beautification of America: extraordinary natural resources were being unused.

With the exception of Fred Astaire, Mr. Grant, more than any of his equally popular contemporaries (Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy, James Stewart, John Wayne and Humphrey Bogart), possessed a lightness of heart and touch that, in his case, was far more adaptable than was ever immediately apparent.

Compare his brilliantly funny work as the ruthless city editor, Walter Burns, in "His Girl Friday" (1940), Howard Hawks' gender-bending adaptation of "The Front "Page," with his cool portrayal of the American agent in Alfred Hitchcock's "Notorious" (1946).  Both characters look like Cary Grant and sound like Cary Grant, but they're completely different men, sharing only what might be called a profound urbanity, which is built into the nature of the actor as he appears on the screen.

This had nothing to do with the dinner jackets he wore with such ease.  You can see hints of it even in his first film with Mae West, "She Done Him Wrong" (1933), in which he wears a Salvation Army uniform from beginning to end.  It's fully realized by the time of "Gunga Din" and Only Angels Have wings," both essentially adventure films and both made in 1939, and was to remain undiminished throughout the rest of his long career, particularly in his last two Hitchcock films "To Catch a Thief" (1955) and "North by Northwest" (1959).

Making Other Actors Look Good, Too

Look at his films today and you'll discover a remarkably supple actor who, without taking a back seat to anybody, manages o make everyone around him look almost as good as he is.  He worked with most of the screens finest actresses, but none of them was ever quite so romantic or funny or both as they were with him - Constance Bennett, Irene Dunne, Rosalind Russell, Ingrid Bergman, Eva Marie Saint, Grace Kelly and Ann Sheridan, with whom he co-starred in Hawks' postwar farce, "I Was a Male War Bride" (1949).

Even Katharine Hepburn, whose films with Spencer Tracy are a sort of mini-genre in themselves, achieved an ease (and a certain madness) of style in her films with Mr. Grant that can't be compared with her work with Tracy.

This wasn't self-effacement on Mr. Grant's part.  Rather it's a reflection of the completely mysterious presence he possessed as an actor in a mechanical medium that adored him, and which in more than 50 years, has discovered no one who comes anywhere near him.  It's one measure of his personality that, as was not the case with lesser actors, it has always appeared to be so completely revealed in his performances that gossip about his private life has seemed superfluous.

In Mr. Grant's performances, as in Cole Porter's songs, something of the debonair spirit of the depressed 1930's remains forever fixed in a time that never dates.


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