Note: The great majority of this article is
copied directly from:
Other Cary Grant"
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 Fabergé, 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
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
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
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
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