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The Ultimate Cary Grant Pages - www.carygrant.net


Coronet - August 1957; pgs35-41

Cary Grant -- Hollywood's Indestructible Pro

by Richard G. Hubler
(submitted by Barry Martin - Thanks Barry!)


At 53, earning $300,000 a picture, he pooh-poohs his romantic charm 
-- and calls himself a "large, economy package of acting"

Hollywood's Indestructible Pro

For the last 25 years, a tall, dark, handsome and apparently ageless fellow has sauntered through the dreams of female moviegoers.  His brow and chin are cleft sharply, as if by a sabre cut.  He has spindle shanks, a muscular torso, a perpetual tan (beach in summer, sun lamp in winter), dazzling white teeth, and coarse iron-gray hair.  His voice is pleasantly rough, with nasal overtones; his eyes are black, deep-set, and usually worried.

Cary Archibald Alexander Leach Grant is able to use these physical attributes with all the dexterity of a magician flipping a card out of the air.

A shrug and a grin, he is boyishly irresistible.  A frown and a tightened cheek-muscle, he is the stout adventurer.  A yell and a sprawl, he is the uproarious comedian.  A whisper and a twinkle, he is the romantic lover.  

This 53-year-old actor handles his multiple characterizations with the ease of a trained chameleon.  He refuses to believe that his personal attraction is responsible for his ever-blooming stardom.

"Of course, sex appeal, looks and all that get mixed up in it," he says disarmingly, "but really, the director who hires me gets the large, economy package of acting.  I'm still on top  simply because I save the studios money."

Grant explains this curious claim with an expert pantomime of what he means.  "suppose I'm doing the simplest thing: speaking a line to someone off-camera.  The director tells me to take a drink of iced tea at the same time.  That presents a thousand problems.

"If I bring the glass up too soon, I sound like a man hollering into a barrel.  If I put it in front of my mouth, I spoil my expression.  If I put it down hard, I kill a word on the sound track; if I don't, I make it seem unreal.  I have to hold the glass at a slight angle to keep reflections out of the lens.  It has to be absolutely still to keep the ice from tinkling since you can't use cellophane substitutes in the close-ups.  And finally, I have to remember to keep my head up because I have a double chin!"

He points out that using a movie novice who didn't know all this -- however experienced an actor he might be otherwise -- could cause a delay of hours in shooting time where each lost minute runs into thousands of dollars.

Grant, who gets $300,000 a picture, has been in the high tax brackets for the last 18 years.  "Out of each $100,000," he says, "I take home exactly $13,000.  Even at those bargain prices I like to work.  I'm proud of being an expert screen actor."

The kind of poise that Grant typifies on the screen has not been easy for him to come by.  A sensitive man, inclined to be wary of the world but desperately wanting to be friendly, he has come to the conclusion, after more than 60 movies, that privacy is the single luxury a movie star cannot afford.

As an actor, however, he is anxious to have the public on his side.  In the early days of his career, he fretted away his evenings in cheap hotel rooms, trying to analyze why people laughed or sighed at certain words and gestures.  Later, as a star, he made it a habit to sneak into the back row at one of his own pictures and discover firsthand exactly what bits of theatrics got a good response.

 

"I've got a whole headful of push-button tricks," he says.  "But the best way to get the sympathy of an audience is to get yourself into a jam and let them help you wangle your way out.  A kindly chuckle is the actor's best old-age insurance."

On the other hand, Grant loathes the individual parts of an audience.  Assailed by autograph fans, he has been known to deliver a short, impassioned address urging them to go back to kindergarten, then sullenly sign his name.

He has an easily roused temper and is capable of such great concentration that it often appears to be an exhibition of selfishness.  Grant thinks his two marriage failures -- his first to an actress, Virginia Cherrill, in 1934, and to Barbara Hutton, one of the world's richest girls -- can be attributed to the fact that "I thought too much about my career and not enough about them."
The muscular Grant torso is made more so by chinning on a staircase at home.

"I was emotionally immature," Grant says humbly.  "I persisted in my stupidities."  It is on such occasions that he exhibits an unnatural gallantry toward the other sex -- a trait which seeps through on film and endears him to all women.

As for the three-year Hutton affair, the accepted explanation is that "the socialities around the heiress couldn't take the actors around the husband."  Whatever broke up these romances, it did not create the usual aversion.

The rebound from the Hutton fiasco was three years behind him when he saw a young actress-writer, Betsy Drake, playing in a London hit show, Deep Are the Roots.  Her evocative performance impressed him.  

Grant got her the lead opposite himself in his next picture.  He astounded the camera-conscious crowd by allowing her to fudge most of the footage.  They were married in Arizona on Christmas Day, 1949, with Howard Hughes - and old friend - as best man.  The match has been a highly successful one ever since.

His pert, attractive wife - with the personality of a dedicated pixy - has had much more influence on Grant than most people know.  She has settled him down to less drinking and practically no smoking.  She has given him a stability and comfort that he never knew.  

At their unpretentious Palm Springs house, Grant spends a good deal of time soaking up the sun and getting his tan, exercising his undeniably excellent physique, and chivvying his wife about her writing - something she has been working at earnestly.  He is openly proud of her efforts in this direction.  His wife smiles mysteriously and says little, a fact that occasionally makes her voluble and efficient husband apprehensive.

The fact is that Grant is precise and methodical enough to make him a hard customer to live with.  He does not care to have bits and pieces lying around - everything he does, from perfectionism in acting to dandyism in the way he dresses, fulfills this complex of tidiness, which is possibly a reaction to the helter-skelter commencement of his career.

Though he was born on January 18, 1904, in the respectable suburbs of Bristol, England, in a well-to-do family, he likes to think of himself as a cockney.  He can shift effortlessly from classic English to a spray of aspirates.  He has a habit of emitting low greetings to people high in his estimation - such as " 'Ow are'e, Jymes?" or "Gor bless 'e, Al; 'ow's the mussus?"  This knack dates back to his first theatrical job, that of a knockabout comedian in an English vaudeville troupe. 


Now happily wed, he says of his previous two marriages, 
"I was emotionally immature."

The group of zanies was called Bob Pender's - a rowdy collection of impromptu violence.  It featured manic stilt-walking, eccentric dancing and slapstick comedy.

Young Archie Leach became a Penderite over his family's indignant protests.  His father, Elias Leach, was securely settled in textile manufacturing.

"I wanted to travel and have an easy life," Grant says.  "I though acting was the easiest life possible and it would give me a chance to travel as much as I pleased."

To avoid arguments - something which he still hates - young Leach slipped out of the house and joined the Penders at the age of 13.  A month later, his father discovered his whereabouts and wheedled him back home.  Sadly, he resumed his studies for a year and a half at a swank academy - and then had to gratify his itch for the theater once more.  This time his family bade him good riddance and Archie was on his way.

By 1921, the fame of the Penders had spread far enough for them to shuffle across the sea and do an act in New York.  As the eager yes-sir man of the troupe, young Leach was still soaking up hard knocks.  He was a gangling 17, on his way to six-foot-one, with tight curly black hair, a highly ingratiating manner, and winning ways with the girls.  The next year the Penders went back to England but Archie - enchanted with the bustle of New York - stayed.

For two years he tried just to remain alive - shilling at sideshows, painting neckties, even walking stilts with billboards on his back at Coney Island.

He returned to England for two years, then was signed for a juvenile lead in a New York musical called Golden Dawn.  Archie - as he was still known - went on to roles in Polly, Boom-Boom, Wonderful Night and finally as the hoarsely romantic baritone in The Street Singer.  No one noticed him in the slightest.

Determined to shed the light of his personality, he played the lead in a dozen operettas in St. Louis Missouri, summer stock.  Still unknown, he returned to Broadway and got a job in a romp called Nikki.

"I'd been on exhibition for five years - and I felt like a squirrel in a cage," Grant says.  He announced he needed a vacation, packed his white tie and tails, and left for  the West Coast in a second-hand car.  He has never appeared on stage since.

He demonstrated his will to survive by haunting agents and casting offices in Hollywood, living in rundown hotels and taking long walks to dispel his pessimism.  He changed his name to Cary (from a name in a play) and Grant (found in the telephone book).  He got his first job as a javelin-tossing husband in This is the Night, in 1932.  His dark good looks and height, plus his spontaneous manner, won him successive roles in Hot Saturday, Merrily We Go to Hell, and Blonde Venus with Marlene Dietrich.  The first picture in which he had what he considered a meaty part was She Done Him Wrong with Mae West.

He learned from Miss West, he says, "nearly everything I needed" - and this, added to the days of the Pender training, was enough to catapult him upward.  He still thinks that Miss West is the top actress of all time.

By 1940, Grant had played upper and lower parts in an estimated 30 films, nearly all for Paramount.  Somewhere about that time, he discovered he had acquired a unique gift.  It was one which few actors possess: "tickling up" a line until it comes to life.

He found himself by quitting his Paramount contract in 1937 with an alibi: "I was getting all the roles Gary Cooper didn't want.  I didn't feel that Gary and Cary should be confused."

Most likely Grant wanted to resume his lone-wolf career, confident of his ability to get along.  He went over to Columbia for $75,000 to do a picture called The Awful Truth with Irene Dunne - that has now become a comedy classic - and went on to do Topper, Bringing Up Baby and the first version of The Philadelphia Story.

"It's wonderful to hear people laugh in unison," he says.  "I get more of a kick out of that than any kind of acting."
Grant is one of the few people who can take a custard pie in the face and not appear ridiculous.  "I try to be the man in trouble who should know better," he says.  To keep himself on top of a situation, Grant always uses a great deal of pantomime, absorbed from his early knockabout days.

He got to do drab, serious things such as None but the Lonely Heart and psychological melodramas like Suspicion and Notorious.  His salary went up to the top of his career in 1947 when Samuel Goldwyn paid him his $300,000 asking price to play an earth-visiting angle in The Bishop's Wife, and then tacked on an extra $100,000 for additional work.  At the time it constituted an all-time salary record for a single picture.

Though it is remarkable how many movie hits of taste and quality Grant has participated in - such as Destination Tokyo, His Girl Friday, Dream Wife, To Catch a Thief - it is equally remarkable that he has never won an Academy Award.  At least six of the pictures in which he has starred have brought Oscars to his co-workers, but nothing for Grant.

"There's such a thing as doing your job too well," says one friend.  "Cary fits in so neatly on film that the audience gets to noticing what he does rather than what he is.  This kind of anonymity is the hallmark of great talent - but it doesn't win any awards."

No one knows how much Grant cares about recognition.  Having been on the top for 20 years, with his salary still at its highest, he appears to be enjoying life as much as ever.  He has little time to pore over the 20 scrapbooks which constitute his concession to ego.

He visited Spain last year and did an expert portrayal of an effete English naval officer who gets caught up in the anti-Napoleonic fervor of 1810.  In the picture, The Pride and the Passion, a production top-heavy with extras and costume trimmings, his role was calculated to bring him critical applause.  Coming home from that affray, he launched himself instantly into An Affair to Remember, with Deborah Kerr.

Although Grant allegedly despises his own face - he usually hangs his pictures in the bathroom - his acutely aware of its cash value.  He recently hired a valet, a 33-year-old named Sam Lewis who fought Archie Moore and lost with a close decision, on the basis of a single sentence.  :He endeared himself to me instantly, "says Grant, "by telling me that I looked no older than he did."

"All actors are shy," says Grant, "at least I am."  He welcomes the opportunity to put on a role he does in disguise.  "Sometimes I can get pretty tired of myself."  His alternate remedy is to seize his wife and some suitcases and trek off to a spot where he is relatively unknown to the natives.

Though he can safely be called middle-aged, Grant is far from losing the enthusiasm and energy which has always characterized him.  His present despair with the modern world is that there seems to be no more of his type of comedy.  "It's the highest from of art, to write a good comedy," he exclaims.  "People used to be able to write this kind of thing because they had time - and because they lived with grace, they wrote with grace."

This kind of challenge - which Grant is continually meeting - has faced him ever since he slipped out of his bedroom window 40 years ago on his way to join the Penders.  It is very important to him to meet life on its own terms - and triumph over it by the exercise of gallantry and grace.

"Otherwise," he says, "there is not much point in living at all, is there?"


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