His evenings billed as "A Conversation with Cary Grant" reveal a down-to-earth man with boundless good humor; a star who feels that today's movies regrettably have "too much heavy breathing and shooting going on."
Mr. Grant came to town, that epitome of charm and graciousness, came to Red Bank, New Jersey,
recently for an evening billed as "A Conversation with Cary Grant." Since 1983, the seemingly ageless actor has been appearing around the country in an informal program consisting of film clips and a question and answer period with the audience. When asked why he makes these appearances, Mr. Grant said that he doesn't like to make speeches,
because he's afraid that no one is listening, but if he's asked questions, then he knows people are interested. He added that he doesn't want to go to big cities, "because they make me nervous."
The evening began with a film from the 1970 Academy Awards with Frank Sinatra announcing the awarding of a special Oscar to Grant for his 40 years of screen acting. (He was nominated twice.) There followed a selection of clips from Grant's work, including
Bringing Up Baby, The Philadelphia Story, Suspicion,
Notorious, and To Catch a Thief, among others. At the end of the selection, Cary Grant walked on stage in the film to collect his Oscar, while
simultaneously walking onto the stage in real life - to a thundering standing ovation.
And if you think Cary Grant is a delight on the screen, you should see him in person: he is amazingly down-to-earth and natural, with a complete lack of
pretension. For two hours he answered questions from the audience and related
anecdotes, displaying an almost boundless good humor in the process.
There were a couple of very amusing exchanges between Grant and his female admirers. One young woman said: "I have 26 of your 76 films on videotape and I watch them constantly. I'm enamored. This is like a dream come true, talking to you."
Grant: "Want to pinch me?" (Laughter)
Young woman: "I'm 23 and what I want to ask you is why don't men like you exist anymore?"
A little later a woman asked him what he found attractive in a woman, to which Grant replied: "A lack of artifice. I don't like a lot of make-up or a lot of perfume. If someone wears a lot of make-up, it shows me that they're not happy with their features - it shows their insecurity."
Response: "I only wear lipstick."
On a different note, there were a couple of women in the audience who had personal stories to tell about encounters with Grant in the past. "You may not remember," said one, "but 12 years ago you visited a friend of mine in Sloan-Kettering Hospital who was dying. She was a member of religious order. You spent an hour talking to her and before you left, you signed her missal, which is now in my possession." It was the most touching moment of the evening.
Another woman related how she had met Grant in 1938 on the Ile de France. She had evidently sent Grant some snapshots she had of him. He said that he had some home movies of the trip with her in them. She reminisced about the trip and said: "You were delightful then and still are. I salute the blithe spirit."
He was also asked the standard questions. What was his favorite film? "I don't have any favorite." Who was his favorite leading lady? "All of them." Asked who he had admired as an actor, he cited the Englishmen Jack Buchanan and Noel Coward, and the Americans Spencer Tracy and Mickey Rooney - whom he called "Brilliant - they did so many different things."
When asked about Grace Kelly, Grant said: "I've worked with Bergman, I've worked with Hepburn, I've worked with some of the biggest stars, but Grace Kelly was the best actress I've ever worked with in my life. That woman had total relaxation, absolute ease - she was totally there. She was an extraordinarily serene girl. Both she and Hitchcock were Jesuit trained, maybe that had something to do with it."
"You've been off the screen for 20 years now," someone commented, "but I'm sure you're still sent scripts. Are you ever tempted by any of them." "None of them," Grant said. As for movies today in general, he said he saw very few of them. "There's too much heavy breathing and shooting going on." But beyond the caliber of today's scripts and movies, Grant emphasized that he was not interested in returning to filmmaking because it was something he had already done, and he preferred to do other things with his life.
When someone asked if the Hollywood o the 30's and 40's was the "Sodom and
Gomorrah today's Hollywood is supposed to be, with all the drugs," Grant replied: "I don't know anything about drugs. None of the people I know is involved with drugs. Hollywood is a very hard-working town - you have to get up early, and you have to look good. If you read the National Enquirer,
you think drugs are everywhere, but I've never seen them." This led Grant into commenting on the truthfulness of the press in general: "We very rarely have the truth told about us in Hollywood. I've had five biographies written about me, for example, and they're all absolute nonsense. I've never even met some of the people I'm supposed to have met."
Grant's amazing appearance at 82 years of age was the source of a great admiration (You look great, Cary"), and curiosity on the part of the audience. It provoked a lot of questions and
comments, which Grant answered with a thoroughly disarming modesty. "How tall are you" "Six feet, one and a half inches and shrinking." "Do you diet?" "I'm too old to diet." "What do you do to stay looking so fabulous?" A question he was hard put to answer; perhaps his early training as an acrobat has something to do with it. One man in the audience told him: "At the risk of having the women in the audience hate me, I was thrilled when you stopped making movies because I got my wife back. I brought her here to show her how old you are and damn it, you look better than me!" (Hearty applause)
The most striking thing about Cary Grant, apart from his great good nature, is his complete rejection of adulation. When a man in the audience commented: "You are the fantasy of millions of women, and the envy of millions of men." Grant replied: "How do you know that? Hw do you know what's in people's minds? I don't know. I just did my job."
Upon seeing Cary Grant in person, it immediately becomes apparent that the attributes we think of when we think of Cary Grant, "actor," - wit, charm, good humor - were not merely the inventions of screenwriters and directors, but are intrinsic to Cary Grant, the man.