Cary Grant was late.
When he finally arrived at the Monte Carlo cafe, the very first thing he did was apologize.
"I'm late," he said. "I hope you haven't been waiting long."
We were in Monaco. He was visiting Prince Rainier, and a mutual friend arranged this interview. Though most things seem to change with age, Cary Grant hadn't. "Do you feel over eighty?" I asked after we'd sat down.
"I don't know how eighty is supposed to feel. I feel the way I feel," he said.
"Do you feel like Cary Grant?"
He chuckled in his slightly nervous way. "I don't have much choice, do I? When people say, 'You've led such a glamorous life,' all I can honestly say is that I've lived my life. It isn't glamorous to me."
Life began for him in Bristol, England, where he was born Archibald Leach on January 18, 1904. He was an only child whose father was a presser in a garment factory.
He described his mother as a "serious negative influence" on his life. She was mentally ill and institutionalized when he was nine years old. For many years - at least through much of his formative years - Grant said he felt she had deserted him.
"I was raised mostly by my father," he said. "I didn't get along with my mother until a few years before her death." As a youth he desperately wanted to travel, so when someone told him that actors traveled, he decided to become an actor.
Within weeks after his fourteenth birthday, he and a pal sneaked into the girls' bathroom at school and caused more than enough trouble to get expelled. Grant then joined an acting troupe as an acrobat.
But the switch from cartwheeling to leading man was tough. His break didn't come until a comic hired him as a straight man. "Frankly, I don't think I was very good. But it did move me from tumbling to talking."
From there his career took off. In 1931 Paramount signed him to a $450-a-week, five-year contract. Sex symbol Mae West boosted Grant's career when she cast him in She Done Him Wrong, the hit film in which she uttered that famous line, "Why don't you come up sometime and see me?"
"Films?" Grant shook his head. "You know, if some people had their way, I should never have made any films. I failed my first screen test. The director thought my neck was too thick. And he was right."
To keep the record straight, Cary Grant wore a size-17 collar.
"I made seventy or seventy-one films," said Grant. "One of the films that I think shows a successful bit of acting is None But the Lonely Heart," he said. "That's where I found a form that fitted me. I
played a well-dressed, fairly sophisticated chap who is put into intolerable situations. It's a formula, and I used it often."
Other films he especially liked included North by Northwest, Charade, Bringing Up Baby and The Philadelphia Story. "I think Indiscreet and Notorious, both with Ingrid Bergman, are good. They hold up."
"Do you watch your films?" I asked.
"I don't go out of my way to see them," he said. "When there's one on TV and I stumble onto it, I may watch it for a while and say to myself that I don't remember the words or that I don't remember playing in that scene. That's probably the only reason I'd bother to watch a little bit, because sometimes what I see surprises me. Other times it leaves me totally blank."
"I'm not ver interested because that's something which is behind me now. I'm more interested in living for today. I don't see films as being very real. Reality is what interests me now."
Cary Grant's leading ladies were some of the most desirable women of the time: Marlene Dietrich, Grace Kelly, Ingrid Bergman, Katharine Hepburn, Audrey Hepburn, Sophia Loren.
"I have been fortunate throughout my career, because I've worked with a few of the most beautiful women in the world," he said, "and in most cases I've maintained their friendships. It's very important to me to keep friends." A wide smile spread across his face. "I wish I could tell you all sorts of stories about them, but I don't really have any to tell."
I wasn't going to let him get away with that. "The Hollywood Cary Grant always got the girl. You mean that Cary Grant off screen didn't have his conquests?" I asked.
"I charmed them on screen, anyway," he said smiling. "Once I found that formula I mentioned, I was pretty much the same in all my films. I simply changed the leading ladies and those terrible situations. But I always tried to play Cary Grant. Did you know that I seldom wore makeup? I didn't want any of that. As for being as charming as the chap on the screen, I hope I sometimes am."
If he tried to maintain reality on screen by being himself, was it fair to call it acting?
He shrugged. "Let me call it 'coming on straight,'" he explained. "It's easy to hide behind characters and roles. I think it's much tougher to be yourself."
Grant added that he was not the only star who made a living by coming on straight. He said, for instance, John Wayne would be John Wayne forever because he'd been that in all his films. On the other hand, Robert Redford, whom Grant felt was a fine actor, may have trouble proving it. "He's so good looking. He doesn't have to worry about it now, but the day will come when he'll have to decide where he's going. He's made some of the right decisions so far. Those films he did with Paul Newman (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Sting) were great. If you're getting along well with certain people, it shows on the screen. If you're having fun, the audience has fun, too. Audrey and I had a wonderful time making Charade, and I think it shows."
"You say nice things about other people," I said. "What about the things other people say about you?"
He shook his head. "It doesn't matter to me. I let people think or say whatever they want to. There have been all sorts of things written about me. It's an occupational hazard. But I don't particularly care. I live inside me. I can't control anyone's thoughts. I have enough trouble controlling my own."
The afternoon sun was fading and Grant had to leave. "But ring me tomorrow," he said, "I'm
staying at the palace. Come over in the afternoon for Champagne and caviar."
It was Sunday when I called on him, and Grant was impeccably dressed - wearing slacks, old leather slippers and a pink shirt with CG in small letters on the chest.
"Want a drink?"
"You having one?"
"Damn right I am."
He poured scotch for us both.
We toasted each other's health.
"I meant to ask you yesterday if you had ever looked into your family history. Have you ever checked out your roots?"
He sat down and clinked another ice cube into his scotch. "The family name is Leach, so I suspect that somewhere along the line someone in the family was a bleeder. You know, the person who put leaches on people who were ill. And yes, I've been curious about my family background. I think it's important to know where you've come from so that you can know where you're going."
Shaping his life, trying to understand who he was and where he was going was something he said he worked hard at. "I think when we're born we're like a brand-new computer tape," he explained. "We're clean. The older we get, the more cluttered or tape gets. Some of it has to stay, but a lot of it should be erased clean. But it's not easy to do, to purge yourself of all the problems and troubles that have accumulated in our head."
Grant managed it with the help of LSD. "I underwent heavy psychiatric therapy. I did weekly sessions of controlled LSD therapy. There were about a hundred sessions in all - two years' worth about twenty-five or thirty years ago. At first I found it unbelievably painful. In the beginning I didn't want to go back. The sessions lasted six hours each. I would run the gamut of emotions from deep pain with tears running down my face to light-headed, almost drunken laughter. But I got my tape clean. I remember at one point lying on the doctor's couch, squirming around, moving
around in small circles, telling myself that I was unscrewing myself. I told myself that I was getting unscrewed up. When each
session ended, I was drained. I'd go home to sleep. But when each session ended, I knew that I had cleaned off a little more of my tape. It took two years, but it was necessary for my evolution."
Grant said that he had no interest now in drugs. "Especially marijuana, because I detest cigarettes. That's one of the few things I simply can't tolerate. I can't stand being around people who smoke cigarettes. Filthy habit," he grumbled.
"What clogged up your tape in the first place?" I asked.
"Growing up. Becoming me. My relationship with my parents. Marriage."
He married five times: actress Virginia Cherrill was wife number one, followed by marriages to Woolworth heiress Barbara Hutton, actress Betsy Drake, actress Dyan Cannon and former public relations director, Barbara Harris, his last wife, who was 47 years his junior.
Except for Barbara Harris, he added in typical, "They all left me. I didn't leave any of them. They all walked out on me. Maybe my marriages were heavily influenced by something in my subconscious that's related to my early years and the way I envisioned my mother. That's a pat answer, I know, but it's very possible. However, I'm not really sure why they left me. Maybe they just got bored."
"That's a pretty frank admission," I said.
"It took a lot of psychiatry was necessary. It didn't all happen at once. It got piled on in layers. Thick layers, one on top of the other. It took time to undo."
He said that it happens this way to most people. "Just look at how we're put into problems that go unsolved throughout our life. Consider kids toda. They reach their teens and they're ready to have sex. So the little girl screws the little boy next door. They do it out behind the high school gym. He thinks to himself, 'What kind of girl is this if she's doing this with me?' And she thinks to herself, 'What kind of guy could he be for making me do this sort of thing with him?' And by the time they go through five or six years of this, they're pretty confused."
The next step, he felt, was bringing all this confusion into marriage. "So they get married to someone they think they loved, and suddenly they can't do anything with each other. They've had so much practice doing things with people they don't love, they'd never dream of doing the same thing with people they do love. They get married, they have a kid or two and then it all falls apart. The marriage breaks up because it can't support the weight of all their hang-ups. Their kids reach the age of twelve or thirteen and they start screwing the kid next door and, because their parents have put the same pressure on them that they felt when they were kids, it goes on like that forever. I went through this - everyone does. These were the kinds of things I wanted to get out of me so I could move on, so that I could concern myself with other things."
"What else did you bring with you from childhood?" I asked.
"I'm not sure if I thought of it when I was a child, but when I was a young man, I was sure that medical science would have had the problem of death all sorted out. I was sure that by the time I reached the age I am now, they would have found a cure for it. You know, that they would have been able to transplant everything and we'd all just keep
going on forever."
Again that nervous laugh, "And ... they haven't. I know all too well that the day will come when I won't be around any longer. The prospect of that doesn't necessarily please me. That's another reason why I live for today. That's another reason why reality is so important to me. I travel. I enjoy myself. I spend time with my daughter. I love life. That's the way I hope to keep on going. I enjoy whatever it is I do. If I don't enjoy something, I don't do it."
Grant said he found it wasn't necessary to do what so many people do as they get older - work hard at staying young.
"I admit I used to worry that when you reached a certain age, things stopped happening," he explained. "But I don't worry about that anymore because - and it's a pleasure to tell you - they don't stop happening. I haven't stopped doing anything simply because of my age. In fact, I know a man who is almost ten years older than I am and he doesn't have any troubles."
"Just what kinds of troubles are you referring to?" I asked.
"His approach to women."
"You're saying that your approach to women hasn't changed with age?"
"Not at all. During the years of my life when I was single, I always had a fairly simple approach. If something was going to happen, it would happen. If not, it wouldn't. Whatever happened was fine with me. It's all in the way you look at life. I used to have several lady friends who knew my phone number. They knew they could ring whenever they wanted to. I'd take them to a baseball game or we'd go out for dinner. Although I don't like going out for dinner as much as I used to. There really isn't very much for me after dark except having dinner, watching television or making love. So a friend would ring and wonder if she could come for dinner, and if I was free, I'd say 'Sure.' If she brought her rucksack and wanted to spend the night, that was fine. If not, that was fine, too."
"As long as we're talking about sex ... How do I put this nicely? ... There have always been rumors" I muttered.
He said, "You mean the fag rumor?"
"I've heard that rumor for years." He shrugged it off. "Look at it this way. I've always tried to dress well. I've had some success in life. I've enjoyed my success and I include in that success some relationships with very special women. If someone wants to say I'm gay, what can I do? I think it's probably said about every man who's been known to do well with women. I don't let that sort of thing bother me. What matters to me is that I know who I am."
"While we're on the subject of rumors, is it true you always eat dinner in bed?"
"Sure I do," he laughed. "I've got one of those beds that goes up and down and does all sorts of things. It's a pleasant place to have dinner and a comfortable place to spend time. I can have dinner there and watch the news on TV. It's also for making love."
"Ah," I said. "So that's the Cary Grant approach. 'Hi sweetie. What to step in her for dinner?'"
Again he laughed. "The Cary Grant approach, if there ever has been one, is that whatever happens has always been all right with me. I've never tried to impose myself on anyone."
Grant's last film was called Walk, Don't Run. He made it in 1966. Not coincidentally, it was the same year that his daughter, Jennifer, was born.
"That's right. I haven't made a film since she was born. Anyway, no one can make a better production than life."
"Do you get along with her?"
"I very much enjoy her company. Yes, I think we're great friends. I was an only child, as Jennifer is, and I find myself drawn to only children. A number of the closest friends I've had down through the years have turned out to be only
children. There must be a reason why. But I can't explain it."
One thing he could explain, and did, was how Jennifer changed his life. "I've come to think that the reason we're put on this earth is to procreate. To leave something behind. Not films, because you know that I don't think my films will last very long once I'm gone. But another human being. That's what's important. My life changed the day Jennifer was born. Now I live for her. I stopped acting when she came into this world because I wanted to have the time to spend with her. I wanted to be able to watch her grow up. I've tried to spend as much time with her as I can."
Even though Jennifer was raised by her mother, Dyan Cannon, Grant said he has always seen her interests as his interests. "I'm concerned with her future. I want to see that she's raised with love. I don't want to see her make the same mistakes I did. I don't know if she watches my old films or not. But I would never insist that she do. If she wants to be an actress, she can be an actress. If not, that's all right too."
He sat back in his chair. "She has to do what she wants to do. I can't, nor would I, impose my wishes on her. I love her and I pray for her. But she has her own life to live. I can merely spend the rest of my life loving her, enjoying her, hoping she enjoys me."