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Look - February 23, 1971

The New Women in the Life of Cary Grant

by C Mangel
(submitted by Barry Martin - Thanks Barry!)

Cary GrantForest Hills. The U.S. tennis championship finals. Defending champion Pancho Gonzales, yet to win his first game, twists his racquet nervously. Facing him across the net, the man who threatens to take away his crown, that upstart Cary Grant.

Madison Square Garden. Jack Dempsey, staggering, bleeding profusely from mouth and nose, can barely stand. It’s the fifth round of the world’s heavyweight title fight, and unless a miracle occurs, Dempsey is about to be dethroned. He just cannot take much more punishment from challenger Cary Grant.

Cary Grant? Can this be the polished, suave sex symbol, the man for all women, lover to Ingrid and Grace and Deborah? The man who quickens heartbeats by merely repeating a girl’s name three times?

It is, unquestionably, it is. Cary Grant, who has romped with Audrey at Saint-Tropez and whispered with Sophia on the Via Veneto, is a Walter Mitty. Like you and me, he is wont to dream Mitty dreams. In the serenity of his bedchamber, this tennis and boxing buff smashes court champions and pulverizes fighters.

But wait. Real life intrudes. Cary is standing beside a department-store perfume counter.

You scoff? Cary Grant at a counter?

Yes. At a counter. Now no dream. It’s truth.

Boston. A lousy day. Off-bay winds hurl chill across the city. Black snow sucks at our shoes. Grayness seeps into your spirits. Unhappy transit workers and unliberated ladies block traffic with their picket signs. The black car, too long and too wide for Boston’s back streets, pushes past snow piles, puddles, pickets, pedestrians rushing to Filene’s department store. The car stops. Cary Grant is out, racing across the sidewalk before his face can dislodge nearby women from dreams of advertised specials. The supersalesman from Fabergé is making a calls.

The silver-haired actor, characterized as the best light comedian in film history (by three directors), is playing, at 67, to a new audience. There are new women in his life – and once again they come in mobs. The goodwill dispenser for the international beauty-aids house zips across Filene’s ground floor, unbuttoned Chesterfield flapping in his wake, and into an express elevator. Upstairs, dark-suited executives stand by. Luncheon is ready. The cosmetics buyer is seated next to Grant. Fabergé president George Barrie sits between the store chairman and president.

Talk turns to film-making. We learn how Ingrid walks into a crowded room, bringing disaster for all the other ladies in it. Where is Cagney now? Raising horses, we hear. And Marlon, what of hi? Is Hitch still working? How is Roz? No order books appear, but Cary’s steak grows cold. Suddenly, we are all schoolboys again, and Cary Grant (Cary Grant) is there talking to us of Bogey and Coop and Marlene. All those secretaries and assistants and everyone are outside the door and we are inside. That grin is directed at us. We are the target for a little aside. Lunch ends. We tour the store, pausing briefly at his company’s display.   Pandemonium follows. On the second floor, a fiftyish woman looks up: “Why, Cary Grant,” she coos. “What are you doing in ladies dresses?”

He hasn’t changed that much. The eyes, that incredible cleft in the chin, the stiff-necked way he has of turning, that tilt to the side when he grabs your hand, the voice. He was called gorgeous when he came to Hollywood in 1932, and four years after his most recent picture, you can still see why. He has perhaps earned more money and made more people laugh in more films than any actor in history. He was vicarious lover to women and to their daughters and to their daughters’ daughters. Upon first seeing him, Mae West said, “If he can talk, I’ll take him.” (The same lady offered, when she heard of his LSD experiments under analysis some years later: “What is Cary fooling with that stuff for? Why doesn’t he come up and see me sometime – I’ll straighten him out.”) He could go on making films and money (he turns down movie and TV offers that start at $1 million), but at the height of his success, he has quit. Why?

Ask him: “It was time to climb off the celluloid and join the real world. It was time to stop pretending.” Pretending? Wasn’t he always playing himself? Wasn’t he really the impeccable, urbane sophisticate? Was he – a fraud? “Archie Leach, the dropout/runaway from Bristol, England, studied men like Noel Coward and became Cary Grant. If you pretend to be someone long enough, you gradually become him. But from here on, it’s an ad-lib performance.”

Fabergé offered the real world – along with a board seat, stock options and a private airplane. Barrie understates: “He draws attention to us.” It may have been the best move a very good businessman has made to date. The mob scene in Filene’s following Grant’s unadvertised appearance (he insists on unannounced visits) followed tumult in New York, Houston, Memphis, Cincinnati, a dozen other cities. “He is,” notes one store executive, “an exciting man.” “He creates,” says Barrie, “an atmosphere.”

Rumor that Grant would appear at one store’s charity show tripled the management’s usual take for its favorite fund. Buyers from two major West Coast stores abruptly changed their schedules because he came to town to take them and their wives to Las Vegas for dinner and fun. The capper: Come to Dallas, urged one store. We guarantee you $1 million in sales in one day.

The man who was “full of fear” when he began to act, who jammed useless hands in his pockets onstage and found them so sweat-drenched he could not get them out, who “lacked even the confidence and courage to enjoy life,” is one of the very few who have earned, and held, that elusive top rank we endow with the prefix “super.” He is a superstar. And whether he spends his time now on a set or making a business call (he is also a board member of Western Airlines), attention will follow.

The boy who ran away from an unhappy home at 13 found success as a man by making people laugh. The uncertainty that “for years made me peer cautiously from behind the façade of a fellow known as Cary Grant” diminished as he began to frequent “quiet, darkened corners of theaters,” to hear audiences laugh “at something I’ve done.” And at those moments, he says, “joy seemed to burst within me.”

Increasing confidence on the public screen had little effect on the private man. He kept much of himself for himself. (“He is still essentially shy, still not at ease in large groups,” says old friend Rosalind Russell.) In the surface community that is Hollywood, he is a nonconformist. Why no jumping parties at his place? Why does he attend few movie-industry functions? Gossips prey on the visible. “I live permanently within myself,” Grant says.

At an age when most men collect the benefits of family, Grant still invests. Jennifer, the only child of a man who wanted many, is his just 90 days each year (she lives with her mother, Dyan Cannon). Toward Jennifer, a sparkling four, Grant is totally the new father – a man in his seventh decade with the seeming strength of a parent 40 years younger.

I first met Grant on the floor of his apartment in a New York hotel, tumbling with his child. He was most unimpeccable.   Hair tousled, shirttail edging out, tie undone, he was laughing uproariously. Later: “Jennifer is my life today. I plan around her, where she is, when I may have her.” Grant does not say it, but one suspects his only really happy moments are with her. “I am not at all proud of my marriage record,” he says candidly. (He was divorced four times.) “But I have wanted a family for years. I finally have one in this child. I will do what I can for her.”

What will he tell her as he watches her grow? “I want Jennifer to give one man love and confidence and help. It has taken me many years to learn that. I was playing a different game entirely. My wives and I were never one. We were competing. I will advise Jennifer to love someone and to be loved. Anything else she may get in her life as a bonus.

As a very private man who may never be seen again as an entertainer, Cary Grant now spends a good deal of his time looking for private places where he can be with his child. Because after 72 successful movies and 53 glamorous leading ladies and untold millions of dollars, that’s really all there is.

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