Forest 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
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?
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.
Real life intrudes. Cary is standing beside a department-store perfume counter.
Cary Grant at a counter?
At a counter. Now
no dream. It’s
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.
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?”
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
Ask him: “It
was time to climb off the celluloid and join the real world.
It was time to stop pretending.”
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.”
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
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
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.