As the handsome Hollywood
star, he seemed to have it all: money fame and the adoration of
fans. But in this best-selling book we meet a haunted idol.
His birth certificate reads Archibald Alec Leach, born January 18,
1904. He was raised in Bristol, England, where his father, Elias Leach, worked as a tailor’s presser.
Archie’s mother Elsie, whose first son had died in infancy, was
overprotective and mentally unstable. Indeed, in the spring of
1914 Elias had Elsie committed to an institution. Archie was never
told where his mother was taken, and he was no to see her again
for 20 years.
When he was 14,
Archie was expelled from school and joined a vaudeville troupe,
which eventually brought him to
New York. In 1931, after an undistinguished stint on the Broadway stage,
he was offered a contract with Paramount on the condition that he adopt a stage name. The studio chose “Cary.” He chose “Grant” at random from a secretary’s list of
In the decades
that followed, Cary Grant appeared in some 72 movies, including
“She Done Him Wrong” with Mae West, “His Girl Friday” with
Rosalind Russell, “The Philadelphia Story” with Katharine
Hepburn, and Alfred Hitchcock’s “Notorious” with Ingrid
Many of us
50-plussers have grown through adolescence and young adulthood
enjoying his performances. Even today, at 80, Grant’s handsome
face and twinkling eyes connote the self-assurance and dashing way
with women that made him a top box-office attraction.
But despite all
his professional success, “Grant’s personal life has been
turbulent. In “Haunted Idol – the Story of the Real Cary
Grant,” author Geoffrey Wansell contends that Grant spent much
of his time suffering from the emotional pain and guilt of his
took many forms. Grant never trusted success: he feared that each
new movie would be a flop. He fretted over insignificant details
and thus alienated studio executives. He went through four filed
marriages – to actresses Virginia Cherill and Betsy Drake,
Woolworth heiress Barbara Hutton and actress Dyan Cannon, with
whom he had a daughter, Jennifer, in 1966. Further, he tried
psychotherapy, yoga, fad diets and experimented with LSD, all to
reconcile the super-cool screen image he’d adapted, with the
frightened boy he’s never fully outgrown.
his book, Wansell found himself on the trail of an elusive,
intensely private man. The following excerpt from “Haunted
Idol” presents some of the surprising paradoxes that exist
within one of our most cherished and enduring screen idols.
Cary Grant once remarked, “Everyone tells me I’ve had such
an interesting life, but sometimes I think it’s been nothing but
stomach disturbances and self-concern.” As Archibald Leach,
he’d wanted to become a star. He wanted to forget the past, to
win the affection is mother had seldom given him and to gain the
sense of identity that applause alone could bring. But the price
stardom exacted was a subtle and prolonged torture.
Leach realized that he was loved only as Cary Grant, he found it
all the more difficult to retain a hold on his own personality. To
reveal who he really was might threaten his reputation, weaken his
grasp on fame.
who worked with Grant at the end of his career described him as
“like a house on the backlot of a Hollywood
studio, enormously impressive from the front, but when you open
the door, you realize there is nothing behind it.” Actor David
Niven painted a different picture. He called Cary Grant “the
truly most mysterious friend I have. He has great depression and
great heights where he seems about to take off for outer space.”
self-discipline and constant worry he brought to his screen career
led him to remain aloof and remote, to protect the separation
between Cary Grant and Archie Leach by a reticence that fueled
constant rumors. Of course, much that was said about him was at
least partly true.
The actor has
never found personal relationships easy, especially with women. He
has usually tried to manipulate the women he’s known. May of
them speak of his habit of dictating to them, choosing their
clothes, telling them not to wear makeup, to act demurely and
never talk about him to others. Dyan Cannon used to call him The
Master, so determined was he that she would obey his commands yet
he is also frightened of women. The
Hollywood columnist Sheilah Graham remarked, “He is always embarrassed
when I tell him every woman I know swoons for him.”
The stories that
Cary Grant is extremely cautious with money are also true. He dislikes buying
meals for other people and prefers to “go dutch.” He
habitually examines restaurant bills to see that he has not been
cheated and keeps his own hospitality very noticeable within
bounds. Director Billy Wilder once remarked, “I don’t know
anyone who’s been inside his house in the last 10 years.”
Above all, Cary
Grant hates being taken for a ride. His friend Robert Arthur, who
worked with him in his last year at Universal, said, “Cary’s anger becomes almost a phobia when he thinks he’s being
taken advantage of because he’s Cary Grant.”
A curious and
comic instance of this occurred at the Plaza Hotel in New York. He had ordered coffee and English muffins
(plural) to be sent up to his room for breakfast. When they
arrived, there were only three half slices, or one-half slice less
“I asked the
waiter why, and he didn’t know,” Grant said. “I called the
head of room service, who also didn’t know. I went up the line.
No one could explain.” So he telephoned the hotel’s owner,
Conrad Hilton, in
Beverly Hills, “but his office told me he was in Istanbul.”
then telephoned Hilton in Istanbul to ask why he had been brought only three half slices of muffin at
the Plaza in New York when the menu clearly stated, “muffins.”
the answer,” he recalled later. “It seems a hotel efficiency
expert had decreed that all guests left the fourth slice of muffin
on their plate. As a plate cleaner-upper, I was appalled.” And
he proceeded to tell Hilton that he should immediately alter his
menu to read “muffin and a half.”
“It cost me
several hundred dollars in phone calls,” Grant added, “but
ever since, I have always gotten four slices of muffin at the
It would be a big mistake, though, to write Cary Grant off as a penny-pinching crackpot. His shrewdness and
bargaining ability have made him one of Hollywood’s richest actors, probably worth more than $40 million if he
were to realize all his assets. He was earning $300,000 a picture
in 1946 and at the end of his career his income was estimated to
exceed $800,000 in royalty payments alone. “I like money,” he
once wrote. “Anybody you know who doesn’t? He’s a liar.”
There are also times when he can be extremely generous, buying his
friends sudden and unexpected gifts. He bought Dyan Cannon a sable
coat after their acrimonious divorce, and there are other
instances of this trait. He maintains that his reputation for
meanness is undeserved. I’m sure I have that reputation because
I don’t gamble or go to nightclubs or give huge parties,” he
explained, “and because I don’t believe in giving gifts at
Christmas. I give presents when I feel like it.” He refused to
tell his daughter, Jennifer, about Santa Claus, saying, “I
don’t see any reason to perpetuate unrealities.”
Leach’s personal peccadilloes, Cary Grant’s reputation as one
of the screen’s most brilliant and seductive comedians is
undiminished. He is proud of the fact that 28 of his films opened
at Radio City Music Hall, where they grossed more than $12 million, making him the most
popular performed in that theater’s history, his nearest
competitors being Katharine Hepburn and Fred Astaire.
director Frank Capra dubbed Grant “Hollywood’s greatest farceur.” And Doris Day explained his enduring
appeal this way: “He looks into your eyes, not your forehead or
your hair, as some people do. He can make love to me when I’m
But it is his
daughter Jennifer, and not his phenomenal movie stardom, that has
brought the greatest joy to Cary Grant, and he often calls her
“my greatest production.” Shortly, after her birth, the proud
62-year-old papa told Look magazine, “She’s the most winsome,
captivating girl I’ve ever known, and I’ve known quite a few
When Dyan Cannon
filed for divorce, he struggled to retain visitation rights and
was delighted to win them. He would devote his life to Jennifer,
he decided. He wanted to be for her what he had always hoped his
own parents would be for him, affectionate, supportive and loving.
And because of this resolution, he would never make another film.
(Among the movies he turned down were “A Touch of Class,”
“Heaven Can Wait” and “Sleuth.”)
In 1971, fearful
that Dyan Cannon would take Jennifer with her to
New York and Europe, Grant filed for joint custody.
When the judge ruled that Jennifer should remain in California with her father, taking time out to visit her mother, he was
jubilant. He could
plan to spend every evening waiting for her to come back from
school and every weekend teaching her to ride a horse.
Within eight week he had sold the rights to his last films
with Universal for more than $2 million.
“Operation Petticoat,” “That Touch of Mink,”
“Charade” and “The Grass Is Greener” were all included, as
was “Penny Serenade,” the only one of his earlier films to
which he still retained the rights.
He had no more connection to the movie business.
He invested in a property development in
Malaga in southern Spain
and another near Shannon in Ireland. He thought that
Jennifer might like to stay in one or another of these places when
she grew older.
Grant had also
become active on the board of the perfume company Rayette-Fabergé.
On a business trip to London, he met one more woman who would be important in his life.
She was a young public-relations officer named Barbara
Harris and, in 1978, after years of long-distance courtship, Grant
convinced her to live with him in California.
On the fact that
she was 47 years younger, Barbara said, “I was absolutely
terrified of the age difference.
Before I moved to California, I thought, at great length, about the possibility of being
without him. But I
decided to go through with it, because otherwise you don’t enjoy
the time you do have, which is precious.”
Barbara and Cary
lived together for three years before he decided he wanted to make
her wife number five. First,
he asked his daughter’s permission: “Look,” he said.
How would you feel if I asked Barbara to marry me?
I’m getting on. I
need her.” Fifteen-year-old
Jennifer’s eyes clouded with tears, and for a moment he wondered
if she thought he was doing the wrong thing.
But the tears came only because she was happy.
“For goodness sake,” he then told her.
“Don’t say anything to Barbara.
I might not have the courage to ask her.”
But ask he did,
and on April 15, 1981, the wedding took place.
Barbara Harris, happy and composed, stood beside him before
a judge on the terrace of their house looking out across Beverly Hills. She had no
bridesmaids ad wore a simple cream silk dress.
The only witnesses were her new step-daughter, Jennifer
Grant, Stanley Fox and his wife, and Grant’s butler and his
wife. As soon as the
brief ceremony was over, the newly married couple led the small
group inside for a wedding lunch which the bride herself had
prepared that morning.
These days, Cary
Grant is a picture of domesticity.
The actor who told Ginger Rogers in “Monkey Business,”
“You’re only old when you forget you’re young,” has seldom
had a day’s illness. He
swims a little, reads a little, and rests regularly.
He and Barbara play a card game called Spite and Malice.
Grant maintains, “It is a great way for getting rid of
your hostilities.” They
watch television. He
avoids meeting strangers, saying, “I prefer to stay at home with
Unlike some other Hollywood
stars of his generation, Grant has never been tempted to return to
Broadway and the stage. He
has persistently turned down offers and maintains that he hardly
goes to the theater, just as he seldom sees movies.
What he values above all else, he tells people, is his
time. He told Roderick
Mann in 1978, “I doubt if I have more than 70,000 hours left and
I’m not about to waste any of them.”
Sales,” a children’s program in which celebrities often appear
for the sole purpose of having a custard pie thrown at them, heard
he was one of its fans, the producers called to ask him if he
would appear. Grant
told them, “Gee, I’d love to, fellas, I watch the show all the
time, but you know I never do television, so ..”
These days, Grant
seems more at peace than ever before, and yet some of Archie
Leach’s most troubling characteristics remain: a fear of
disorder, for example, and a determination to remain in control.
But the decades of fretting over scripts, arguing over
contracts and billings, worrying about performances are long gone.
As the actor himself puts it, “Archie Leach the
dropout/runaway from Bristol studied men like Noel Coward and became Cary Grant.”
Archie Leach may whisper occasionally in the silence of the night,
but Cary Grant no longer needs to pay attention.
Archie Leach could be allowed to wither and die, but
whether he has or not, only he and Cary Grant know.