Cary Grant is on the pone to Sophia Loren in
Paris as his maid ushers me into his secluded, sprawling house
on the side of one of the more splendid Beverly Hills.
Fire had driven Miss Loren to the roof of her French apartment
the night before, and Grant is calling to commiserate. The
connection is fuzzy, and Grant speaks in a loud stage voice that
carries through the corridors of his home. "Darling, I was
in a fire myself in England just weeks ago," he says cheerily.
"Yes, yes. They made us get out, too. They made us
go back in. We smelled of smoke for three days." The
laugh that follows says not to worry; life is a catalogue
of such small adventures.
I walk into the room where he's
standing in light gray flannel slacks, a yellow button-down shirt,
white socks and highly shined oxblood loafers with tassels, his legs
crossed, one arm propped against a bookcase, the telephone receiver
balanced between his shoulder and his chin. He cups the
mouthpiece, rolls his brown eyes toward it, then looks back at me
earnestly and whispers, "Dear girl, beautiful girl." He
returns to the conversation with her, and I walk out onto the
flagstone deck, past the white wooden furniture, and stand at the
crest of Grant's sloping lawn. Ahead is the old Harold Lloyd
villa, to the side is the house of the Manson murders, beyond it is
Valentino's home, Falcon's Lair, and behind us the Spanish-style
mansion once lived in by Charles Boyer. As for Grant's house,
its tenants have included Katharine Hepburn and Howard Hughes.
Several moments pass in the
sunny stillness. Then Grant emerges from the house, skips down
the scalloped burgundy layers of patio with the slightly bowlegged
athletic gait that caused him to fail an early screen test.
(The long-forgotten talent scout also thought Grant's neck was too
thick.) It is our third meeting of the week, and he greets me
with a courtly salaam. "Your majesty," he says, a comment on
the dark suit, white shirt and tie I am wearing, an outlandish sight
in the eye of the Angeleno beholder. We walk around the house
while Grant conducts an enchanting peripatetic narrative through the
byways of Hollywood. He talks about the people who have lived
in the magnificent premises around us, then recalls William Randolph
Hearst at San Simeon, Frank Sinatra's wedding and an upcoming public
relations trip to Monte Carlo for Faberge, involving Henry
Kissinger, Lord Mountbatten and the first meeting of Prince Charles
and Princess Caroline. With no warning, a frown creases his
perpetually sun-tanned face, and he clutches his temples in
frustration. "Please forgive me," he implores. "I seem
to be mentioning only people of importance. At my age, you
see, everyone's known me. But I have no need to impress you.
You may know the Pope, for all I know. Actually, I have a
great many very genial friends who do not fit into any of the
How delightful, I think.
Cary Grant is apologizing for name-dropping.
Cary Grant is 73 years old, and
he hasn't made a movie in 12 years, yet he remains a contemporary
star, a person whose snowy-haired presence can almost stun people
who encounter him. Hollywood has not yet accepted the fact of
his retirement; the film offers keep coming in, and Grant resolutely
keeps turning them down. He is a walking-around legend left
over from a Hollywood system that is in almost every other way dead
and buried. Time was when the industry was locked in the firm
grip of a handful of studio palatines with their retinues of
contract writers, directors, producers and stars. Economic
convulsions since then have shattered that structure, dispersing
power among independents, smaller film companies and what remains of
the once all-powerful houses. The Hollywood that created Grant
is now the stuff of sepia photographs. Grant, however, still
radiates in living color.
While his is of the moment in a
very literal way because of his exposure on late-night television
movies and his resilient good looks, in another sense he survives
the end of his own career in a manner that will probably never
happen again. It will be different for the De Niros and
Pacinos. Unlike Grant, they are not cultivating a distinctive
screen personality who will keep reappearing as the central figure
in their films. They would recoil at such typecasting.
They expose themselves artistically through intense portrayals of a
variety of characters across a broad range of behavior. They
would never strut their screen personae before the public eye the
way stars of Grant's era were obliged to. As a consequence, we
will never know them the way we think we know Grant; their
dimensions in real life will be more lifelike; they will never carry
the epic freight that he does.
It is appropriate that the
business career Grant has chosen involves a cosmetic firm - Faberge.
The Grant formula was successfully marketed in 72 movies, and it
serves him just as effectively in his new profession as it did in
his old one; public acceptance is total. He is an institution,
as venerable as any of the estates that nestle on the hills in view
of his home. But, it develops on closer inspection, as
vulnerable as any of the people who lived in them.
Vulnerable. The word
doesn't seem to have any business associating with Cary Grant.
It is inconceivable from what we have seen of him on the screen.
The specific nature of the threat he feels turns our judgment even
more upside down - Cary Grant, that paradigm of sex appeal, has
spent most of his adult life afraid of women, made positively
miserable by them. It began in his childhood with an unstable
mother and has continued through all his relationships with women
both in and out of marriage. Moreover, Grant was wounded so
deeply in these relationships that he did something the Grant we
know would never do. He took LSD. Acting under the
supervision of doctors in this country and in England, he
underwent a series of some 100 LSD sessions in an attempt to come to
terms with the rejection syndrome that had repeatedly plunged him
into depression. It is hard to picture Grant as a depressive,
and indeed, even as he discusses the subject, the gleaming polish of
his personality throws up contradictory reflections. But each
reflection is sure indication that even with Cary Grant, one of the
most publicly visible people ever, what you see is not necessarily
what you get.
Meet Grant, and you're with
someone as cordial, gentlemanly as his celluloid counterpart; almost
every characteristic at first glance confirms that, yes
indeed, this is Cary Grant. (Except his life, which in life is
a much merrier, wholehearted matter than it ever was on the screen.)
He seems utterly secure in being Cary Grant. His favorite word
is "marvelous" - uttered with the jaunty Cockney lilt that nobody
other tan he can lend it - and the frequency with which he resorts
to it suggests his outward approach to living: He is positive.
He has only generous things to say about his three former wives,
Virginia Cherrill, Barbara Hutton and Betsy Drake (he and wife
number four, Dyan Cannon, are still legally married, though they
haven't lived together in more than a decade); he loves Las Vegas,
he really believes the Dodgers will win this season, and he even has
a kind word for the smog that covers the Los Angeles basin this time
of year with a gauzy shroud. He calls it "haze." His
politics are conservative, and while he spoke at the Republican
National Convention last summer, he does not campaign for
candidates. He can't abide smokers - he himself quit through
hypnotism - and once refused to light Queen Juliana's cigarette.
"I said to her, 'I'm having a fine time and love living, and I want
to keep you living, too; I don't want to help you kill yourself.'
I took a lot of courage."
When he is not off on business
junkets for the cosmetics firm, M-G-M or Western Airlines, his three
corporate associations, he spends his time in Los Angeles, much of
it in the company of a slender, 31-year-old English photographer
named Maureen Donaldson. Miss Donaldson came to California
seven years ago and has had an on-again, off -again relationship
with Grant for the past four years. They venture out together
to eat at restaurants and occasionally attend parties. If it's
a restaurant they've never been to, Miss Donaldson goes ahead with a
woman friend several nights before to reconnoiter the food, the
clientele and access to an isolated table. A favorite spot for
the two is La Scala, a Beautiful People place in downtown Beverly
Hills, where they occupy a back booth and play a card game called
Spite and Malice amid the fettuccine.
Grant looks like a robust man in
his early 50's, and he still moves with the quickness and poise of
the acrobat he was as a teen-ager with a traveling English troupe.
It is easy to forget how old he is. While he mentions his age
repeatedly, it's offered more as a boast than as an honest
acknowledgement that he could really be a septuagenarian. A
question about death catches him by surprise. "Death?" he
replies. "Of course I think about it. But I don't want
to dwell on it. I must say, I don't want to attract it too
soon. You know, when I was young, I thought they'd have the
thing licked by the time I got to this age. I think the thing
you think about when you're my age is how you're going to do it and
whether you'll behave well."
While going out with grace may
indeed be on his mind, much of his activity these days takes on the
character of one of those mysteries of stunning natural order where
organisms seem to sense the end of their life cycles, prepare for a
tidy departure and smooth the way for succeeding generations.
Grant's only child is his 11-year-old daughter, Jennifer, and he is
currently redesigning his home to accommodate her future needs.
One innovation is a fireproof vault in which he's storing papers,
letters and memorabilia (an autographed baseball from Hank Aaron, a
card from Neil Armstrong inscribed: "To Jennifer: All the luck in
the world - and out," a stack of Cary Grant passports in a rubber
band, signed books from Noel Coward and Cole Porter) that he hopes
will interest her. She comes before everything else in his
life now; he even bought the cobalt blue DeVille he did because the
Cadillac brochure advertised the color as "Jennifer blue."
"She is my best production," he
is fond of saying of Jennifer, and pictures of her abound throughout
the house. He now wishes he had had more children. "I
don't know why I didn't. I've come to the conclusion that it's
the only real reason we're here - to procreate."
All four of Cary Grant's wives
left him. "I really don't know why," he says, looking
genuinely uncertain. "They got bored with me, I guess, tired
of me. I really don't know." He says he hasn't wanted
for female companionship, however. In fact, he says, more
women have been seeing him out as an older man than did when he was
a young screen idol. Still, the failures of the marriages
produced intense, lasting feelings of rejection in him. "I was
making the mistake of thinking that each of my wives was my mother,
that there would never be a replacement once she left. I had
even found myself being attracted to people who looked like my
mother - she had olive skin, for instance. Of course, at the
same time I was getting a person with her emotional makeup, too, and
I didn't need that."
Grant's mother was the first
woman to "desert" him; she left the family home in Bristol, England,
when he was 12 to go to a mental hospital. "It was her way of
rejecting society," Grant theorizes. "And, rejecting my
father," he adds with emphasis.
After a 20-year separation,
Grant visited her in England and ended up supporting her until her
death at 93 in January 1973. She apparently never let him
enjoy helping her at all. "Even in her later years, she
refused to acknowledge that I was supporting her," Grant recalls.
"One time - it was before it became ecologically improper to do so -
I took her some fur coats. I remember she said, 'What do you
want from me now?' and I said, 'It's just because I love you,' and
she said something like, 'Oh, you ....' She wouldn't accept
It was when his 13-year marriage
to Betsy Drake ended in the early 1960's that he underwent the LSD
sessions. Grant is quick to say he would never recommend LSD
to others, that it simply worked for him. On no account does
he want to be identified with the young people who drop acid.
"LSD is a chemical, not a drug. People who take drugs are
trying to escape their lives; those who take hallucinogens are
looking into it."
Miss Drake had heard of LSD and
of several doctors who believed in it, and Grant, an intensely
unhappy man at that point, was willing to try it. What emerged
was an experience he describes as being "reborn."
"We come into this world with
nothing on our tape," he is saying at the outset of a conversation
about it. "We are computers, after all. The content of
that tape is supplied by our mothers mainly because our fathers are
off hunting or shooting or working. Now the mother can teach
only what she knows, and many of these patterns of behavior are not
good, but they're still passed on to the child." He is
speaking rapidly, rushing through one sentence to the next, reciting
the givens of his convictions with scarcely a pause for breath.
"I came to the conclusion that as an adult I had to be reborn, to
wipe clean the tape. When I was under LSD, at first I found
myself turning and turning on the couch, and I said to the doctor,
'Why am I turning around on this sofa?' and he said, 'Don't you know
why?' and I said I didn't have the vaguest idea, but I wondered when
it was going to stop. 'When you stop it,' he answered.
Well, it was like a revelation to me, taking complete responsibility
for one's own actions. I thought, 'I'm unscrewing myself.'
That's why people use the phrase, 'all screwed up.'
"The first thing that happens is
you don't want to look at what you are. Then the light breaks
through; to use the cliché, you are enlightened. I discovered
that I had created my own pattern, and I had to be responsible for
it. I had to forgive my parents for what they didn't know and
love them for what they did pass down - how to brush my teeth, how
to comb my hair, how to be polite, that sort of thing." Grant
suddenly throws his hands out in front of him as if he were
splashing water, "Things were being discharged.
"I went through rebirth.
The experience was just like being born the first time; I imagined
all the blood and urine, and I emerged with the flush of birth."
At this point in the story, Grant has drawn himself up straight on
his chair and is looking jubilant. "It was absolute release.
You are still able to feed yourself, of course, drive your car, that
kind of thing, but you've lost a lot of the tension.
"It releases inhibition. You
know, we are all subconsciously always holding our anus. In
one LSD dram I - all over the rug and - all over the floor."
After his therapy, he had
another bout with rejection; Dyan Cannon left him soon after their
child was born, barely a year after their 1965 marriage. This
time he feels he has faced his old nemesis down. "I can accept
it if they don't want to be with me," he says. "We all try to
sort of cure our mothers, we try to help them. But if they
must go off and do other things, then that's what they must."
Other men, I ask? "Not necessarily other men. An actress
may just go on to a career. Being a wife and mother doesn't
fulfill her needs. In effect, she cannot reject me."
He will most likely not get
married again. "The very nature of the contract creates the
psychic need to break it. And not just marriage, but all
contracts. I tried never to sign them. I almost always
had verbal agreements, then got around to signing them later.
Does he get along with women
better now? "I think so. I don't know what they thing."
Would he have gotten along with women better in years past knowing
what he knows now? "Yes, if I hadn't been afraid of them."
One evening, driving home from
the Hollywood Park race track, he agreed to tell me about his
dispute with Dyan Cannon, but only off the record. The story
he tells ranges over the geographical dislocation in his daughter's
life and advances his theories on Miss Cannon's motivations in their
battle over custody, money, property and decisions about Jennifer's
education. He quite carefully does not accuse her directly;
rather, he draws up a class-action indictment against all women who
interfere with a father's right to see his child. In what is
the most passionate remark he is to make in my visits, he extends
his hands, palms up, pleadingly, across the top of the steering
wheel and says, "You get desperate to see your child.
Later, standing outside his
house, he reminds me of the state of affairs in the world of
insects. "Once the female has used the male for procreation,"
he says, "she turns on him and literally devours him."
Nobody doesn't like Cary Grant.
He's a Hollywood monument, and no one wants to tamper with that.
Even Pauline Kael, the critic, in a searching and often critical
look at his film career in a New Yorker article two years ago,
acknowledged that "everyone thinks of him affectionately, because he
embodies what seems a happier time - a time when we had a simpler
relationship to a performer." Current directors come away from
screenings of his movies awed at the chemistry that existed between
Cary and camera. "It was genius," said one of them, Alan J.
Pakula. "He never wasted a motion on the screen. Every
movement meant something." Those hostesses who can nab him
love him because he, as they would say, "makes an effort."
Still there remain these two persistent rumors. The first is
that he's gay. The second is that he's cheap. The day we
talk about the, Grant is in his living room, doors thrown open to
the outside, seated on a piano bench which he would slide around the
floor as he talked, giving him the opportunity to pace the room for
emphasis while never getting to his feet. He gives the gay
rumor a quick once-over with an anecdote delivered with scripted
"When I was a young and popular
star, I'd meet a girl with a man and maybe she'd say something nice
about me and the the guy would say, 'Yea, but I hear he's really a
fag.' It's ridiculous, but they say it about all of us.
Now in fact, that guy is doing me a favor. Number one, he's
expressed an insecurity about the girl. Number two, he has
provoked curiosity about me in her. Number three, that girl
zeroes in on my bed to see for herself, and the result is that the
guy has created the exact situation he wanted to avoid.
"Now on the other hand," he
says, moving the stool nearer me, "I know I have a happy husband and
wife when a guy comes up to me and says, 'My wife just loves you,'
and then I give her a little embrace and tell the guy kiddingly, 'Do
forgive us.' Or a guy will come up to me and say, 'See that
girl over there. Please go over and whisper something to her
or kiss her on the neck or put your arms around her. Well,
I'll do it because I know the guy trusts and loves that girl."
It has been printed that Grant
is worth $25 million. "That's nonsense," he says. Too
much or too little? "Too much, by far. Besides, one
cannot really assess one's worth. That's hard for the fellow
on salary to appreciate, but in business one only deals in paper."
The charges that he is a
tightwad exasperate Grant, but they remain an ineradicable part of
his reputation. A man who always had a keen sense of the
economic side of the motion-picture industry, he was the first
Hollywood star to escape the exclusive studio contract and also the
first to negotiate a 10 percent-of-the-gross deal. Grant
always had his eyes trained on the box office. "I was never
interested in acting in films; I was interested in the economics of
the business. I, of course, was delighted that people did go.
People need that kind of diversion, and I'm glad we supplied it.
It always pleased me that so many of my films played at the Radio
City Music Hall." The view is further fueled by his decision
to live an understated life by Hollywood star standards and by
allegations arising out of his bitter court dispute with Miss
Cannon. There is impatience in his voice as Grant counters,
"Well, you could start by looking at my charity donations.
Now, perhaps I've offended some people I wouldn't loan money to,
they tend to be voluble. It's true I don't lead the life of a
Frank Sinatra. But someone should ask the doormen and waiters
I deal with. I pay my gills immediately, and a lot of big
spenders don't. The fact that I have been reported to have so
much money doesn't help either.
"Years ago, I stayed at the home
of a very wealthy man in Long Island. After he had showed some
guests around the mansion, some of them gossiped about how he turned
off the lights in each room as he left it. Well I do, too.
"Another time there was a fellow
who worked for me a while and then published an article. In it
he said that when I discarded my shirts, I cut off the buttons.
Well, that was perfectly true. And there are two good reasons
why I do it. First, my shirts were made with a particular kind
of button and I wanted to save them to replace buttons that fell off
other shirts. Secondly, the housecleaner liked my old shirts
as dusters because they were soft, and the buttons, if left on,
would have scratched the furniture. I think it's a very
sensible procedure and should be adopted as a household tip.
"You know when Hearst had guests
at San Simeon, there was simply too much for the laundry to handle
so he used paper napkins. And do you know that people would
come away from that experience, the kind of life that no one could
experience anywhere except maybe with a maharajah, and mention
Grant now says he will never act
in a movie again, and most people take him at his word. While
his public still treats him as a movie star, Grant is so removed
from the profession that he doesn't even see films anymore. "I
have a sort of sense of guilt that I am watching something that
never really happened. I don't read novels for the same
reason. There's so much in life going on that I'm inquisitive
about that it would seem escapist to go to a movie."
A diversion he does enjoy is
baseball. Cary Grant, Los Angeles businessman, likes the
Dodgers the way a broker likes a blue-chip. Over a drink in
owner Walter O'Malley's box before the game, Grant tells me, "There
are a lot of distinguished people connected with this team.
It's unlike any other in the major leagues. This is a great
family business, and I just love coming out here." His
favorite player is Steve Garvey, and he talks about him as if the
Dodger first basemen were a promising junior executive. "He
does his job without making a fuss," Grant says.
It seems perfectly fitting that
as fastidious a personality as Cary Grant would like things orderly.
Midway in the game he recalls with an expression of horror the scene
he had witnessed last fall in New York when Yankee first baseman
Chris Chambliss hit the pennant-winning home run and then had to
bull his way through mobs of delirious fans to reach home plate and
the dugout. But it is still quite surprising when Grant, on
our last meeting, notices the parking receipts and take-out food
wrappers on the floor of my rented convertible, and proceeds to
clean it up himself. I last see him walking into his house
carrying a chicken-to-go bag filled with trash. And somehow,
impossibly, still looking elegant.