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The New York Times Magazine - July 3, 1977

The Other Cary Grant

by Warren Hoge
(submitted by Barry Martin - Thanks Barry!)

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 well-known brackets."

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."

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.  Absolutely desperate."

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 precision.

"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.  Don't you?

"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 that?"

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.

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