Hollywood's greatest retired screen lover turns
That's right, Archibald Alexander Leach, a.k.a.
Cary Grant, joins George Burns and Fred Astaire in the octogenarian
ranks. But don't despair. Even at 80, matinee idol Grant knows how
to get the girl -- the current one being ex-publicist Barbara
Harris, who became Grant's fifth wife in 1981 when she was 31 and he
There's nothing unusual about that. Women have
always played the major role in Grant's life: Scores of leading
ladies, five wives, millions of female fans. Movies without female
co-stars were not for Grant. He seldom did he-man adventure stuff,
with a few exceptions like "Gunga Din." And he never
appeared in a Western. Grant needed a real woman to kiss, not a
It has been 18 years since Grant has adorned the
screen with his impeccable manners and charming banter. Never one to
spend much time in Hollywood's fast lane, he down-shifted his life-
style for good in 1966, after making his 72d movie, "Walk,
Don't Run." The movie was a fluffy failure, but -- worse --
Grant's sex appeal was slipping and his distinctive voice was
showing signs of age. Confronted with the inevitable, he gracefully
but firmly made his exit from show business.
What made Cary Grant a success? A few career
flashbacks are in order:
Early in his career, Grant learned about the
power of women. He never forgot the lessons. Up to 1932, moviemaking
largely was dominated by men. That year, brash and buxom Mae West,
already a voluptuous star on Broadway, sashayed into the film
capital and, with a wiggle of her hips, let Hollywood's Big Boys
know what the bottom line was. West was going to be the star -- AND
So much for male domination.
West didn't need a casting director to sniff out
a leading man. When she got her first look at Grant in a chance
encounter at the studio, she knew she had found her co-star --
"He was warm, dark and handsome," she cooed. Informed he
had no credentials besides a screen test, West scoffed: "If he
can talk, I'll take him."
It's not clear who took whom. Their first movie
together was called "She Done Him Wrong," but in Grant's
case it should have been retitled "She Done Him Right."
This 1933 flick gave him ideas that he developed into an
unforgettable screen personality.
FOR ALL her smart-cracking vampishness, West
understood sex wasn't sacred. (In "I'm No Angel," she
kidded her image with such lines as "I'm a girl who lost her
reputation, but never missed it," and "When I'm good, I'm
very good, but when I'm bad, I'm better.")
From his encounters with West, Grant discovered
how to do a send-up of sex. He gave up any notions of becoming a
heavy- breathing Lothario and settled for playing the lighthearted
and flippant lover, a romantic star who used sexual situations for
Although his movies with West set Grant on the
path to stardom, his career went nowhere between 1933-36. He
appeared in such forgettable claptrap as "Thirty-Day
Princess," "Kiss and Make Up," and "Enter
Then came the part he had been born to play --
that of a cockney crook with sex appeal in "Sylvia Scarlett"
opposite the redoubtable Katharine Hepburn. Grant found his success
formula: Zany, lightweight comedy with a strong female star as his
"Sylvia Scarlett" was followed by a
string of madcap comedy hits: "Topper," "The Awful
Truth," "Bringing Up Baby," "His Girl
Friday," "The Philadelphia Story." In each, Grant
wisely shared the spotlight with his leading ladies: Constance
Bennett, Irene Dunne, Katharine Hepburn and Rosalind Russell.
Grant had a variety of ways to treat a lady,
some of them outrageous but none really mean.
In "The Philadelphia Story," at a time
Hepburn was trying to revive her flagging film career, she got help
in the form of a hearty push by Grant. In one spirited scene,
Hepburn, playing a haughty socialite, unceremoniously dumps his golf
bag on the front porch and breaks one of his clubs across her leg.
In retaliation, he gives her haughty face a shove that sends her
reeling through an open door. It was a scene reminiscent of Jimmy
Cagney's grapefruit-in-the-kisser scene with Mae Clarke in
"Public Enemy," but without the viciousness.
GRANT FOUND fame in amorous clinches. In
"Notorious," he romances Ingrid Bergman through what was
ballyhooed as "the longest kiss in screen history."
Feature this: The amorous pair embrace. The phone rings. Without
unpuckering, they slide across the room. Grant talks into the phone,
kissing Bergman all the while. The call ends; the smooch doesn't. It
continues as the lovers stroll to the door.
In "To Catch a Thief" Grant showed he
could take it as well as dish it out. In a picnic scene, the
glamorous Grace Kelly sorts through the picnic basket, then
impudently tempts Grant with the line: "Will you have a breast
or a leg?" Mae West couldn't have done it better.
For all of his successes, Grant suffered several
disappointments. in his career. The worst, probably, was his failure
to win an Academy Award during his acting days, despite being
nominated twice. Curiously, both nominations were for untypical
Grant roles in quasi-soap operas: "Penny Serenade" and
"None But the Lonely Heart." Ignored were far superior
performances in "The Philadelphia Story," "His Girl
Friday" and "North by Northwest." He had to wait
until his career was finished before Hollywood awarded him a special
EVEN MORE disappointing was his lack of success
as a husband (four divorces in five marriages). Three times he
married actresses (Virginia Cherrill, Betsy Drake and Dyan Cannon)
and once he wed Woolworth heiress Barbara Hutton. His marriage to
multimillionaire Hutton led one wit to label Hutton and Grant
"Cash and Cary."
His marital failures bewildered Grant. "I
never left any of my wives," he once wistfully remarked.
"They all left me. They got bored with me, I guess, tired of
me. I really don't know."
The reviews from his ex-wives were mixed. Hutton
was gracious, recalling: "Of my four husbands (she later added
three more), he is the one I loved most. He was so sweet, so gentle.
It didn't work out, but I loved him."
Actress Dyan Cannon (mother of Grant's only
child, Jennifer, now 18) had a different view. In "Cary Grant,
the Light Touch," author Lionel Godfrey wrote that Cannon,
during her divorce trial in New York in 1968, told the court Grant
was "an apostle of LSD" who tried to get her to take the
drug. She said he had "yelling and screaming" fits and
DESPITE HIS frequent failures in private life,
Grant's acting career rated raves from his movie colleagues:
Alfred Hitchcock, director: "One doesn't
direct Cary Grant, one simply puts him in front of the camera."
Peter Bogdanovich, director: "He's the
ideal leading man, the perfect zany, the most admirable dandy and
the most charming rogue."
Hollywood loved Grant for many reasons -- his
charm, his manners, his modesty. On his 60th birthday, 20 years ago,
he told an interviewer: "Not all of my movies have been big
successes, I admit, but none has ever lost money. I'm proud of that
because I get paid outlandishly -- and I would hate to let anyone