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Cary Grant

Chapter Six

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Manhattan Island. That skyline in the early-morning July sunshine. New York City. There it was; but was I there? Was I actually there at the shipís rail, neatly scrubbed and polished, standing with a small, solitary band of Pender-troupe boys--none of whom had slept all night for fear of missing the first glimpse of America? The excitement. Those skyscrapers I had seen so many times before. Oh my, yes. In England. In Bristol. In the films.

That familiar silhouette, of which the highest edifice, the most prominent spire, in that year of 1920, was the Woolworth Building. If any happy medium, any fortune-telling gypsy, had prophesied I would marry the heiress granddaughter of its founder, no palm would have been crossed with my silver. Father always advised me to strike a happy medium, and it would have been the perfect excuse. Thatís a very feeble joke, which I set up purposely, and not very well either; but itís the kind of joke only an ex-vaudevillian such as I canít resist. All right, donít forgive me. I donít care.

I used to apologize for every little thing I said or did, or hadnít said or hadnít done, or forgotten to say, etc.; I used to apologize for living. Now Iíve given it up ó I mean, apologizing. Not living; Iíve only just started that.

Lady Elsie Mendl, a dear nonagenarian, toward whom I gravitated for amusing conversation and relaxed relief at many a dreary dinner party, often adjured that one should ďnever explain, never complain.Ē

One afternoon, when she was 91 years old, I carried her in my arms down a narrow winding back stairway in a wing of her exquisite villa in Versailles and, not being able to see, but only gingerly feel the steps beneath my feet, I was troubled for my precious cargoís safety. Yet Elsie chattered unconcernedly and gaily about her plans for redecorating and entertaining and living. That was about a year or so before her death. Any words of philosophy from such a woman are worth consideration. So nowadays I accept the consequence, whether reward or penalty, or whatever I say, write, or do, and ďnever complain, never explain.Ē

After customsí inspection, at which I had absolutely no treasures to declare, one of producer Charles Dillinghamís representatives herded us directly to the Globe Theater where we waited around, stealing wide-eyed glances at Broadway and Times Square, while our mentor, Bob Pender, went into grave discussion with his old friend Fred Stone, the versatile star of the musical comedy that was rehearsing there. It transpired that, because of Mr. Stoneís change of routines in his new show, our act was to be placed in Mr. Dillinghamís other production, which was about to open at the New York Hippodrome.

So off we scurried to present ourselves at the Hippodrome, then on Sixth Avenue between 43rd and 44th streets: the worldís largest theater; playing daily matinees and night performances, except Sundays, to 10,000 people a week, more than 2,000,000 people each season. It contained a revolving stage a city block wide and possibly a half block deep, on which appeared only the most renowned and spectacular acts of those days, selected from every nationality and country: ďPoodlesĒ Hanneford and The Riding Hanneford Family; Marceline the clown; The Long Tack Sam Company of Illusionists; Joe Jackson the tramp cyclist; Powers Elephants, an amazing water spectacle in which expert girl swimmers and high divers appeared and reappeared in an understage tank containing 960,000 gallons of water; a highly trained ballet corps of 80 members; a chorus of 100 singers ó and us; our little petrified troupe of English music-hall knockabout comedians, pantomimists and stilt-walkers.

There were more than 1,000 people in the cast and approximately 800 nonperforming employees. It was necessary for everyone, from stars to roustabouts, to punch a time clock so that, by curtain time, each person would be accounted for or, if there were absentees, replacements speedily rearranged in the various acts and chorus formations throughout the show.

It was an astonishing assemblage. A talented, colorful family of colorful, spangled performers in a mammoth, colorful extravaganza and, from opening night to closing, our troupe was an unexpectedly big, colorful success. In the show ó and in the family. That remarkable international family. We loved them all, and reflectively they loved us. What you give you get.

Because of our youth, we teen-agers lived under the jurisdictional eyes of Bob and Mrs. Pender ó across the hall from them, in a sort of long Pullman apartment, in which each of us had to go through one anotherís bedrooms to get to the bathroom. The fellow at the end had the comfort of being closest, but the discomfort of the trafficís full concentration. I was the farthest away, nearest Eighth Avenue.

We had rotating duties. I learned to keep accounts for, cater for, and market for, to wash dishes for, to make the beds for, and to cook for every other occupant of that apartment, according to the daily allotted task. Well, thanks to my Boy Scout training, I knew how to cook a stew. You see, certain vegetables took longer to cook than others, and the meat went in at a different time from the potatoes. Right.

Stew was my piece de resistance when the weekly turn came around for me to cook. Perhaps I should have been a chef. Thereís that stew; and Iíve done rather well with ham, too, donít you think? Iíve always imagined it might be helpful to own a restaurant, in which one could serve healthy portions of rare opportunities, fresh viewpoints and sweet talk, buttered up, mixed emotions, dry wit, shredded ego and warm handshakes ó which gives you some idea of the kind of word games we play in Hollywood between scenes in order to keep the cast happy, while we waste all those millions and millions and millions of dollars I keep reading about.

Itís well publicized that none of us in Hollywood knows what he is doing ó according to all those who arenít doing it with us. Wonder who gets all that wasted money, by the way? Itís spent. Somebody gets it. Somebody benefits somewhere in our industry. Never mind; it gives two or three vociferous journalists a fine opportunity to mind someone elseís business, while exposing their envy and lack of exact knowledge. Wonder why that small group of writers (theyíre males too; fancy that) are so concerned about the doings of actors; and if they themselves have ever wondered why?

Over a long period of time a general image of a public figure emerges no matter what truths, semitruths, or actual untruths have been written about him. The press has treated me extremely well over my long period of time, and Iíve had pleasant and mutually benefiting relationships with almost all its members.

Only a very few are guilty of the sensationalism that attracts the unhealthy mind. But those few cause, even if undeliberate and subconscious, momentary harm, and Iím appalled at the unconscionable way they twist and distort facts. Why does the printed word take on such authenticity? They besmirch their profession in much the same manner that a few tasteless producers color public opinion about the whole of Hollywood.

In recent years much inaccurate, biased and, alas, too often, vituperative copy has been written about Marlon Brando, Elizabeth Taylor, Frank Sinatra and Marilyn Monroe, and recently in the Letters to the Editor column of a magazine I came across this: ďSirs: To those who helped make Marilyn Monroeís life happy, thank you and God bless you. To the ones, and you know who you are, who helped toward her destruction, there is nothing I as an individual can say.Ē Makes you think?

It saddens and astonishes me that the very people who frenetically fight to acquire the luxuries of life, so obviously resent those whoíve already acquired them. It lurks behind their every word and action. But what man can stand anotherís success if he feels that his own lack of it suffers by the comparison?

Well, itís a free country. Everyone has a right to air his ignorance and dissatisfactions. Including me.

There have been writer-directors, writer-producers, film cutter-directors, director-producers, and cameramen-directors; but let actors become actor-producers ó oh, it shouldnít happen to a worser, lessable fellow; and all the resenters and dissenters club together. With clubs.

When I hear someone question or damn the trend toward independent production of todayís stars, Iím reminded of a group of remarkably capable people of the previous era: Charles Chaplin, Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks, who not only studied their craft thoroughly and made films of their own choosing ó quite successfully, too, according to the publicís reaction ó but banded together to manage their own studio, distributing company and circuit of theaters as well, under the United Artists banner. Their retirement from active film-making was the beginning of that organizationís decline; and only recently, with a new aggregation of independent companies, in which artists share in the profits, has it again begun to flourish.

To anyone with knowledge of the film industryís inner workings, itís ludicrous to blame upon stars the troubles that beset some major companies. Indeed, one trouble is that there are insufficient stars. But articles written about the men most responsible for mismanagement of studios and production, for worldwide distribution leases and methods of bookkeeping, for lack of forethought in light of changing conditions, and reluctance to build new stars; or for the sales of films to the movie theaterís greatest competitor, television, would bring little revenue to the writer or attention to his words, because the names of the men who were at fault are without reader interest. So the stars it is.

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