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AUTOBIOGRAPHY

ARCHIE LEACH
by 
Cary Grant


Chapter Eight

Chapters
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14

The Eighteenth Amendment, prohibiting the sale of liquor, was in effect. In Manhattan alone there were more than 5,000 speakeasies. Americans seemed frantic to appear sophisticated by looking blasť, bored or blotto.

Young girls were known as flappers, and young men as either cake eaters or finale hoppers. No, I donít know why.

The shimmy-shake, a dance not unlike the twist, was being shook at every party or nightclub in New York.

The Treaty of Versailles had been signed, and trade with Germany resumed.

F. Scott Fitzgerald was coming into prominence.

Life expectancy was 55 years as compared with 50 at the turn of the century.

The motorcar, thanks to Ford, was becoming available to middle- and lower-income groups.

Bill Tilden was the menís singles tennis champion.

Sacco and Vanzetti were found guilty of the crime of killing a paymaster.

The Jest, starring John and Lionel Barrymore, was the theaterís dramatic success, and Marilyn Miller sang and danced in Jerome Kernís Sally , the hit musical.

Jack Dempsey was heavy weight champion of the world, and Woodrow Wilson was in the final days of his Presidency.

In 1922, during the tour, I was excited and pleased by being presented to ex-President Wilson when he attended a performance at the Keith Theater in Washington, D.C. He sat in the back row close to an exit nearest the stage-door alley and, as he left the theater in a wheelchair, the members of our troupe together with the Foy family, who headlined that particular vaudeville bill, were lined up to meet him. He warmly complimented our antics and seemed happy to be there, and I was struck by the smiling simplicity of this kind man. He died in 1924.

Also during the tour I saw Jack Dempsey at Atlantic City. I had been basking and snoring in the sun on a deserted strand of beach, which heíd probably chosen to avoid causing a commotion at one of the more frequented beaches. It was mandatory in those days for men to keep their chests covered, and he wore a green one-piece bathing suit. His legs were slim, but his rippling shoulder muscles were perfectly developed. He looked to be about my own height of six feet one and could not have weighed much more than 180 pounds, which is what I weigh today. Yet that frame carried enough punching power to floor a man as huge as Jess Willard.

Within only moments of his appearance on the beach, dozens of running, shouting people seemed to come from nowhere, zeroing in on him, waving pieces of wet autograph paper, thoughtlessly intent upon bedeviling his evident desire for a quiet, peaceful swim. Poor man. It should have given me pause to wonder about the kind of public life a celebrity leads. Yet, oh, for the life of a celebrity! Hmmmm. Once in later years I spotted Charles Chaplin in a drugstore near Times Square and, watching from an unnoticed distance, saw person after person contrive to talk to him or approach him on some pretext or another or, too often, to ask for his autograph. What do people do with autographs? Itís a harmless enough pursuit, but with what useful objective?

I have written thousands upon thousands of autographs. The daily stream begins with the first showing of oneís face in the morning and ceases only at night in the privacy of oneís rooms. The gratification of just one request brings the next watchful person toward me, resulting in an endless chain, as newcomers arrive to see who is in the middle of that group over there. By the time Iíve escaped, the original requester is home comfortably tucked in bed. Iíve been stuck in hotel lobbies, restaurants, airports, washrooms, and parking lots. Iíve been backed up against walls, and conspicuously pinned in the middle of traffic and theater rows; an innocent blight to all who had the misfortune to be seated near me. Well-abiding citizens regard me with baleful eyes as the cause of the blockade or disturbance that whirls around them. According to them, Iím to blame. Not the autograph seeker. No, the fact of me is to blame. If I refuse to sign, Iím mean. If I agree to sign, Iím a menace What to do?

Except for children, whose requests I try to fulfill whenever practical, the people I would like most to know are those least inclined to approach me. Instead I am often confronted by the aggressive type. Their tactless trespassing as I lift a fork to mouth is accompanied with remarks such as ďMy children will kill me if I donít bring home your autographĒ or ďMy wife wonít believe I saw you if I donít get your signature.Ē Such opening gambits trouble me about the status of their family relationships. I get indigestion. I burp.

It has been written that I am rude to autograph seekers. Thatís not true. I am rude only to rude autograph seekers.

Still, there are compensations, and the ceaseless daily bother is forgotten when occasionally some considerate person comes quietly alongside me to say ďMr. G., I just want to thank you on behalf of my family and myself for the many happy hours youíve given us.Ē I want to embrace him or her before they slip from my view, leaving me aglow and breathing easily again.

Some parents, in a foolish effort calculated to touch the cockles of my heart and bring attention to themselves as well, have even steered little two- or three-year-old children off in the direction of my table. The bewildered little tot wouldnít even recognize President Kennedy, much less me, and usually winds up entangled in a waiterís legs or looking beseechingly up into my dinner partnerís face while the piece of paper floats slowly to the floor. That poor sweet child. Those poor silly parents.

Attracted though Iíve always been, Iíve never invaded a celebrityís privacy. But one day while walking along Broadway past the Hotel Astor, I saw Greta Garbo approaching and stood stock-still in surprise as she went by; then dashed wildly around the corner, through the whole length of the Hotel Astor lobby, along what was known as Peacock Alley, and quickly composed myself at the other end in order to stand nonchalantly on the next corner to watch her go by again. What is it that attracts oneís curiosity toward a public face? Do we want to see if their eyes are the same color we thought they were? If they have freckles, warts or blemishes? If their appearance holds some secret that we can fathom? If theyíre as tall or short or older or younger than we expect them to be? Do we want to make sure that they are human and therefore not unlike ourselves? And why would we want to do that anyway? Iíve never been certain what people expect to find. I just hope they arenít too disappointed when it concerns me.

At the tourís end, accompanied by other ambitious members of the troupe, including Bob Penderís younger brother, I decided to remain in America and try to obtain work on my own. After kindly giving me the amount of my return fare to England in case I should ever need it, Mr. Pender left for London with his sadly depleted company ó the company he had so patiently and lovingly worked to train and maintain. It must have been very disappointing and difficult for him to leave so many of his boys behind in America, our land of opportunity; but youth, in its eagerness to drive ahead, seldom recognizes the troubles caused or debts accrued while passing. And here, as I reminisce, the fullness of my gratitude to Bob Pender and his wife, both of whom are now dead, wells up within me. I hope they know.

That summer, like most summers in the theatrical world, jobs were scarce. Especially for nontalking vaudevillians. There was a wide gulf between a talking actor and a silent actor, and no one seemed willing to help me bridge it. ďHave you ever spoken lines?Ē ďWhat experience have you had?Ē Even today itís difficult for me to believe I once dreaded those questions at each interview, and in every agentís office. No, I hadnít spoken lines, and wasnít sure I wouldnít keel over in fright if I ever had to; and my youthful appearance at eighteen, which is such an indefinite age in any profession, signified little experience and qualified me for practically no theatrical jobs at all. To speak a line on a stage became my ambition, my highest hurdle, my greatest fear.

Eventually, of course, I learned to risk hearing the sound of my own voice in front of an audience; and later, in films, to accepting its accent resounding in the immense amplification of our modern movie theaters. Iíve also reluctantly grown accustomed to the tremendous size of my face in close-ups; to accepting the magnification of all my imperfections. All there. The way I sound. The way I move. The way I look. All magnified to the very bags under my eyes. Itís quite easy for everyone else to think itís easy; buy could you bear such magnification? Seeing yourself as others see you is not only Ďorribly revealing, itís downright masochistic, thatís wot it is.

Until only a few years ago I had a recurring vocational nightmare stemming from my early fears in the theater. In the dream I stand on the lighted stage of a vast theater facing a silent, waiting audience. I am the star, and I am surrounded by a large cast of actors, each of whom knows exactly what to do and what to say! An I canít remember my lines! I canít remember them because Iíve been too lazy to study them. I can find no way to bluff it through, and I stand there, inept and insecure. I make a fool of myself,. I am ashamed. I try to speak, but donít know what I am talking about. Now, actually, in life, I donít mind not knowing what Iím talking about. Itís just that I donít want anyone else to know that I donít know what Iím talking about.

The meaning of my dream would be clear to any amateur psychologist. Even though now well established in my profession, I often feel insufficiently prepared, insufficiently knowledgeable; fearful of appearing foolish and publicly shamed.

I sat and stood around the National Vaudeville Artists Club in West 46th Street, a comfortable haven after the hot pavements I walked daily that summer of 1922, hoping for a dropped word, a clue about a job. Free from the sedate influence of Mr. and Mrs. Pender, I acquired the corniest habits in my attempts t become quickly Americanized. Iíd been to the Palace to see the Marx Brothers, billed as the ďGreatest Comedy Act in Show Business; Barring None.Ē I noticed that Zeppo, the young handsome one, the ďstraightĒ man, the fellow I copied (who else?), wore a miniature, neatly tied bow tie. It was called ó hold onto your chair ó a jazz bow. Well, if that was the fashion, it was at least inexpensive enough for me to follow.

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