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Cary Grant

Chapter Nine

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So, sporting the new tie, attached to a rubber band which went around underneath my collar, I went to visit an old acquaintance whose good opinion I sought — a comedian named Don Barclay, who had been friendly to each of our troupe when he headlined with us in England. He was in a new show and greeted me warmly in his dressing room, but said nothing about my clever new tie. So eventually, and rather casually I thought, I got the conversation around to style trends, and in particular my jazz bow and what did he think of it? Don Barclay looked at it with benign concentration, then slowly reached over and pulled it away from my neck and let it snap back. We both burst out laughing, and that was the last time I wore the tie; but Don and I have been friends ever since. Years later we worked together, as comedian and straight man, through long Army, USO and hospital tours, during which we often couldn’t find a clean shirt, much less a fashionable tie.

After a few jobless weeks my savings were spent, and I began nibbling into the emergency money put aside for return passage to England. Eating, for such a ravenous appetite, was a bit of a problem; but fortunately, being a tall dark-blue-suited young bachelor who wouldn’t arrive wearing brown shoes, fall off the chair, or drink from a finger bowl, I was often invited at the last minute to round out the guests at dinner tables on which were some fine spreads.

One evening a young man named Marks whose father, I believe, conceived the idea of daylight saving time, invited me to dine at his family’s home on Park Avenue. I was asked to call for Lucrezia Bori, the Metropolitan Opera lyric soprano, who was the rage of New York at that time.

Although I felt only awkwardly adequate as her escort, she treated me as if I were a sought-after, mature man-about-town, and carefully requested that we walk to the party along Park Avenue, because the exercise, she said, would be good for us.

In every way it was a fine, fateful evening. At the dinner I met a man named George Tilyew. We exchanged the “and-what-line-of-business-are-you-in?” genialities, and he told me he had offices at Coney Island in Steeplechase Park, which I gathered his family owned, operated, leased or managed; I wasn’t fully listening at that point because my mind, always alert to the possibility of a job, was wondering how best to benefit from the introduction. Steeplechase? Hmmmm! An amusement park, wasn’t it?

I remembered seeing a man walking on stilts along Broadway advertising something or other, and heard myself suggesting to Mr. Tilyew that perhaps I could do the same for him. He agreed that perhaps I could. I said, yes, well, perhaps I could advertise Steeplechase Park by walking up and down in front of the place. I didn’t care to invade that other fellow’s stilt-walking territory and risk getting my comeuppance or, rather, comedownance. Mr. Tilyew said yes, perhaps I could, it might be a fine idea, and would I see him at his office whenever convenient? Would I?

Leaving the party, Miss Bori again suggested that we walk, this time because the cool evening breeze would be relaxing, she said; and with a job in tomorrow’s offing, and pride in my companion, I felt confident and protective. A seldom feeling.

It wasn’t until years later, when that dear Lucrezia Bori lunched with me at Paramount Studios in Hollywood, that I learned she had correctly guessed that the cost of cab fares would have busted me for the week.

The most famous, the most talented are, I’ve always found, the most considerate. Humility and greatness become part of each other, and a delightful old story suddenly comes to mind to illustrate the point. A headwaiter was asked how he managed to seat satisfactorily the celebrities that frequented his restaurant, and he replied, “Oh, I never bother about it. Usually those who matter don’t mind. And those who mind don’t matter.”

I’ve known so many celebrities throughout my life. So many renowned, colorful people who have been good to me, tolerant of me and helpful to me, and I wish to acquaint you with some of their names, not merely in a burst of immodesty or name-dropping, but because I’m proud of having known them and look forward to seeing what I write about them. I shall relish dropping their names and trust they’ll often drop mine. Aside from those mentioned elsewhere in my story — because I never mention people who’ve shown me unfriendliness — they include:

Noel Coward: whose success as actor, playwright, director, and composer-lyricist, was so remarkable that it attracted my youthful, but pitiable, emulation. In the late 1920's I’d wavered between imitating two older English actors, of the natural, relaxed school, Sir Gerald DuMaurier and A. E. Matthews, and was seriously considering being Jack Buchanan and Ronald Squire as well; but Noel Coward’s performance in Private Lives narrowed the field, and many a musical-comedy road company was afflicted with my breezy new gestures and puzzling accent. Still, everyone has to start somewhere and, in a way, everything starts with pretense. One pretends to do something, or copy someone or some teacher, until it can be done confidently and easily in what becomes one’s own manner. I doubt if Noel was flattered by my mimicry, but we’ve remained friends over the years. I lunched with him recently in my home town of Bristol.

Joseph Von Sternberg: the director of Marlene Dietrich, Herbert Marshall and me in Blonde Venus . In 1932. The first morning of shooting he suddenly stopped everything, grabbed a comb, and parted my hair on the wrong side, where it’s been ever since. He bemoaned, berated and beseeched me to relax, but it was years before I could move at ease before a camera. Years before I could stop my right eyebrow from lifting — a sure sign of inner defenses and tensions, to be seen in many actors and actresses. Some transfer it to a twitching stiffened elbow.

And Marlene Dietrich: who smilingly accepted my immaturity and inexperience with comforting patience.

Irene M. Selznick: daughter of an industrial pioneer, Louis B. Mayer; proud producer of two grown sons, and of Tennessee Williams’s splendid stage play A Streetcar Named Desire , which brought Marlon Brando such unforgettable acclaim. Irene has listened to some pretty deep confidences of mine and, merely by listening, unreproachful and unshocked, has helped more than she can know. Irene has perception and integrity and, together with many other of her friends, I’ve been a moderate investor in each of the plays she’s produced in New York; they include Bell, Book and Candle, The Chalk Garden, and The Complaisant Lover . And, whenever possible, I’ve flown East to attend each opening night with her; we sit in the back row, where my nervousness and concern for everyone in the cast seems to put her serenely at ease.

Countess Dorothy di Frasso: a friend for over 20 years. A friend whose rare ability to laugh at herself so often dispelled my own gloom. Although I had previously dined with Barbara Hutton on the Normandie in 1938, it was Dorothy who reintroduced us, when she and Barbara returned from a visit to Honolulu.

Dorothy’s escapades were the gossip’s delight, and her palatial Villa Madama in Rome was the scene of indescribably lavish parties. The Villa Madama, the classic site of so many Hubert Robert paintings, was taken over by Mussolini’s Fascisti government for Hitler’s use during the war. In light of events to come, it was Dorothy’s haunting grief that she didn’t arrange to leave a time bomb in the place before departing to live in America. She died in her sleep in 1954 — on a train returning to Los Angeles from Las Vegas, where she had visited Marlene Dietrich. It was my unhappy mission to accompany her body to New York for the funeral and a gathering of those who, like myself, would miss her amusing presence and the loyalty of her friendship.

Merle Oberlon: who, propelled by my cowardly insistence and her own irresistible sense of the romantic, approached Betsy Drake on the deck of the Queen Mary and introduced herself; then, while I hid in the nearest companionway, she invited Betsy on my behalf to join us at lunch. That was how, in 1947, I met the dear wife who recently divorced me.

Frederick Lonsdale: the fey, wise and humor-filled playwright, author of The Last of Mrs. Cheyney and may other successes, who spent years of his life crossing by ship between London and New York and who, like me, was deeply attracted to Betsy when we all met on the Queen Mary. In fact, had Freddy been 20 years younger, I would certainly have lost her to him. Until his death in 1954 he was probably my closest friend.

Sir Alexander Korda: the imaginative power behind the forming of London Films. A man of old-world charm and an amused regard of life. He sometimes stayed with me at my home in Bel Air and I with him at Claridge’s in London.

During the early years of transoceanic flying, Alex and I crossed the Atlantic many times and, accustomed to the unreliability of planes’ heating systems in those days, we learned to bring along heavy sweaters. On one trip, in 1946, after comfortably settling ourselves, we both began fumbling around in our airplane bags beneath the seats, and simultaneously came up, grinningly pleased with ourselves, holding two identical pairs of brown fleece-lined zipper-fronted slipper boots we’d bought at Abercrombie & Fitch as a surprise for each other. We had four pairs between us.

Cole Porter: probably the world’s best known living composer of contemporary music; about whom the film Night and Day was made in 1945, and whose life I so ineptly portrayed, with little understanding of such extraordinary talent or the graciousness of its possessor. Although Cole must have sensed my lack of insight, he appeared genuinely pleased about the picture, and frequently invited me to his home and many entertaining parties there. His welcoming smile, seldom absent from his face, still remains fresh in my memory; yet I’ve never properly voiced my appreciation to him, nor the extent of my admiration.

Ingrid Bergman: a fascinating, full-blooded yet temperate woman who has the courage to live in accord with her needs, and strength enough to accept and benefit by the consequences of her beliefs in an inhibited, critical and frightened society. Ingrid needs no uninvited busybody to proclaim her debts; she knows and pays them herself. I commend her highly to you.

A few years ago I visited Ingrid and her husband, Lars Schmidt, at their comfortable house in the country outside Paris, and, hearing them discuss a wish to purchase an old, curved, unvarnished wooden cabinet to fit into a particular corner, I decided to try to find one as a surprise present. Two years later I saw the perfect piece in a Chelsea shop window in London, and put in a call to Ingrid to see if she had bought one by then, and happily learned she hadn’t; but while I was sitting out the incredible time it takes to reach the continental operator, and the usual hours of delay on European calls, the dealer sold the cabinet to some man who sauntered in off the street. What about that? I have never effectively explained to Ingrid why she and Lars haven’t received that perfect cabinet I told her I’d found.

Clifford Odets: who wrote and directed the film version of None But the Lonely Heart with Ethel Barrymore, Barry Fitzgerald and me. The film received many awards, none of which were as meaningful as the reward of Clifford’s lasting friendship. I enjoy his stentorian convictions and the courage he has to emphatically proclaim his everchanging beliefs. A stimulating, generous man.

Peggy Lee and Judy Garland: each of whom touches me deeply. They move me strangely, not only by their songs but by their presence. When I am with them, I feel content and happily at ease without need for oral communication.

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