He’s called as the best and most influential actor in cinema history. Cary Grant was one suave and glamorous actor in the mid-20th century during Hollywood’s Golden Age. Audiences – and not to mention the ladies – couldn’t seem to get enough of him, and critics routinely gave his films rave reviews. He looked damned in good in a tuxedo next to the equally charming and ever-so-beautiful Katherine Hepburn in her fur-accented silk robe in Bringing Up Baby. And then there were films like Holiday and To Catch a thief where Grant showed off his range. He could be cool and courageous while also passionate, humorous, and witty.
He’s known for having his distinctly thick and iconic transatlantic accent while projecting an image of being a slick debonair. Of his era, he was Tinseltown’s definitive leading man. And it seemed as if every film that he credited in struck gold both at the box office and and also with the critics. Sure, he had some duds thrown in the mix, such as 1957s Kiss Them for Me and 1963s Mr. Lucky, but considering the fact that he appeared in at least 54 films, he earned the right to appear in a couple of lackluster flicks. The rest of his body of work stands the test of time. And the legacy that he has left behind is, for the most part, glowing.
But don’t think for a second that you know who the real Cary Grant was just because you’ve seen his films and know a few tales about his personal life and prolific career. In truth, Grant lived a life of secrecy and rarely opened up and let the world know the real him. He lived out his days wearing a carefully constructed “disguise”. The persona he projected to the media and tabloid rags of his time wasn’t who he really was. Very few people in his inner circle ever actually got a glimpse at the man he truly was.
But fortunately, we’ve dug deep and done our best to reconstruct who the real Cary Grant was. So, Join us as we peel back Grant’s many layers to see if we can discover who he was when the cameras weren’t rolling and reporters were nowhere in sight.
From Less Than Auspicious Beginnings
Cary Grant was born Archibald Alec Leach on January 18, 1904 in Horfield, England. He was the second child of Elsie Maria and Elias James Leach. His mother was a homemaker and a seamstress while his father worked as a tailor’s presser at a nearby clothing factory.
Just one day before his first birthday, Tragedy struck the Leach family when Cary’s older brother John William Elias Leach passed away after being stricken with tuberculous meningitis.
Grant’s childhood wasn’t a particularly happy one. His dad was a drunk, and his mom suffered from severe clinical depression, leaving her cold and aloof. She not only lacked the ability to give affection, but she didn’t know how to receive it either. Arguably it was the death of Cary’s brother John that left her in this state. And she never fully recovered from it.
Grant would later acknowledge that his difficult experiences with his mother had an impact on his relationships with women throughout his life.
But even though she struggled with her mental health. Cary’s mother still managed to teach Cary how to sing and dance when he four and was intent upon him learning how to play the piano. She would sometimes take him to see a film at the local theater; where he treated to performances by cinema legends like Fatty Arbuckle, Mack Swan, and Charlie Choplin.
When Grant was just 9, his father had his mom institutionalized. He told his son that mommy was just going away on a “long holiday”, and later he asserted that she had died. As such, Grant grew up harboring resentment for his mother, especially after she went away.
After she was out of the picture, Grant moved into his grandma’s house in Bristol. A year later, when he was ten, his father got married for a second time and started a new family.
The sad thing is how Grant never learned that his mother was actually still living until her was 31. His father only revealed this to him when he was on his deathbed. When he learned this troubling fact, Cary would arrange for his mother to leave the mental institution in 1935.
But anyway, not to get too far ahead of ourselves, Grant as a boy and into young adulthood developed a love for theater. He especially loved pantomimes at Christmastime, which he would attend with his father. In time, he befriended a troupe of acrobats that called themselves “The Penders”. He then proceeded to learn how to how to walk on stilt and started touring with them.
When Jesse Lasky, a Broadway producer, saw Grant doing his routine with The Penders at the Wingergarten Theater in Berlin in 1914. He’s very impressed by his showmanship. A year later, he would be awarded a scholarship to attend the prestigious and private Fairfield Grammar School in Bristol.
While there, he excelled academically but was especially adept at sports. His pleasing looks and athletic prowess made him particularly popular, although he was also reportedly quite the mischief-maker.
Around this time, he started working backstage in Bristol theaters in the evenings and volunteered for work as a messenger boy at the military docks in Southhampton in the summertime. Anything to escape the intolerable home situation that he stuck in with his abusive, alcoholic father and absent mother.
When he’s 14, Grant got himself expelled from Fairfield. While it’s not certain why this happened; it’s rumored that he caught in the girl’s bathroom being a bit of a peeping tom.
After the cops showed up at Cary’s fathers door following his expulsion to inquire as to why he hadn’t been living at his house. And instead living with The Penders in Bristol, Grant’s dad signed a three year contract that allowed Grant to undergo training for his profession until he turned 18. With that agreement came a weekly salary paid out by The Penders and room and board.
Eventually, after touring around England and with the Troupe and picking up a cockney accent in the process, he selected to go to the US to perform with The Penders on Broadway in a show called Good Times, which went on to run for 456 performances.
The Making Of A Film Legend
Appearing on Broadway gave Cary the credentials he needed to take his acting career to the next level.
After that lengthy run on stage, Grant would choose to remain in America. And in 1933 he landed his big breakout Hollywood role appearing in the 1933 film She Done Him Wrong opposite the lovely Mae West.
In 1934, shortly have scoring his big break, Grant married for the first time to a woman named Virginia Cherril. The two eloped shortly after meeting at a party. As much passion as they likely shared at the outset of their relationship, it wouldn’t last. Just seven month’s later, Grant and Cherril called it quits and went their separate ways.
Throughout the remainder of the 30s, Grant established himself as Tinseltown’s favorite leading man. He starred in several light comedies around this time, including His Girl Friday, Bringing Up Baby, and Topper, showing off his comedic timing and physical humor skills. He would also occasionally star in more serious offerings such as Only Angels Have Wings; proving that he’s more than just a one trick pony.
In 1935, after his first contract with Paramount Pictures ended; Grant became one of the first actors to leave behind the studio system. Ultimately, this would allow him to pocket a much larger chunk of his future box-office profits.
In 1939, Grant began production on Gunga Gin, a war film that would also feature the performance of Douglas Fairbanks Jr. Fairbanks father had been one of Grants first Hollywood pals after meeting on the ocean liner that brought him over from England.
During the early 30s and to the end of the 40s; Grant publicly lived with fellow actor Randolph Scott in an oceanside bungalow that they liked to call their Bachelor Hall. Leading many to question whether or not the two were in fact lovers. Later in his life, Grant’s sexual orientation would called into question once again when he lived with an openly gay costume designer named Orry-Kelly in New York.
Flash forward to the 1950s after another failed marriage and a string of other hit films. It was during the 50s and early 60s that Grant had developed a man-of-the-world persona. And acting style after becoming alienated by the realism that had taken over the film industry. This disguise perfectly encapsulated in the 1955 Alfred Hitchcock film To Catch a Thief which allowed Grant and his co-star Grace Kelly to improvise some of their lines.
His biggest box-office success would come in the form of another Hitchcock feature in 1959 called North By Northwest.
Retirement And Beyond
In 1966, not long after having a daughter with Dyan Cannon, his third wife; Grant would retire from acting to pursue numerous business ventures. For a while, he would represent the cosmetics company, Faberge, while also sitting on the board of MGM.
He later joined the boards of Hollywood Park, Western Airlines, and the Academy of Magical Arts.
Grant expressed very little interest in making a Hollywood comeback and remained in relatively good health until he suffered a stroke in 1984. For the remainder of his life, he toured around the US in a one-man-show.
On November 29, 1986, Grant died at the age of 82 from a cerebral hemorrhage in Davenport, Iowa.
In 1999, AFI named him the second greatest male star of the Golden Age of Hollywood cinema, right after Humphrey Bogart.
Well, that about wraps up this video, but now it’s your turn to let your voice be heard. What was your favorite Cary Grant film? And what do you think was his biggest asset as an entertainer – his looks or his acting ability? Let us know in the comments down below.
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