Cary Grant was one of the most iconic leading men during the Golden Age of Hollywood. Remembered for his debonair demeanor, polished masculinity, and cleft chin, he was the epitome of tall, dark, and handsome. He starred opposite nearly all the leading ladies of the 30s and 40s and appeared in a total of 72 films throughout his storied career. But there was much more to Grant than what appeared on the surface. He came from troubled beginnings and though he was in several marriages with women, he also had clandestine relationships with men throughout his life. In this video, we’ll explore Cary Grant’s origins and the details of his secret gay relationships.
While his on-screen persona was often a man of aristocratic elegance, Cary Grant came from a poor background. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that Archibald Leach came from a poor background. Archibald Leach was Cary Grant’s name at birth and throughout the early part of his life.
Archie Leach was born in Bristol, England in 1904. His father was a tailor’s presser and his mother was a seamstress. His childhood was a tragic one. His father was an alcoholic and his mother suffered from clinical depression. When his mother was eventually institutionalized, his father lied and told Archie that she had died. It wasn’t until later in his life that he discovered she was still alive. Archie dropped out of school at the age of 13 and joined a troupe of acrobats. During his time with this troupe known as Pender’s Comedians, he learned the art of pantomime and how to perform on stilts. He traveled with this group of acrobats for years until it eventually led him to New York City. He stayed in New York where he became involved in vaudeville performances and worked as a stilt-walking carnival barker in Coney Island.
During this period of his life in New York, he befriended an aspiring set designer named Orry-Kelly who would someday become an Oscar-winning costume designer for films including An American in Paris and Some Like It Hot. The older Orry-Kelly took in the young, struggling performer, after he was evicted from the boarding house he had been living in. Archie was barely scraping by on his stilt-performer and vaudeville income. He also occasionally worked as a male escort. He was a handsome young man and even in a threadbare suit, wealthy women would pay for him to accompany them to dinner parties.
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During his time in New York, the young man who would someday become Cary Grant lived in Orry-Kelly’s Greenwich Village apartment. According to many sources, including Kelly’s own memoir, they had an on-again off-again relationship from the time they were both struggling artists to well after they had found their own separate successes in Hollywood. However, their relationship was often a turbulent one and Grant seemingly broke Kelly’s heart more than once. In his memoir, Kelly recalls being jealous of Grant’s obsession with blonde women, but comforted himself by knowing Grant would always come back home to him. But Grant could have violent tendencies, a trait that would later become a problem in his marriages with women as well. On at least one occasion he knocked Kelly unconscious and on another, pushed him out of a moving vehicle.
By 1931, the two men were living in Hollywood together, each pursuing their destinies in the film industry. The former Archibald Leach landed a contract with Paramount Pictures and changed his name to Cary Grant after the studio advised him to do so. Orry-Kelly was beginning his career as the head costume designer at Warner Bros. Studios. However, their relationship became strained within the confines of their new life in Tinseltown and Grant increasingly distanced himself from the costume designer.
Grant was soon living with a handsome new beau: a fellow Paramount contract actor named Randolph Scott. The two of them would live together on and off for 12 years and own two houses together: a beach house in Malibu and a mansion in Los Feliz. Though at the time, the arrangement was played off as two best friends sharing a “bachelor pad,” it’s obvious from details that have been leaked that the two men were more than just roommates.
Randolph Scott was born in 1898 in Virginia. His childhood was a stark contrast to Grant’s. His family was well-off and he attended the best private schools and had a happy family life, unlike Grant’s troubled past. After serving in World War I, attending college, and briefly working in the family business, Scott decided to go to Hollywood to pursue a career in acting.
Cary Grant met Randolph Scott in 1932 on the set of the film, “Hot Saturday.” They were immediately attracted to one another and they were soon spending all their free time together. Moving freely as a couple within the gay social circles of Old Hollywood, they formed a domestic partnership and found happiness for a time.
In 1933, a closeted gay journalist named Ben Maddox wrote a feature about the two men and their life together. He left out any direct insinuation of homosexuality, but used various common code words that would identify the two as a couple to other gay readers. The photos that accompanied the article display Grant and Scott in several domestic poses, including them lounging in the living room and wearing aprons while washing dishes together. The photographs were judged harshly by some homophobic critics and rumors started to churn about the actors’ sexuality.
In 1934, Paramount encouraged (or possibly demanded) Grant to marry in order to stifle the gay rumors. He wed Virginia Cherril that same year. Scott was distressed over the marriage, so much so that an unconfirmed rumor claims he attempted suicide. Grant was clearly just as depressed about his forced separation from Scott. Grant’s new wife filed for divorce after only 13 months, claiming that he was physically abusive. Clearly some of his former bad qualities were resurfacing. She also stated he was constantly drunk, sullen, and never showed any sexual interest.
After his divorce was finalized, Grant immediately moved back in with Scott. The Paramount Publicity department would periodically plant stories about an endless stream of beautiful women coming in an out of their beach house, which the media now referred to as “Bachelor Hall,” in order to keep gay rumors at bay.
Scott married a year later to a duPont heiress but his marriage also ended in divorce and Grant and Scott were reunited once again. Between the two of them, they had 7 failed marriages. Richard Blackwell, the famous fashion critic, lived with them for a short period of time and stated the pair were “deeply and madly in love” and that “behind closed doors, they were warm, kind, loving and caring, and unembarrassed about showing it.”
By 1940, they were no longer living together due to pressure from studios to marry again and preserve their image. Ironically, they were both in the 1940 film, My Favorite Wife. The script supervisor of the film recalled that the couple arrived on set together and to everyone’s astonishment, instead of taking separate rooms at the hotel where the cast was staying, they moved into the same suite.
Eventually, Grant and Scott did seem to go their separate ways, but they remained close for the rest of their lives. In the 1970s, when both men would have been in their 70s, the maitre d’ of the Beverly Hillcrest Hotel witnessed the two actors sitting together in the back of the restaurant, talking gently and holding hands.
Cary Grant never publicly acknowledged any connection to his first possible partner Orry-Kelly, though when Kelly died in 1964, he was one of the pallbearers.
Grant had a daughter with his 4th wife, Dyan Cannon and married again in 1981 for the 5th and final time to Barbara Harris, who was 47 years his junior. Grant died in 1986 after suffering a stroke.
Despite the many stories about his close relationships with other men, Grant denied the rumors until his death. In 1980, he even sued Chevy Chase for defamation after the comedian referred to him as a “homo” on television.
Sadly, it seems Grant always struggled to make peace with his past and himself. In a statement about his use of LSD, he said he received the treatment because he was “hiding all kinds of layers and defences, hypocrisy and vanity” and that he was trying to get rid of them in order to wipe his slate clean.
One of Grant’s old friends, actress Rosalind Russell once said of Grant, “He flits around, hiding from his own shadow, hoping nobody will notice, or [worries] that his shadow may expose the image he has created for himself.’’
And indeed, there seemed to be a lot of self-denial and confusion stirring within Grant. Afterall, Cary Grant was only a mask for the man who was once Archibald Leach. Discussing his identity struggle, he once explained, “I pretended to be somebody I wanted to be, until, finally, I became that person. Or he became me. Or we met at some point.” He also famously said, “Everyone wants to be Cary Grant. I want to be Cary Grant.”
Perhaps, we will never know the true nature of the Hollywood icon known as Cary Grant. In many ways, it seems he never quite knew himself. Were you surprised to hear about this secret side of Cary Grant? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below. And don’t forget to like and subscribe to the channel for more