The Back Story:
As a film critic and feature writer for some 20 years, I interviewed more than 100 actors, directors, novelists, musicians and other luminaries — the majority of them in person, but others over the telephone. I never remember going into an interview feeling too impressed by anyone, no matter how much I admired their work. I just considered it my job. But I have to admit that Cary Grant is still my favorite film actor, and I’m glad I had a chance to talk with him, even if it was only a “phoner.” Just the sound of that wonderful, matchless voice having a conversation with you was enough to make you feel a little out of sorts — like having a perfect martini. Two years after I interviewed Grant for an “evening with” appearance he was doing in Florida in 1984, Grant died of a stroke, at 82, while he was in Davenport, Iowa for a similar speaking engagement. Happily, Grant’s 70-plus films survive him. While the majority of Grant’s pictures are well worth seeing more than once, it’s no exaggeration that he gives a sterling performance in every film, whether it’s a classic or not.
Still debonair, elegant and sophisticated
Tribune Staff Writer
The Tampa Tribune
Oct. 9, 1984
A natty businessman ambles across a farmer’s field when a crop-duster knifes down out of the clouds trying to tear him in two with its propeller, spraying insecticide and bullets at his impeccable gray suit.
When it’s all over and the man stands up — covered in crop dust, corn silk and topsoil — his jacket is torn, his hair awry.
Only Cary Grant — as he did in Alfred Hitchcock’s “North by Northwest” — could come out of such a whirlwind catastrophe looking perfectly fashionable.
Grant was the zenith of charm on the big screen, no matter what decade you pick, or which of his pictures you consider. In fact, it is said that former President John F. Kennedy once admitted that if anyone played him in the movies he hoped it would be Cary Grant. Like December 1963, that’s another thing Kennedy would have been lucky to have seen.
At 80, Cary Grant is still the picture of style: snow-white hair, perpetual tan, tailoring and elocution that are … just … so.
“I look rather askance at the punk hairdos these days,” Grant says casually, when asked about today’s fashion trends. “But if that’s what they want to do, I say, ‘More power to them.’” The retired actor, who stays busy as the director of the Faberge cosmetics corporation and as a board member of MGM film studios, still speaks with that unmistakable, mellifluously sophisticated British accent.
In matters of how he came to be so effortlessly graceful, Grant gives a good deal of credit to his late father, Elias Leach.
“When I was a young man,” Grant says, “I didn’t know what I wanted to be. But, luckily, my father did. And if I was hanging out with the crowd and was inclined toward a checked suit, or loud suit, or loud pair of socks, my father would say, ‘Hold on a moment. Remember, that’s you walking down the street, not the socks.’ It was good advice. Still is.”
Cary Grant will bring such rememberances, and tales of the silver screen, to Clearwater’s Ruth Eckerd Hall on Saturday at 8 p.m., for a question-and-answer evening with the star.
Grant, who lives in Beverly Hills with his fifth wife, 34-year-old Barbara Grant, hasn’t made a movie since the 1966 comedy “Walk Don’t Run” (when he was 61).
“Each year it becomes less likely that I will make another picture,” he says flatly.
The legendary actor now, apparently, most enjoys time spent with his wife and his 18-year-old daughter and Stanford University student, Jennifer Grant. She is Grant’s only child, the product of his short and stormy marriage to actress Dyan Cannon, his fourth wife. But the white-haired movie idol also admits a passionate love of baseball — particularly the Los Angeles Dodgers — and is a frequent skybox spectator at Dodger Stadium.
From Humble Beginnings
Grant was born Archibald Leach in Bristol, England, in 1904. He worked as a page boy at the Hippodrome Theatre and as an acrobat, juggler, singer and dancer before visiting America with an acrobatic troupe when he was 16. At the age of 19, Grant returned to America to play in an Oscar Hammerstein musical, got some choice Broadway roles and was drafted by Paramount to make his first film, “This Is the Night,” in 1932.
Over his 35-year career, Grant made more than 70 films, amassing a solid body of performances as the debonair leading man of screwball romantic comedies, as well as portraying the strong central characters of straight drams, romantic thrillers and action-adventures.
As anyone knows who has had the pleasure of his film company in a crowded movie theater, Cary Grant picked his film roles with the same care he chose his tailor.
“When I’m speaking in public, people want to know, ‘Which is your favorite film?’ And they ask, ‘Who was your favorite leading lady?’ Well, I made so many films it’s really hard to say. I will tell you, I never made a film I didn’t like.”
The best of Grant’s movies include “Topper,” “His Girl Friday,” Arsenic and Old Lace,” “Bringing Up Baby,” “The Philadelphia Story,” “The Awful Truth,” “My Favorite Wife,” and the Alfred Hitchcock films “Suspicion,” “Notorious,” “To Catch a Thief” and “North by Northwest.” Two of his most uncharacteristic, but no less satisfying, performances are as a cockney soldier stationed in India, in George Stevens’ adventure yarn, “Gunga Din,” and as the Mock Turtle in Paramount’s whimsical, star-studded adaptation of “Alice in Wonderland.”
Grant’s list of leading-lady co-stars reads like a pantheon of film actresses: Irene Dunne, Myrna Loy, Grace Kelly, Ingrid Bergman, Katharine Hepburn, Audrey Hepburn, Doris Day, Marlene Dietrich, Eva Marie Saint, Loretta Young, Marilyn Monroe, Sophia Loren, Rita Hayworth, Ethel Barrymore and Mae West (who made her famous “Come up and see me sometime” challenge to Grant in “She Done Him Wrong.”).
“I don’t see many films today, unless my wife wishes to see them,” Grant says. “Although I did see ‘Gandhi’ (starring Ben Kingley). I liked that very much. It was beautifully acted by everyone.”
Grant says that, as an MGM board member, “I’ll still see MGM’s films and, since MGM took over United Artists, I see the Bond films, which I’ve always enjoyed.
“But I’m really not interested in films,” he adds. “I’m interested in reality. Films are not reality, filmmaking is. It’s still a great industry though and I think it takes the minds of people off of their dissatisfactory existences. And I’m for people trying to be as happy as possible.”
Of his give-and-take public appearances, of which he makes several a year around the country, Grant says, “I always try to answer a question truthfully. But if I can’t, I can always make a detour around the question. I’ll dodge it and (the audience) knows I’m doing it because I’ll tell them I’m doing it.”
There are subjects that Grant has traditionally refused to discuss in public and with reporters. Grant may have, as the suave (and hung over) Roger Thornhill in “North by Northwest” humorously admitted, “”I’ve got a job, a secretary, a mother, two ex-wives and several bartenders that depend upon me, and I don’t intend to disappoint them all by getting myself ‘slightly’ killed.”" But Cary Grant the man usually won’t answer questions or divulge much personal information about his four divorces or his former wives (Virginia Cherill, Barbara Hutton, Betsy Drake, and Dyan Cannon).
On some personal mattes — such as Grant’s well-publicized experiences of taking LSD in the 1960s, before it became illegal — he is outspoken, if quick to add that he does not advocate others using the mind-bending chemical.
“People ask me about it,” at the personal appearances, Grant says of the hallucinogen. “They’re interested in my personal experiences. I don’t advocate it at all. I’m just saying it was helpful for me. The kids who were taking it (in the ‘60s), well, I thought that was great, they were doing their own thing. But they weren’t getting it from a well-known lab; it wasn’t controlled. And it’s rather like brandy: a sip might save your life, but a whole bottle could kill you.”
Another thing Grant does not advocate is the reading of what he thinks are star exposes and exploitative revisionist biographies — whether the books are about his career or other Hollywood luminaries.
For instance, Grant “deplores” some of the books and articles that have been written in recent years that imply that his masterful collaborator, Alfred Hitchcock, was an insecure tyrant and that, as legend has it, he said actors should be treated like “cattle.”
“It’s absolute nonsense,” Grant says, his voice taking on a serious edge. “Hitch’s manner was always marvelous. He was one of our finest directors. I absolutely whistled going to work (for him). I don’t think he thought of actors as cattle, like they say. Hitch certainly never treated me like cattle, he was a perfect gentleman. But I can see why some journalists used that expression. It makes good copy. And it’s been quoted so often.”
Grant says when aspiring actors ask him if they should get into show business today, he tell them, “If it’s an absolute obsession, then start acting.
“It’s the most competitive business possible. Everybody thinks that he or she can be an actor, but it takes a lot of work and a facile mind. It is the most difficult of all professions, besides writing,” Grant adds.
“But if somebody must act, they’d better start anywhere — in a little theater group if necessary. And they must have the courage of their convictions.”
And as a final question, did Grant always have the courage of his convictions?
He hesitates. “I think I did, yes,” said the world’s most charming actor. “For me, it was always a case of trying to make wise decisions about the films I wanted to be in. Trying to do the right thing. Sure, I was in it for the admiration one gets for something they’ve done. Everybody wants that. But it always had to be something I believed in. I always tried to give every film my best.”