Who is Cary Grant?
Can you imagine what it would be like to meet and talk with Cary Grant? If I wasn’t tripping over my own feet, I would surely be too flustered to say anything coherent. I would probably resemble Jim Carey in this scene from Dumb and Dumber:
Yeah, that’s probably how it would work out for me. But, come on! Cary is handsome, charismatic, distinguished and sexy as all get out. Add that accent and… Oh my!
It’s an unfortunate realization that some of the biggest legends had to overcome so much adversity. Cary Grant was not spared hardships, overcoming them, was one of the many things that made him great.
Setting the Stage
Born January 18, 1904 in Horfield, Bristol, U.K. as Archibald Alec Leach to Elias and Elsie Leach. They were considered lower middle class, living in a small stone work house. His father Elias, worked as a tailor’s presser and was an alcoholic.
Two years before Archibald was born, Elias and Elsie had a son, John. It has been said that Elsie accidentally shut her infant’s thumb in a door, which caused gangrene to develop in it, leading to his death 2 days before his 1st birthday. Another account claims the child developed meningitis. Elsie, exhausted from taking diligent care of the child, took a nap. It was during that nap the child died. This created a life-long battle with depression for Elsie and is believed that because of it, she never forgave herself.
This caused her to be overly-protective and hovering when Archibald was born. Fearing that her son would also get sick or die. His father however, remained distant and focused on his life of working and drinking.
When Archie was nine, his home life was very stressful. His parents quarreled frequently – usually about money (or the lack of it). And Archie was referred to as “the scruffy little boy” at school because of his unkempt looks. After school one day, Archie came home to learn his mother had left, he was told she went on a “sea-side holiday”. Although the boy thought it was odd, he accepted it.
In reality, his father admitted her to the cheapest and worst psychiatric hospital in Bristol, after she suffered a nervous breakdown. Elias later told his son that his mother had died. Elias moved with his son to his mother’s, where later, Archie described it as cold and lonely. His father left Archie, remarried and started a new family leaving him to fend for himself.
Feeling rejected and abandoned by both parents at this point, Archie intentionally got himself expelled and joined Bob Pender’s troupe of comedy acrobats, where he learned acrobatics, tumbling, stilt walking and dance. He also acknowledges his greatest education was as an apprenticeship in the art of pantomime, where he learned how to convey his emotions and meaning with incredible comic timing – without words. This training truly contributed to the great actor he became.
At 16, Archie was one of 8 boys chosen to go to New York city and tour with the vaudeville troupe for 2 years, when it was time to go back to England he decided to stay in America and work on his own. Between theater jobs he worked selling painted ties out of suitcases and as a stilt walker carrying a sandwich board advertising Coney Island attractions.
He made several appearances on Broadway but received a real break with the lead part in the 1931 musical “Nikki”, earning him enough recognition to land a role in a short film, “Singapore Sue”. This inspired his move to Los Angeles where he became contracted with Paramount studios with a salary of $350. a week, which was quite high at that time. The studio was insistent on creating a new identity including a name change. That is how he became known as Cary Grant (Legally, Cary Alexander Grant) in 1941.
Hard but Fun Work
His first feature film was “This is the night” in 1932. By the late 1930’s he had become an established leading man in a range of films from slap-stick comedy to intense drama starring opposite famous leading ladies such as Marlene Dietrich and Mae West. He found his strength in physical humor and comic timing. When asked, he has said that his favorite leading lady to work with was Grace Kelly, and Cary was favored by the legendary director Alfred Hitchcock, starring in four of his films. He was also one of the first actors to reject being under contract with one studio and decided to be a free agent and choose his roles; this worked very well for him.
A Homecoming Surprise
At 31, Cary went back to England to make a film (The amazing quest of Ernest Bliss) most likely taking the job after learning his father was ill. December 1, 1935 Elias Leach died of liver disease due to alcoholism. That was when Cary learned his mother was indeed alive and confined in a “lunatic asylum”. Cary got her out and tried to get her to live with him in America at first. She declined. He did however place her in a comfortable home and continue to care for her and keep close correspondence yet, they were never really able to recapture their once strong bond.
Elsie lived a quiet life in Bristol until she passed in 1973 at the age of 95.
Fame doesn’t mean Content
Cary Grant’s fame grew and he was known for his distinguished looks, adorable dimple in his chin, sexy accent, charm as well as excellent comedic and dramatic acting skills. There were rumors of him being bi-sexual which were dispelled by his 4th out of 5 wives. Difficulty maintaining relationships were contributed to his feelings of rejection and loss of his mother (which he believed for over 20 years).
Mr. Grant has even said that he realized after over 100 supervised LSD treatments (under the care of his psychotherapist), he had projected his feelings towards his mother onto the women in his life, he also recognized that he was attracted to women with some of the attributes his mother had, such as dark hair and an olive complexion. That may have played a part in his intense attraction and affair with Sophia Loren.
The Best Production He Ever Made
In his fourth marriage to Dyan Cannon, he became a first time father in 1966 to daughter, Jennifer. He was 62 when she was born and he decided to retire from show business to be a doting father, saying “Jennifer is the best production I ever made”. His daughter has written a memoir titled “Good Stuff” where you can read more about her life with him. Buy the book here:
His marriage to Dyan lasted only 3 years but he continued to be a loving father as his world centered around her. Throughout his life, Cary suffered depression himself frequently but he never gave up. He was private and said to feel lonely often. It is believed that he was happier later in life, marrying a 5th time, he felt he finally “got it”.
Final Curtain Call
Mr. Grant was to appear at the Adler Theater in Davenport, Iowa on November 29, 1986. Prior to the performance “A conversation with Cary Grant”, the debonair Mr. Cary Grant suffered from a stroke and was taken to St. Luke’s Hospital where he passed away at 11:22 p.m. Private in his personal life, he requested that privacy in death as well. There was no public funeral though many who knew him expressed their grief over his passing.
With all the heart-break and disappointment in his life, he brought laughter and admiration to others. Cary Grant will always be known as the debonair distinguished gentleman who inspired and influenced society with humor, style and grace. As President Ronald Reagan said “He was one of the brightest stars in Hollywood and his elegance, wit and charm will endure on film and in our hearts.” I couldn’t have said it better or agree with you more, Sir!