"Cary Grant: A Brilliant Disguise" Reviewed by Pat Sainz.
Cary Grant was in Davenport, Iowa, twice in his life. He was part of a vaudeville act performing there in 1925. He was known as Archie Leach and was only 21 at the time. Grant was in Davenport again in 1986 appearing in a local theater for a production of “An Evening with Cary Grant.” During the rehearsal, he suffered a stroke and died in the hospital that night.
Grant left a legacy of movies that are popular today: “To Catch a Thief,” "North by Northwest,” “Topper,” “Bringing Up Baby,” “The Philadelphia Story,” and “His Girl Friday” to name a few of the hundreds of movies in which he performed or starred in between the early 1930s until the mid-60s. He is considered to be one of the best comic actors of the twentieth century.
Grant was born in Bristol, England in 1904. He was largely on his own most of his young life. Although his mother doted on him, she suffered from paranoid schizophrenia and was hospitalized for decades. However, his father never told his son the truth about his mother’s institutionalization and Cary (then called Archie) assumed his mother had died. He was only 11 at the time. Following the death of his father in 1937, he learned that his mother was still living. Grant released her from the hospital and took care of her for the rest of her life.
Grant quit school when he was a young teen and began working for a vaudeville company in Bristol. He traveled to the United States with the group and never returned to live in England. It was through the vaudeville shows that Grant honed his comedic skills and impeccable timing. He learned gymnastics and magic, skills that served him well throughout his Hollywood career.
In 1932, Grant decided to stay in California to audition for movie roles. He was hired at Paramount and was a bit actor in many early movies. It was then that he changed his name from Archie Leach to Cary Grant, a name taken from a character in a play he was in. The 1937 movie “Topper” gave him a co-starring role with Constance Bennett, and he began to receive recognition as a leading man and true movie star.
Grant re-invented himself with his name change, his accent, his demeanor and his “coolness” which masqueraded a shy, insecure person. Cary competed with popular English actors of his generation such as David Niven, Laurance Olivier, Ronald Coleman, Peter Finch, and others. These actors had educations and privileged backgrounds that Grant lacked, and he felt lesser because of that. He tried to imitate their accents and ended up with his now-famous English accent which doesn't easily place him in any particular part of England.
Grant was a perfectionist in performance and dress. Actors remember him carrying his scripts around with him until the last minute before filming. He had no patience with actors who were late or unprepared although his own demands created overruns on some of his films. Throughout his life he wore clothes made especially for him in Europe. Today people remember him for his impeccable acting skills and appearance.
Grant married five times. One of his wives was Barbara Hutton, the heiress to the Woolworth fortune. Another was to actress Dyan Cannon by whom he had his only child, a daughter, Jennifer, born when Grant was 62. He doted on her until his death. She and his fifth wife, Barbara Harris, made his last years happy. His marriage to Harris seemed to survive because she was attentive to only him with no aspirations for her own career or interests.
Grant was a dedicated user of LSD for years. (It was legal for many of those years.) He felt it made him more insightful and open-minded. Rumors of his bisexuality swirled around him for his entire life. He never denied those rumors and usually deflected questions about his sexuality with a humorous comment.
Grant had a reputation for being extremely frugal; his friends always picked up dinner checks and were even asked to reimburse him for stays at one of his homes or for the use of one of his automobiles. He accrued much more wealth once he became the producer of his own films. Although he spent money on homes, clothes, and vacations, he never escaped the reputation of being “cheap.” His lifestyle was very comfortable, and he liked vacations, especially cruises.
On a river cruise he came up with the idea of performing in one-man appearances at events called “An Evening with Cary Grant.” He found that he liked discussing his career in more intimate settings such as in a cruise lounge or at dinner parties. Always nervous about public speaking and shy by nature, he enjoyed the mostly scripted evenings he spent traveling around the country conversing with audiences about his career. His fifth wife accompanied him everywhere.
Scott Eyeman, the author of this book, has included 45 pages of notes documenting his research. Not only is this a very intriguing book about a movie legend, it provides a marvelous history of the movie industry from the 1920s through the 1960s. Famous names abound, and Eyeman brings humanity and insight to the stories of these movie stars and producers who were closely tied to Cary Grant.
Grant has a connection to the St. Louis locality. He performed in 11 shows at the Muny Opera in the summer of 1931.