From a typical lower middle
class beginning in Bristol, England came a talent who would become one of
Hollywood’s most beloved stars. With his good looks, debonair air and
remarkable ability to translate from drama to screwball comedy, there was almost
nothing that the legendary Cary Grant couldn’t do. For over three decades he
entertained film audiences, and his audiences couldn’t get enough.
Young Archibald Leach was
shaken out of his idyllic childhood at 9, when his mother was committed to a
mental institution. Left to his own devices, he dropped out of school at 14,
lied about his age and joined Bob Pender’s comedy troupe. Here he learned the
fine art of pantomime as well as acrobatics and he toured all over the English
provinces. He eventually made his way to London, where he performed in music
halls as everything from a juggler to a song and dance man. He was chosen as
one of eight of Pender’s performers to go to America, arriving in 1920 for the
start of what was supposed to be a two year tour. Instead, he decided that he
liked what he saw and he chose to stay.
In 1932 he made his film
debut as a sailor in the Paramount short feature “Singapore Sue”. He arrived in
Hollywood shortly thereafter and was promptly rechristened by the studio as Cary
Grant. He made his feature debut that same year in “This Is the Night”, a
charming, sophisticated comedy. Grant was an instant hit with his urbane wit
and classic good looks and found no shortage of work, appearing in a slew of
films including “Sinners in the Sun”, “Blonde Venus”, and “Madame Butterfly”.
In 1933 he found himself cast opposite Hollywood’s reigning queen of bawdy
comedy, Mae West, in “She Done Him Wrong”.
Though he’d made his start
in comedies, Grant’s good looks and undeniable sex appeal allowed him to easily
slip into almost any genre, from costume dramas to war films and adventure
pictures. He worked primarily for Paramount throughout the 30’s, starring in
films such as “I’m No Angel” (1933), “Ladies Should Listen” and “Born to Be Bad”
(both 1934), and “Wedding Present” (1936). He was occasionally loaned out to
other studios, as in the case of RKO’s 1935 film “Sylvia Scarlett” in which he
appeared opposite Katharine Hepburn and 1936’s “Suzy” for MGM, opposite
By the late 30’s he had hit
his full stride as one of Hollywood’s most popular leading men. 1937’s “Topper”
saw him put the final touches on the debonair, witty screen persona which would
eventually make him a superstar. With the dawn of the 40’s, the Cary Grant era
was in full swing. He appeared in classic comedies such as 1938’s “Holiday” and
“Bringing Up Baby” and 1940’s “His
Girl Friday” and “The Philadelphia Story” and brought equal panache and
flair to dramas like 1939’s “In Name Only” and 1941’s “Penny Serenade”, for
which he earned an Academy Award nomination.
In 1941, he appeared in
director Alfred Hitchcock’s “Suspicion”, which would prove to be the beginning
of a long and successful partnership between director and star.
same year he also appeared in the classic comedy “Arsenic and Old Lace”. The
work just kept coming for Grant, and in 1941 he also appeared in the moody drama
“None but the Lonely Heart”. His performance, as a cockney drifter, was a
personal favorite and earned him another Oscar nod.
He reconnected with
Hitchcock to make another classic, “Notorious” in 1946 and the same year
portrayed composer Cole Porter in the autobiographical film “Night and Day”.
The late 40’s saw much of the same, as neither Grant’s popularity nor his talent
showed any sign of dimming. Almost every performance, from the angel in a
Brooks Brothers suit in 1947’s “The Bishop’s Wife” to the bemused home owner in
1948’s “Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House”, seemed destined to become a
Even the perils of aging
seemed to have little effect on him. As the 1950’s dawned, he was as popular,
and in demand, as ever. He started out the decade with an appearance in the
political drama “Crisis” (1950) and then veered back into the more familiar
ground of comedy with “People Will Talk” (1951) and “Monkey Business” (1952).
He also continued his successful collaboration with Hitchcock, starring in two
of the director’s finest films, 1955’s “To Catch a Thief” and 1959’s “North by
Northwest”, with its famous climactic scene of the chase up Mount Rushmore.
Though still seemingly
holding on to his popularity, Grant saw the handwriting on the wall in the mid
60’s and decided to retire from films after 1966’s “Walk, Don’t Run”. He
believed at the time that the end of the studio system and the effect of the
changing times on audience taste left little room for his style of film. He
wasn’t idle for long, though, as he was thrust into the new role of father at
the tender age of 62, when then wife Dyan Cannon gave birth to his only child,
Jennifer. Even in retirement, Hollywood didn’t forget him, as he was awarded a
special Oscar in 1970 in recognition of his extraordinary career.
Extraordinary indeed - he had starred opposite some of Hollywood’s most
beautiful leading ladies, a list that includes everyone from
Ginger Rogers to Grace Kelly to
and had charmed audiences to no end. In his final years he surprised his fans
by undergoing a national tour, giving informal lectures about his career and
answering audience questions. He died on the eve of one such appearance in
Davenport, Iowa, leaving behind a rich, remarkable film legacy as proof that
this is one star that will truly never be dimmed.
# Susan M. Kelly is a
freelance writer who lives and works in Dunellen, New Jersey. Susan is a
regular contributor to
Movie Profiles & Premiums Newsletter.