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By Susan M. Kelly

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1936 Cary Grant 4x5 MGM-Watkins Promotional Photo1940 Cary Grant MADE IN USA Arcade CardFrom 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 Jean Harlow.

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.  1959 Cary Grant R778-1 Maple Leaf Playing Card1936 Cary Grant & Mae West Godfrey Phillips Tobacco CardThat 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 classic. 

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 Marilyn Monroe, 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 The Movie Profiles & Premiums Newsletter.

Other Cary Grant Pages:

A Tribute to Cary Grant -- From Brad Lang's Classic Movies site
Cary Grant's Muffins by Stephen Schochet -- Another page right here on
The Ultimate Cary Grant Pages -- These really are the ultimate pages for the Cary Grant fan--I happened upon the link in an e-mail from the webmaster and was simply blown away!  Anything and everything Cary Grant, and all of it very well put together and organized.