Thursday, September 21, 2006

Great Film Icons #3: Cary Grant

Once told by an interviewer "Everybody would like to be Cary Grant", Grant is said to have replied, "So would I." Archibald Alexander Leach, better known by his screen name, Cary Grant, was born in Horfield, Bristol, England January 4, 1904. An only child (before he was born his parents had had another son who died in infancy), Leach had a confused and unhappy early life, his mother Elsie was placed in a mental institution when he was nine. His father never told him the truth about his mother only learning she was still alive in 1935.

Many have blamed losing his mother at such an early age on his insecurity in his relations with women and a secretiveness about his inner life. These insecurities, by his own admission, led him to crave applause and attention and to create a new persona that would attract it. He left school at 14 after being expelled for investigating the girls' bathroom. Lying about his age and forging his father's signature on a letter he joined Bob Pender's troupe of knockabout comedians. He learned pantomime as well as acrobatics as he toured with the Pender troupe in the English provinces, picked up a Cockney accent in the music halls in London, and then in July 1920 was one of the eight Pender boys selected to go to the US. Grant spent two years traveling with the troupe in the 1920's and when the troupe returned to England, Grant decided to stay in the U.S.

After some success in light Broadway comedies, he came to Hollywood in 1931, where he acquired the name Cary Grant and went on to star in some of the classic screwball comedies, including The Awful Truth with Irene Dunne (the pivotal film in the establishment of Grant's screen persona), Bringing Up Baby with Katharine Hepburn, His Girl Friday with Rosalind Russell and Arsenic and Old Lace with Priscilla Lane. These performances solidified his appeal, and The Philadelphia Story, with Hepburn and James Stewart, presented his best-known screen role: the charming if sometimes unreliable man, formerly married to an intelligent and strong-willed woman who first divorced him, then realized that he was — with all his faults — irresistible. He gave his entire fee for The Philadelphia Story (1940) to the British war effort and his entire salary for Arsenic and Old Lace ($100,000) to the U.S. War Relief Fund.

Grant was one of Hollywood's top box-office attractions for several decades. Howard Hawks said that Grant was "so far the best that there is. There isn't anybody to be compared to him". He was also a favorite actor of Alfred Hitchcock, notorious in his dislike of actors, saying Grant was "the only actor I ever loved in my whole life".

Click here to watch the trailer for North by Northwest:

In the mid-1950s, Grant formed his own production company, Grantley Productions, and produced a number of movies distributed by Universal, such as Operation Petticoat, Indiscreet, That Touch Of Mink (co-starring Doris Day), and Father Goose.

Grant is one of the few hollywood giants to acknowledge his age, 59 at the time he filmed the romantic thriller Charade, felling he was too old to play the love interest for Audrey Hepburn, who was 25 years younger, he demanded that the script make clear that it was Audrey pursuing him, not vice versa. He also added a number of wry jokes denoting the difference in age. He also turned down roles opposite Audrey Hepburn in both Roman Holiday and Sabrina; later he starred with her in Charade. In Roman Holiday, the offered role ended up going to Gregory Peck, and the role in Sabrina went to Humphrey Bogart.

Click here to watch the Charade trailer:

Ian Fleming modeled the James Bond character partially with Grant in mind. He turned down the role of James Bond in Dr. No, believing himself to be too old at 58 to play the character.

Grant's personal life was complicated, involving five marriages and speculation about his sexuality. (Though in all of his divorces, especially with Dyan Cannon, none of his soon-to-be ex-wives brought the subject up.)

In 1932 he met fellow actor Randolph Scott on the set of Hot Saturday, and the two shared a rented beach house (known as "Bachelor Hall") on and off for twelve years. Rumors ran rampant at the time that Grant and Scott were lovers.

Authors Marc Elliot, Charles Higham and Roy Moseley consider Grant to have been bisexual, with Higham and Moseley claiming that Grant and Scott were seen kissing in a public carpark outside a social function both attended in the 1960s. Scott often referred to himself, jokingly, as Grant's wife. Many studio heads threatened not to employ them unless they lived separately.

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In his book, Hollywood Gays, Boze Hadleigh cites an interview with homosexual director George Cukor, who said about the alleged homosexual relationship between Scott and Grant: "Oh, Cary won't talk about it. At most, he'll say they did some wonderful pictures together. But Randolph will admit it – to a friend."

Many writers seem to have no doubt about the actor's bisexuality. Although Grant had many gay friends, including Cukor, William Haines, and Australian artist Orry-Kelly, he never outed himself. Will Hays, author of the Hays Code which censored "indecent" references in films, including references to homosexuality, admitted to keeping a "Doom Book" of actors he considered "unsafe" because of their personal lives. As gay film director James Whale discovered, being named on Hays's list could instantly end your career. When Chevy Chase joked about Grant being gay in a television interview with Tom Snyder in 1980 ("Oh, what a gal!") Grant sued him and won. Grant also complained to writer/director Peter Bogdanovich about the Chevy Chase incident, emphatically insisting that he was not gay, and that while he had nothing against homosexuals, he was simply not one himself.

Regardless of his sexual orientation he was the first actor to use the word "gay" (meaning homosexual)on screen, in an ad-lib during a take for Bringing Up Baby (1938), that was kept in the film. Its meaning was not fully grasped by censors and so it slipped by the Hays code. In the scene Grant appears in a pink dressing gown, telling an incredulous observer, "Because I just went gay, all of the sudden!" The script initially had Grant saying, "I suppose you think it's odd, my wearing this. I realise it looks odd. I don't usually ... I mean, I don't own one of these." However Grant ad-libbed with a line of his own.

Randolph Scott wasn't the only notorious rumored affair Grant was involved in, it is also said that while filming The Pride and the Passion, despite the fact that he was married to actress Betsy Drake, he fell madly in love with Sophia Loren. When Sophia Loren visited Los Angeles during the filming of An Affair to Remember, Grant inundated her with dozens of phone calls and hundreds of flowers - even though she had called the affair off.

Still in love with Loren when it came time for them to film Houseboat. She went to director Melville Shavelson, in tears, complaining that Grant was chasing her again -she had told Grant she was in love with Ponti, but he didn't believe her. Loren later married Ponti.

Grant was young enough to begin the new career of fatherhood when he stopped making movies at age 62. One biographer said Grant was alienated by the new realism in the film industry. In the 1950s and early 1960s, he had invented a man of the world persona and a style--"high comedy with polished words".

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In the last few years of his life, Grant undertook tours of the United States with "A Conversation with Cary Grant", in which he would show clips from his films and answer audience questions. It was just before one of these performances, in Davenport, Iowa, on November 29, 1986, that Grant suffered a stroke (November 29, 1986), and died in the hospital a few hours later.

He was nominated for two Academy Awards in the 1940s, and was honored in 1970 with a special Academy Award for Lifetime Achievement. In 1981, he received the Kennedy Center Honors. His acceptance speech:

"You know that I may never look at this without remembering the quiet patience of directors who were so kind to me, who were kind enough to put up with me more than once, some of them even three or four times. I trust they and all the other directors, writers and producers and my leading women have forgiven me for what I didn't know. You know that I've never been a joiner or a member of any particular social set, but I've been privileged to be a part of Hollywood's most glorious era."

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