Cary Grant

Posted on March 2, 2011

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Cary Grant was one of the greatest actors never to have won an Oscar,  Ranked 2nd Greatest Male Star of All Time by the American Film Institute(AFI), he had a career spanning 34 years where he had been in lead roles always. Not many artists are given the option to play the role of James Bond, he dealt the role with rejection in a style which cannot be matched.

Cary Grant, born Archibald Alexander Leach on the 18th of January, 1904, in the culturally rich city of Bristol , he went on to dominate the film industry across the Atlantic with his raw charm and grace which made up the prerequisites  for the quintessential gentleman of the West.

Cary Grant had  a troubled childhood and lost his mother to a mental illness institution – because  she could not cope with the depression following  the loss of her previous child, returning from school one fine day. His father told him she had gone for a long vacation.

He joined the “Bob Pender Stage Group” faking his age and forging his father’s signature  after being expelled from school at the age of 14. The troupe had toured the USA on a two year stint in 1920. Leach’s role was that of a stilt walker. Deciding to stay back to continue his stage career he performed in The Muny Theatre,St. Louis , Missouri under his birth name.

Grant’s Hollywood standing was pushed up one level when Mae West personally chose him to be the leading man for her films, “She Done Him Wrong” and “I’m No Angel” both in 1933 becoming box office hits and saving Paramount Pictures from bankruptcy while the former went all the way to being nominated for The Academy’s Best Picture Award.

This could be attributed to his experience in Broadway before moving to Hollywood in 1931, where he christened himself as Cary Lockwood, a character he potrayed in a play, “Nikki”. Impressing the studio bosses at Paramount, he was told to change his name once again, he chose Cary Grant as the initials CG had proved to be good for Clark Gable and Gary Cooper, the biggest stars of that time.

After a stint with Paramount , Grant signed on to Columbia Pictures in 1937, where he got his first break into comedy films, a genre he would prove to be a king in the years to come. He was , loaned to HAL studios in 1937 for  “Topper” distributed by MGM. In the same year “The Awful Truth” directed by Leo McCarey, made Grant’s foundation in humour  stronger, McCarey is credited to have been the catalyst in bringing out this aspect of Grant’s acting which was widely received well.

In the following year Grant along with Katherine Hepburn was drafted by the ever creative Howard Hawks to play a bone hunting paleontologist in “Bringing Up The Baby”, but the movie flopped. This had negative consequences on Hawks(who was fired from directing RKO’s next feature “Gunga Din”  which ironically had Grant in the lead) and Hepburn (who had to buy out her contract from Paramount).

Grant’s next hit was as Sgt. Cutter in Gunga Din based on Rudyard Kipling’s poem of the same name which also had Douglas Fairbanks Jr. in the cast, this was succeeded by his second venture with Howard Hawks as the maverick cargo pilot Geoff Carter in “Only Angels Have Wings” which had a little known Rita Hayworth in a supporting role, only to see her image catapult to stardom following this.It was around this time that Grant traced his mother reported to be lodged in a institutionalised care facility.

Grant co-starred with westerns hero  James Stewart in The Philadelphia Story which again had Katherine Hepburn playing the female interest which showcased Grant’s best known screen persona.His next role as Roger Adams in Penny Serenade earned him his first academy award nomination.

At around this time, Grant made himself an independent actor, a concept never heard of before in Hollywood, an av-ant gard ish move which set the tone for a new trend in professional acting. This was possible because,he was Hollywood’s top box office draw for decades, continuing to be so until he retired. His versatility and physically demanding comedy with the skills he learnt in theatre, led Howards Hawks to say, “(Grant was)so far the best that there isn’t anybody to be compared to him”.

In 1944, Hollywood and cinema goers benefited in what could be one of the best actor-director collaborations of all time when Grant’s first feature with Alfred Hitchcock was released, “Suspicion”. In 1944 playing the role of, Mortimer Brewster in Frank Capra’s “Arsenic &  Old Lace” which set in the term,screw ball comedy,  followed by “None but the Lonely Heart” which gave Grant his second nomination for best actor at the Oscar’s.

Directed by Hitchcock,  “Notorious” was released in1946. It turned out to be one of the biggest earning movies of that year. After the one off thriller, Grant’s next “The Bachelor and the Bobby – Soxer” released in 1947 where the audience saw him in his good old humorous ways.

He acted in “Every Girl Should Be Married” in 1948 which starred Betsy Drake, holding good to the film’s title Drake married Grant a year later.

This was followed by just three movies in as many years – “I Was A Male War Bride” in 1949, “Crisis” in 1950 and “People Will Talk” in 1951.

Grant and Drake portrayed reel life couples in “Room For One More” which preceded “Monkey Business” co-starring the bombshell of all time, Marlyn Monroe and yet another Grant film directed by Howard Hawks both in 1952.

In the meanwhile, Grant had started his own production house, “Grantley Productions” which made films such as Operation Petticoat (1959), Indiscreet (1958), That Touch of Mink (co-starring with Doris Day, 1962), and Father Goose (1964).

His third venture with Hitchock was, “To Catch A Thief” in 1955. It had Grace Kelly in one of her last films before she became the Princess of Monaco by wedlock. Then came “An Affair To Remember” directed by Leo McCarey (who had given Grant several hits in the past) with Deborah Kerr which turned out to have a great influence on many romantic movies made and remade later in other languages.

Then came “North By Northwest” regarded to be one of the finest films combining the mastery of Hitchcock and screenstyle of Grant with Eva Marie Saint playing a pivotal role. The movie was criticallly acclaimed and a financial success, AFI ranked it No.4 in the greatest thrillers ever.

Cary Grant was heading towards the end of his career at this point and had done only 6 films post “North by Northwest”, notably “Charade” with the gorgeous Audrey Hepburn and Walther Matthau in 1963, before which he was offered the of role “James Bond” in “Dr.No”(1962) which he rejected citing his age as a cause of concern to potray the suave spy which was eventually done Sir Sean Connery, he was 58 then.

Grant had decided to retire after  “Walk Don’t Run” in 1966 .He played the role of “Sir William Rutland” who is a cupid in uniting two americans in Japan during the Tokyo Olympics of 1964. He didnt change his decision to hang his boots even after Hitchcock offered him a role in “Torn Curtain” thereby giving the chance to Paul Newman who was just making his mark in the industry.

Alfred Hitchcock not known to have held actors in high regard had this to say of Grant, “the only actor I ever loved in my whole life”.

Grant married five times starting with Virginia Cherrill in 1934. The marriage ended a year later.  Then marriage with socialite Barbara Hutton in 1942 till 1945, which ended due to Hutton’s lack of interest even though Grant had genuinely cared for her.

His marriage(third marriage) with co-star Betsy Drake in 1949 lasted for 13 years. After which he married Dyan Cannon from 1965-68 with whom he had his only child, Jennifer Grant. His final marriage was  with Barbara Harris in 1981 who was 47 years his junior, until his death did them apart.

After retiring, Grant joined the boards of Faberge, Delta Airlines, Hollywood Park and MGM. During the dusk of his life Grant toured America in a one man show called, “A Conversation With Cary Grant” which screened clips of his films and he answered public questions. Preparing for the show in Davenport,  Iowa, he suffered a massive cerebral hemorrhage on the 29th of November 1986.

Grant was a Republican, but did not think movie stars should publicly make political declarations. Grant described his politics and his reticence by saying, “ I’m opposed to actors taking sides in public and spouting spontaneously about love, religion, or politics. We aren’t experts on these subjects. Personally I’m a mass of inconsistencies when it comes to politics. My opinions are constantly changing. That’s why I don’t ever take a public stand on issues.”

Grant was a star who commanded respect from all corners with his suave and gentlemanly nature, he going independant and being successful holds good for that, he used to chose his scripts, directors and actors he would work with, something unheard of at a time when stars where puppets of the studio’s, this is being a prime reason why he didnt win an oscar for acting but was honored with the Lifetime Acheivement Award in 1970.

His legacy still lives on with the countless fans he has. To them he is a class act and the epitome of style.

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Posted in: Cinema, Tribute