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Cary Grant: A Biography

Cary Grant: A Biography

3.3 21
by Marc Eliot

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Rigorously researched and elegantly written, Cary Grant: A Biography is a complete, nuanced portrait of the greatest star in cinema history. Exploring Grant’s troubled childhood, ambiguous sexuality, and lifelong insecurities, as well as the magical amalgam of characteristics that allowed him to remain Hollywood’s favorite romantic lead for


Rigorously researched and elegantly written, Cary Grant: A Biography is a complete, nuanced portrait of the greatest star in cinema history. Exploring Grant’s troubled childhood, ambiguous sexuality, and lifelong insecurities, as well as the magical amalgam of characteristics that allowed him to remain Hollywood’s favorite romantic lead for more than thirty-five years, Cary Grant is the definitive examination of every aspect of Grant’s professional and private life and the first biography to reveal the real man behind the movie star.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“A fascinating and thorough portrait. . . . Eliot does a good job of cracking the screen fantasy.” —Esquire

“Highly readable. . . . Glimpses of the debonair leading man’s dark side are the most intriguing elements of this welcome biography.” —People (3 stars)

“Keeping the actor’s astonishing career firmly in view, Eliot assembles a portrait that shows the dark shadows behind the gleaming facade, while also revealing Grant’s own shrewdness in maintaining that fictional persona.” —Washington Post

“Eliot gives us a Grant we’ve never fully glimpsed before.” —Vogue

Our interest in Cary Grant should be more than skin deep. Behind his charismatic screen image was a man whose inner life was far more interesting than that of any debonair character he ever played. Hollywood biographer Marc Eliot traces the long life (1904-86) of the British-born actor, exploring his troubled childhood, ambiguous sexuality, difficult domestic relations (Grant married five times), and lifelong insecurities. This book includes much new information, including revelations about Grant's relationship with fellow actor Randolph Scott and his dabblings with LSD.
Molly Haskell
Earning our trust with his neutral, unsensational tone, the author fills in the blanks, without lingering over less flattering details in a lipsmacking manner. If Eliot's is not a book of startling critical insights, his more than adequate prose offers something just as valuable: the evidence by which a case can be made for Grant's stature, not just as myth or icon, but as an artist as well. Keeping the actor's astonishing career firmly in view, Eliot assembles a portrait that shows the dark shadows behind the gleaming façade, while also revealing Grant's own shrewdness in maintaining that fictional persona.
— The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
During a four-decade career filled with outstanding performances (The Awful Truth; The Philadelphia Story; Notorious; North by Northwest; Charade), Grant's greatest creation was the illusion that the suave Cary Grant really existed offscreen. Born Archibald Leach in Bristol, England, in 1904, he was traumatized at 10 when told of his mother's death. Eighteen years later, he learned she was alive (his father had committed her to an asylum). Grant nonetheless succeeded in Hollywood. After making 24 films in five years, he refused to re-sign with Paramount and, in 1936, became one of Hollywood's first freelance actors. On-screen and off, Grant was pursued by women, but his openly gay relationship with Randolph Scott lasted until both were pressured by studios to marry. Eliot, who has coauthored memoirs with Donna Summer, Barry White and Erin Brockovich, convincingly alleges that Grant was pressured by the FBI to spy on his second wife, heiress Barbara Hutton, in 1942 in return for American citizenship. Eliot's fascinating, sympathetic portrait is of a consummate performer who hid inner demons and used filmmaking to distance himself from reality (and four of his five wives). After years of therapy, weekly LSD treatments and retirement from films, he had a daughter (at age 62), a later happy marriage (he was 74, she 25) and some inner peace before his 1986 death. Photos not seen by PW. Agent, Mel Berger. (Sept.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Two biographers attempt to unravel the mystery of Archie Leach, the product of a dysfunctional working-class English family who went to Hollywood and through sheer will transformed himself into Cary Grant. Eliot (Walt Disney: Hollywood's Dark Prince) explores how Grant's unhappy upbringing influenced his later life and career, notably, his passivity in pursuing romantic relationships and his obsession with achieving financial security. Other topics include his years on the music hall stage; angry, ambivalent relationship with the Motion Picture Academy; pioneering path in shunning contracts with studios in favor of shopping his services around as an independent talent; and fruitful collaboration with Alfred Hitchcock. On the personal side, there is plenty to dish: his many marriages (including a stormy one to heiress Barbara Hutton), friendship with Howard Hughes, longtime affair with actor Randolph Scott, and later experiments with LSD. Only in retirement did Grant find contentment, a happy marriage, and the daughter he so desperately wanted. Morecambe covers much of the same ground but from a British perspective (he is the son of famed comic Eric Morecambe). Grant, a notoriously private man, would have probably been offended by the attention that both books pay his personal life. In fact, both could be stronger in discussing Grant's films, his undervalued genius at physical comedy, and his ability to create his screen persona. Over the last 15 years, several biographies on Grant have been published (and gone out of print); chances are, your library owns one or two of them. Those institutions lacking a biography can purchase Eliot's. Because of its British slant and considerable duplication of material, Morecambe's is not a necessary purchase. Stephen Rees, Levittown Regional Lib., PA Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

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Chapter 11

On the night of April 7, 1970, four years after starring in his last feature film, sixty-six-year-old Cary Grant, who had never won an Oscar, was awarded a special noncompetitive Academy Award for his lifetime of achievement in motion pictures. Although to his great legion of fans it was an honor scandalously overdue, for a number of reasons, some less obvious than others, it very nearly did not happen.

The original concept of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences had been the brainstorm of Louis B. Mayer, who in 1926 came up with the idea of an interstudio house union open to all studio employees, including actors, run by moguls, to offset the growing problem of independent trade organization in Hollywood. The notion of annual awards was meant to placate those employees who sought the more practical benefits of better salaries, job security, health insurance, and retirement plans. At the time virtually everyone connected to the motion picture industry, from set painters, costume makers, and prop men to screenwriters, actors, and directors, was subject to the whims and fancies of the sweatshop mentality of the pioneering generation of Hollywood moguls.

The first actor to successfully break the hitherto ironclad contract system for performers was Cary Grant, who became a freelance actor-for-hire on a per film basis in 1936, after his original five-year exclusive deal with Paramount expired (as had the studio itself, in its first incarnation as Paramount Publix). During his half-decade studio tenure he had appeared in twenty-four features (including three made on loan-out to other studios) at a salaried basis that had begun at $450 a week in 1931 and ended at $3,500 in 1935, far below the $6,500 per week that Gary Cooper, his main competition at Paramount, earned that same year.

Money, however, was not the only reason Grant chose not to remain a contract studio player. In 1934 MGM, the studio "with more stars than there are in heaven!" and the one he felt was more suited to his style and image, wanted to borrow him from Paramount to costar as Captain Bligh's first mate in Frank Lloyd's Mutiny on the Bounty. It was a film Grant desperately wanted to be in, believing it would be the one to finally make him a major star. When Adolph Zukor, the head of Paramount, refused to allow the loan-out, MGM gave the role instead to its own relatively unknown contract player, Franchot Tone. Bounty went on to win the Best Picture Oscar for 1935, and its three stars-Clark Gable, Charles Laughton, and Tone-were all nominated for Best Actor. (None won; the award that year went to Victor McLaglen for his performance in John Ford's The Informer.)

Grant never forgave Zukor, and a year later, when his contract was up, he refused to re-sign with a reorganized Paramount, then surprised everyone when, after fielding offers from all the majors, he announced he was not going to sign an exclusive studio contract with any and instead would sell his services on a nonexclusive per-film basis. To underscore the finality of his decision to go independent, he canceled his membership in the Academy, an action everyone in Hollywood considered professional suicide. At the time no one except Charlie Chaplin had been able to survive without the security of a weekly paycheck in Academy-dominated Hollywood, and to do it he had to start his own studio, United Artists (with Douglas Fairbanks, D. W. Griffith, and Mary Pickford).

No one, that is, until Cary Grant. The same year his deal at the studio expired, Grant appeared in George Cukor's Sylvia Scarlett for RKO, a role that showcased his unique talents as his screen acting at Paramount had not. And, although Grant's performance in the film was arguably just as good as, in some cases notably better than, William Powell's in My Man Godfrey, Paul Muni's in The Story of Louis Pasteur, Gary Cooper's in Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, and Walter Huston's in Dodsworth, he was pointedly ignored at Oscar time by a still-resentful Academy. To the conservative moguls, he was now officially an outsider, an enemy of their system, as reviled as any independent trade union activist. Their anger was exacerbated, no doubt, by his early, often, and indiscreet flaunting of his eleven-year "marriage" to actor Randolph Scott.

It was a resentment that was to last for a very long time. Of the seventy-two movies he would make, only two of his performances-in Penny Serenade (1941) and None But the Lonely Heart (1944), both made during Hollywood's wartime male talent drain-earned him nominations for Best Actor, and both times he lost (first to rival Gary Cooper, who won for Sergeant York, and then to Bing Crosby, who won for Going My Way).

Nevertheless, his pioneering individualism had helped to redefine the notion of what creative freedom meant in Hollywood, and played a key role in the complex, multifaceted movement toward industrywide independence. Aided by a 1948 landmark antitrust lawsuit brought against the studios by the government to end the moguls' absolute control of the production, distribution, and exhibition of movies, Grant was among the handful of individuals whose actions eventually helped transform Hollywood from a factory that manufactured movies by mass production, much the way Ford made cars, to a place where outside, independently financed films could be produced by the actors themselves and sold for distribution to the highest bidder.

As much as the studios resented Grant, he resented them in turn for what he believed was their stubborn refusal to properly acknowledge via Oscar not only his individual success but all that the success of his movies meant to the industry. To him, their intentional slight was not only an offense to his ego but cost him (and them) potential millions in profits at the box office for the many pictures he not only starred in but owned a piece of; one of the truisms of Hollywood is that no matter how successful a film, the awarding of an Oscar significantly increases its profits.

In fact, many in the industry steadfastly believed that it was the money far more than the rejection-after all, how much more popular with the public could Grant be?-that kept the notoriously penny-pinching actor's finger on the legal hair-trigger of the pistol he continually pointed at the heads of the studios. From the early 1930s until he left the business entirely, Grant brought numerous if mostly frivolous lawsuits against the heads of the industry, and almost always with the same accusation: that they had somehow conspired to cheat him out of what was rightly his. As late as the summer of 1968 he was still going at it. That August he and his partner, director Stanley Donen, filed a multimillion-dollar suit against MCA (Universal Studios) for its "poor judgment" in failing to obtain television distribution of the four films they had coproduced. The lawsuit, eventually settled out of court and like all the others, did nothing to ameliorate the industry leaders' long-term hostility toward Grant. That same year the members of the Academy angrily vetoed newly elected Academy president Gregory Peck's decision to award Grant a rare Honorary Oscar for his lifetime of achievement as an actor. Only after Grant "voluntarily" rejoined the Academy in 1970 did Peck finally get the votes he needed and Grant his award.

After more than two hours into the Awards ceremony, held that year at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in downtown Los Angeles, a nervous, tuxedoed Cary Grant was escorted by a hostess from the green room to the immediate backstage area, where he stood behind a fly curtain and listened through a small technician's cue speaker as Frank Sinatra finished his brief but spirited introduction.

A onetime rival of Grant's for the affection of Sophia Loren (in 1956, during the filming of Stanley Kramer's The Pride and the Passion), Sinatra had been Peck's last-minute choice to replace Princess Grace (Kelly) Rainier. At Grant's insistence, Kelly had bowed out of what would have been her first appearance at the Oscars in fifteen years (having last appeared in 1967, on film shot in Monaco), after Grant announced that he could not, for "personal reasons," show up to accept his Oscar.

Those "personal reasons" had to do with an about-to-erupt sex scandal involving just the kind of gossipy scrutiny into Grant's personal life he

had more or less succeeded in avoiding for most of his career. In March, less than a month after the Academy announced its intention to award Grant his Honorary Oscar and just two days after Grant assured Peck

he would end his personal twelve-year boycott of the ceremonies to accept it,* Cynthia Bouron, a former Hollywood call girl and self-proclaimed actress filed a paternity suit against Grant, claiming he was the father of her seven-week-old baby girl. Within hours word of the publicly filed lawsuit swept across the Hollywood trades and on to the front pages of newspapers across the country and around the world. Grant, who had been tipped off the day of the filing by a friend at the Los Angeles courthouse, immediately flew to Bristol, England, to visit his suddenly sick mother.

Many felt the timing of the lawsuit could not have been mere coincidence. After it became a matter of public record, more than one columnist claimed to have known it was coming for weeks and that he had been asked by unnamed parties to sit on the story until the Academy's decision to give Grant his Oscar had been publicly announced.

The day the story broke it became the subject of choice over morning coffee in Beverly Hills. How, everyone in the business wondered, could Grant possibly have allowed himself to become ensnared in one of the studios' oldest tactics, the moral smear? The widespread belief among Grant's supporters was that if the hardliners at the Academy had not been able to prevent Grant from getting his award by ballot, they would do it another way, by publicly humiliating him and forcing him to bow out of the ceremonies.

Once the lawsuit was filed, except for his conversations with Peck via long-distance telephone, Grant carefully avoided direct contact with anyone but his closest friends and his lawyer, spokesperson and personal manager Stanley Fox. Despite their well-known diligence, the British paparazzi had very little success tracking Grant down, the reason being that after making a brief, highly publicized appearance in Bristol, Grant secretly flew to the Bahamas in one of good friend Howard Hughes's private planes, where he remained in seclusion at the billionaire's private villa.

During his absence, Bouron held a press conference to announce that she intended to show up at the Academy Awards, hold a press conference in front of the red carpet, reveal her new baby's full name, and if Grant dared to show, hand him the subpoena that he had thus far been able to avoid.

Grant had reason to worry. The truth was that he had had a brief sexual affair with Bouron the year before. The nature of the mutual attraction between the sixty-six-year-old Grant and the thirty-three-year-old Bouron was most likely a clever sting of sorts, made possible by Grant's lifelong attraction to much younger women and his desire to have a second child. When the scandal broke, it was Fox who had advised Grant to get out of town and make no public comment about anything and, to prevent Bouron from making further potentially damaging comments, filed a countersuit, knowing her lawyers would then prevent her from saying anything more.

The potential for trouble, however, still loomed. Questions concerning Grant's long and bitter divorce from his fourth wife, actress Dyan Cannon, had recently flared up over the question of Grant's visitation rights to his four-year-old daughter, Jennifer. Bouron's paternity suit, he feared, might adversely upset the already delicate balance of the rights he had fought so long and hard to win.

And finally there was Princess Grace. The last thing Grant wanted was to have his dear friend associated in any way with scandal. That was the real reason why, the day after the Bouron story broke, Princess Grace sent at Grant's insistence, her reluctant but irrevocable regrets to the Academy.

The last week in March, Grant authorized Fox to accept service of Bouron's subpoena and then quietly slipped back in to Los Angeles. The next day, under an agreement reached by his and Bouron's attorneys, he gave blood samples to the authorities. Bouron was also required to do so, but did not show at the appointed time, or at two subsequent occasions. Fox seized upon this to petition Judge Laurence J. Rittenband to dismiss Bouron's lawsuit. At a hastily convened hearing, Fox's request was granted, and just like that, her paternity case against Grant was over.

The scandal, however, refused to die. A new gust of rumors quickly blew through Hollywood that Grant had secretly met with Bouron and paid her off not to show up and give blood. While this made for good gossip, the reality of that having taken place was highly unlikely. Had the baby proved to have been his, Grant, who had suffered a lifetime dealing with his own boy hood abandonment issues, and who desperately wanted a second child, would not likely have turned his back on it.

Nevertheless, the front-page persistence of the story convinced Grant that, despite Peck's continuing pleas, he should not show up at the Oscars. Then on the first of April, at the behest of Howard Hughes, Grant flew to Hughes's Desert Inn hotel in Las Vegas to talk over the situation. The reclusive billionaire told him that the only way he could put an end to the whole sorry situation was to act as if he had done nothing wrong and had nothing to hide, and the only way to do that was to show up at the ceremonies and accept his Oscar. (It was ironic advice from the increasingly reclusive Hughes, who having summoned Grant to Las Vegas, had conducted the meeting via telephone, suite to suite.)

On April 2, Grant called Peck and said he would show up after all but wanted his decision to be kept secret. Peck agreed. Nonetheless the story appeared the next day in an item by local columnist John Austin, who said he had been tipped to Grant's appearance by a "close friend." (The only other person besides Peck who knew of Grant's decision was Hughes. Austin's column hinted it was indeed Hughes who had convinced Grant to show. It remains a matter of conjecture as to why Hughes would have told Austin, but the most likely reason is that he felt that once the story appeared in print, Grant would not be able to change his mind again.)

Peck then called Sinatra and asked him to be the presenter, and he said yes. As the night of the Awards approached, Grant spent several days and at least one evening at Cannon's home, both to give support and seek comfort from his ex-wife. Cannon, as it happened, had been nominated that year as Best Supporting Actress for her performance in the wife-swapping comedy Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice.*

As the auditorium lights slowly dimmed, a six-minute montage of clips from Grant's best-loved movies played on a large screen behind the podium, punctuated by outbursts of spontaneous laughter from the audience and ripples of applause. When the film ended and the lights came back up, Sinatra finished his introduction by praising Cary Grant for the "sheer brilliance of his acting that makes it all look easy."

And then at last the moment was upon him. With tears rolling down his cheeks, Grant emerged from the wings and walked slowly to the microphone while the audience rose as one to stand and cheer for him. He nodded appreciatively several times, quickly wiped one eye with a finger, and waved gracefully to the crowd. As the crescendo of their applause began to wane, he slipped on his thick-rimmed black glasses, and in the familiar voice so beloved by his fans all around the world, humbly delivered his carefully prepared words of acceptance and appreciation.

Meet the Author

Marc Eliot has been writing about pop culture for more than twenty-five years and is the author of more than a dozen books translated into twenty-seven languages, including the critically acclaimed, award-winning biography Walt Disney: Hollywood’s Dark Prince and, with Erin Brockovich, the New York Times bestselling Take It from Me. He divides his time among Los Angeles, New York City, and upstate New York. Visit his website at marceliot.net

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Cary Grant: A Biography 3.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 21 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed the book. It was easy to read and I learned alot about Cary Grant that I didn't know. There was alot of info about the movies he made and who he made them with. If you are a movie buff you will enjoy this book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
It took me awhile to get into reading this book because the first part of the book was disturbing to me. But, I finally pushed past it and read the entire book which was one dark moment after another. This book did not show much else. So, one can either assume that Cary Grant was a very disturbed individual, or that he couldn't stand the media and showed and told only the bad stuff of his life. The book is mostly a filmography with the bad things that went with each movie, including his relationships.
tumbleweedJB More than 1 year ago
Cary Grant excelled in playing characters who you weren't sure if you could - or should - trust. Alfred Hitchcock's "North by Northwest" and "Suspicion," and Stanley Donen's "Charade" are prime examples. His background lent itself perfectly to those roles. Cary Grant once said "Everybody wants to be Cary Grant. Even I want to be Cary Grant." This biography by Marc Eliot looks at Cary Grant, who changed his name from Archibald Leach, his complicated personal life, his movies, his break from the studios, and at those who knew and loved him. The book is a great read for a behind the scenes look at a man we all think we know ... but who is far different than his portrayal on the silver screen.
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The_BibliophileJM More than 1 year ago
Marc Eliot's Cary Grant biography is a good read if you are interested in getting to know the person behind the person that is Cary Grant. A fairly quick read for a biography, Eliot's version of the movie star's life gives just enough information to satisfy, but is not the first place I'd turn to if I needed this for a research paper or anything of the sort. Also, I was constantly annoyed by the poor editting of the book. Some dates were not proprly lined up, and there were constant puncuation problems and misused words; A sign that maybe Eliot didn't do HIS research after all. Also, a sign he needs a new edittor! But, despite the small bits of the book that lacked in consistancy and professionalism, this is, I have to say, the best Cary Grant Biography I've ever read and this is the one I'd recomend to others who were interested in his life.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
This book clears up some questions and fills in some gaps but as other readers have commented, it does not reveal the essence of the man. Overall, I found it interesting but not required reading for the Cary Grant fan.
Guest More than 1 year ago
While fairly well written, the information is superficial at best. Anyone looking for an in-depth study of the man will not find it here. Many of the passages seem speculative and biased against the subject of the book, based on recollections of uncorroborated individuals. There is also the puzzling recitation of every major Grant movie plot-line which one would presume anyone reading this book would already know. Any Cary Grant fan would be better off re-watching some of his classic performances than reading this book. They will be more satisfied.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This highly readable biography of formidable film star Cary Grant chronicles plenty of facts about his life and career, but never seems to reach the soul of the man. Author Marc Eliot discusses early family traumas and deals frankly with the homosexual lifestyle Grant followed in his twenties and thirties, yet is puzzlingly silent as to why the actor apparently abandoned interest in men as he got older. We also get little insight into the origins of his miserliness or the surprising stubbornness (and courage) he showed in bucking the studio contract system. The book is well-written and involving, but in the end, to this reviewer at least, Archie Leach (aka Cary Grant) remains a mystery.
CaptainSteven More than 1 year ago
Eliot does go into painstaking detail that somewhat humanizes Grant into a believable person. However, his multiple assertions about Grant's bisexuality goes on ad-nauseaum...with no concrete proof other than to say "everybody knew about it." Grant's wife, Betsy Drake had only this to say when questioned about Grant's bi-sexuality..."I don't know how he could be, we were too busy F____ing." So, this part about the book knawed at me a bit. Otherwise, Grant was still given his "due" and place as the Hollywood man's man and consummate professional...worth buying and reading.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I truly enjoyable reading. Learned a lot about the almost mythical Hollywood ledgend. Great insight into the life of a very private man.