January 18, 1904– Cary Grant:
“In my earlier career, I patterned myself on a combination of Englishmen: Rex Harrison, Noël Coward, and especially Jack Buchanan, who impressed me as a character actor. He always looked so natural. I tried to copy men I thought were sophisticated and well dressed like Douglas Fairbanks or Cole Porter.”
You know this, of course; Cary Grant was born Archibald Leach in Bristol, England. He remains the embodiment of the term “Movie Star”. He has always been a favorite, if not THE favorite male star at my house.
“I cultivated raising one eyebrow and tried to imitate those who put their hands in their pockets with a certain amount of ease and nonchalance. But at times, when I put my hand in my trouser pocket with what I imagined was great elegance; I couldn’t get the blinking thing out again because it dripped from nervous perspiration!
I guess to a certain extent I did eventually become the characters I was playing. I played at someone I wanted to be until I became that person. Or he became me.”
These quotes are fascinating. He was box-office gold for decades, but the “Cary Grant” persona was a consciously created phenomenon. He did it. The studios didn’t do it, and his marketing people didn’t do it. Grant didn’t even have an agent! The fact that he made it all seem so easy, along with his commanding onscreen presence, is just one of the many astounding talents of Grant.
It is even more startling to see him be awkward, sporting a Cockney accent, in his early roles, before he hit his stride in The Awful Truth (1937). Later in life, he bristled when Mae West would give herself the credit for “discovering” him. She had, indeed, pulled him out of the crowd to be the eye-candy in She Done Him Wrong (1933), and then in I’m No Angel (1933). She gets some credit; West saw something special in the young Englishman.
Grant was romantically involved with costume designer Orry-Kelly when he first moved to Manhattan and they lived together for a while. He also famously shared a residence with the hot, somewhat older American star Randolph Scott. Grant and Scott seemed to have been deeply, madly in love, and eyewitness accounts of their physical affection have been published many times. Actor Alexander D’Arcy, who appeared with Grant in The Awful Truth, wrote:
“Grant and Scott lived together as a couple. I think Cary knew that people were saying things about him. I don’t think he tried to hide it.”
The two gentleman were often each other’s dates to parties and premieres.
I had a framed photograph of Grant and Scott on their pool’s diving board. It was in a silver Deco frame, and I had it for a long time. I’ve wondered what became of it. Anyway, their relationship fascinates me.
Ironically, Grant and Scott began their relationship while filming a movie titled Hot Saturday in 1932 and they soon moved in together. Press reports during their first two years together described the actors’ shared celebrity home and domestic life using phrases like: “Hollywood’s favorite twosome” and “The happy couple”.
The innuendos provided telling details about their personal lives which thrilled the fans, making the two actors appear to be just a couple of guys sharing more than a home. They named their house at 177 West Live Oak Drive in the Los Feliz neighborhood of Los Angeles, “Bachelor Hall”. Grant also shared it with wife number one, Virginia Cherrill.
George Cukor said:
“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.”
The pair continued their love affair and their domestic relationship after Grant’s marriage to Cherrill in early 1934. Confidential Magazine wrote:
“The Grants and Randolph Scott have moved, all three, but not apart.”
This choice for living arrangements seems to have been pre-planned. In 1934, the studio encouraged Grant to get married to quash the gay rumors that were swirling. An item from the gossip rags two weeks prior to Grant’s marriage observed that Scott would not seek new digs until he heard from Grant. The innuendos continued. 13 months later, Grant divorced Cherrill.
An article in the press proclaimed that Scott had moved back in with Grant. This piece was titled A Woman Is Only A Woman. It suggested that the guys had forged a life together and that they probably had no room for a woman. These press items associated Bachelor Hall with forbidden sexuality, turning the place into an especially exotic place to live.
When the couple moved to a new house at the beach in Santa Monica, the Paramount Pictures publicity department shot over 30 photographs of Grant and Scott hanging out in different rooms. The studio’s focus was on the stars’ personalities, their bachelorhood, and how they used the house. The caption stamped on the back of each photograph highlighted that the actors were Hollywood’s most eligible bachelors who just happened to share a home, but lived independent lives.
The boys’ good friend, Carole Lombard, when joking about Grant’s notorious thriftiness said:
“Their relationship is perfect. Randy pays the bills and Cary mails them.”
Between the two of them, Grant and Scott had seven failed marriages, but they were all probably “special marriages”. Their living arrangement lasted until early 1942 when they split and lived apart for the remainder of their lives.
Gay writer Arthur Laurents wrote:
“Grant told me that he threw pebbles at my window one night but was luckless. I was out for the night.”
Mr. Blackwell, the notorious, biting fashion critic who produced a yearly “Worst Dressed List”, lived with Grant and Scott for a few months in 1940. In his memoir, Rags To Bitches (1995), he wrote:
“They were deeply, madly in love, their devotion complete… Behind closed doors they were warm, kind, loving and caring, and unembarrassed about showing it.”
Grant and Scott remained close the rest of their lives and were spotted around Hollywood together into the 1970s.
Grant had one of the most spectacular runs ever for an actor in American films. He gave smart, interesting performances in almost every genre: Romances and Screwball Comedies like Holiday (1938), Bringing Up Baby (1938), and The Philadelphia Story (1940), all opposite Katharine Hepburn; His Girl Friday (1940) with Rosalind Russell; The Awful Truth and My Favorite Wife (1940) with Irene Dunne; Adventure films like Gunga Din (1939) with Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. and Only Angels Have Wings (1939) with Jean Arthur, and sudsy weepers such as Penny Serenade (1941); and Thrillers: Suspicion (1941), the first of Grant’s four films with Alfred Hitchcock, along with Notorious (1946), To Catch A Thief (1955), and North By Northwest (1959). Hitchcock called Grant: “The only actor I ever loved in my whole life”.
Grant was one of the first actors to buck the studio system. He chose his own film projects, directors and co-stars. Unusual for the era, he negotiated a share of the gross from his later films. Grant received more than 10% of the gross for To Catch A Thief, about $700,000, while Hitchcock received less than $50,000 for directing and producing it.
Grant was nominated for two Academy Awards, but never won. He received a Lifetime Achievement Oscar in 1970. Accepting the Best Original Screenplay Oscar for Father Goose in 1965, Peter Stone quipped:
“My thanks to Cary Grant, who keeps winning these things for other people.”
Grant took his final bow in 1986, on stage in Davenport, Iowa while in rehearsal for his new one-man show. He was 82 years old.
His image, for all its perfection, also had its points of flexibility, like being leading man living intimately with another man for long stretches of time, doing cute man stuff together Grant made millions of women swoon, and millions of straight men aspire to be just like him. He also provided thousands of queer young men with the hope that famous, successful, high-profile performers and gayness were not mutually exclusive, further suggesting straight, high-class masculinity was an elaborate charade.
Grant mattered and continues to matter: he meant so many exquisite, beautiful things to so many different people.
You know how society likes to de-gay famous people, and although there is some argument if he was gay or even bisexual, it is sort of telling that among Grant’s films, are these titles: I Born To Be Bad, The Awful Truth, In Name Only, Suspicion, The Talk Of The Town, and People Will Talk?
Grant once wrote:
“Everyone wants to be Cary Grant. Even I want to be Cary Grant.” “