Cary Grant Biography (1904-1986)

Born Archibald Alexander Leach, January 18, 1904, in Bristol, England; immigrated to the United States, 1921, became a naturalized citzen, 1942; died of astroke just prior to a performance of his one man show, in Davenport, IA, November 29, 1986; son of Elias (a pants presser in a clothing firm) and Elsie(Kingdom) Leach; married Virginia Cherill (an actress), February, 1934 (divorced, September, 1934); married Barbara Hutton (Woolworth heiress), July 8, 1942 (divorced, August, 1945); married Betsy Drake (an actress), 1949 (divorced, 1962); married Dyan Cannon (an actress), July 22, 1965 (divorced, 1968); married Barbara Harris (an actress), 1981; children: (fourth marriage) Jennifer.

Described by Todd McCarthy in the December 3, 1986, issue of Variety as a "consummate leading man of the screen who represented the epitome of debonair sophistication for 50 years," Cary Grant appeared over seventy films, wooed aninternational roster of more than fifty leading ladies, and exhibited an agelessness that enabled him to play romantic roles despite the silver-gray in his hair.

On screen, Grant appeared a born aristocrat. In fact, his real name was Archibald Alexander Leach, and he was the product of a poverty- stricken environment. His father worked in the British garment industry, and his mother suffered a nervous breakdown and entered a mental hospital when her son was twelve;he did not see her again for twenty years.

While still in school, Archie Leach ran away from home and joined a troupe ofcomic acrobats with whom he toured England and Europe for a year. After a New York City engagement in 1920, he left the troupe and for several years helda variety of odd jobs. He also appeared in supporting roles iln several musical comedies. In 1932, he travelled to Hollywood and was signed by ParamountStudios. It was then that he changed his name to the more euphonious Cary Grant.

His first movies, including This Is the Night, She Done Him Wrong, and I'm NoAngel established him as a romantic lead. He went on to display a mastery ofsophisticated comedy in a series of classic films during the 1930s and 1940s, including Topper, Bringing Up Baby, Holiday, and Arsenic and Old Lace.

His most notable dramatic roles, played with his inimitable light touch, included four films directed by Alfred Hitchcock: Suspicion, Notorious, To Catcha Thief, and North by Northwest. According to Pauline Kael in her book When the Lights Go Down (Holt & Co., 1983), in these romantic suspense comedies, Grant played "the glamourous, worldly figure that 'Cary Grant' had come tomean: he was cast as Cary Grant, and he gave a performance as Cary Grant."

Even in his later films, Grant lost none of his romantic appeal or pure command of gesture and expression that was his hallmark. His personal style, as described by Eric Pace in the December 1, 1986, New York Times, was marked by "a Cockney-flavored but cosmopolitan manner of speaking, a knack for lifting his eyebrows to register comic disbelief, and a flair for managing to seem irresistible to the heroine while remaining rather passive and indifferent to her at the same time."

Although Grant was twice nominated for an Academy Award--for his portrayal ofa star-crossed newspaperman in Penny Serenade, a 1941 drama, and for his role as a London street tough in the 1944 film None But the Lonely Heart--it wasnot until 1970 that he received a special Oscar for his total contribution to film and in recognition of his having been one of the most popular stars inHollywood for more than three decades. Retiring from the screen in 1966, Grant became an executive of Faberge, a large cosmetics firm.

Even in retirement, however, Cary Grant remained a star. Television reruns ofhis films and promotional appearances for Faberge kept him before the publiceye. And his youthful charm and worldly, fun- loving lifestyle seemed but anextension of his screen personality. As Kael observed, "He has lived up to his screen image, and then some."

Grant "was everyone's favorite uncle, brother, best friend and ideal lover; more than most stars he belonged to the public," wrote David Shipman in his book The Great Movie Stars: The Golden Years (Hill & Wang, 1981). "He stayed young," added Shipman. "We loved [Clark] Gable, [Bing] Crosby, [Gary] Cooper as much, but they aged. The appeal of many of them lay in familiarity: unlike us and the world, Grant was changeless."

Kael concurred. "Everyone likes the idea of Cary Grant," she posited. "Everyone thinks of him affectionately, because he embodies what seems a happier time--a time when we had a simpler relationship to a performer. We could admirehim for his timing and nonchalance. . . . We didn't want depth from him; we asked only that he be handsome and silly and make us laugh."

Grant died of a stroke November 29, 1986, in Davenport, Iowa, where he was scheduled to appear in a one-man show of filmclips and reminiscences. Among hismany eulogies was a tribute from President Ronald Reagan that read, "[Grant]was one of the brightest stars in Hollywood, and his elegance, wit and charmwill endure forever on film and in our hearts." Similarly, in a Newsweek article of December 8, 1986, David Ansen called Grant "The embodiment . . . of charm and elegance and effortless accomplishment" and mourned the loss of theworld's "quintessential romantic icon, probably the most purely likable leading man in the history of the movies."

Birth Details
January 18, 1904
Bristol, England
Death Details
November 29, 1986
Davenport, Iowa, United States

Famous Works

Other articles you might like:

User Contributions:

Comment about this article, ask questions, or add new information about this topic: