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Who is Cary Grant?

Cary Grant was the epitome of Hollywood's Golden Age charm, a dashing leading man known for his suave persona both on and off the screen. His timeless performances in classics like "North by Northwest" and "Charade" cemented his legacy as a cinematic icon. Discover how Grant's elegance captivated audiences and defined a standard for sophistication in film. What made his style so enduring?
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Cary Grant (1904-1986) is well remembered as one of the most compelling American movie stars of all time. He embodied the model of the debonair, suave, chivalrous, witty gentlemen who appeared in almost every film from the 1940s to the 1960s, and he played many of these roles himself. Cary Grant is also remembered as being a kind man, active with charities and the animal rights movement. In addition, Cary Grant had a wicked sense of humor and a skill with language that made him an object of appeal for many women, presumably including his five wives.

Cary Grant was born Archibald Alexander Leach in England. As a boy, he had an interest in stage and musical theatre, and at the age of 14, he lied about his age to tour England with the Pender Troupe, a pantomime troupe that traveled the English provinces. Cary Grant honed his skills with the Pender Troupe enough to be sent to Broadway in 1920, where Good Times was performed 456 times. At the close of the run, Cary Grant decided to stay on Broadway, playing a variety of roles before decamping for California in 1931.

Cary Grant often played roles in sophisticated Hollywood comedies, but also played very cool, calm, and polished characters in dramas and suspense films.
Cary Grant often played roles in sophisticated Hollywood comedies, but also played very cool, calm, and polished characters in dramas and suspense films.

Cary Grant first appeared in This is the Night (1932), where he caught the attention of Mae West, who snagged him for two 1933 films: She Done Him Wrong and I'm No Angel. These films paved the way for a long career in film that didn't end until the 1960s, when Cary Grant became disappointed with the direction of American film and decided to retire from the silver screen, although he continued to perform on stage. Numerous Hollywood personalities, including Stanley Kubrick and Billy Wilder, tried to lure him into film performances again, but Cary Grant resisted a comeback.

Cary Grant was born Archibald Alexander Leach in England.
Cary Grant was born Archibald Alexander Leach in England.

Cary Grant tended to play roles in sophisticated comedies that showcased his dramatic and physical skills. Cary Grant was a very graceful man, whom many said reminded them of a cat with his modes of movement and the subtle style that infused all of his scenes. He performed many of his own stunts, utilizing the acrobatic skills he learned as a youth. He appeared in films with other well known stars of the day, including Katharine Hepburn, Jimmy Stewart, and Douglas Fairbanks, Junior.

One of Cary Grant's most famous films was North by Northwest, made in 1959. In an earlier Hitchcock film, To Catch a Thief, filmed in 1955, Grant and his costar Grace Kelly improvised the dialog in some of the scenes. His Broadway skills gave Cary Grant an excellent sense of timing, double entendre, and language. His personal favorite film was Indiscreet, filmed in 1958.

Cary Grant had one child, Jennifer Grant, with his fourth wife, Dyan Cannon. Grant's first wife, from 1934 to 1935, was Virginia Cherrill, who appeared in the popular Charlie Chan movies of the 1930s. Following that brief marriage, Grant wedded Barbara Hutton in 1942 and remained with her until 1945.

In 1949, Grant married again to Betsy Drake, to whom he remained married until 1962. His final wife was Barbara Harris, who married him in 1981. Cary Grant also had a lifelong friendship with Randolph Scott that many suspected of being sexual. In addition to his marriages, Cary Grant had a number of affairs, most famously one with Sophia Loren, siren of the Italian screen.

Cary Grant donated the income from his films to numerous charities, including American and British war relief funds and the Fund for Animals in New York City. He also spoke out against the McCarthy hearings, in which a number of his fellows were blacklisted for their supposed political beliefs.

Frequently Asked Questions

Who was Cary Grant and why is he significant in film history?

Cary Grant was a British-American actor renowned for his transatlantic accent, debonair demeanor, and dashing good looks. Born Archibald Alec Leach on January 18, 1904, in Bristol, England, he became one of Hollywood's definitive leading men. With a career spanning over three decades, Grant starred in classics such as "North by Northwest," "To Catch a Thief," and "An Affair to Remember." His significance lies in his versatility, having excelled in screwball comedies, romantic dramas, and suspense thrillers, often working with esteemed directors like Alfred Hitchcock. He was nominated for two Academy Awards and received an Honorary Oscar in 1970 for his contributions to film.

What are some of Cary Grant's most memorable performances?

Cary Grant's filmography is studded with memorable performances that have become iconic in the cinematic world. Among these, "North by Northwest" (1959) stands out, where he played the suave advertising executive Roger Thornhill. His comedic prowess shone in "Bringing Up Baby" (1938) alongside Katharine Hepburn. In "His Girl Friday" (1940), Grant's rapid-fire dialogue delivery was exemplary. Additionally, his role in "Charade" (1963), opposite Audrey Hepburn, showcased his ability to blend charm with a hint of mystery, solidifying his status as a versatile actor.

How did Cary Grant's early life influence his acting career?

Cary Grant's early life was marked by hardship and personal challenges, which influenced his acting career. His mother suffered from clinical depression and was institutionalized when he was just nine, leading him to believe she had died. His father abandoned him, and he was raised in a boarding school for orphans and children of poor parents. These experiences fostered a sense of independence and a desire for escapism, which he found in theater. He joined a performance troupe that eventually led him to the United States, where he honed his craft and transformed into the charismatic screen presence known worldwide.

What impact did Cary Grant have on the evolution of the leading man in Hollywood?

Cary Grant's impact on the archetype of the leading man in Hollywood was profound. He redefined masculine screen personas by combining elegance with a sense of humor, often playing characters who were both sophisticated and approachable. His ability to transition seamlessly between genres helped to expand the scope of roles available to leading men, moving beyond the traditional macho roles of the time. Grant's on-screen persona also influenced fashion trends, with his tailored suits and polished appearance becoming a standard for male elegance in the entertainment industry.

Did Cary Grant receive any major awards or honors for his acting work?

While Cary Grant never won a competitive Academy Award for his acting, he was honored with an Honorary Oscar in 1970 "for his unique mastery of the art of screen acting with the respect and affection of his colleagues." This recognition was a testament to his enduring influence and the high regard in which he was held by his peers. Additionally, Grant received two Golden Globe nominations and was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award by the American Film Institute in 1978, further acknowledging his significant contributions to the art of cinema.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a PublicPeople researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Learn more...
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a PublicPeople researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Learn more...

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Discussion Comments

anon32380

Was Cary Grant really gay?

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    • Cary Grant often played roles in sophisticated Hollywood comedies, but also played very cool, calm, and polished characters in dramas and suspense films.
      By: Perseomedusa
      Cary Grant often played roles in sophisticated Hollywood comedies, but also played very cool, calm, and polished characters in dramas and suspense films.
    • Cary Grant was born Archibald Alexander Leach in England.
      By: Negura Dincolo
      Cary Grant was born Archibald Alexander Leach in England.