The Kennedy Center

Cary Grant


Cary Grant
(actor; born January 28, 1904, Bristol, England; died November 29, 1986) Perhaps the most dashing of all Hollywood film stars, Cary Grant stole the hearts of millions of audience members during his 40 years of acting. From President John F. Kennedy to the gangster, Lucky Luciano, many men have said that they would want Cary Grant to play them if their life stories were ever put on film.

Grant was born Archibald Alex Leach to Elias and Elsie Leach. While growing up in Bristol, Grant was drawn to movies at an early age. Every Saturday afternoon, he would wait in line with a crowd of other children to see the matinee. Later, Grant won a scholarship to Bristol's Fairfield Academy, where he worked behind the scenes on school drama productions. A visit to the Bristol Hippodrome with the school's electrician made such an impression on Grant that he thought, "what other life could there be but that of an actor?"

In these same years, during World War I, Grant spent one summer acting as a junior air raid warden in Bristol. As he watched the soldiers leave Southampton, he decided that he wanted to travel around the world. He combined his two dreams and ran away from home to join Bob Pender's troupe of vaudevillians. After ten days with the troupe, Grant's father found him and hauled him back home. A year and a half later, he rejoined the Penders for good.

In 1920, when he was only 16, Grant sailed with the Penders from Southampton to New York. Also on board were Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. and Mary Pickford. Fairbanks later recalled Grant as "a splendidly trained athlete and acrobat, affable and warmed by success and well-being; a gentleman in the true sense of the word."

Grant's New York debut was in an elaborate stage show with a cast of more than a thousand at the New York Hippodrome. During the next seven years, he toured with several vaudeville troupes as his unusual talents continue to develop. For instance, in the summer of 1922, he worked as a stiltwalker at New York's Coney Island, and, in the same year, he worked as an audience plant in a mind-reading act in Duluth, Minnesota.

The late 1920s brought a change to Grant's career, as he began to regularly appear in Broadway productions. In 1928, he played Reggie Phipps in the musical, Boom-Boom, and in October of 1929, he played the lead in Wonderful Night at the Majestic Theater. The show was forced to close after only two days, however, by the stock market crash.

Paramount Pictures' short film, Singapore Sue, introduced Grant to his first film role, where he played one of four sailors visiting a cafe. The following year, Grant discovered that Hollywood studio head, B.P. Schulberg, had liked Singapore Sue enough to offer him a contract. Grant drove across the country to sign and to adopt a new name, since Archibald Leach was apparently not "box office." Fay Wray suggested the name Cary Lockwood, but the last name was too long. As a studio assistant read the name, Grant, from a list of acceptable names, Grant nodded, and a star was born.

Grant's debuted in his first feature film on April 8, 1932, in This Is the Night. The same year, he also made seven more films, including Blonde Venus, with Marlene Dietrich, and The Devil and the Deep, with Tallulah Bankhead and Gary Cooper. The following year, Mae West remarked, after spotting Grant, "If that tall, dark, and handsome man can talk, I want him for my new co-star." Grant showed that he could talk quite well by playing a mission church minister who keeps an eye on West's character, Lady Lou, the mistress of a dance hall proprietor, in She Done Him Wrong. Also, in 1933, he played the Mick Turtle in a film version of Alice in Wonderland and earned top billing for the first time in Gambling Ship.

Grant's sophisticated sense of humor charmed audiences everywhere when he first teamed up with Katharine Hepburn in George Cukor's 1935 film, Sylvia Scarlett. The duo would star together in later hits such as, Bringing Up Baby (1938) and The Philadelphia Story (1941). In 1936, Grant played opposite Jean Harlow in Suzy and widened his reputation as a sophisticated comedian in 1937 with Topper.

In 1938, Grant starred with Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. and Victor McLaglen as British soldiers in India in George Stevens's epic, Gunga Din, shot entirely in a California desert and a Hollywood studio. He played a tough-talking newspaper editor, who keeps reporter Rosalind Russell in line, in 1941's His Girl Friday.

Grant tried a new type of role in November of 1941 when he played the villain in his first Alfred Hitchcock thriller, Suspicion. He would later star in other Hitchcock films, including Notorious, with Ingrid Bergman, and North by Northwest. In 1942, he played Mortimer Brewster, a character who slowly realizes that his eccentric aunts are filling their cellar with corpses, in Frank Capra's Arsenic and Old Lace.

Grant matched comic wits with Marilyn Monroe in 1952 with Monkey Business, and in 1955, he played a reformed jewel thief who is tracked down by Grace Kelly, in To Catch a Thief. Grant appeared in his last film, Walk, Don't Run, in 1966.

During his 34 years of stardom, Grant received two Academy Award nominations for best actor: one in 1941 for Penny Serenade, and another in 1944 for None But the Lonely Heart. In 1963-64, he headed the list of Hollywood's top money-making stars, and a survey of American teenagers, in 1964, revealed that Grant was their favorite movie star. On April 7, 1970, at the 42nd annual Academy Awards, Frank Sinatra presented Grant with a special Oscar for his "unique mastery of the art of screen acting with respect and affection of his colleagues."

After retiring from movie-making, Grant became an executive for Faberge, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, and Hollywood Park. The years leading up to his death were spent traveling the world. Grant was making plans to appear at a tribute when he died of a stroke in 1986 at the age of 82.
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