Betsy Drake made a well-received film debut in 1948 in “Every Girl Should Be Married,” playing a young woman trying to trap the debonair Grant into marriage. She became Grant’s third wife the following year.
The fresh-faced star was returning to New York aboard the Andrea Doria in 1956 when it collided with another liner, the Stockholm, and went down. Drake had been visiting Grant, her husband of seven years, on the set of “The Pride and the Passion” in Spain.
She recalled spending two hours praying and holding onto a post on the high side of the listing ship before she was led to the safety of a lifeboat. She lost her uninsured jewels, a manuscript she had written in Spain and other belongings, but was unhurt.
Forty-six people aboard the Andrea Doria died and five on the Stockholm were killed. More than 1,650 others survived — including another noted actress, Ruth Roman.
Drake made several more light films, including “Room for One More” with Grant and “Dancing in the Dark” with William Powell, and a couple of TV appearances before retiring from the business in the mid-1960s, not long after divorcing Grant.
“My marriage was breaking up, and that took all my energies,” she told The Associated Press in 1964. “And I was tired of acting in Hollywood. The work itself I loved. But everything that surrounded the business of acting seemed to me sheer idiocy.”
Other film credits included “Pretty Baby” with Dennis Morgan, “The Second Woman” with Robert Young, and “Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?” with Tony Randall and Jayne Mansfield. Her last film was 1965’s “Clarence the Cross-Eyed Lion.”
It was on another ocean liner that Drake and Grant met. The actress was returning home aboard the Queen Mary following an appearance in “Deep Are the Roots” on the London stage when she caught his eye.
Soon after, he arranged a screen test, and they were cast together in “Every Girl Should Be Married.”
Famed columnist Hedda Hopper wrote that she “completely captivated the critics and the public. Surely she’s at the threshold of a brilliant career.”
New York Times critic Bosley Crowther said she showed “a refreshingly natural comic spirit in this fanciful girl-gets-boy lark.” Life imitated art and Howard Hughes piloted the couple to Phoenix for a quiet wedding on Christmas Day 1949.
“He was also our best man,” Drake recalled, “and he dropped the ring at the crucial moment.”
Drake and Grant separated in 1958 and divorced four years later. They had no children.
The 13-year union was the longest of Grant’s marriages. The others were to actress Virginia Cherrill (1934-’35), Woolworth’s heiress Barbara Hutton (1942-’45), actress Dyan Cannon (1965-’68) and public relations agent Barbara Harris (1981 to his death in 1986). He had one child, with Cannon.
As for suggestions that Grant was gay, in the 2004 documentary “Cary Grant: A Class Apart,” Drake said that she didn’t think about such things during their relationship because “we were too busy” in bed. Another indulgence they shared: dropping LSD, which they took at a time when the drug was still legal, and little known to the rock stars who would make it famous.
The actress, a member of the clan that founded the Drake and Blackstone hotels in Chicago, was born in Paris, where her father, a writer, had taken his family. She moved to the U.S. at age 6.
After retiring from acting, Drake directed psychodrama therapy projects at the University of California, Los Angeles, using the experience for a 1971 novel, “Children, You’re Very Young.” She remained friendly with Grant.
The Andrea Doria trauma had so shaken her that she underwent therapy, including hypnosis.
“It was an eerie feeling to have the ship strike something and then stop,” she said in 1957. “Then the ship lurched to the side with a great noise. People were screaming. I was standing there in my nightgown. I decided I had better get dressed.”