Sophisticated Facts About Cary Grant, Hollywood’s Iconic Leading Man
Archie Leach was a traumatized little boy who ran away from home, joined a vaudeville troupe, and transformed himself into the suave Hollywood actor we now know as Cary Grant. With his debonair manners and deep voice, Grant has gone down in cinema history as one of our greatest stars. But off screen, his life was as messy as they get. From family secrets to fiery affairs, you’re going to want to buckle in for this one: Here’s the real story of Cary Grant.
When Grant was just nine years old, his mother disappeared out of his life. At first, Grant’s father Elias said that his mom was away at a seaside resort, but after time passed, he revealed the truth: Grant’s mother had died. Grant was devastated at this horrible loss, but his father seemed to rally quickly. He moved him and his young son into his grandmother’s house, where he proceeded to get rip-roaring drunk every day.
Life at Grant’s grandmother’s house wasn’t all that much better than it had been when his mom was around. His dad Elias was either drunk or away, shacking up with his new girlfriend, who he married when Grant was 10. Meanwhile, Grant’s grandmother was cold. They didn’t get along, leaving Grant devoid of affection from his only parental figures left. He’d seek solace at the one place he felt accepted: the movie theater.
Here’s how you know you’re suave: Cary Grant helped inspire the character of James Bond. The author Ian Fleming took inspiration from Cary Grant’s roles in thrillers like Notorious when he came up with the super-spy. When it came time to cast Bond, producers even offered the role to Grant. Grant respectfully declined, saying he felt that at 60 he was too old to play a womanizing secret agent. His rejection freed up the part for Sean Connery.
When he was just 14, Grant heard that the Pender Troupe of comedians was hiring a new member. He immediately applied, lying about his age and faking his father’s signature. Without his family’s knowledge, Grant started touring with the acrobatic troupe, learning how to stilt-walk, pantomime, and stage-tumble. When his father eventually found out, he didn’t take his son’s new interest very well. He dragged Grant home by the ear and forced his son to return to school. But it would take more than that to get Grant away from the spotlight.
Grant’s return to school didn’t last very long. The year after his father forced him to go back to class, Grant got himself expelled from Fairfield Secondary School, supposedly for sneaking into the girls’ bathroom. Three days later, Grant rejoined the Penders and got what he wanted all along. Sneaky, sneaky.
When Grant was 16, he booked a role at the prestigious New York Hippodrome and immediately knew that he belonged on stage. At the end of the tour, the rest of Grant’s troupe returned to England, but Grant decided to stay in New York and make a go of it. For nearly a decade, he made ends meet by working odd jobs like being an audience plant for mind readers, a barker at Coney Island, a stilt-walker, and even a seat-filler at dinner parties. However, according to some film historians, that’s not all he did to pay the bills.
Grant became a powerful Casanova during his time in Tinsel town, and according to some, he may have got some, um, unique experience with romancing ladies. During Grant’s early days in New York City, he was rumored to be the town’s highest paid gigolo. But was he turned away by snobby shopkeepers while trying to buy a new outfit for Richard Gere, though?
Even screen legends like Cary Grant experienced failure once in a while, and in Grant’s case, he learned to roll with the punches on his very first screen test. Scouts for Fox Film Corporation wanted to cast him in a new film, only for the studio to see his screen test and say he was too “thick-necked” and bowlegged to be in movies. Wrong on both counts, gentlemen.
There’s a classic lucky break story behind the way that Grant signed with Paramount. When Grant was still an aspiring actor, he ran into an old friend who’d become a director. The director was planning to give his wife a screen test, but since she was so nervous about her audition, the director asked Grant to be her scene partner. On the day of the screen test, the studio executives immediately signed not the actress, but young Cary Grant. He got a glitzy contract just a couple weeks later.
It’s no secret that Cary Grant had a way with women. He married five times, had affairs with gorgeous actresses, and dated countless other ladies. But how did he do it? According to Grant’s friend and fellow actor David Niven, Grant had one simple trick up his sleeve. He quipped that “to succeed with the opposite sex” all you had to do was “tell her you are impotent. She can’t wait to disprove it.” Also, looking like Cary Grant probably helped. Just saying.
When Grant started to try to break into showbiz, there was one big thing holding him back from success:
His real name, “Archie Leach.” The execs at Paramount studios weren’t exactly enamored with it, feeling like Archie Leach wasn’t masculine enough for a leading man. They broke it to Grant gently, saying his real name just didn’t sound right in America. Grant agreed, admitting, “It doesn’t sound particularly right in Britain, either.” After some negotiations, Grant and the studio agreed to rebrand him “Cary Grant.
When Grant looked back on his life, he often felt torn about his identity. A fan once asked him how his real personality compared to the silver screen’s suave Cary Grant. The actor looked subdued and said, “It’s a facade, an aura. I don’t know that I’m proud of that.” On another occasion, he remarked that for a long time, he didn’t know if he was “Archie Leach or Cary Grant.” proc.