Cary Grant enjoyed a six decade-spanning career as a Hollywood film star and style icon that earned him numerous accolades, including a special Oscar, the title of world’s best dressed man and a place on a US postage stamp. A millionaire several times over, he was also connected to many of the best known figures of the 20th century (among them, Mae West, Elvis, Sinatra, Sophia Loren, Princess Grace of Monaco, Lord Louis Mountbatten, and the Kennedys), but he never forgot that it all began in Bristol, the city of his birth, and a place to which he returned time and time again.
Cary Grant was born on 18 January 1904 at 15 Hughenden Road, Horfield, Bristol, and named Archibald Alexander Leach (later shortened to Archie). He carried on using his birth name even after he moved to the States and became a Broadway actor, but adopted the new one when he was signed by Paramount Pictures in 1931. It wasn’t lost entirely though – Archie Leach appears on a gravestone in Arsenic and Old Lace and also crops up in the dialogue of His Girl Friday
When Archie was about 10, he was told his mother had gone away on holiday and, later, that she had died. In fact, she’d been committed to the Bristol Insane Asylum (now part of UWE’s Glenside Campus) where, unknown to her son, she remained until he rescued her 20-odd years later. The separation had a life-long impact on the star, as is described in the documentary Becoming Cary Grant by Bristol-based Mark Kidel
Archie/ Cary might never have found fame if a part-time science teacher had not invited him to see the new-fangled electric lighting system that had just been installed at The Bristol Hippodrome. Cary was so captivated by the theatre he began working there after-school as a ‘gofer’. As a result, he met Bob Pender, the boss of a travelling troupe of knockabout comedians and persuaded Pender to let him join the company. In 1920, Cary was still with the troupe when it visited the USA, he opted to stay in the States while the rest returned home. During the Cary Comes Home festival, there’ll be talks about Cary’s life and visits to Bristol over
Cary Grant’s breakthrough film role came via Mae West who cast him in her 1933 film She Done Him Wrong. This attaches him to one of Hollywood’s best known misquotes – his character is the target of the Mae West invitation “Why don’t you come up sometime and see me.”
Ian Fleming was inspired to create his debonair spy James Bond by his friend Cary Grant’s performance in the 1946 Alfred Hitchcock film Notorious (showing at the Everyman Cinema on Saturday 24 November as part of the festival). Later, Grant was the first actor to be asked to portray 007 on screen, but he turned it down. The Bond films franchise does however go on to benefit at least three other former Bristol residents, with the locally-trained Caroline Bliss, Samantha Bond and Naomie Harris all appearing as Miss Moneypenny.
During World War Two, American supply ships needed ballast to make the return trip to the USA. There was plenty of rubble for them to fill their ships with in Bristol as much of the city had been destroyed by bombing on the city. On arrival in New York, they dumped these bits of Bristol in East River Drive, now known as ‘The Bristol Basin’ and built on top of it. At least five members of the star’s Bristol-based family are known to have died in the ‘Bristol Blitz’ and in 1974 Grant unveiled a plaque in New York dedicated to ‘The Bristol Basin’ and those whose homes and lives were destroyed. A duplicate of the plaque can be found on St Augustine’s Parade in Bristol, just across from the Hippodrome.
Col Needham, founder and CEO of the world’s most popular film and TV website IMDb, names Cary Grant as his all-time favourite screen actor and includes North by Northwest (showing in the Planetarium at We The Curious on Saturday 24 November as part of the Cary Comes Home Festival) as one of his all-time top 10 favourite films. Like Cary, IMDb was born in Bristol and Col still lives here.
A life-sized bronze statue of Cary Grant sits on Bristol’s Millennium Square. The statue was unveiled in December 2001 by Grant’s widow Barbara Jaynes to commemorate the Bristol-born actor’s achievements.
Cary Grant has also been commemorated in street art form outside Room 212 on Gloucester Rd by graffiti artist Stewy as part of an expanding library of hand-cut lifesize stencils of native British animals and icons. These images represent those who once lived in Bristol and can be found out and about on the streets of the city.
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