His reputation has grown since he retired from the screen in 1966 at the height of his stardom. In 1999, the American Film Institute placed him second to Bogart in a list of the screen’s lead actors. Tall, slim, muscular, permanently tanned, dark-haired, he moved with an easy grace. Confidently poised but classless, he spoke with a curious mid-Atlantic accent that was unique. From a working-class background, he was a self-made man with a self-made name. “Everyone wants to be Cary Grant,” he once said. “I want to be Cary Grant.”
He was born in Bristol, where a statue of him was unveiled in 2001, and christened Archibald Leach. His mother went into a mental home when he was nine, though his father told Archie she’d gone on a long holiday, and he didn’t discover she was alive and institutionalised until the 1930s. He ran away from home at 14 to join a troupe of comedians, with whom he went to the States and worked as an acrobat, a lifeguard, and in musical comedy, before arriving in Hollywood.
After signing with Paramount, he changed his name to Cary Grant and found stardom as a romantic lead, playing opposite Marlene Dietrich in Sternberg’s Blonde Venus (1932) and then Mae West in two of her biggest successes, both made in 1933, She Done Him Wrong and I’m No Angel. Leaving Paramount to remain independent for the rest of his life, he was discovered to be a superb comedian, working with Irene Dunne in three pictures, including the screwball classic The Awful Truth, and with Katharine Hepburn in Bringing up Baby, Holiday and The Philadelphia Story. He could also handle drama, as in Only Angels Have Wings or his four collaborations with Alfred Hitchcock.
Grant was a complex character. Five times married, he was almost certainly bisexual. A Republican who supported Nixon and Reagan, he publicly criticised Joe McCarthy. Considered one of the world’s best-dressed men, he wore women’s nylon panties for comfort.
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