January 18, 2012
CARY GRANT (1904-86) wasn’t born, he was made. Making his entrance in Bristol, UK as Archibald Alexander Leach, he was abandoned by both parents and expelled from school. But if real life disappointed, the stage beckoned. Joining up with a vaudeville troupe at age 14, Leach made his first tour of the United States, staying on to satisfy American theatergoers’ need for mimes, jugglers, and acrobats. But just as vaudeville was winding down, Hollywood was heating up, and with the impeccable timing for which he was to become known, the young man headed west. After an oddly static start as Mae West’s steady boy toy, the newly renamed Cary Grant pursued a remunerative yet unremarkable career until his early thirties, when he found scripts that added personality to pretty, and suddenly synthesized his suave screen self. In screwball comedies Grant married deadpan delivery and matinee-idol looks to an almost slapstick humor and perfectly-accented repartee: always getting the girl, but giving as good as he got. Grant was equally skilled in suspense; in his collaborations with Hitchcock, it may have been a MacGuffin the bad guys were after, but it was Grant that they wanted. One of the first screen actors to go independent of the studios, Grant was no stranger to risk. He praised LSD for bringing him “peace of mind,” and, despite a general political reticence, spoke out firmly against McCarthyism. And then, gracefully, he retired at age 62 to become a family man. An instructive big screen avatar for our online age, Grant showed that with application and imagination, you can become almost anyone you want. “Everyone wants to be Cary Grant — even I want to be Cary Grant,” he once famously said. And in the end, he was.
READ MORE about men and women born on the cusp between the Hardboiled (1894-1903) and Partisan (1904-33) generations.