Cary Grant, the Making of a Hollywood Legend by Mark Glancy

Review by Elaine Simpson-Long

There is a scene in Charade, a 1964 film which Cary Grant made with Audrey Hepburn, in which the following exchange takes place:

Reggie Lambert (Hepburn) to Peter Joshua (Grant): Do you know what is the matter with you?

Grant: No. What?

Hepburn: Nothing.

On the face of it this also applies to Cary Grant. Witty, charming, handsome, and effortlessly elegant, he seemed to have everything. And yet behind that urbane and seemingly trouble-free façade lurked the effect of his unhappy childhood in Bristol where he was born and named Archibald Leach.

Cary invented himself totally when he made it to America, fabricating stories about his childhood and background and then, in later years when he was famous, trying to remember what he had said when being questioned. It is a cliché to say that a child runs away to join the circus but that is what he did in a bid to escape his unhappy home life. He came home one day to find his mother gone and was told she had died. His father formed a relationship with another woman and seemed to have little time for Archie.

Years later, when Archie was no more and Cary was a star, his father was dying and on his death bed informed his son that his mother was not dead but had been living in a mental institution to which Elias had had her committed. The shock was devastating. When Cary went to see her she did not recognise him and said he was not her son, “You don’t even sound like my Archie”. He freed her from the hospital and supported her for the rest of his life but their relationship was always a fragile one.

I hesitate to blame the unhappiness in a person’s life on their childhood – I feel as an adult that it is pointless laying blame for one’s dissatisfaction completely to one’s upbringing. After a while one should take charge of one’s own destiny and life; but it is almost impossible to read this biography and not realise that Cary Grant’s loveless, miserable times as a young boy impacted on him hugely. By running away and leaving the country behind him, going to a new place where nobody knew him and he could reinvent himself, he was making a huge effort to build another life and create a persona which had nothing to do with Archie Leach.

He succeeded, but I cannot feel that he ever achieved true happiness. Married five times, each one failing, it is clear he was looking for a security and love that was always missing. He finally had a child with his fourth wife and seemed to be happy with the fact that he too had a family.

Grant, with fourth wife Dyan Cannon and daughter Jennifer

Most biographies of Hollywood Slebs are usually hagiographies or a collection of salacious stories. One of the reviews I read wondered if he really did sleep with Randolph Scott – OK, I think she was being humorous but it illustrates my point perfectly. Mark Glancy treats Cary with the respect the subject of a biography should receive and I found it totally absorbing. 

It also made me feel rather sad.

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Elaine blogs at Random Jottings.

Mark Glancy, Cary Grant (Oxford University Press, 2020). 978-0190053130, 568 pp. hardback..

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