Cary Grant – A Biography

He was tall, dark and handsome, charming and debonair. With just a smile from the screen, he could melt the hearts of female moviegoers across the nation and around the world. But underneath the public persona was a very troubled soul who was unhappy with his life.

Author Marc Eliot (Jimmy Stewart: A Biography) delves into Grant’s private life, starting with his birth as Archibald Alexander Leach in Bristol, England on January 18, 1904 and ending with his death at the age of 82 in Davenport, Iowa. His father left the family when Archie was a young child. Shortly after his mother’s death, Archie became interested in the theatre. He hung around the Bristol Hippodrome, watching plays from the wings. Eventually, he talked his way backstage and began learning the inner workings of the theatre. But what he really wanted was to be on stage like his idol, Charlie Chaplin.

While working at the Hippodrome, Archie met Bob Pender. Pender had a troupe of young people who traveled around the country. When Archie was old enough, he signed a contract with Pender and eventually traveled to the United States.

Eliot takes us through the rough years in New York. After four years of traveling the country with Pender’s troupe, Archie decided to strike out on his own. His roommate Orry-Kelly (a future Hollywood costume designer) helped Archie make some important theatrical connections, which led to steady work. He continued to tour the country with a troupe that he assembled. In 1932, he left New York and traveled to Hollywood.

Hollywood made him Cary Grant. He was a product of the machine, his life and career controlled by the studio.  His first feature film was Tender is the Night in 1932. He worked steadily for several years, but was not satisfied with the quality of the roles he was receiving.

While on a honeymoon trip to England with his first wife, actress Virginia Cherrill, Grant reconnected with his father. Shocking news from his father affected his personal life for many years thereafter. Returning home, he turned his professional life upside down by becoming the first actor to refuse to sign an exclusive contract with one studio. Instead, he signed with an agent and began doing freelance work. Perhaps the biggest mistake Grant made at this time was to resign from the Academy. Because of this decision, Grant would be passed over for awards many felt he truly deserved. When he was nominated, he never won, although he did receive an honorary Oscar in 1970, four years after he retired.

Eliot writes a very revealing biography through interviews with the people who knew Grant intimately and professionally. One of Grant’s closest friends was the reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes. Eliot also discusses Grant’s LSD period, during which time Grant came to understand himself better. All five of Grant’s marriages are thoroughly examined, revealing a man who was conflicted about his relationships with women.

Cary Grant: A Biography is an extensive look at the professional and personal life of a man who is still considered one of the best actors of all time. If you thought you knew who Cary Grant was, Eliot’s book will change your mind and make you see Grant in a whole new light.

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