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Cary Grant, Smooth Hollywood

Updated on September 29, 2014

Cary Grant is near the top in the pantheon of the truly great Hollywood movie stars. In its list of the Greatest Male Stars of All Time, the American Film Institute ranked him at number two ( Humphrey Bogart was number one). During his lifetime, he appeared in more than 70 movies, including starring roles in such classics as 'Bringing Up Baby', 'The Philadelphia Story', 'North by Northwest' and 'Charade'.

Even during his lifetime he became one of the most well loved film actors in Hollywood history. He was nominated for two Academy Awards, and in 1970 he was presented with a Special Oscar for the amazing legacy he left to the film world. Grant's films are timeless in their appeal and continue to captivate audiences today, more than a century after Grant's birth.

His acting was clever, subtle and always gave the impression of being effortlesss. The audience is never aware that Grant is actually acting. He presents a unique combination of charm, charisma and stunning good looks with a universally appealing, gentlemanly screen persona. He created characters who were friends as well as lovers and who were somehow simultaneously familiar, yet completely unique. He helped define a genteel Hollywood sophistication, even though he was born and brought up in England.

Early Years

He was born Archibald Alexander Leach on January 18, 1904 in Horfield, Bristol, in south-west England. He had an unhappy childhood in a poor, working-class family. He was an only child and when he was just ten years old his mother Elsie , who suffered from depression, was placed by his father in a mental institution . His father (who had a son with another woman) told him that she had gone away on a "long holiday". It was over twenty five years later that he would find out the truth, that his mother was still alive and in an institution.

As a young teenager he began visiting music halls around Bristol and became fascinated by the theatrical world.. He began working part time at the local Hippodrome and Empire theaters and in 1918, aged just 14, he joined the Bob Pender stage troupe and began learning pantomime and acrobatic skills. The troupe travelled round England performing, and in 1920 they made their way to America for a highly successful two year tour.

The troupe returned to England, minus Archie Leach, who had decided

to stay in the U.S. to pursue a stage career there. He endured five difficult years, earning a living in a variety of jobs including sandwich board man and society escort. Finally, in 1927, he made his debut on stage in the musical 'Golden Dawn' , quickly followed by appearances in 'Boom Boom' and 'A Wonderful Night' in 1929 and 'Nikki' in 1931.

With increased confidence after these successes he felt he should try his hand in the new medium of talking movies and in 1931 he travelled to California where he made a successful screen test for Paramount. The studio offered him a five year contract and suggested he change his name to Cary Lockwood. They eventually settled on the name we now know so well. Cary Grant had arrived.

Hollywood Stardom

Grant's debut film was in 'This Is the Night' in 1932 and in the first four years of his contract Paramount put him in some 24 movies, most of them fairly uninspiring, even forgettable pictures,playing a conventional, likable but colorless leading man.

This Is The Night' - Cary's Debut Film.

He played opposite some of the leading actresses of the day, such as Marlene Dietrich in Blonde Venus in 1932, Mae West in 'She Done Him Wrong' in 1933, and Katharine Hepburn in 'Sylvia Scarlett' in 1935 but it was not until his contract with Paramount ended in 1937 that the real Cary Grant emerged.

He chose the brave option not to sign exclusively with any studio. Instead, for the rest of his career, he was able to pick his films, scripts and directors and he was not forced to do anything he did not want to do.


He immediately began to appear in hit films, each of which honed the image he was starting to create, of the suave, dapper man: 'Bringing up Baby' and 'Holiday' in 1938, 'Gunga Din' in 1939, 'Only Angels Have Wings' in the same year, 'His Girl Friday' in 1940, and 'The Philadelphia Story' also in 1940. In a few short years the archetypical Cary Grant had emerged and he was now a major Hollywood star.

Hot Saturday (1932)

With Mae West

James Bond

Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond, said that the character of the suave spy was partly based on Cary Grant. However, when Grant was offered the role in the first Bond movie 'Dr. No' in 1962, he turned it down saying that at fifty-eight, he was too old to do the part justice.

With Rosalind Russell in
His Girl Friday(1940)

With Katharine Hepburn and James Stewart
in The Philadelphia Story(1941)

THE PHILADELPHIA STORY is such an extraordinarily well-done film that one can watch it repeatedly, reveling each time in new and hidden details. It strikes the perfect balance of being spectacularly well-acted, hysterically funny, and delightfully silly while maintaining an elegant veneer. The cast is nearly overwhelming in its quality, with Hepburn and Grant turning in especially fine performances.

Tracy Lords (Katharine Hepburn) is getting married again. This time to a man who worked his way to the top instead of starting there. Dexter (Cary Grant), her first husband invites himself to the wedding and the wedding preparations. Also inviting their selves with a little blackmail to the wedding is a writer, and photographer, from a magazine of dubious reputation. Throw in a philandering father and a friendly uncle. We watch as they go through the motions and emotions of courting and re-evaluating their lives.

This is basically a comedy and yes it has all the actors and writers to make this a piece of cinematic art. However you look at it, it is just great fun to watch.

Later Career

After such an astonishing run of top quality hits it was not surprising that some of his subsequent pictures bombed at the box-office. Grant appeared in some very ordinary picture such as 'Once Upon A Honeymoon' in 1942, 'The Bishop's Wife' in 1947 and 'Room For One More' in 1952, but he also made some other splendid films, particularly in collaboration with Alfred Hitchcock with whom he was able to bring out and even exploit his debonair screen image.

So his performances in 'Notorious' (1946), 'To Catch a Thief' (1955) and 'North by Northwest' (1959), as well as Stanley Donen's Hitchcock-esque 'Charade' in 1959 all show Grant in his true cinematic light - modest,debonair, charming and extremely funny.


With Ingrid Bergmann in 'Notorious'


As he aged he seemed to get even more handsome and charming and his effect on women was not diminished one jot. His star remained high in Hollywood and he became an extremely rich man with lucrativie profit-sharing arrangements in many of his movies such as 'Operation Petticoat' in 1959 and 'Charade' in 1964. In 1966, after finishing 'Walk, Don't Run' he made the decision to retire from filmmaking. He walked away and was never tempted back.

Personal Life

Grant's father died in 1933 and it was only then that he discovered from correspondence with solicitors in England, that, astonishingly, his mother, Elsie, whom he had thought dead for over twenty years, was in fact still alive and living in the mental institution where she had been committed by Grant's father. She had suffered depression since her first child had died, a year before Grant was born. Grant's father had got another woman pregnant and wanted his wife out of the way.

Grant immediately traveled to Bristol where his mother was incarcerated. He arranged for her release and set her up in a household near where they used to live. His mother became, once again, an important part of his life, although she refused to travel to America. Grant paid

With Barbara Hutton in 1944

regular vists to see her until her death, in 1973, aged 95.

The emotional impact on Grant was immense and he found it difficult for the rest of his life to give trust to those who loved him. He married five times: firstly to 'Modern Times' actress Virginia Cherrell in 1934, then to heiress Barbara Hutton in 1942.His third wife was another actress, Betsy Drake in 1949. The marriage lasted thirteen years and they remained good friends. He married actress Dyan Cannon in 1965 and had a daughter, Jennifer, with her. His final marriage was to Barbara Harris in 1981 and they remained together until his death.


Cary Grant never won an Academy Award for acting, despite having been nominated twice, once for Penny Serenade in 1942 and again for None But the Lonely Heart in 1945, but he was honored by the Academy with a lifetime achievement award in 1970. In introducing him that night, Frank Sinatra summed up his friends career stating, "No one has brought more pleasure to more people for so many years. . . nobody has done so many things as well. Cary has so much skill that he makes it all look easy."

Like Humphrey Bogart and James Cagney, his great contemporaries, he was easy to imitate and impossible to replace.

Cary Grant also was -- is -- easy to love. Yes, the haircut is perfect, and so is the suit and that cleft in the chin is heaven's thumbmark. But they don't explain why three generations of women have had crushes on him. Apart from being gorgeous, the adjective of many women's choice, he is also a friend. Cary Grant's promise is of more than one glorious night; it's of a lifetime of laughter.

Don't miss these other great Hollywood sites.

Clark Gable The King of Hollywood

Errol Flynn, Hollywood Self-Destruction

Reader Feedback

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    • Rankography profile image


      6 years ago

      Very cool lens and bio on Cary Grant. I am going to add it to the plexo on my Cary Grant Movies lens.

    • GollyGearHope profile image


      6 years ago from Skokie, Illinois

      I love Cary Grant's movies! I think my favorite is Bringing Up Baby!

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      i love Cary grant! He was the perfect as a handsome leading man or a comedian:)

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      I've seen pretty much every Cary Grant film, I love him! No actor today compares at all.

    • chrisqw profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago

      BarbRad, you're absolutely right, I did miss it and it's a wonderful movie!

    • BarbRad profile image

      Barbara Radisavljevic 

      8 years ago from Templeton, CA

      Thanks for writing about one of my favorites. I was surprised you didn't mention "A Night to Remember," or maybe I missed it somehow. It makes me cry whenever I see it.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Love the lens, you have put together an informative and professional lens for vintage Hollywood cinema. I personnally enjoyed the Hollywood golden age blog. I'm going to bookmark in my Blogs and Facebook.

      If you get the chance, I invite you to check out my website for Cheap Discount DVD Movies

    • Classic LM profile image

      Classic LM 

      11 years ago

      Superb lens, as always! 5*s! if you have time, please visit my new lenses about Godward and Leighton (painters). Thank you for submitting this to Hollywood Stars and Starlets!


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