Cary Grant is like a low-grade fever. He causes an increase in body temperature above the normal. While Mr. Grant possessed all of the qualities needed to cause a severe elevation in HEAT in any red-blooded human the fact that he was so varied a performer, so gifted in various aspects and genres of entertainment that the average effect is almost always a balance of love, heat, laughter, amazement and a special kind of swoon effect there is no word for. Grant temperatures can fluctuate throughout the day and vary depending upon the site of measurement (which movie of his you happen to be watching). Cary could do all of this with a quip, a smile or even a parody of himself in some instances. He could be dangerous, mysterious, lovable, romantic, hilarious, extremely sexy or just plain gorgeous. And when he throws all of that at you at once it’s a palpable cinematic force – even on a small screen.
Now, I know all of this because I am one of the sufferers of this unique brand of recurring Cary Grant fever, which flared up yet again when I saw TCM’s December Now Playing Guide. So I decided as a way to ease the symptoms for now to dedicate a post to this wondrous screen presence. Or, actually another post to him – the best part of having my own blog is I can obsess to my heart’s desire. And so here’s my Cary Grant ABCs, 26 reasons why he remains such an important figure in the movies – 26 reasons why he, as Robert Osborne states in the Now Playing Guide, “stands out like a beacon in comparison to 99.9 percent of other actors, past or present.”
There’s one thing you should know before you continue on to the ABCs of Cary Grant – I will try to be coherent, but it’s likely I will make up words along the way. One of the symptoms of Cary Grant fever is that he is very often indescribable.
The ABCs of Cary Grant
A – Archie Leach
Cary Grant, as we know him, famously said that even he wanted to be Cary Grant. That was Archie Leach speaking those words, words that illustrate what was perhaps the man’s greatest gift – he never took that public persona too seriously. While Grant convincingly played an impressive array of characters that found themselves in all manner of situations, meaning there’s no doubt he took his job seriously, Grant never lost his relatability. He is not often placed among the beloved “everyman” talents like James Stewart, but he had that quality in spades. He is the epitome of the debonair leading man yet Cary is always likeable. That’s what made every woman want to be with him and every man want to be like him. Archie Leach was never far from the surface. And to me Grant’s longevity, the fact that he will forever remain one of the silver screens greatest assets is thanks to that. We like him – deeply – while we also swoon and admire and while we are awed by his incredible talent. It’s an incredible and unique combination.
Or…BOY is he ever easy on the eyes!
I must mention Bristol, England where Archie Leach was born.
C- Cool, Clever and Cunning
In his TCM tribute to Cary Grant, Tony Curtis talks about the first time he ever saw Cary Grant. Curtis mentions how he fell in love with the screen legend, the type of man he’d never seen, a true role model. “He showed me how to be a man like that. A man who was cool, clever and cunning with all those good-looking ladies in the world.”
I’ll add Class – PHEW! And that Chin dimple!!!
D- Delivery (Voice)
As much as Cary Grant’s looks and demeanor made him who he was, so did his voice and delivery. In fact, his voice played a huge part in making Cary Grant a personality. Grant could spar with the best of ’em. Actually, he was the best of ’em. Opposite the greatest stars of classic cinema, opposite the greatest comediennes, opposite the screen’s greatest beauties he stands out. And his voice remains among the most recognizable ever. That famous, unique affectation that makes one sit up a little straighter, but which was natural. And that famous accent that was from everywhere and uniquely his. I defer to Tony Curtis again who said Cary played many Americans on film and no one ever questioned the accent because it was universal. Such was Curtis’ admiration for Grant that he played him as Shell Oil millionaire, Junior in SOME LIKE IT HOT. In any case, I may fumble along trying to describe this, but you know what I’m talking about here. Just close your eyes and imagine Cary speaking these lines – it takes little effort:
As Jerry Warriner in THE AWFUL TRUTH (1937): “Excuse me, you’re sitting on my prospectus.”
As David Huxley in BRINGING UP BABY (1938): “When a man is wrestling a leopard in the middle of a pond, he’s in no position to run.”
As C. K. Dexter Haven in THE PHILADELPHIA STORY (1940): “You’ll never be a first class human being or a first class woman until you’ve learned to have some regard for human frailty.”
As Mortimer Brewster in ARSENIC AND OLD LACE (1944): “Look I probably should have told you this before but you see… well… insanity runs in my family… It practically gallops.”
As Devlin in NOTORIOUS (1946): [bitterly, to Alicia] “Dry your eyes, baby; it’s out of character.”
As Dudley in THE BISHOP’S WIFE (1947): “The only people who grow old were born old to begin with.”
As John Robie in TO CATCH A THIEF (1955): [to Frances] “Not only did I enjoy that kiss last night, I was awed by its efficiency.”
As Roger Thornhill in NORTH BY NORTHWEST (1959): “Now you listen to me, I’m an advertising man, not a red herring. I’ve got a job, a secretary, a mother, two ex-wives and several bartenders that depend upon me, and I don’t intend to disappoint them all by getting myself “slightly” killed.”
F- Family Man
From the height of elegance without a single word we move along seamlessly – just as he did – to family man. Now, by saying that I’m not saying family men are not elegant. However, as we know very well Hollywood – particularly during the golden age – loved to pigeonhole actors so that a debonair leading man rarely played an average family man. Cary Grant was an exception. In fact, he was great playing opposite kids and believable as a working-class individual with every day struggles. Even if he was married to the likes of Myrna Loy or Irene Dunne in those stories.
G- Grant Effect
He’s graceful and gorgeous and always a gentleman. The last of those is true even when he’s pushing Katharine Hepburn to the ground at the beginning of THE PHILADELPHIA STORY. That’s part of the Grant effect. Done by anyone else that push – as he places his hand on her face – would have seemed abusive and mean, but Grant manages to make it charming in some way.
The other part of the Grant effect is particular to the “Grant effect on women.”
“Women adored him. They loved looking at him, they loved listening to him and they loved watching him in action.” – Garson Kanin
“The most striking thing about Cary was how fantastically good-looking he was.” – Deborah Kerr
I can’t add anything to that!
H- HIS GIRL FRIDAY
I make special mention of Howard Hawks’ HIS GIRL FRIDAY among the many outstanding romantic comedies made by Cary Grant because it’s a standout in style, it has an extraordinary script and only HE could have played this role in such a manner.
“When talking pictures came about they asked all of us – Jack Ford and everyone – what we knew about dialogue. I responded, ‘nothing. I just know how people talk. I was out of work for a year and a half because they said I knew nothing about dialogue.” – Howard Hawks
That’s an astounding fact given Howard Hawks would direct the quintessential dialogue-centered film, in my view – HIS GIRL FRIDAY in which Grant stars opposite Rosalind Russell. Although, Hawks would state he didn’t like “stiff” dialogue, “motion is far more interesting than just talking,” which reminds one of the perfection in casting that this film is as both Grant and Russell cannot be equaled in both line delivery or physicality – two of the greatest screwball comedians ever.
“They’re moving pictures, let’s make ’em move!”
“I tried to make my dialogue go fast. Probably twenty percent faster than most pictures.”
And fast he made it! HIS GIRL FRIDAY is still a movie that impresses. More so because there is no one today who could play these parts in the same way, no one who can read and deliver dialogue in this way – with such musical precision. This movie is a standout in many ways and with this mention I honor both Grant and Russell, an on-screen duo in a movie that cannot be replicated.
And of course, another H for Hitchcock under whose tutelage Grant made sensational, darker films.
Everything that he was…
…because the one constant throughout his entire repertoire – in all screwball comedies, in all mysteries, in all thrillers and in all dramas – he was always Cary Grant.
J- Unless I’m mistaken Cary played more characters whose names start with “J” than any other letter. So here’s to them…
Jack Clayton in I’M NO ANGEL (1933)
Jeffrey Baxter in THE WOMAN ACCUSED (1933)
Jerry Flynn in ONCE UPON A TIME (1944)
Jerry Warriner in THE AWFUL TRUTH (1937)
Jim Blandings in MR. BLANDINGS BUILDS HIS DREAM HOUSE (1948)
Jimmy Hudson in WHEN YOU’RE IN LOVE (1937)
Jimmy Monkley in SYLVIA SCARLETT (1935)
Joe Adams and Joe Bascopolous in MR. LUCKY (1943)
John Robie in TO CATCH A THIEF (1955)
Johnnie in SUSPICION (1941
Johnny Case in HOLIDAY (1938)
Julian De Lussac in LADIES SHOULD LISTEN (1934)
For the intense sense of image – the sharp-witted, mentally acute characters he played – and the eagerness with which he portrayed all.
L- Lucky Leading Ladies
By all accounts Mr. Grant loved all of his leading ladies. I’m not one much interested in gossip, but I’ve never heard a negative word spoken by any about him either.
Eva Marie Saint called him an extremely generous actor and Irene Dunne…
“I appeared with many leading men. But working with Cary Grant was different from working with other actors – he was much more fun! I think we were a successful team because we enjoyed working together tremendously, and that pleasure must have shown through onto the screen … I will always remember two compliments he made me. He said I had perfect timing in comedy and that I was the sweetest-smelling actress he ever worked with.”
Cary on a few of his leading ladies…
[on Irene Dunne] “Her timing was marvelous. She was so good that she made comedy look easy. If she’d made it look as difficult as it really is, she would have won her Oscar.”
[on Katharine Hepburn] “She was this slip of a woman and I never liked skinny women. But she had this thing, this air you might call it, the most totally magnetic women I’d ever seen, and probably ever seen since. You had to look at her, you had to listen to her, there was no escaping her.”
“There are only seven movie stars in the world whose name alone will induce American bankers to lend money for movie productions, and the only woman on the list is Ingrid Bergman.”
[on Betsy Drake] “Betsy was a delightful comedienne, but I don’t think Hollywood was ever really her milieu. She wanted to help humanity, to help others help themselves.”
The original International Man of Mystery. Ian Fleming modeled the James Bond character partially with Grant in mind, which is completely understandable. And with all due respect to Mr. Bond in all of his incarnations, none ever matched even the idea of the original.
N- NOTORIOUS (1946) and NORTH BY NORTHWEST (1959)
What can I say? Two of Alfred Hitchcock‘s best. Two of Cary Grant’s best. Unforgettable films and unforgettable performances delivered by this terrific actor – in yet another genre he mastered. Cary Grant is in equal parts sexy, dangerous and vulnerable in both of these entries. And each of them features scenes that happen to be among the sexiest, most romantic in film history. The kiss on a balcony and that train! Here’s to two of the movies that helped make Cary Grant a legend.
O- Ordinary Man
“He was completely natural in his films. He had a common touch that showed us what an ordinary man could become. He reflected the people and in him they saw a friend.” – Michael Caine
A hell of a gift in one who also happened to be the epitome of sophistication.
Since I’m in “O” I should mention that OPERATION PETTICOAT was his highest grossing picture.
P- PENNY SERENADE (1941)
I’ve said it before – one of my classic movie pet peeves is that this wonderful movie directed by George Stevens doesn’t receive the accolades it deserves. I understand parts of it are heart wrenching, but it is also funny and charming and enchanting and filled with nostalgia. It’s just the kind of movie that serves what’s inherent in why we love classic movies.
PENNY SERENADE offers Cary Grant opposite Irene Dunne, a great talent in her own right who also happens to be the one who was – in my opinion – his greatest co-star. PENNY also features one of Mr. Grant’s greatest performances where he runs the gamut from funny to romantic to innocence to heartbreaking. This is one of my all-time favorites and one of the first classic movies I ever saw – the first movie in which I ever saw him. As such PENNY SERENADE will always be one of the reasons why I love Cary Grant as much as I love Cary Grant.
Make note of it! TCM will air PENNY SERENADE two times this month – on December 15th at 4:00 pm and again on the 23rd at 8:45 am. All times Eastern.
Q- Quintessential Leading Man
For over thirty years Cary Grant was the most sought-after leading man in the movies.
“Every actor in Hollywood owed a huge debt of gratitude to Cary Grant because he turned down so many parts it gave the rest of us a chance to play some really good roles.” – David Niven
“I never made a movie that wasn’t first offered to Cary Grant.” – Billy Wilder
There was simply no one better.
The swoon factor…
Now add that Cary Grant is one of the best screwball/romantic comedy stars to ever grace the silver screen.
Consider the three he made in 1940 alone…
George Cukor’s THE PHILADELPHIA STORY
Garson Kanin’s MY FAVORITE WIFE
Howard Hawks’ HIS GIRL FRIDAY
But there were many, many others with my personal favorite being Leo McCarey’s THE AWFUL TRUTH, which incidentally I just had the honor to watch on a big screen for the first time. In any case, Cary Grant may have put the S in sophistication, but could also be as silly and playful as anyone. He had superb timing and was a wonderful physical comedian to boot. No exaggeration.
The power of Cary Grant is that his image is unaffected by time. The man and the image are eternal. Grant remains the standard for actors and entertainers and among the most beloved figures of the silver screen for classics fans. This will never change. Cary Grant alone evokes the best of the golden era, a time when movie stars were bigger than life, elegance ruled the day and true talent rose above notoriety.
Sadly, he was. I think Cary Grant and his talent are well-appreciated today, but in his day he wasn’t as far as his being a serious actor. As such – and don’t get me started – he never received a competitive Academy Award. Not for his many (yes, many) brilliant stints in some of the greatest comedies ever made. He was nominated twice for Best Actor in a Leading Role for dramatic turns in PENNY SERENADE (1942) and NONE BUT THE LONELY HEART (1944). Grant received an honorary Oscar in 1970 for “His unique mastery of the art of screen acting with the respect and affection of his colleagues.”
He could and did do it all. And he could and did do it all great. Perhaps that’s repetitive. It is in essence what I say under most of the letters here, but it’s no less true. Always with subtlety and finesse, unless the scene called for a rambunctious pratfall, which he could do with ease (as the pictorial under “s” shows.) I’m actually tempted to do a Cary Grant version of the famous Henry Fonda GRAPES OF WRATH speech…something like…
Wherever there’s a list of all-time great movie stars, he will be there.
Wherever there’s a list of all-time great suspense/mystery stars, he will be there.
Wherever there’s a list of all-time great screen comedians, he will be there.
Wherever there’s a list of all-time great screen performers, he will be there.
He will be there.
Something no other actor had – the worldly and the naive in perfect synchronization, as at home with working stiffs as he was in the grand, marble halls of the super wealthy.
X- The greatest EX who ever lived
(This is from a previous My Movie Alphabet post I published a while back, but it remains true and worth sharing again)
As the hilarious ex-husband in Leo McCarey’s, THE AWFUL TRUTH (1937)
and Howard Hawks, HIS GIRL FRIDAY (1940)
As an ex-widower and almost, sort of ex-husband in Garson Kanin’s, MY FAVORITE WIFE (1940)
As an ex- AND future husband in George Cukor’s, THE PHILADELPHIA STORY (1940)
Or even as an ex-cat burglar in Alfred Hitchcock’s, TO CATCH A THIEF (1955)
Y- I bet he could Yodel too!
I admit I had to look up what “Z” notation to ascribe to Cary Grant and was conflicted between several choices that could be used – if you use your imagination.
The first is zeitgeber, a rhythmically occurring event that cues organisms’ biological rhythms. Yeah, he does that – easily cues our rhythms!
Then there’s zymogenic, which means “causing fermentation.” Yeah, he does that on some level and for some people. Don’t you think?
Then there’s zwieback, which is a sweet, toasted biscuit. Um…oops! This one’s because I’m hungry. Sorry! The one I actually decided on for Cary is the more appropriate if silly sounding ‘zappy,’ which fits Cary Grant like an energetic glove.
Grant’s work – whether comedy or drama – was always a zappy tapestry of all he could give, which was substantial. The words were often robust and when not robust certainly full of gusto and the movements full of energy. Grant was never just “ok” in his movies and if it turns out you feel just “ok” after watching him then no doubt he didn’t have good material to work with. That’s because he was zappy!
And there concludes my alphabet.
Cary Grant began his screen career at Paramount Pictures with a contract that required he play tall, dark and handsome and little else. The other leading men at the time like Gary Cooper and Fredric March were considered the “actors.” But over time and certainly in retrospect Grant’s career would eclipse that of most others so that he become the movie star in every sense of the word. While much of what I listed above is noted in jest to a degree, it is all true. Whether Cary Grant was dead-serious, cracking jokes or falling over chairs – the look, the style and the attitude – was always Cary Grant. A true original.
I posted this last month in celebration of Cary being scheduled as TCM’s Star of the Month for December. I revamped simply by starting with my tribute to Grant in celebration of his birth anniversary. Following is the original opening…
Turner Classic Movies (TCM) could not have chosen a better actor as its Star of the Month for December than Cary Grant. It’s the perfect way to end a stellar year for the network, as I mentioned in my recent interview with Charlie Tabesh, Senior VP of Programming for TCM.
Slated to feature Cary Grant movies every Monday night this month, TCM will showcase forty-two of his films covering the span of Grant’s entire career – from his first feature, Frank Tuttle’s THIS IS THE NIGHT (1932) to his last, Charles Walters’ WALK DON’T RUN (1966). Get those DVRs ready if you’re unable to be home. And be sure to check out the entire TCM schedule because Cary’s not the only one honored. For instance there’s a day set aside for Errol Flynn and another dedicated to one of my other movie loves, Jack Lemmon. They’ll be Holiday Classics featured throughout the month, the Friday Night Spotlight series honoring famed musicals director, Charles Walters and a very special ‘In Memoriam’ tribute scheduled for December 30.
Now, about Cary – while there are many great actors from the golden age that we love, there is no other that matches Grant’s universal appeal across the board. And here – in my own way – I explain how and why that’s true.