Cary Grant was born Archibald Alexander Leach on January 18, 1904.  Probably a good thing he changed his name when he hit Hollywood.  He was an English-American film and stage, dashingly good looking actor which made him a classic Hollywood leading man.  He was known not only for his comedic roles, but he had a flair for the dramatic, and not surprisingly, romantic roles as well.

The American Film Institute named Grant the second Greatest Male Star of All Time behind Humphrey Bogart.[8]  While Grant gave many great performances worthy of the Oscar; he had only two Oscar nominations and did not win either time; the first for Penny Serenade (1941) and the second for None But the Lonely Heart (1944).  In 1970 he was awarded an Honorary Oscar at the 42nd Academy Awards. [2] He was also nominated five times for the Golden Globes and a BAFTA award, but did not win any of those either. 

Accepting the Honary Oscar


A Rough Childhood for Cary Grant

Archibald Leach was born in, Horfield, Bristol and was the only child of Elsie and Elias Leach. His childhood was not enjoyable.  His mother suffered from depression and when he was nine, his father sent her to a mental institution and told the young boy she had gone on a long holiday.  The nine-year old believed this meant she had died and Grant did not learn any different until he was 31 years old and found her alive in a care facility. [2]. When Leach was ten, his father remarried and when he and his new wife added a baby to the family, Leach was neglected by his father.

After expulsion from primary school in 1918, Leach joined a group of performers as a stilt walker.  The group traveled to the United States in 1920 for a two-year tour and  Leach went through Ellis Island and was processed on July 28, 1920. [2] When the group returned to England, Leach stayed behind and became part of a vaudeville act.  He performed on the St. Louis, Missouri stage in shows as a stilt walker, acrobat, juggler and mime.  This helped him with the comedic timing and other skills he would use in Hollywood.  On June 26, 1942 Leach became a naturalized citizen of the United States and officially changed his name to Cary Grant. [2]


Cary Grant Publicity Photo: Source: Wikimedia CommonsCredit: Source: Wikimedia Commons

Gary Grant’s Years in Hollywood

When Grant first went to Hollywood it was 1931 and he was still going by his birth name of Archie Leach.  He was told to change his name and initially he settled on Cary Lockwood.  He signed a contract with Paramount Pictures and the studio made him choose another last name.  He decided on Grant theorizing Clark Gable and Gary Cooper had the same initials and were successful.

After a handful of low-budget films, Grant played the lead opposite leading star Marlene Dietrich in Blonde Venus (1932) which gave his career a boost.  His star status advanced further when Mae West singled him out for her two most successful films, She Done Him Wrong (1933) and I’m No Angel (1933).  His next run of films with Paramount was unsuccessful and in 1936 he signed with Columbia Pictures.  In 1937 He had his first comedy hit when Columbia Pictures loaned him to Hal Roach’s studio to make the movie Topper.

The Awful Truth (1937), co-starring Irene Dunne, was a breakout movie for Grant and established him as a leading man for sophisticated, light comedic roles. Grant put it thus: "I pretended to be somebody I wanted to be and I finally became that person. Or he became me. Or we met at some point."[2]  Well-known director Peter Bogdanovich, noted, "After The Awful Truth, when it came to light comedy, there was Cary Grant and then everyone else was an also-ran."[4] This was followed by another success, Bringing up Baby (1938) with co-star Katherine Hepburn.  It was in this film Grant says “Susan, Susan, Susan;” he never said “Judy, Judy, Judy” in any of his films contrary to popular belief.

Clip from "Bringing up Baby"

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Grant went on to make a multitude of successful movies in the romantic comedy genre as well as adventures with Gunga Din (1939), dramas such as Penny Serenade (1941) and thrillers such as Suspicion (1941), the first of four films he did with Alfred Hitchcock.   Hitchcock declared Grant was the only actor he ever loved in his whole life.[4]  Grant went on to star in Hitchcock’s films Notorious (1946), To Catch a Thief (1955) and North by Northwest (1959). In the early 1940s Grant became the first actor to go “freelance” in his career, not signing with another studio, but instead choosing his own projects.  Notorious was one of the first films he chose as a independent.[5]

Throughout his 30 years making films, he worked with many well-known actresses including Irene Dunn, Katherine Hepburn, Ingrid Bergman, and Grace Kelly.  He also worked with Sophia Loren and became infatuated with her.  After a brief affair during the filming of The Pride and the Passion (1957) Loren broke off the relationship but Grant was said to have remained “madly in lCary Grant and Audrey Hepburn in Charade:  Source: Wikimedia CommonsCredit: Source: Wikimedia Commonsove with her.[3]  At the time of the filming he was 53 years old and she was 22.  When he worked with Audrey Hepburn in Charade (1963), he initially declined the role; he believed he was too old for the role and agreed only on the condition the script was changed so her character chased his, not visa-versa.[5]  Grant said Grace Kelly was his favorite leading lady.[5] (They starred in To Catch a Thief  (1955) together).  Grant retired from acting at the age of 62.  His last film was Walk Don’t Run (1966). Although many tried to get him to come out of retirement, he was staunch in his commitment to retirement. 

The Personal Life of Cary Grant

Cary Grant was married five times. He first married Virginia Cherrill who divorced him after one year claiming he hit her.  In 1942 he married a wealthy woman Barbara Hutton and the press had a field day calling the couple “Cash and Cary.”[2]  Grant bristled at the idea he would marry for money as he signed a prenuptial agreement refusing any financial considerations should they divorce.  When they did divorce, the two remained lifelong Cary Grant’s Third Wife, Betsy Drake: Source: Wikimedia CommonsCredit: Source: Wikimedia Commonsfriends.

In 1949 he married fellow actor Betsy Drake.  It was Drake who introduced Grant to LSD.  In the early 1960s when the drug was legal, Grant, with Drake’s encouragement, took the drug as treatment for what on the surface appeared to be depression. He had become increasingly unhappy with many aspects of his life and Drake encouraged him to join her in a new psychiatric experiment with the drug.   Grant claimed for a time he helped his outlook and loosened his inhibitions.[4]  Over the long-term it didn’t provide the relief he sought.  He claimed his role in the movie Father Goose (1964) came the closest to his real life personality.[4]

Clip from "Father Goose"

Three years after his divorce from Drake, in 1965 Grant eloped with Dyan Cannon, a young actress over thirty years his junior.  They had a rocky marriage, but it did produce one child, Jennifer.   The marriage lasted less than three years.  His final marriage in 1981 was to a British hotel public-relations agent, Barbara Harris who was 47 years his junior.

Many alleged Grant was bisexual, citing as one piece of evidence, his living with Randolph Scott on and off for years. However, at least two of his wives and a score of friends have contradicted those allegations.  His daughter Jennifer denies her father was bisexual or homosexual. While a girl-friend of Grant’s said he told her his first two wives thought he was homosexual, in Cherrill’s biography, the writer Miranda Seymour acknowledged Grant and Scott were only platonic friends.[2]

After retirement from films, Grant continued to stay active, serving on the boards of several large companies including MGM.  In his last years, he was touring the United States with a one-man audience participation show he called “A Conversation with Cary Grant.”  It was while preparing for a performance in Davenport, Iowa, Grant suffered a cerebral hemorrhage and died at St. Luke’s Hospital at the age of 82.

Though Cary Grant is no longer on earth, his legacy lives on in the many wonderful films he made.  Individuals continue to enjoy the antics of “Jim Blandings” and “Mortimer Brewster,” swoon over "Nickie" and are thrilled by the chase and intrigue of “Thornhill” and all of the other wonderful characters Grant shared with his fans.


The copyright of the article Suave and Debonair and Dashingly Handsome: The Movie Icon Cary Grant is owned by Cheryl Weldon and permission to republish in print or online must be granted by the author in writing.