Cary Grant

Pencil Portrait by Antonio Bosano.

Cary Grant Pencil Portrait
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The quality of the prints are at a much higher level compared to the image shown on the left.


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Last update : 06/12/18

Portraying variations on a character won’t secure an Oscar and if the truth be told, Cary Grant never came close to winning one. But he was debonair – oh how he was debonair! He wore a suit better than anyone in Hollywood, and he made acting seem like living. Over the course of his long career, he fixed standards of what it meant to be “urbane” with almost everything he did, both on and off screen.

Enviously imbued in equal measure with panache and grace, we can never miss a film of his in my household. My wife loves him, and I know my place…

As ever, there was a contradiction between Cary Grant’s public image and his private life. Bedevilled with unresolved emotional issues, he would take LSD more than sixty times under the therapeutic auspices of Dr. Mortimer Hartmann and then Dr. Oscar Janiger, and had this to say about his treatment in 1959:

“All my life, I’ve been searching for peace of mind. I’d explored yoga and hypnotism and made several attempts at mysticism. Nothing really seemed to give me what I wanted until this treatment. I have been born again. I have been through a psychiatric experience which has completely changed me. I was horrendous. I had to face things about myself which I never admitted, which I didn’t know were there. Now I know that I hurt every woman I ever loved. I was an utter fake, a self-opinionated bore, a know-all who knew very little. I found I was hiding behind all kinds of defenses, hypocrisies and vanities. I had to get rid of them layer by layer. The moment when your conscious meets your subconscious is a hell of a wrench. With me there came a day when I saw the light.”

Woman in labour were previously prescribed Pethedine, and will often have numerous tales to impart about their hallucinogenic experiences. The vast majority of them will admit to a rather frightening journey surrounded by people ‘growing uglier by the minute.’ Few would express any interest in consciously recreating the experience. This begs the obvious question why some people are more predisposed to chemical experimentation than others.

Neuroscience is beginning to tease apart how the brain of a high-sensation seeker might be different from that of someone who generally avoids risk. Recent brain imaging studies have offered some intriguing clues, finding a direct link between the size of the hippocampus – the part of our brain that enables us connect emotions and senses, such as smell and sound, to memories – and experience-seeking behaviori. This investigative work has shed light on how the brain responds differently to intense or arousing stimuli in highs vs. lows.

Sensation-seeking, the tendency to seek out novel experiences, is a general personality trait that has been extensively studied in psychological research, but neuroscience is just beginning to take aim at it. Beyond understanding why one person relishes the fright factor while the next studiously avoids it, scientists are asking how sensation-seeking relates to substance abuse, addiction, and anxiety disorders like Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, areas where the clinical and public-health implications are most clear.

Some studies suggest that people who seek out high-sensation experiences even at great personal risk —the so-called high-sensation seekers — are more vulnerable to drug and alcohol abuse, and therefore more likely to engage in other risky behaviors, such as sex with multiple partners. The hope is that by understanding the neural mechanisms underlying such behaviors, both at the molecular level and at the systems level, it might be possible to develop pharmacological or behavioral therapies to prevent or treat addiction or help people channel their taste for adventure toward safer pursuits.

Grant derived no benefit from these neurological studies, and his problems started early. Born Archibald Alexander Leach, he spent the early years of his life in an unhappy home in Bristol, England. At age nine, his father put his mother in a mental institution. He soon remarried, abandoning young Archie to the care of the state. The young Archie was expelled from school at 14, and joined a traveling stage troupe, quickly mastering the art of stilt-walking. In 1920, at all of 16, Leach and the troupe left Britain for a two-year American tour, from which he would never return. He joined the American vaudeville circuit, spending a significant amount of time on the St. Louis stage and refining the acrobatic, juggling, and miming skills that would serve him for the rest of his entertainment career.

Recommended viewing

The awful truth (1937)

Penny Serenade (1941)

The Bishop's wife (1947)

Bishop Henry Brougham (David Niven), newly promoted to his position, is stressed out with the pressure from raising funds to build a new cathedral for his diocese. His work stress is putting pressure on his marriage to Julia (Loretta Young). A distraught Henry prays to God for guidance, and his prayer is answered with the appearance of Dudley (Cary Grant), an angel sent to help Henry find his way. However, Dudley starts proving a little too helpful, especially with all the attention he pays to lovely Julia, causing Henry, the only person who knows what Dudley is, to become jealous.

I picked this film up on DVD for a song in 2014 and I have to confess that I had never previously seen it. I have no recollection whatsoever of it ever receiving a terrestrial broadcast in my childhood, yet after a couple of viewings it had leapt into second position in my all time favourite Xmas celluloid Top Ten. If it cannot wrestle poll position from “It’s a Wonderful Life,” it nevertheless pulls out all the stops in an effort to do so.

In this movie, Dudley offers life to everyone he meets. He buys the bishop’s wife a hat she wanted, he takes a taxi driver skating in the park – a wonderful cameo from that acting stalwart James Gleason – and refills the sherry bottle of the professor many times, if only for the joy of it. Dudley has a way of making everyone feel important, while the bishop remains consumed with either himself or the ministry he is working on.

Like all great Christmas movies, it has a happy ending. The bishop has the light of love re-ignited in his heart, and it ends with his great Christmas sermon.

To catch a thief (1955)

Houseboat (1958)

North by Northwest (1959)

This film is reviewed in the Alfred Hitchcock section.

Charade (1963)

Grant’s swansong as a romantic leading man and the best film Hitchcock never made, ‘Charade’ was released in time to provide some festive cheer for millions still traumatised by the death of President Kennedy. Indeed, Audrey Hepburn would be recalled to dub her line, “at any moment we could be assassinated,” substituting the last word with “eliminated” in order to spare sensibilities. The original dialogue would not be restored for nearly fifty years.

Hollywood was dying on its feet by 1963, the ever increasing popularity of television now spreading into every domestic household as the preferred choice of entertainment. For millions of middle aged americans, the cinema held no attraction on a freezing mid-winter evening. It would take something special to draw them from their cosy fireside sofas. “Charade” would deliver on several counts.

The film offered Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn, quite possibly the two most attractive people ever to appear on screen, a Henry Mancini score, Givenchy dresses, suspense, glamour and Paris. Whilst Pauline Kael would recognise the film’s modest cinematic aspirations – ‘a charming confectionery trifle’ – she was also swift to applaud its stylish entertainment factor, citing it as probably ‘the best American film of last year.’

Ultimately, it is a film that stands repeated viewings, Grant’s ironic presence and Hepburn’s charming naivety underpinning a convoluted plot that redefines the notion of a a screwball suspense thriller. In the film, Grant stars as Peter Joshua, an American in Paris fascinated by Audrey Hepburn’s widow Reggie Lampert, and a trio of crooks relentlessly pursuing her in an attempt to recover the fortune her dead husband stole from them. The only person she can trust is Cary Grant’s suave, mysterious stranger.

Director Stanley Donen goes deliciously dark for ‘Charade,’ a glittering emblem of 60’s style and macabre wit. Essentially a comedy laced with violence, its plots and counterplots weave a convoluted tapestry in which death is around every corner. Grant at first charms, and then confounds both Hepburn and his audience with four identity changes, before his true motives become apparent. There’s sterling support work from Walter Matthau, George Kennedy and James Coburn, in addition to some excellent set pieces – the rooftop fight, the hilarious ‘pass the orange hands free game’ and the theatrical stage climax. I recently downloaded a vastly improved print of the movie, which my wife commandeered and watched whilst the disc was still hot from the burning session! Like I’ve said, she loves him.

Grant and Hepburn never worked together again, which is a crying shame, yet their one collaboration endures as a stylish homage to Hollywood’s golden period.

Father Goose (1964)

Recommended reading

Dear Cary - My life with Cary Grant (Dyan Cannon) 2011

It’s the predictable story – a 25 year old starlet swept off her feet by a fifty eight year old cinematic superstar with the initially heady romance eventually giving way to ‘svengali like’ control.

“Slowly, he changed the way I dress, my choice of things, the way I wrote thank-you notes….”. she says. “He truly became my everything. But that’s very dangerous, because it’s like standing on a rug that anybody can pull out from under you at any moment.” She writes that she felt adrift and wanted a career. He was alternately too controlling and too remote.