It seems appropriate to start this blog by talking about Cary Grant, since when it comes to classic movies he’s the tops as far as I’m concerned. The blog’s name comes from an ad-libbed line in An Affair to Remember. Grant’s character, Nicky Ferrante, says it when bidding his sweet old grandmother goodbye. In real life Cary Grant signed most of his personal letters by wishing his friends “happy thoughts.” I think it’s a lovely sentiment.
I recently read Cary Grant: A Class Apart, and by the end, when Cary died and the tributes from his friends and fans came pouring in, I was terribly sad. I get so emotional about him! There really was no one else like him and there never will be again.
The book was one of the better ones I’ve read about him. A biography, but mostly insofar as it pertained to the artist he became. The book is more of a critical study than anything, written by a professor who has obviously done his research and who also clearly admires Cary Grant – the man and the actor – very much.
The brilliance of Grant’s showbiz savvy is enough to fill a book in itself. He was one of the first stars to break free of the studio system and go freelance, one of the first to produce his own pictures and get a percentage of the profits of his work. Nobody told him to do these things, he was just that smart and determined, and with his immense talent and pull at the box office he was able to have the career he wanted, not the career Paramount or RKO or MGM wanted him to have.
And of course there’s a lot about the movies themselves, Grant’s work in finding his niche and refining his craft. It’s unbelievable to think that he made something like 20 movies before the man we think of as “Cary Grant” really emerged with The Awful Truth. Once he found his groove though, man what a run. He made 72 movies in all, a few of them stinkers, some of them only so-so, some of them among the greatest of their kind, but in almost all of them he was so damn good. He constantly changed and grew. Think of bumbling, shy David Huxley in Bringing Up Baby, fast-talking Walter Burns in His Girl Friday, mysterious secret agent T.R. Devlin in Notorious, cynical, tough pilot Geoff Carter in Only Angels Have Wings and lower class cockney Ernie Mott in None But the Lonely Heart and you can see that he had a lot of range, while still always remaining Cary Grant.
He was such a complicated man, and he really created himself, his “Cary Grant” persona, transforming himself from the lower class Archie Leach from Bristol, England, who left school and started working as an acrobat and vaudeville performer at age 14, into the man the world thought of as the epitome of elegance, wit and sophistication.
During Cary Grant’s heyday (and what a heyday it was, stretching from the 1930s to the 1960s), if you asked almost any man who he would like to be, the answer was very often “Cary Grant” — much more often than you would get the answer “the President of the United States”. In fact, JFK wanted Cary Grant to play him in the story of his life. As did Cole Porter (Grant did portray him, in Night and Day) and Lucky Luciano. Such a diverse bunch! Everyone wanted to be Cary Grant (including, as he famously said himself, Cary Grant), but everyone also wanted Cary Grant to be them.
He made it all look so easy. “I pretended to be somebody I wanted to be,” Grant once said, “and, finally, I became that person. Or he became me.” It’s quite a remarkable thing. I’ll have a lot more to say about Grant in the coming days, since I’m in the midst of a little Cary Grant renaissance, reading about him and, best of all, watching his movies.
I’m also on a bit of a Jean Arthur kick, and am loving Barbara Stanwyck, too. There is a lot to write about! Stay tuned.