Home » Uncategorized » Happy Birthday, Cary Grant!

Happy Birthday, Cary Grant!

I had high hopes of writing an epic Cary Grant post here today in honor of the 107th anniversary of his birth, but unfortunately life and work got in the way and I didn’t have time.  So, instead of the epic, I’ll share a personal story about how, in an unexpected turn of events, Cary’s widow read (or at least received) a letter I wrote about her husband.

My very favorite book about Cary is Evenings With Cary Grant, written by Nancy Nelson. Nelson worked with Grant on a series of lectures he gave in the ’80s called A Conversation With Cary Grant. She got to know him well, and after his death in 1986 she wrote this book, full of the stories he’d told as well as memories and anecdotes from his friends and colleagues. It’s a loving, warm, thoroughly entertaining tribute. 

The first time I read the book I was in college.  By the time I finished it, curled up in my little dorm bedroom, I was completely overwhelmed with love for this man.  I’m a big sap about him now, but it was even worse when I was only twenty! I dried my eyes, got out my Brother word processor (ha, remember those?) and penned a gushing yet completely heartfelt letter to the author – something I’d never done before.  Something about that book, and about Cary himself, was so compelling that I just had to do it.  I wrote:

Dear Ms. Nelson,

Thank you so much for your wonderful book, Evenings With Cary Grant. When I finished reading it last night tears were streaming down my cheeks. I felt as though I had made a new friend in Mr. Grant, and was sad to have lost him so soon after getting to know him.

Cary Grant has been my favorite actor for several years, at a time when all my college roommates are swooning over Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise. I loved his movies and wanted to know more about him as a person. However, every other biography I glanced through at the library or bookstore seemed full of rumor, innuendo and secondhand sources. I was so excited when I came across your book! When I saw that it was mostly in Cary Grant’s own words and the words of his friends, and that it had the blessing of his wife and daughter, I bought it right away and just devoured it.

When I read a biography or memoir, I always hope to learn something about the subject’s life, as well as to be entertained. Evenings with Cary Grant was fascinating, witty, and also very moving.

What made finding your book even more special was the fact that just the night before I had been in Houston to see Gregory Peck in his version of Mr. Grant’s “Conversations.” Mr. Peck had mentioned that he got the idea from Cary Grant! It was a wonderful coincidence.

Thank you once again for your book. The publishing world needs more authors like you to write honestly and kindly about the famous and successful.

Sincerely, etc.

Pretty corny, I know! I’m almost embarrassed about that letter, but I meant every word of it then, and I still do, actually. It’s a lovely book. (I can’t say  my emotional reaction to it has changed with age, either.  I read it last year and was just as touched.)  A couple of months later I received this letter from Nancy Nelson:

Dear Ms. —:

Your letter about my Cary Grant book has put me right into a soup of emotion. First of all, it is such a joy to receive a letter so long after publication – in the beginning there was lots of mail – and, secondly, you have expressed yourself beautifully. If I had any fantasy at all about what reaction people would have to Cary and his life and the way I portrayed it, it would be yours. Exactly. A million thanks.

(By the by, I would have responded sooner but your letter just arrived this morning. Publishers are notorious for not sending author mail in any timely fashion.)

And you mention the coincidence of being in Houston. Well, so was I. Today Gregory Peck is my client, and yes he got the idea from Cary Grant, who told him how much fun it was to go out on the road to meet people. I knew Cary was talking to Greg – years ago – and I took up the mission myself. I practically got on my knees when I went to his house to interview him for my book! Well, it’s many years later – about 11 since my first contact with him via Cary – but here we are! Wasn’t Houston smashing? The audience was marvelous, and he was terrific. Of the six we’ve done, it’s my favorite. Everything worked. All the technical stuff, etc. It was a perfect show.

Thank you for all your kind words and thoughtfulness. I’ll cherish your letter. (I’ve already faxed it to Cary’s wife.)

Sincerely yours,
Nancy Nelson

What an amazing letter to receive!  I never expected to hear anything back from her, so to get something so nice, to find out that she had been at the Gregory Peck show my sister and I had been to, and to know that she sent my goofy fangirl letter to Mrs. Cary Grant?! It was a beautiful, happy day in my young life. It still makes me smile to think about it.

So there you have my personal Cary Grant connection, tenuous though it is.  I ended up seeing Gregory Peck’s show again a few years later. It too was “smashing.” Gregory Peck was a class act, a great man and a great actor.  But what I wouldn’t have given to see just one of Cary Grant’s shows. By all accounts they were truly magical.

Sadly, Evenings With Cary Grant is out of print now, but used copies can still be tracked down.  I recently found one at a very reasonable price on the Alibris site, for a friend’s Christmas gift. If you’re interested in Cary Grant, both as an actor and as a man, this is the book to get.


6 thoughts on “Happy Birthday, Cary Grant!

  1. What a lovely story! The letters you sent and received were wonderful. I remember looking at that book years ago. You’ve made me want to reread it — I think my dad has a copy.

    You might enjoy hearing that when I was in high school our choir sang in Disneyland’s Candelight Caroling performance every year. Performing in that while Cary Grant narrated (Christmas 1978) was one of the great thrills of my life at that point. I was in the front row at rehearsal and he just *beamed* at us when we sang the Hallelujah Chorus. He was as gorgeous and, well…Cary Grant!…in person as one would hope from seeing him on screen.

    Just last month I was chatting with James Christiansen, the former Disneyland conductor who conducted that evening, as Mr. Christiansen conducted a Christmas event my husband organized. Mr. Christiansen reminisced about how a page of the narration script had stuck together when Mr. Grant turned the pages, but Mr. Christiansen realized it and quickly had us sing two songs back to back. At the celebratory dinner at Disneyland’s Club 33 after the program, Mr. Grant was effusive in his appreciation for Mr. Christiansen “saving” him. Thought a fellow Grant enthusiast might enjoy that little story.

    Thanks again for a wonderful post!
    Best wishes,

    • happythoughts
      Hi Laura,

      I’m glad you enjoyed the post! I hope you do get to reread Nancy Nelson’s book. It’s wonderful, and by far my favorite book about any celebrity. It comes from such a place of kindness and appreciation, which is refreshingly different from so many things out there.

      I love your story, thanks for sharing it. What a thrill that experience must have been! Just to see him in person would have been exciting enough, but to get to be a part of a show he was involved in and have him beaming in your general direction while you sang…be still my heart.

      I like Mr. Christiansen’s story a lot, too. Cary Grant had so many great qualities, both onscreen and off. The anecdotes his friends tell about him in Nelson’s book really reflect that.


  2. What a lovely story. Thank you for sharing. I am always so glad when people have nice things to say about celebrity. I am highly dubious about so many bios published…it’s always refreshing to know that the good, truthful ones exist. 🙂

    I think your letter was really sweet. It’s so cool that you got a response back!!! Hopefully, some day I can get my hands on a copy of the book.

    You got to go to one of Greg. Peck’s “evenings”. I’m so jealous. I’m not even a huge fan but I watched an hour long video his daughter made about them and they looked awesome. He seemed like such a nice, classy guy. I wonder if any video footage exists from the ones that Cary did? That would be fun to see!

    • I hope you get a chance to read the book someday. It’s so good. I think it’s impossible to read it and not end up a little bit in love with Cary Grant. Or maybe more than a little bit! 😉

      I actually saw Gregory Peck twice, several years apart. The documentary his daughter made gave a good insight into what those shows were like. He was very funny and entertaining and told some great stories. Aside from being a wonderful actor, he was also a truly decent, good man. Those evenings were so special.

      I don’t think any footage exists of Cary Grant’s shows. If I recall correctly, that was one of his stipulations — nothing could be recorded. It’s too bad. It would’ve been a great thing to have on film for posterity.

  3. Hello! Re: Laura’s post–I, too, sang in the 1978 Christmas Candlelight Procession (I, too, was a high school student, from Polytechnic High in Riverside). I remember Mr. Grant’s page getting stuck and the back-to-back songs to ‘cover’ for him. My personal anecdote is this: I was also in the front row at rehearsal (Might even have been standing next to Laura!), and it was a cold darn day, especially for SoCalif. Mr. Grant saw my tall, skinny self shivering furiously, and during the next break, he turned to an assistant, and pointed my way. In a minute or two, the assistant brought me a cup of hot cocoa–I didn’t know that Cary was pointing at me! It was so kind, and it made me feel so special, and very warm indeed. The procession was glorious, and then we formed a living Christmas tree, and proceeded to enjoy the heck out of his narration and our wholehearted singing. Thanks to you both for helping me to remember a wonderful occasion. (And Audrey, I’m still in love with him as well.)
    With sincere pleasure,

    • Hi Nicole. What a wonderful story! Thanks so much for sharing it and making me smile this morning. It’s always nice to hear good things about the famous people you love, and there’s hardly anybody I love more than Cary Grant. I’m even more smitten with him now, hearing about his thoughtful gesture to a shivering high school kid! 🙂

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