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.
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.)
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.