January 18, 2016 — It is difficult to say anything new about Cary Grant. Everyone knows him as one of the greatest movie stars of all time, one of the handsomest men ever seen on film. His ranking on the AFI list of Greatest Male Stars is #2 — only Humphrey Bogart is ahead of him.
But there are those who would disagree with that assessment. Renowned director Howard Hawks considered him “so far the best that there isn’t anybody to be compared to him;” critic Richard Schickel agreed, calling him “the best and most important actor in the history of the cinema.” And when People magazine and Premiere magazine compiled their own list of the greatest movie stars of all time, he came in first on both.
The epitome of elegance, he had a difficult, hardscrabble upbringing; although he is synonymous with charm, he was considered socially inept as a child. He was trained as an acrobat from an early age, after his father put his mother in an institution and virtually abandoned him (he was told that his mother was dead and did not learn about his father’s lie until he was a grown man). Despite being the most debonair man of Hollywood’s Golden Age, his formal education ended when he was 14, after he was expelled from school.
His work as an acrobat had made him particularly graceful, a feature that worked for him on film. He began acting in films during the silent era, but his attractive speaking voice made him a good subject for the “talkies,” and he was under contract — and making numerous films each year — by 1932.
But stardom still eluded him for several years. Even though he was featured in two Mae West films (I’m No Angel and She Done Him Wrong) both of which were big hits, he was generally being used in mediocre movies and given unsuitable parts.
Until he was loaned to the Hal Roach Studio for the comic role of a charming, rich and debonair ghost for the movie Topper. The movie was well received and highly successful and started Cary Grant down the road as a comic leading man — a role he would play extremely well.
His next huge success was The Awful Truth, with Irene Dunne. The Atlantic magazine calls his career over the next few years “…the most spectacular run ever for an actor in American pictures.” It included Holiday, Bringing Up Baby and The Philadelphia Story opposite Katherine Hepburn (he was one of the few actors at the time who was enough of a presence to stand up to the quirky female star), His Girl Friday, still considered to be one of the greatest of all screwball comedies, My Favorite Wife and Penny Serenade (again with Irene Dunne), Gunga Din, Only Angels Have Wings and Suspicion.
Alfred Hitchcock, who had directed him in Suspicion and who would cast the actor three more times (in North by Northwest, Notorious and To Catch a Thief, all major successes ) called him “…the only actor I ever loved.” Grant would say of himself, “Everyone wants to be Cary Grant — even I want to be Cary Grant.”
At 59 he was considered attractive enough to romance a 34-year old Audrey Hepburn in the thriller Charade without anyone getting upset (except Grant, who felt uncomfortable with the age difference). He was 53 when he made An Affair to Remember, which many consider to be the most romantic film of all time.
His co-stars included virtually every A-list actress in Hollywood: Rosalind Russell, Mae West, Grace Kelly, Ingrid Bergman, Deborah Kerr, Marilyn Monroe, Myrna Loy, Loretta Young, Joan Fontaine, Jean Arthur, Rita Hayworth, Marlene Dietrich, Ginger Rogers, Leslie Caron, Alexis Smith… and the list goes on.
He charmed audiences for more than two decades after that, until his voluntary retirement. His only child, Jennifer, was born in 1966. He wanted to spend time with the child in order to give her a supportive and stable upbringing. So 1966’s Walk, Don’t Run was the last feature film he ever made.
Oddly, he would rarely be nominated for an Academy Award, and never won a competitive one. He was given an honorary Lifetime Achievement Award in 1970. Peter Stone, who was one of the writers who won an Oscar for the screenplay for Father Goose, said in his acceptance speech, “My thanks to Cary Grant, who keeps winning these things for other people.”
FilmRise presents a collection of his most popular films: Charade, His Girl Friday, Penny Serenade, The Amazing Adventure and Monkey Business.