Cary Grant was a British-born American actor who appeared in approximately 72 films between the early 1930s and the mid-1960s. Known for both comedic and dramatic roles, he was one of Hollywood’s most popular and enduring leading men. But, like any of the stars from his era, his life was often filled with scandal and intrigue. Read on for 45 sophisticated facts about this screen icon.
1. It Just Doesn’t Sound Right
Cary Grant’s original name was Alec Archibald Leach, but the execs at Paramount studios weren’t exactly enamored with it. They felt that Archie Leach wasn’t sturdy enough a name for a leading man and just didn’t sound right in America. Grant agreed, admitting that “It doesn’t sound particularly right in Britain, either.”
2. Goodbye Archie, Hello Cary!
Tasked with coming up with a name that would be suitable for Hollywood, Grant asked his friends, fellow actors Fay Wray and John Monk Saunders, for help. They suggested Cary Lockwood, which Grant then took back to the studio bigwigs. They liked Cary, but Lockwood was a no go, so he had to come up with something else. Someone at the meeting just started running down a list of potential last names, and Grant became the winning choice.
3. Glutton for Punishment
When asked about his numerous marriages, Grant admitted that each one was more difficult to endure than the last, and that he was “rather a fool for punishment.” Perhaps he’d figured it out by the time he married his last wife Barbara Harris, as the pair stayed married from 1981 until his death in 1986.
4. A Welcome Escape
With life at home nearly unbearable thanks to his parents’ constant fighting, young Grant used to escape to “picture palaces” for relief. As he told Ladies Home Journal in 1963, “those Saturday matinees free from parental supervision were the high point of my week.”
5. I Want My Other Half
While staying at the Plaza hotel, Grant was surprised and annoyed to find out that he’d only been served 1.5 English Muffins for breakfast. The aggrieved star made a phone call to then-owner Conrad Hilton, looking for an explanation. He was told it was a matter of efficiency, as the hotel had found most people only ate three out of four halves—but that didn’t satisfy Grant.
As a result of the incident, the hotel changed its policy and started serving two full English muffins. Now that’s a good use of power.
6. A New Passion
Believe it or not, Grant’s interest in science is what led to his acting career. At age 13, Grant used to hang around his school’s science lab, showing an interest in electricity. The science teacher took him to the Bristol Hippodrome theater to show him the lighting system, and Grant immediately became hooked—not on the lights, but on the theater.
7. Changing his Focus
In 1966, something took place that changed Grant’s entire focus and made him decide to give up acting once and for all. That something was the birth of his daughter Jennifer by his fourth wife Dyan Cannon. He hung up his hat and devoted the last 20 years of his life to her. He was known to take her everywhere he went, and for keeping a camera on him at all times to document their time together.
He also kept every note and letter that they wrote to each other, putting them in a fireproof vault in his house to make sure they were kept safe for when she was older.
8. Just for Her
Looking back on her childhood, Jennifer Grant recalls a time when her father rented a house in the neighborhood she was trick-or-treating in for the sole purpose of seeing her and being able to give her candy. Like most kids, she was slightly embarrassed at the time by his extreme devotion—but admits to wishing now that she’d thanked him for everything he did.
9. Stick to What’s True
Before his death, Grant frequently asked his daughter to make sure that she remembered him as she knew him and not how some people might talk about him. As she grew up, she says she was easily able to keep that promise by avoiding reading any of the books that were written about him and sticking to what she knew was true.
10. A Comic Education
At age 14, Grant started working at the Empire Theater in Bristol, helping to operate the arc lamps. When he heard that the Pender Troupe of comedians was hiring, he wrote them a letter lying about his age and faking his father’s signature. Without his father’s knowledge, Grant started touring with the troupe, learning how to stilt-walk, pantomime, and stage-tumble. When his father did find out, Grant was more-or-less dragged home by the ear and forced to return to school.
11. Deliberate Expulsion
Grant’s return to school didn’t last long. The year after his father forced him to go back, Grant got himself expelled from Fairfield Secondary School, supposedly for sneaking into the girls’ bathroom. Three days later, he rejoined the Penders, getting what he wanted all along.
12. Coming to America
When Grant was 16, he was one of eight boys from his troupe selected to perform at the New York Hippodrome. When the tour ended, the troupe returned to England, but Grant decided to stay in New York and make a go of it. For nearly a decade, Grant made ends meet by working an unending string of odd-jobs. He spent time as an audience plant for mind readers, a barker at Coney Island, and a stilt-walker to advertise Steeplechase Park.
He even found work as a seat-filler at dinner parties.
13. In Plain Sight
Grant and Randolph Scott were both Hollywood heartthrobs in the 1930s, and for twelve years, the pair lived together on and off in a Santa Monica beach house and a Los Feliz mansion. They met on the set of Hot Saturday in 1932 and immediately hit it off, but in 1934, after a photo spread was published depicting the pair as a happy couple, the studio forced Grant to get married to dispel any rumors about the two men.
14. Bachelor Hall
Though it’s never been confirmed whether or not Grant and Scott were in a homosexual relationship, the studios were rumored to have planted stories with the press about beautiful young women going in and out of Scott’s and Grant’s shared beach house, dubbing the location “Bachelor Hall.” Between them, they were married seven times, but there is still wide speculation as to the true nature of their relationship.
15. How Cheap Was He?
Grant was notorious for being cheap, but his peers said he was merely careful with his money. He even used to cut the buttons off of his old shirts before throwing them away. He thought this was good practice so he wouldn’t worry about scuffing the furniture if the maid used them for rags.
16. Man of the World
Over his various films, Cary Grant perfected the man-of-the-world persona, complete with the mid-Atlantic accent practiced by many of the stars of the era. His films were considered high comedy (sophisticated, witty and satirical) and he was charming, handsome, and a gentleman. No wonder he was such a popular leading man!
17. So Would I!
Grant’s public and private personas were two extremely different things, and he knew it. When an interviewer told him that “Everyone would like to be Cary Grant,” he quickly replied, “I’d like to be Cary Grant, too!”
18. A Fortunate Meeting
While traveling to America with the Penders aboard the RMS Olympic, Grant met Douglas Fairbanks and his wife Mary Pickford, who were enjoying their honeymoon aboard the luxury liner. Grant played shuffleboard with Fairbanks and was so impressed by him that he became a role model for the young performer.
19. Inside Joke
Grant may have been forced to abandon Archibald/Archie for the sake of his film career, but the name didn’t totally leave him. His character name in Gunga Din was Archibald Cutter, which was a fun nod to his birth name.
20. Flip for It
According to rumor, Grant wasn’t happy with being cast as Sgt. Thomas Ballantine in Gunga Din. He asked the producer to swap roles with his co-star, none other than Douglas Fairbanks. Rather than simply grant the request, the producer suggested they flip a coin for the role of Cutter, and Grant won the toss. He ended up with Cutter, and Fairbanks was relegated to Ballantine.
22. But How is He Funny?
Back in his vaudeville days, Grant had the opportunity to tour with and study some of the world’s comedy greats, and cites George Burns as a major influence. Grant would reportedly hang around backstage, observing Burns to try and find out what it was exactly that made Burns so funny. It obviously worked, because several of Grant’s most popular films were comedies.
23. Dynamic Duo
As a leading man, Grant worked with many of Hollywood’s most glamorous actresses, but one of his favorite co-stars was Katharine Hepburn. The pair appeared in four films together, two of which are noted in AFI’s list of America’s 100 Greatest Comedies. As Hepburn said of their relationship: “We got on well, Cary and I. It was fun to play with him, and I think he had a good time, too. People liked us together, so we enjoyed it.”
24. A Generous Contribution
It may have appeared that Grant’s demand for top-billing and $100,000 to appear in The Philadelphia Story was egotistical and greedy (100k was a high salary for the time), but Katharine Hepburn had been deemed “Box Office Poison” at the time and would never have received top billing anyway. Grant more than made up for that by donating all of his earnings to the British War Relief Fund.
25. Keeping Up Appearances
Despite his inner turmoil, Grant always took pains to make sure to keep up his outside appearance. He never let his weight get above 180 pounds, he maintained his tan all year round, and he wore very little makeup on screen. Whatever he was doing, it worked, because he kept his good looks right into old age!
26. Nice Kitty!
A real-life leopard was used in Bringing Up Baby, and while Katharine Hepburn was generally unafraid of the cat and liked to pet her, Grant wasn’t quite as keen. In fact, whenever scenes were filmed that required contact between him and the leopard, a body double was used so he wouldn’t have to get near her.
27. Only When I Feel Like It
Grant was not a big believer in required gift-giving and refused to give gifts at Christmas. He could be very generous with his friends and family when the mood struck him, however. He was known to buy sudden and unexpected gifts, such as a sable coat for ex-wife Dyan Cannon…after their divorce.
28. The First Freelancer
Back in the Golden Age of Hollywood, the studio system was a means of film production and distribution that saw major film studios sign actors to exclusive long-term contracts, occasionally “loaning” out a star to another studio. In 1931, Grant signed a contract with Paramount, but in 1936, he turned down an extension at $3,500 a week to break from the studio and take full control of his career. It would be another 12 years before the system would end, making Grant a true trailblazer.
29. Pass the Key
When filming for Notorious was complete, Grant kept the famous UNICA Key. A few years later, he gave it to Ingrid Bergman, his friend and co-star from the movie, telling her that it had brought him luck and hoped it would for her as well. Several years after that, Bergman presented that same key to Alfred Hitchcock at a tribute to the famous director. Not that he needed any luck, but he appreciated the gesture nonetheless.
30. Avoiding the Censors
The Hays Code was a set of morality rules for American filmmaking that dictated what kind of intimacy could be shown on screen and for how long. In Notorious, Grant and Bergman managed to get around the censors by making sure that a kiss never technically lasted longer than three seconds (as per the rule). However, that didn’t stop them from doing other things, like nibbling on each other’s ears and kissing each other on the cheek, for much, much longer.
Thanks to their tactics, the kissing scene in Notorious ended up becoming known as Hollywood’s most erotic on-screen smooch for many, many years.
31. By Her Side
When Ingrid Bergman’s affair with Roberto Rossellini became public, she was scorned by politicians, preachers, moviegoers, and Hollywood alike—with the exception of Cary Grant. While everybody else was busy making her out to be public enemy #1, Grant kept in touch with the actress and was there to protect her from the press when she came back to Hollywood.
Knowing that she was also struggling for money, he then got her cast in his film Indiscreet and made sure that she got a percentage of the receipts. He even used his connections with Christian Dior to get her a stellar wardrobe for the film. Now that’s a friend!
32. Alright, Just One More
Two years prior to agreeing to star in 1955’s To Catch a Thief, Grant had decided to retire from acting. He felt that method actors like Marlon Brando were replacing old-school actors like him and that nobody was interested in seeing him onscreen anymore. He came out of retirement to make the movie…and ended up acting for another 11 years after that. So much for retirement!
33. Best Suit in History
The suit that Cary Grant wore in North by Northwest has been called the best suit in film history by fashion experts from GQ and was highly influential in men’s style. It was also referenced in future films such as Collateral with Tom Cruise and Paycheck with Ben Affleck. The suit was even the subject of a short story called Cary Grant’s Suit, which retells the story from the point of view of Grant’s suit.
34. Reluctantly Accepted
Grant initially didn’t want to take the role of Roger Thornhill in North by Northwest because he was 55 at the time, and much older than the character. It was a good thing he did, because it became one of his top-three grossing films and is ranked by AFI as one of the 100 greatest movies of all time.
35. Can’t Compare
Grant was originally tapped as Professor Higgins in My Fair Lady, but refused the role for two very solid reasons: He felt that either he wouldn’t be able to measure up to Rex Harrison, who had originated the role in London and on Broadway, or that critics would accuse him of trying to copy Harrison. He even went so far as to tell the producer that if he didn’t cast Harrison as Higgins, he wouldn’t bother seeing it.
36. Not Right for It
Many James Bond fans consider Sean Connery to be the ultimate Bond, but he wasn’t the first choice for the role. Cary Grant was offered the part of Bond in Dr. No, but turned it down, thinking that at 58 he wasn’t right for the part. Ironically, Bond creator Ian Fleming said that Grant’s characters in his Alfred Hitchcock films were the inspiration for the character.
You can’t get more right than that!
37. If at First You Don’t Succeed
Even screen legends like Cary Grant experienced failure once in a while, and in Grant’s case, it was his very first screen test. Scouts for Fox Film Corporation spotted him and wanted to cast him in a film they were making, but the studio determined that he was too thick-necked and bowlegged for silent movies. Ouch.
38. Breaking Through
Grant’s first few films were basically flops, nearly dashing his movie star dreams. His first hit came in 1937 with the comedy The Awful Truth, and after that, he made hit after hit, receiving two Oscar nominations for Penny Serenade in 1941 and None but the Lonely Heart in 1944. Persistence obviously paid off.
39. Preserving the Image
For all of his varied roles, the one type of character Grant never played was a villain. The closest he came was in Hitchcock’s Suspicion, where he played a husband whose wife falsely thinks he’s trying to kill her. As Hitchcock explained, the studio actually ordered him to change the ending and not make Grant a villain because they didn’t want anything to disturb his heroic image.
40. Pushing Them Together
As a boy, Grant chipped one of his front teeth while ice skating. To avoid getting in trouble with his father, he went to a dental college to have the tooth removed, and then had them gradually push his teeth together to hide the gap. They must have done a good job, because not only did his father not notice the missing tooth, but only one cinematographer ever noticed or brought it up with him.
You probably didn’t notice either, but now you know, and you can’t unsee it!
When Grant was nine years old, his mother disappeared out of his life. The young Grant was told she was away at a seaside resort, and then later that she was dead. In reality, she had been sent to a mental institution. Grant’s father kept up the lie for decades. It wasn’t until he was on his deathbed that he admitted the truth to his son, who by then was 31 years old.
42. Figuring Himself Out
By the 1950s, Grant had become a huge star, but he was still plagued by his traumatic childhood. When hypnosis and yoga and other conventional methods failed, his third wife, Betsy Drake, suggested he try LSD. Grant credited the hallucinogen with helping him confront and understand the negative impact of his mother’s disappearance, and particularly why all of his marriages so far had failed.
43. An Unhappy Upbringing
When Grant’s mother was shipped off to a mental institution, he and his father moved into his grandmother’s house. Sadly, life there wasn’t all that much better than it had been when his mother was around. His father was a drunk and often away, shacking up with a new woman, whom he married when Grant was 10. His grandmother was cold, and they didn’t get along, leaving Grant devoid of affection. No wonder he had issues!
44. A New Love
Actress and screenwriter Betsy Drake was Grant’s third and most enduring wife, staying married to the actor for 12 and a half years. The marriage broke up in part because of an affair he started with actress Sophia Loren, who co-starred with him in The Pride And The Passion and Houseboat when she was 22 and he was 53.
45 Passionate Affair
When Grant took up with Loren, she was also seeing the 45-year-old married producer Carlos Ponti. Both he and Grant left their wives and proposed to Loren, but in the end, she chose Ponti. Grant never quite got over her, often describing her as one of the most passionate romances of his life.