The knowledge that other people have regarding classic cinema and its stars continues to inspire awe within me. There are countless individuals who dedicate a great deal of time and energy to bringing important information and tales to new generations. New media has provided the perfect avenue for this. Now, people can take to the internet to share pieces of cinema history, that otherwise would be lost. One of the ways that this is done, is through the use of providing texts from intriguing articles, from hard to find magazines. While I have a vast collection of Photoplay magazines, other terrific movie magazines exist. Thanks to a wonderful site that I stumbled upon, I can share this article about Cary Grant with you. If you would like to view other articles on this star among stars, go this website: www.carygrant.net. Here, they are continuing to update and archive as many worthy articles on this film icon as possible. It is a wonderfully informative site, that will impress you beyond your expectations.
“How Cary Grant Took Hollywood” – found via archives at http://www.carygrant.net – pictures added in article by myself to add some visual aspects to a fascinating piece of journalism.
British-born Cary Grant, once merely a master of the baggy-pants school of comedy, has come a long way – far enough to pull down $400,000 for one picture, the highest wage ever paid a movie actor.
A number of wry sayings flip around Hollywood like spitballs flung by impish urchins. Largely they depend upon exaggeration for their impact. But there is a hard core of derisive truth in many of them. Some of them refer to the floperoos, the unhatchable eggs the studios lay: “They had to reshoot the last three reels before it was even good enough to leave on the shelf.” “It went over big in the cutting room, but after all how many cutting rooms can you play?”
There’s even an alibi-to-end-all-alibis: “It was an A picture when it left here. Someone must have loused it up in Albuquerque.”
Of a sure-fire picture it is said: “They could show it in tunnels and caves and it would gross a couple of million.”
Still another Hollywood saying goes: “They’d put the telephone book as a story for Bing Crosby or Ingrid Bergman if they thought either of them would play in it.”
RKO didn’t buy a story based on the telephone book for Cary Grant. But it did something else for him almost as incredible.
Charlie Koerner, then RKO’s general manager, was aprowl for a story to use as bait in luring Grant into making a picture for him. He was stirring up his story department with a big stick. He was wooing those agents who had authors’ wares for sale. Busily he was reappraising the story properties RKO had bought, but had never used.
Grant happened to speak favorably to someone of a book called None But the Lonely Heart. Such things get bruited around the film capital with the mysterious rapidity. Koerner heard of it, rushed out and bought the story. Selecting a phone from among the nest of those clustered on his desk, he called producer David Hempstead.
“I want you to get set to make a picture, Dave,” he said.
“What is this picture I’m to make?” Hempstead asked.
Koerner replied enthusiastically, “None But the Lonely Heart. Grant likes it. I’ve just paid sixty thousand dollars for it.”
Hempstead, a normally cautious man, inquired with mild irony, ‘I don’t want to seem the prying type, but just what is the story all about?”
Koerner confessed that he didn’t know, that he hadn’t read it. He suggested that they get together, call Grant and ask him to give them a quick takeout on the plot.
Once they had Grant on the phone, Koerner said, “Well, Cary, we’ve bought that story for you, but I’m a little vague about the story line and I want you to give Dave here a brief resume of it.”
“What story?” Grant asked.
“None But the Lonely Heart,” Koerner replied.
“I haven’t read it,” Grant told him. “A friend of mine told me he thought it good. That’s all I know about it.”
So, as if to prove that Hollywood is – in fact as well as in fiction – a blend of Aladdin’s wonderful lamp and Stephen Leacock’s Nonsense Novels come true, Grant played in this story, bought for him without anyone at RKO having read it. To compound the miracle further, it scored a critical success.
One RKO employee said, “It just goes to show you how far a studio will go to land a name that spells box office on a marquee.”
Hollywood gives another story, also bought under similar strange circumstances, credit for pulling RKO back from the brink of bankruptcy. The yarn was purchased from a tennis pro who had scribbled it down and had described it to Grant in the few seconds it had taken that actor to climb into his car outside the studio. Up to that time, the tennis pro had not been widely acclaimed as an author. But with Hempstead once more at the helm, the picture was made for $730,000. It grossed more than $4,000,000.
It’s hard to think of this movie, Mr. Lucky, without concluding that Grant’s own life story could easily bear the same title.
It was a generous fairy godmother who hovered over the cradle in Bristol, England, on January 18, 1904, when a male child, afterward to be known as Cary Grant, was born to Elias and Lillian Leach. The name the couple selected for the child was Archibald Alexander Leach. Upon the red-faced infant, born with a fuzz of jet-black hair upon his bullethead, she bestowed a quality that was afterward to stand him in good stead in his chosen profession. Now, in the midst of Hollywood’s present panics and alarums, it is a quality that bids fair to keep him from joining those stars who are tumbling downward with a falling box office.
That quality is being able to climb down from the screen, get inside of a fan’s skin, walk out into the street inside of him and stay there for a while after the lights have flickered on in a palace of the cinema.
It is the same quality that sustains Bing Crosby and serves as a very useful prop under Robert Montgomery and Clark Gable. In the movies’ diaper days it catapulted Douglas Fairbanks, Senior, to dizzy heights and boosted Wally Reid to the same lofty altitude. Many a man of middling age can remember that after sitting through one of the films starring Doug, Senior, he was, for hours afterward, none other than Doug himself. Innumerable broken arms were suffered by lads who, still under the Fairbanks spell, hurled themselves from tree branch to woodshed roof. Their trouble was that while their spirits were willing their flesh was still only small boys’ flesh.
Those who work this special kind of screen magic have a thing in common. They meet the frustrations, misadventures and worriments of life as shown in the flickers, jauntily and with an amusing air of superiority. They counter the low blows the plot concocters deal them as if slapping away gadflies.
For twenty-eight years this sort of thing has been the heaviest shell in Ronald Colman’s arsenal. The result has been that whole coveys of moviegoers have departed from a Colman picture wearing twisted Colman smiles and talking in South Philadelphia or West Seattle approximations of Colman’s clipped British accent. A notable exception was Colman’s Academy Award picture of 1947, A Double Life, which found Colman neither jaunty nor amusing and which broke no B.O. records.
But this merely proves that the trick behind the aforementioned quality does not necessarily depend upon acting ability or losing oneself in a role. Those who possess it are usually first of all themselves. The character they portray comes second.
Cary Grant holds the all-time record for being many times the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ bridesmaid, but never its blushing bride. In 1937, Leo McCarey won an Academy Award for directing The Awful Truth. In 1940 an award went to James Stewart for his part in The Philadelphia Story. In 1941 Joan Fontaine was tapped for her portrait of the fear-ridden girl in Suspicion. Ethel Barrymore took home an Oscar in 1944 as the mother in None But the Lonely Heart. In all these films Grant was the big attraction. He was not the big prize winner.
In a Grant movie, everyone except the star seems to grab off the awards. In 1947 Writer Sidney Sheldon ran off with an Oscar for his work on Grant’s picture The Bachelor and the Bobby-soxer. Even the sound recorder, Gordon Sawyer, won moviedom’s varsity letter for his skill in The Bishop’s Wife. Being just himself in films, however, has given Grant no case of box-office anemia. In the nationwide Box-Office poll of top male stars for 1948, he ranked fourth. He was topped only by the seemingly perpetual trio of Crosby, Cooper and Gable. The premiere of The Bishop’s Wife was accompanied by critical hosannas. But when it accomplished nothing startling at the box office, Sam Goldwyn, its producer, retitled it Cary and the Bishop’s Wife. Injecting Grant’s first name into the billing upped the film’s business as much as 25 per cent.
It also proved that Grant belongs to the small company of those human beings whose first names are readily recognized by large chunks of the public without the help of any other identification.
Nor has being just himself in movies given Grant atrophy of the pocketbook. His price tag for making a picture hovers now between a healthy $250,000 and a sturdier $300,000. As the earth-traipsing angel in The Bishop’s Wife, he was paid $400,000. Signed for $300,000, he was given another $100,000 when Goldwyn decided to scrap the first half of the picture and begin all over again. This made Grant’s fee for that one picture – on a straight salary basis – the highest ever paid in Hollywood’s history.
While his fairy godmother’s gift is the keystone of Grant’s screen appeal, it is more complex than that gift alone indicates. Queried about the Grant appeal, a studio messenger girl offered this slant: “He’s got finesse. And he’s sophisticated. His charm is boyish, only it’s kind of mature. Of course, the fact that he’s tall, good-looking and has a cleft chin doesn’t hurt any.”
The truth is that a large part of Grant’s success as a comedian is due to his ability to co-ordinate physically. This ability was born of the fact that he was at one tie a tumbler and stilt walker. Co-ordination breeds timing, and timing is the most important element of comedy. Grant’s particular brand of light comedy amounts to a kind of stylized buoyancy.
In essence, he has taken the baggy-pants comic’s slow burn and double take and has lifted them to a high plane. It’s the same brand of clowning, but it’s done with tall, dark and handsome overtones. He doesn’t do his retarded smoldering as the late Edgar Kennedy did, with broad mugging and fingers irritably massaging his face to indicate the blowing of a temper fuse. Raising his eyebrows and looking straight at his audience, Grant seems to say, “Well, whaddaya know? I’m being bopped by Fate’s inflated pig bladder again!”
Mike Curtiz, the Hungarian director who talks in such a surrealistic way that his conversation has been hailed as a whole new language, once said of Grant, “Some actors squeeze a line to death. Cary tickles it to life.”
When most stars hit the heights they think they’re magic. They have a notion that anything they do is right. Not Grant. It’s his conviction that it’s up to him to find out what people like in Grant; what they expect of him. Then do it. Many Hollywood stars don’t see their own pictures. If they do, it’s usually in the plush-insulated solitude of a studio projection room. Grant sees each of his films in the regular-run movie houses. He studies the reactions of different audiences. If one of his pieces of stage business or one of his gestures rings the bell, it’s apt to be in his next picture two or three times.
He learned his first baggy-pants and big-shoes comic routines when not too far removed from his mother’s knee. Elias Leach’s trade was producing men’s clothing, and he was able to send his son to Fairfield Academy, in Somerset. Archie Leach conceived the idea for a new theatrical lighting effect in the electrical laboratory at Fairfield Academy. The British Christmas Pantomimes are a venerable institution. Actually, they aren’t pantomimes at all, but musical comedies based on old fairy tales, and are designed for juvenile consumption. In them usually occurs at least one scene in which a slum is transformed into a fairy queen’s palace. When he was twelve, Archie Leach figured out a way to hang lights back of a scrim curtain and manipulate them in such a way that those transformations could be made easier.
Striking up a friendship with the electrician at the Princess Theater in Bristol, he was permitted to install and operate his invention there. So impressed was the electrician that he led young Leach over to the Bristol Hippodrome and introduced him to the manager. Backstage there, Archie met actors who had seen not only Bristol but much of the world’s far-off glitter.
His youthful love affair with the theater was born of a burning desire to travel. He reasoned it thus: actors go places and see things; therefore, it would be pleasant to be an actor. His notion met with objection at home. He overcame that objection by running away and joining a group of acrobats called the Pender Troupe. They specialized in eccentric dancing, stilt walking, clowning and tumbling. Their act was a roughneck affair in which the set fell down around the tumblers’ ears and the performers ran around whacking the seats of one another’s flapping pants with loose bed slats.
Four weeks later, Archie’s father sent an emissary to fetch him home. For the next year and a half he resumed his studies halfheartedly. Then he ran away once more to join the Penders. This time his father admitted defeat and let him stay with the troupe.
Don Barclay, then a knockabout-comedy comedian, but now a maker of ceramic caricatures in Hollywood, recalls this part of Grant’s career vividly. When Barclay first met Archie, young Leach was thirteen. Fresh from the Ziegfeld Follies, Barclay had gone to Ipswich, England, to try out a new routine. He wanted to get the English reaction to American humor before tackling the London theaters. Rustication for two weeks in the sticks proving dull, Barclay was trying to brighten that dullness in a pub when the youthful members of a troupe of stilt walkers who were playing the same bill with him dropped in for fish and chips.
Archie Leach was the newest, youngest and smallest member of the troupe. As such, he was fair bait for the rest of the gang. That same day, as Barclay was passing a room in the theater where the Pender Troupe was quartered, he overheard the troupe’s old-timers tormenting Archie. They were teaching him “the art of make-up.” Their teaching consisted of painting his nose blue, his eye sockets green and his mouth white. Barclay rescued the young stilt walker, who thereafter became his devoted shadow.
“Just call me Don,” Barclay told him. At home Archie had been taught to call older gentlemen “mister” or “sir.” Yes, sir, Don,” he said. And for the next few months, while they were on the same bill together, Barclay remained “Yes, sir, Don” to him.
The Pender company visited New York in 1920 to do an act in a Fred Stone show. Archie Leach came with it. When the telephone rang in Barclay’s New York dressing room a thrilled, reedy voice said, “Is that you, Don, sir? I’m in America!” Archie had climbed higher in the world. He was now end man in the stilt act. When Barclay met him at a near-by restaurant, Archie’s eyes were popping with enthusiasm for a land where gobs of ice cream bloomed from the tops of cones on every corner. He was a whole head taller than Barclay remembered him, and was wearing a black leather bow tied attached to a rubber band.
“Pretty snappy, eh, sir?” he remarked, pulling it out and letting it plop back.
When the Pender Troupe broke up, Archie Leach stayed in America. HE took on a succession of odd jobs and slept wherever he could find an empty bed. Applying for a job at Coney Island, he was put on as a relief man. He “talked” people into the Red Mill and the Tunnel of Love. While still at Coney, he found himself once more with a stilt-walking job. Occasionally people bumped into his stilts and sent him crashing earthward. But his meals came easily. They were, for the most part, donated by friendly concessionaires. To this day even the smell of frankfurters gives him indigestion.
After two years of slamming the door a scant second or two before the wolf bounded in, he went back to England and joined a stock company. There he met an Arthur Hammerstein talent scout who brought him back to America to appear in a musical comedy called Golden Dawn. Hammerstein spent a year trying to train his importation to sing. But his voice stubbornly remained a fog-bound baritone. Grant describes himself as “just a good shower-curtain singer.”
Other musical-comedy engagements followed: Polly with Fred Allen and Lady Inverclyde; The Street Singer with Queenie Smith. He had a kind of niftiness. Most of his Broadway parts were the dressy type. He wore a white tie beautifully bat-winged. Extra long tails swished against his calves. In five years in musicals he worked up from $350 a week to $550 a week. Worried by the knowledge that he was no great shakes as an actor, he spent hours in front of mirrors practicing how to light a cigarette, how to walk, how to move.
A motion-picture studio gave him a screen test. The report: “Good-looking, neck too thick, no chance at all.”
When the 1929 depression tidal wave swept both Grant and Barclay from their feet, their tailor, Harold Dryer, came to their rescue. He owned a beach cottage on Long Island next to the one occupied by Walter Winchell, and he invited his two erstwhile customers down. One morning on the beach Archie and Don put an act together. They used Winchell’s children as a try-out audience. It was a burlesque mind-reading stunt. Archie was the straight man.
“It went something like this,” Barclay told me. “‘Gentlemen,’ I would say, while Archie clapped his hand to his forehead in deep concentration, ‘this is a serious test in thought transmission. Professor Knowall Leach will endeavor to call anyone in the audience by name.’ As I went through the crowd, I’d put my hand on a shoulder, then call to Archie, ‘This gentleman is from Buffalo.’
“‘Bill!’ Archie would shout back.
“‘now here’s a stickler, professor: For the love of ____’
“‘No, no, the other kind!’
And so the routine went. For the women in the audience, it assumed some shape as: “This girl is an upper and lower, professor!”
“And here is one, not deaf but dumb.”
“Dumber than that!”
“Right you are, professor …. Good people, I call your attention to the fact that we use no signals, no code —-”
When they had it whipped into shape, Barclay took the train into New York. He sauntered – no one can saunter quite so effectively as a dead-broke baggy-pants – into an agent’s office. “This being the off-season,” Barclay told him loftily, “I will accept a four weeks’ booking … if the terms are right!” It happened that the agent had a spot open in Toledo at $1250 a week, and when Barclay went back to tell Archie, he road on a pink cloud instead of the Long Island Railroad. There was only one drawback – the little matter of train fare to Toledo. Archie took care of that. Even then he had deep within him an instinct for practicality. In his trunk he had squirreled away a cache of money for just such an emergency.
The Barclay-Leach act broke up in Newark when a manager insisted that another straight man take Leach’s place. It was five years before Barclay saw him again. By that time his former straight man was Cary Grant. Archie Leach’s new name was blazoned on twenty-four-sheet posters that sprouted from cornfields, along highways, on the sides of buildings.
Although Cary himself denies it, it is Barclay’s opinion that subconsciously Cary likes movie roles that take him back to his big-shoes-and-baggy-pants days. A dowager, watching a shooting of the picnic scenes for The Bachelor and the Bobby-soxer, asked with some heat, “Why do they do these things to Mr. Grant? Making him carry a potato on a spoon, and doing those dreadful falls in the mud!”
The metamorphosis of Leach into Grant was partly the result of accident. But mostly it came of a good-Samaritan gesture. After some time spent appearing at Forest Park in St. Louis in a new operetta every week – among them such tried-and-true musical comfitures as The Student Prince, Blossom Time, Countess Maritza – Archibald Leach announced that he was taking off for California in a third-hand phaeton for a vacation. It was one of the longest vacations on record. To date it has lasted seventeen years.
In Hollywood, Leach met a director for whom he had worked in New York. The director was preparing to screen-test his wife. Since Cary had appeared with her in a Broadway play, the director asked him to lessen her ordeal by appearing with her. It would be easier if she wouldn’t have to test with an actor she didn’t know. The test was made. The actress wasn’t signed. Instead, the studio executives grew excited about the young actor who appeared with her. Two weeks later he was placed under contract by Paramount.
Archie Leach’s movie debut was made in 1932 in This is the Night, with Lily Damita and Charles Ruggles. His parts included everything from the Mock Turtle in Alice in Wonderland to one of Mae West’s leading men who went “up to see her sometime.”
It was during his stretch in the Paramount stock-company salt mines that Archibald Alexander Leach became Cary Grant. The Paramount brass didn’t like his baptismal name. Nor did their new stock player greatly blame them. To him, it sounded the kind of name an expensively corseted pouter-pigeon hostess would invite to a high tea. He had been in a play in which his name was Cary, and he thought it convenient to choose a name he was used to. The Grant part was hit upon by opening a phone book and jabbing a pin into it at random.
Grant quit Paramount because he felt that “playing all the parts Gary Cooper didn’t want” was unsatisfactory. When Columbia signed him for $75,000 a year, Hollywood thought that studio had taken leave of its wits. Its opinion changed when Grant was cast in The Awful Truth. In this, his first smash hit, a not-too-low comedy, he was called upon to portray married devotion with a touch of humor. It meant being gay, brave, and elegant in absurd situations. Then getting out of those situations as neatly as a pin. In short, he conducted himself in exactly the way all husbands feel that they probably conduct themselves if only the truth were known.
The Awful Truth was followed by Topper, Bringing Up Baby and The Philadelphia Story. Determined not to identify himself exclusively with comedy roles, Grant has insisted upon making a number of serious films. Mr. Lucky, Suspicion, Penny Serenade, Only Angels Have Wings, Notorious and None But the Lonely Heart were more than mere light comedy – much more.
Grant’s reaction to the constant annoyances and abrasions that a star must endure is explosive. He goes into smoldering rages when he thinks about such matters. It is his conviction that hounding movie stars for their autographs is ridiculous.
“Actors,” he says with some justice, “should be judged by their talent, not by their penmanship.”
Grant has been known to tell the gangs who clot the doors of New York hotels, ready to jump a star when he emerges and tongue-whip him into giving them his autograph, that they are “morons.” “I don’t mind autograph hounds, but I don’t like rude ones,” he says. “Fifteen kids descend upon you. It would be nice if they just said, ‘How are you?’ or ‘It’s good to see you,’ but they say, ‘If you don’t sign our books we won’t go to see your lousy pictures.’ My reaction is to say, ‘Fine. Don’t go!'”
He has even had women come up to him and say, “I’ve made a bet I can kiss you.” It may not be the best kind of public relations, but he tells them gravely, “Madam, you’ve lost your bet!”
He thinks that most of the fan trouble suffered by men screen stars stems from the fact that they look the same off the screen as they do on. Women screen stars don’t have so much of that trouble unless they deliberately invite it. On the screen they wear unusual hair-dos, elaborate make-ups, gowns and hats. The result is that, in comparison, off-screen they’re inclined to look much like any other pretty girl.
Occasionally Grant wants to take a stroll in New York, a harmless privilege ordinary men take for granted. But if Grant does it, he has to wait until dusk. If he doesn’t, he’s mobbed. If he wants to go shopping, he has to sneak into a store manager’s office through back entrances. He says it would be more fun to select a piece of luggage from a whole stock of luggage than from the few pieces trundled in to him. He complains that merchandise brought to him in that way just doesn’t look good.
He is faced with another occupational hazard that faces all male stars who set the hearts of their feminine followers aflutter. The mere sight of such a star in a cocktail lounge or even at a social cocktail party seems to imbue belligerent drunks with a desire to throw punches in his direction. Grant stays away from such places as much as possible. When he does go to a party he drinks little. He is what is called a “carrier,” or a drink stretcher. This means that he lugs the same glass around with him for an hour or two without having it refilled.
Sooner or later, every Hollywood star faces the problem of “the people who knew him when.” Their number multiplies in direct proportion to the star’s earning power and fame. There were as many as seventy people in some of the Broadway musical shows in which Grant appeared. Certainly not all seventy could have been his best friends. Quite possibly he didn’t even like some of them. Nor they him. Then all at once he was one of the screen’s Mister Bigs, and suddenly they were all “his closest friends.” Even so, if he remembers them and has a minute to spare, he says, “Ask them to come up and we’ll have a visit.”
During his days with the Pender stilt-walking troupe, he picked up a few cockney tricks of speech. He still uses them. Occasionally he gets off a “gor blimey!” In greeting friends, he may say, “How are ye, me pal?” or “Dear ol’ George. Bless ye, George; how are ye?” At private parties, when in the mood, he sings racy cockney songs, accompanying himself on the piano.
All the available evidence suggests that while early vicissitudes may have taught him canniness, he is not stingy. When he hears that a friend is dropping in at a vaudeville actors’ club, he asks him to find out if anybody there is broke, and when the friend reports back, Grant gives him money for them. There is only one string attached to such gifts. He insists that no one know where the dough comes from. Prior to, and during, World War II he contributed $200,000 to the British Red Cross. He gave an equal amount to the American Red Cross. But he is inclined to belittle such beneficences. When asked about them, he says, “There’s nothing to generosity … if you can afford it.”
Grant is non-communicative about his various love lives while they are going on. He is even more clamlike concerning the death of such affairs. Nevertheless, his heart attachments have been publicly dissected for millions of avid readers by the syndicated gossip pathologists of the press.
“I don’t even tell my closest friends my inner secrets, so how can columnists I’ve never even met know all about them?” he inquires.
From time to time his name has been romantically linked with those of Betty Hensel, Phyllis Brooks and his present costar, Betsy Drake. Palaver aplenty was once made about his friendship with Mary Brian, Mary Carlisle and Ginger Rogers. It is a matter of public record that his marriage to Virginia Cherrill in 1934 was followed by a divorce, and that on July 8, 1942 he married Barbara (Haugwitz-Reventlow) Hutton. The syndicated keyhole peerers and peeresses made much of the fact that she was “the richest girl in the world.” But before marrying her, Grant, at his own insistence, signed a waiver to any part of her fortune.
At the beginning of their marriage, Grant lived in Barbara’s house instead of his own. This kind of psychological handicap was scarcely calculated help things work out. It proved impossible for Cary and Barbara to appear in public together. Slavering for both their signatures, the autograph hounds redoubled their onslaughts. This marriage also ended in divorce on August 30, 1945.
When his marital affairs go off the trolley, Grant takes it hard. Months after a trial separation from Virginia Cherrill, he was still suffering from the resultant nervous and emotional upset. “I saw him just after the Hutton marriage was washed up. He was in one hell of a state. I never saw a man more bused up!” This same friend explains the Grant-Hutton split by saying, “Cary’s friends were jealous of Barbara and her friends. Barbara’s friends were jealous of Cary and his friends. Between them, they pulled them apart.”
This past winter it was the vogue to speculate on how soon Grant would marry Betsy Drake, his costar in his latest movie, Every Girl Should be Married. Writers engaged in researching in Grantiana are warned, “You’d better put something in your story that will get you off the hook if he marries her before your piece comes out.” That Grant took more than a casual interest in Miss Drake’s welfare is evident by the fact that in their film he was content to let her have the lion’s share of the footage. Such a concession on the part of a major star is virtually unheard of.
Certainly a lack of neatness could have had nothing to do with the failure of his first two marriages. Grant is a man who folds newspapers after reading them, instead of rug-scattering them. He is by nature an ardent ash-tray emptier. He has a proper respect for the hang of a pair of trousers, and refuses to load his pockets with odds and ends that might make them sag. He carries three things only: a flat cigarette case, his car keys, a folded fifty-dollar bill for cash requirements.
Grant has always been clothes-conscious. During his Shubert days there were some who thought him a little too much on the “sharp” side. But he outgrew that and, in the opinion of many, now has a real flair for wearing clothes effectively. He has given much thought to doing away with the bothersome annoyances of male dress. The wattles of generations of men have grown profanely purple when facing the problem of establishing a union between dress shirts and studs. “I used to go crazy reaching up under my shirt to pull the studs through . So I developed a fly-front dress shirt,” Grant says. “You put the studs in. Then you button it.”
He is a nongarter-wearer. He buys socks that fit so snugly they stay in place and don’t droop down in accordion folds. He never wears undershirts. He has solved the matter of doing away with belts of braces by having his trousers tailored to fit his waist closely and held in place by a built-in waistband of the same cloth. The waistband ends in a flap of the material that hooks into place.
A men’s magazine once wanted him to write an article on his dress ideas. When they heard his notions, they clutched their foreheads, moaned, “Good grief, our advertisers!” and called the whole project off.
Grant is a man of sudden and overwhelming enthusiasms. He goes in for new enterprises with the fervor of a fakir. It may be a real-estate project in Death Valley or mining for fire opals in Mexico or a previously untried sport. Whatever it is, he gives it everything he’s got.
He once commissioned a ship broker to find a freighter for him that he could buy. It was his notion that the captain and crew could divvy up any profits the freighter made. All he was interested in was getting away from people and things. It was his hope that between pictures he could live aboard the freighter. He was never able to buy such a ship, but he still cherishes the idea.
“I would prefer a freighter that plies a Mediterranean run,” he says quite seriously.
Like many people who have had little formal schooling, he has studied and read a lot on his own. He attaches much importance to the audible and visible trappings of education. He is constantly discovering and getting excited about new things that other people, produced by universities and colleges, take pretty much for granted. Some time after the public had pegged Thomas Wolfe as one of American’s promising novelists, Grant happened upon him with loud whoops of enthusiasm.
Says one friend, “When he found out about the joys of symphonic music and good paintings, he was so hopped up about them you’d think he was the only guy who’d ever enjoyed them.”
There are some who think Grant contradictory. “He’s moody and has an inferiority complex that probably stems back to his stilt-walking days,” says one of Grant’s friends. “I don’t think he was ever cast in a film that he didn’t want to get of two days before the shooting started.”
“Just before the beginning, I get qualms,” Grant himself says. “I begin to wonder if it’s going to be all right.”
Once the camera starts turning, however, the picture on which he is working is the greatest picture ever made, the director is the greatest director with whom he has ever worked and the cast is the best cast ever got together.
By his own admission, Grant ranks in the higher brackets as a taxpayer, yet he likes to tell how two Honolulu boys taught him “an unforgettable lesson about how not to care for money.”
“Years ago in Honolulu,” he says, “I had two native boys working for me. When I left I gave them each fifty dollars. They turned up at the boat with presents of beautifully tailored shirts and shorts for me. They had spent the whole hundred bucks on them. When I asked them why they had done it, they said, ‘We don’t need all that money. What can you do with money anyhow?'”
Grant thinks that hidden somewhere in their attitude is a profound lesson. Nevertheless, his new contract with RKO – it calls for five pictures – is as lucrative as his lawyer could browbeat that studio into making.
An analogy he has worked out between Hollywood and a streetcar fascinates Grant. The analogy had its genesis in a Charlie Chaplin comedy. In that comedy Chaplin was a part of a queue waiting to board a streetcar. He got into the car first all right, but there were so many in line that they pushed him on through the car and he fell out the other end. Getting to his feet, he ran around, climbed on again and hung on as best he could.
As Grant sees it, Hollywood is that streetcar. “The car just goes around in circles, not going anywhere,” he says. “There is room on it for just so many and every once in a while, if you look back, you’ll see that someone has fallen off to let a new passenger on. When Ty Power got on, it meant we left someone sprawled out on the street; and somebody had to fall off to make room for Greg Peck. Some fellows who get pushed off run around and climb back on as character actors. Adolphe Menjou is one. Ronald Colman sits up with the motorman. And Gary Cooper is smart. He never gets up to give anybody his seat. After much confusion and waiting, I finally got a seat. But I lost it temporarily when I got up to make room for a young lady named Joan Fontaine, who costarred with me in Suspicion and won an Oscar in that movie. So there I am, just standing up, hanging onto a strap, and being jostled around.”