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Book Review: Evenings With Cary Grant: Recollections in His Own Words and by Those Who Knew Him Best by Nancy Nelson

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Applause Theatre & Cinema Books has recently released a new paperback edition of Evenings With Cary Grant: Recollections in His Own Words and by Those Who Knew Him Best. Grant’s widow Barbara and his daughter Jennifer have contributed family photos and items from Grant’s personal papers to help author Nancy Nelson create a collage-like portrait of the classic film star.

Cary Grant: “The only good thing about acting in movies is that there’s no heavy lifting.”

Born Archibald Alexander “Archie” Leach in 1904, Grant didn’t know his mother. His father had her committed to a mental institution for profound depression when Archie was nine. It was believed she had never gotten over the death of Archie’s older brother John, for which she blamed herself. Grant always thought she was dead, and didn’t discover she was still alive until she contacted him, in 1935, when he was already a success in Hollywood.

Archie’s father remarried and his young son left school and joined the Bob Pender Stage Troupe as a stilt walker. With his father’s permission he traveled with them to America at the age of 16. When their engagement was over, instead of returning with the troupe to England, he stayed in New York and tried his hand at vaudeville. This soon led to work on the stage, and then Broadway, and ultimately a trip to Hollywood in 1931. After Mae West personally selected him as her leading man in two films, She Done Him Wrong and I’m No Angel, the newly renamed Cary Grant was set as a leading man.

In 1936 his contract with Paramount was up, and Cary didn’t want to renew. He took a great risk, but luckily found himself still in demand as an independent actor. He was the first actor to leave the studio system and go independent.

Peter Bogdonavich: “He became responsible for his material and formed the arc of his career, shaping his own movie persona, in a way that Cagney or Bogart or Cooper or Tracy was not free to do.”

There are many anecdotes in Evenings With Cary Grant that cover the most famous films of Grant career, including Bringing Up Baby (1938), The Philadelphia Story (1940), His Girl Friday (1940), Arsenic and Old Lace (1944), and his four films with Alfred Hitchcock–Suspicion (1941), Notorious (1946), To Catch A Thief (1955), and North by Northwest (1959). Always the gentleman, Grant steadfastly refused to pick favorites, in any of his films or leading ladies.

Alfred Hitchcock: “Cary’s the only actor I ever loved in my whole life.”

From the many stories told in the book it seems that at least in his youth, Grant would fall deeply in love very quickly with a woman and want to make things permanent. If there was any hesitation or obstacle to marriage on the woman’s part they would find that he would move on just as quickly. He became seriously involved with actress Mary Brian in 1935 and they talked about marriage.

Mary Brian: “But he was torn between devoting all his time to his career and committing to marriage. I thought he should make up his mind. I felt the time was not right for him to marry. So I went to New York, where I did a couple of Shubert shows and stayed eight or nine months. We had been seeing one another for about a year and a half, and I wanted a full commitment. When I came home, he was going with Phyllis Brooks.”

Nelson has pieced together quotes from Grant and many, many of his colleagues to tell the (mostly) chronological story of how he rose from his humble beginnings in England to becoming the number one box office male star in Hollywood. So many people who knew him well, and who are well-known to the public offer Nelson and the reader their impressions of Grant: Katharine Hepburn, James Stewart, Louis Jourdan, Billy Wilder, Loretta Young, Burt Reynolds, Gregory Peck, Sophia Loren, and Quincy Jones, just to name a few. Also included is a foreword (and ostensibly a blessing on the project) from Grant’s fifth wife, Barbara, and his only child, his daughter Jennifer Grant.

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