Behind the glitz and glamour of Hollywood, there lies some dark personal struggles. Although its stars may light up the screen with their glistening eyes and beaming smiles, when the director yells cut, and the camera is switched off, the lives of these actors carry on.
Beneath the bright lights of the red carpet, there’s a long list of troubled Hollywood stars that have seemingly put on a brave face to fool us. According to memoirs from his family, Oscar-winner Carry Grant is one particular star of the golden movie age who sometimes struggled behind the camera.
The British-born American actor was a star that shone ever so brightly on film, entertaining movie-goers with his charm and talent. Even now he still considered as one of Hollywood’s classic leading men. However, recently his daughter Jennifer Grant and fourth wife Dyan Cannon have resurfaced some of his personal struggles, telling us that he perhaps wasn’t the contented chap that mostly came across. Behind his appealing demeanor and exceptional skills as an actor, there were some hidden secrets.
Who was the real Cary Grant?
Known for his handsomely good looks and sophisticated charm, Cary Grant burst onto Hollywood with a unique sense of class. He was very suave, both as an actor and in himself as a Hollywood star, featuring in some of Hollywood’s most beloved films of the 30s, 40s, and 50s – bagging multiple awards along the way too.
Despite his tremendous success, there was always an air of dimly-lit mystery around his personal life, and it wasn’t until detailed posthumous memoirs were released that we could finally begin to answer the question – who really was Cary Grant?
A move across the pond
Born in the British city of Bristol on January 18, 1904, Cary and his older brother John were raised by their parents Elias and Elsie Leach. The family lived in and around Bristol for the entirety of their childhood, being considered working-class with their father being a hard-working but poorly-paid factory worker. After growing up a troubled but talented young man with a gifted flair for theater, Cary started to train in the performing arts.
In 1922, at 18 years old, Cary moved to the bright lights of New York and joined the Vaudeville traveling theater. It was here that he toured as a juggler, dancer, and general entertainment artist. Throughout all of his younger years, it was clear that Cary encompassed a one-of-a-kind charm when in front of an audience, and most importantly he loved being on the stage. It was a place for him to escape himself…
Starting to make it big
With Cary making a serious name for himself across the stages of elite theater performances, he was called in to take a screen-test for Paramount Pictures. He impressed executives, and after signing to the production company, he started appearing alongside big star names in 1930s Hollywood – including the sultry Mae West in films such as 1933’s She Done Him Wrong, and I’m No Angel.
It was in these early years of the decade that Cary started to set hearts racing, impressing producers and cinema-goers with his genuine charm and skillful light-hearted approach to acting. After jumping the pond, the Englishman was beginning to make it big! He knew he made the right decision, and he even started to lose his distinctive cockney accent. Cary was becoming a star.
As the late 30s rolled in, Cary started to find his niche in cinema – comedy. His high-spirited persona and exuberant charisma meant he had a flair for romance and comedic acting. As the decade past, Cary was getting appointed more and more starring roles in massive hits – including 1938’s wild screwball comedy Bringing Up Baby, 1940’s rom-com The Philadelphia Story, and 1941’s melodrama Penny Serenade – in which he received his first ever Academy Award nomination for Best Actor.
Cary’s career was going from strength to strength, and in the late 40s, his talents began to catch the eye of cinema’s most sought-after director, Alfred Hitchcock. By the 50s, Cary was one of Hollywood’s biggest names, starring in Hitchcock’s critically acclaimed hits 1955’s mystery-drama To Catch a Thief and 1956’s action-thriller North by Northwest. Cary had undoubtedly made it big time.
A hunk of love
One of Cary’s biggest appeals was his accentuated good looks. Cary himself and the producers were cashing in on what they liked to call his perfect encapsulation of ‘masculine glamor.’ He was the best male lead out there, and every producer wanted him. However, production teams weren’t the only people that wanted him. Cary was more than lucky with the ladies too. In fact, Cary was married five different times.
His first wife was Virginia Cherrill, a fellow actress who he married in 1934. Next, he married Barbara Hutton in 1942, but the two divorced just three years later in 1945. His third marriage was to Betsy Drake, in which they remained a couple for 12 years. However, the two divorced due to an affair he had with co-star Sophia Loren.
A retired actor
Next was his fourth marriage to Dyan Cannon, and the two had a daughter together – Jennifer Grant was the only child Cary ever conceived. His fifth and final marriage was to Barbara Harris where the two remained together until he passed away.
It might be fair to say that Cary’s relationships were sometimes troubled, and it was after the birth of his daughter in 1966 that he decided to retire from acting. Instead, he focused his attention on the corporate side of entertainment, joining the board of directors for MGM in 1975.
An unexpected turn of events
In the last few years of his life, Cary decided he would tour cities as the star of a one-man question and answer show. The show would feature clips of his movies, and then he would answer questions asked by eager audience members.
Cary was excited about this next venture. He felt it was a new chapter in his life. However, it was in the final preparations for this show that he suffered a stroke. Shortly after on November 29, 1986, Cary passed away.
Cary was said to be worth $80 million when he passed away, leaving the value of his estate to daughter Jennifer and his widow Barbara Harris. In the decades since his passing, his legacy has lingered on. He will forever be known for his professionalism both on and off screen, and also the unparalleled comedic performances of his movies.
He was a true pioneer of the comedy genre. However, there was always a darker side of Cary that the world failed to grasp. In an attempt to bring light and understanding to the private life of Cary, his fourth wife Dyan Cannon decided to release a memoir of the time they spent together.
A darker side
The memoir named Dear Cary: My Life with Cary Grant was released in 2011. Being the mother of his daughter, Dyan wanted to tell her side of the story that the media could only speculate on for so long.
In the memoir, she explains how she loved dating Cary at the start of their relationship, but as the two grew closer, she eventually began noticing a dark side to him. She revealed how he started criticizing her appearance, becoming agitated at the littlest things. She knew he held a host of negative emotions deep within his soul.
In the memoir, Dyan explained how she’s interested in knowing if there were any similar stories from his other wives. She started to think these types of behaviors were not uncommon for him. Cary himself was always rather open about the struggles he encountered with marriage…
Explaining how each new marriage gets more difficult for him. He admitted that he had a lot of trust issues, with the progressive fear of losing someone bringing about the very thing he had feared in the first place – losing them. It was a cycle of fear and insecurities that Cary couldn’t grasp control of.
A family split in two
With Dyan and Cary having a baby together, she had hoped a child would be the well-needed change to bring Cary out of his negative self-destructive cycle. However, Dyan revealed how even after the pregnancy, Cary withdrew from her physically, with things becoming cold between them.
She went on to explain how even though Cary was overjoyed with the arrival of his beautiful daughter, new family-life was not enough to save their marriage. The two continued to head towards divorce.
Perhaps the most revealing aspect of Dyan’s memoir was her account of Cary’s substance abuse. On the outside, Cary almost always seemed confident and content, but he had been suffering from depression for years. As part of his therapy, he started to take an extremely psychoactive substance which was supposedly used as a mild-altering form of treatment.
Cary himself described his use of the substance as “a rebirth,” allowing him to confront his demons and reboot his emotions. His opinion on the treatment was so passionately positive that he even left the doctor who oversaw the therapy $10,000 as a thank you.
However, Dyan has labeled his substance abuse as undeniably destructive. She revealed how his therapy turned into abusive recreational use, affecting his mental health without him even noticing.
She labeled this abuse as one of the main factors which led to the failure of their marriage. She even recalled him trying to encourage her to take the substance when she was suffering from depression, but this eventually led to her having a breakdown, and she was admitted to a psychiatric ward shortly after.
In the same year as Dyan’s memoir, their daughter Jennifer also released her own memoir, appropriately named Good Stuff: A Reminiscence of My Mother. Her memories are generally a lot more positive, revealing she is wonderfully fond of the times she shared with her father. She revealed that although he was naturally an authoritarian figure, he was always full of love and affection.
As a young child, she was quite rightly kept hidden from the darker turmoils of her parent’s relationship, but she also states how now as a grown woman she can appreciate his personal struggles a lot more. She says she understands him a lot more than she did before.
When Cary was a young boy, life was perhaps not as fortunate and conservative as his own daughter’s. His childhood was certainly not an easy time. His mother was a sufferer of severe clinical depression.
And his father was reliant on drink, self-medicating to ease his own pain from the suffering of his wife. It was like Cary’s adult life – a cycle of pain and self-destruction. At the age of nine, Cary’s mother was institutionalized due to the manic states her depression was putting her in.
However, sadly Cary was not told the truth about his mother. His father believed it was best for him to be told she had passed away instead. It wasn’t until 21 years later at the age of 31 that Cary found out she was very much still alive, still institutionalized. Unable to mentally comprehend the years of lies and neglect, Cary’s own mental health began to suffer.
Guilt and pain from this childhood trauma inevitably affected his personal life, distorting the new relationships he formed with women and leading to chronic depression, anxieties, and hallucinations. The deceit and pain from Cary’s younger years unfortunately meant his adult life suffered too.
Perhaps the most infamous rumor surrounding Cary’s personal life is one that speculates on the secret relationships he may or may not have had with men. Although all those close to him including his wives have revealed they experienced no apparent signs of this, rumors continued to circulate that he had a romantic love affair with Randolph Scott.
Cary himself denied these rumors repeatedly. In 1980 he even sued comedian Chevy Chase for labeling him as a closeted LGBT man during an interview. He was eventually granted $1 million from the case.
A misunderstood man
Cary’s legacy still remains untainted despite his dark struggles being revealed. His exceptional work on film, especially comedy, will remain forever prevalent in cinema. Jennifer has said it’s sad he’s no longer here to give his perspective on the talk of his life and the struggles that hid behind closed doors.
Cary never wrote an autobiography, and so perhaps his personal life was something he always preferred kept in the shadows.
From the British city of Bristol to the walk of fame of Hollywood, Cary Grant certainly made a name for himself, not just as an acclaimed actor, but as an international entertainment icon. Although he didn’t officially win an Oscar, he was awarded an Honorary Oscar at the 42nd annual awards in 1970…
Presented to him by one of his greatest friends Frank Sinatra. It was here that his talents in the movie industry were truly cemented.
A love still lingering
Despite Dyan revealing a lot about Cary’s troubled demons, she wanted to reaffirm that she also has extremely fond memories of him. She will always remember him as being an excessively kind, funny and charming man.
She went on to explain how her love for him grew stronger after he passed away, stating she looks back on their marriage and understands his behavior and the time they spent together so much clearer now. Continuing to reminisce, Dyan states how even though she loved him back then, it was his image that she fell in love and that made him almost impossible to love.
A musical in the works
As part of continuing his legacy, Dyan also revealed in 2018 that she is writing a musical. Describing the plot, she explains how it is a thoughtful and melodramatic musical tackling the issues of ‘insatiable cravings.’
Dyan also revealed that the life ex-husband Cary Grant lived will play a role. The musical is currently in the workshop process, but she had said that certain numbers in the musical have already been given appraised approval from Tony-award winning director John Doyle. Sounds promising.
What could have been?
Cary Grant’s life behind the camera is still in some respect shrouded in uncertainty. Although the truth behind the man with the handsome smile still remains somewhat concealed, perhaps this is where his deepest darkest secrets belong.
With his passing coming just weeks before his conversational one-man show was set to hit the stage, we can only wonder what insights into the real Cary Grant we could have gained. If only this conversation could have happened. We certainly would have been listening.
One of the interesting things about Cary Grant is that he always appeared tan, even in the winter. Cary didn’t wear makeup to achieve this look. He carefully maintained his well-tanned skin so that he would always look his best.
He was also careful about managing his weight because he knew his looks were important. In fact, Cary never weighed more than 180 lbs., and was careful to take care of himself even into the later years of his life.
Cary Grant was an immensely successful film actor, but things didn’t start out so well. In 1928, Fox Film Corporation gave him his first screen tests when he caught the attention of talent scouts.
They wanted to cast him in a film, but he ended up failing the test and missing out on the opportunity. This initial rejection was due to the fact that they thought his neck was too thick and he was slightly bow legged. It all worked out in the end, though.
The wedding ring omen
One of the most memorable stories that Dyan Cannon tells in her book talks about how Cary Grant’s attitude toward her changed after he proposed. She reveals that he was “agitated” during their wedding and had already started criticizing her.
Then, the day after they tied the knot, Dyan’s ring finger swelled up so big that they couldn’t get the ring off. In the end, a plumber with a blowtorch removed the ring, but Dyan thinks it was a bad sign.
Careful with money
Perhaps thanks to his humble beginnings, Cary Grant was always careful with money. Jennifer says that he was generous, but didn’t spend the way that other Hollywood stars often do.
Jennifer said that her father taught her the value of money in his attitude toward his fortune. He knew that he could buy anything he wanted, but he simply didn’t feel the need to. Other people who knew the actor disagreed, and said he was quite cheap.
Not a villain
Interestingly, Cary Grant was never cast as a villain. Apparently, the studios wanted to maintain his heroic image, and didn’t want viewers to associate their star leading man with anything negative.
In Hitchcock’s thriller Suspicion, Grant was supposed to play a bad guy but the studio demanded that Hitchcock change the ending in order to make Grant look better. However, no matter how much they controlled his life on screen, the studios couldn’t protect Grant from the demons that haunted him in his real life.