Thanks to NetGalley for the Advanced Reader’s Copy of Cary Grant: A Brilliant Disguise by Scott Eyman. I was given this copy for my honest opinion of the book.
What can I say about Cary Grant? I adore Cary Grant. I have so many Cary Grant movies, it is not funny. I probably have more than half of the 73 he made in his lifetime. His Hitchcock movies (Suspicion, Notorious, To Catch a Thief and North by Northwest) are comfort movies for me: whenever I can’t decide what sort of movie to watch, I invariably pull out one of those and pop it in the Blu Ray player.
I love Hollywood biographies, too. Pick an actor/actress that I think is reasonably good in the movies and I’ll read anything published about them. I’ve read all the good and bad Cary Grant biographies out there, but it’s been years since I read one, so I plunged in to Cary Grant: A Brilliant Disguise with open arms, unsure of what to expect. After all, there have been several comprehensive biographies done since Grant’s death in 1986, some more salacious than others.
Eyman does justice to the man we all called Cary Grant, but started life as Archie Leach from Bristol, England. His early life was explored thoroughly. In fact, Grant’s whole life was given an in-depth look, something I’d not read before. There’s quite a lot about his early days in show business, working in vaudeville, and even as a stilt walker on Coney Island.
All the backstory is nice as it gives the reader the image of Archie Leach as a troubled youth, whose father was an alcoholic and who was told his mother died (when actually his father had her committed to an asylum), and his desperation to get the heck out of Bristol, see the world, make a name for himself, and most importantly, raise his way out of poverty.
Things pick up once Leach, renamed Cary Grant in his early days in Hollywood, arrives in Tinseltown. Cary Grant: A Brilliant Disguise painstakingly follows Grant’s journey from bit player to successful actor, to movie star, to legend. Every film is discussed in detail, even the stinkers like Howards of Virginia and Crisis. Most of the time, the author’s opinion of certain films does not shine through. Rather, it is through newspaper and magazine reviews as well as box office receipts that decides whether a Cary Grant film was good or not. Some of my favorite Grant films (Penny Serenade, People Will Talk, The Talk of the Town, The Grass is Greener, Charade, That Touch of Mink, Indiscreet, Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House) were not commercial successes, or were successful but not well-thought of.
Besides an in-depth look at all of Grant’s movies, Cary Grant: A Brilliant Disguise also explores his private life in a tasteful manner. There’s been so much speculation about whether Cary Grant was a homosexual, even during his lifetime, that the issue could not go unaddressed. Each of Grant’s five marriages is explored, but I found that very little is said of his fourth wife, Dyan Cannon, who gave him his only child. Maybe it is because Cannon is still alive and already wrote about her life with Cary in Dear Cary: My Life with Cary Grant. Eyman does not come to any solid conclusions, but several of his friends later in his life described Grant as starting out gay, then bisexual, then straight. There’s a great quote from Betsy Drake that I saw on a TCM documentary some years ago: “Why would I believe that Cary was homosexual when we were busy F***ing?” But she paused and then added, “Maybe he was bisexual. He lived 43 years before he met me. I don’t know what he did.”
Also explored is Grant’s use of the once-legal LSD as a way to overcome all the insecurities and darkness he held within. He used the drug more than 100 times, and he said the experiences made him a better person for it. But he was fiercely anti-drug, explaining that LSD wasn’t a drug, but a chemical.
And that is what the book ultimately shows: there were always two sides to Cary Grant. The image he projected as the suave, well-dressed, well-mannered man with a mid-Atlantic accent was just that. Deep inside he was still Archie Leach, the poor, insecure boy from Bristol who just wanted to make his parents proud.
I was also happy to see a lengthy section in Cary Grant: A Brilliant Disguise about his life after retirement. So often biographies in effect end once a person leaves the public eye. It was nice to read more about the post-movie Cary Grant, and his relationship with his daughter (who also wrote her own book about her dad some years back, Good Stuff: A Reminiscence of My Father, Cary Grant,) his work on several companies’ board of directors, his final, most satisfying marriage to Barbara Harris, and how he spent his final years.
Cary Grant: A Brilliant Disguise will be released to the general public October 20, 2020. I’ll definitely be adding it to my Hollywood biography section of my bookcase.
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