Cary Grant was one of the biggest stars in the golden age of Hollywood. While on-screen, he was suave and debonair. At the same time, his comedic timing was unparalleled. Women wanted him and men wanted to be him. However, Grant didn’t see himself as a handsome leading man. In his mind, he was just a man. Instead of leaning on his good looks, he played the everyman. His down-to-earth onscreen demeanor added a layer of relatability to his acting that made him incredibly popular with moviegoers everywhere.
Today would have been Cary Grant’s 117th birthday. In celebration, we are looking back at the silver screen icon’s early life and biggest moments.
Archie Leach: Grant’s Beginnings
Before Cary Grant was the inspiration for generations of leading men, he was a kid from Bristol, England. Born Archibald Leach, Grant had a rough start. his parents divorced when he was young. His father left town and took up with another woman. At the age of 10, Grant was told that his mother was dead. In reality, she had been committed by his father.
According to Biography, Cary Grant started hanging around his local theater at the age of 13. Before long, he was part of Bob Pender’s troupe of traveling performers. Not long after that, he was expelled from school and took up performing full-time. During his time with Pender’s troupe, Grant juggled, performed acrobatics, and acted in comedy sketches.
In 1920, he left the troupe while touring the United States. For the next decade, Cary Grant scraped by in New York City. He performed on Broadway and did odd jobs to get by. In 1931, he performed opposite Fay Wray in “Nikki,” a musical in which he played a soldier named Cary. That gave him the recognition he needed to get his start in Hollywood. Soon afterward, he packed up and moved to Los Angeles.
Archibald Leach Becomes Cary Grant
Shortly after moving to Los Angeles, he landed a contract with Paramount Pictures. At the studio’s request, Archie changed his name. His first name was a nod to the role that helped get him to Hollywood, the surname was given to him by the studio.
His first film was “This Is the Night,” in 1932. It was just the beginning of more than thirty years of golden age films starring the British-born actor.
“The Awful Truth”
“The Awful Truth” was a 1937 film that saw Cary Grant starring alongside Irene Dunne. They play a wealthy couple who divorces. They each try to start new relationships but in the end learn that they just want to be with one another. According to the British Film Institute, it was the combination of warmth, humor, and depression-era escapism that made this film so popular. It is this film that is credited with solidifying Grant’s leading-man persona.
“Only Angels Have Wings”
In 1939, Cary Grant showed his acting range. Stepping away from romance and comedy, he starred in two adventure movies that year. One of which was “Only Angels Have Wings.” In the film, Grant plays a pilot who must fly mail over the South American mountains through rough weather conditions. These films added “dashing hero” to Grant’s resume.
Cary Grant worked with some of the biggest names in Hollywood. It only makes sense that he would end up doing a handful of films with Alfred Hitchcock. Among those films was 1946’s “Notorious.” This film sees Grant stepping into the role of an American secret agent. He falls in love with a woman who he is supposed to set up to marry a Nazi war criminal. “Notorious” is both a love story and an espionage thriller. Like many Hitchcock films, this one brings out the darker and subtler side of its leads. It is in working with Hitchcock that Grant shows the world that he can take on more than just romantic leads and heroes.
Cary Grant Breaks Free
Before starring in “Notorious” Cary Grant did something that few stars had done before him. He became a free agent. Most actors of the time were signed to specific studios and had to take what roles they were given. There was enough demand for Grant that he didn’t need the contract to land roles. He struck out on his own and became increasingly picky about the roles he would take. From the mid-forties on, Grant took roles that he wanted and nothing else.
Cary Grant became disillusioned with cinema in the sixties. It was getting harder for him to find scripts that he would accept. However, it wasn’t just the end of Hollywood’s Golden Age that prompted Grant to give up acting. It was the birth of his daughter Jennifer Grant that made Cary want to give up acting completely. He wanted to be there to raise her. He could not give his daughter the attention or sense of permanence that he desired while still shooting movies. So, he walked away from his position as a leading man in favor of being the head of his household.