When Friars and Friends Grant Cary a Dinner, They Come to Praise Him, Not Braise Him

UPDATED 05/31/1982 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 05/31/1982 at 01:00 AM EDT

They gave him a gold watch, a trophy and a lifetime membership, but there's one thing New York's Friars Club (a theatrical fraternity that raises money for charity) did not give Cary Grant at its man-of-the-year dinner last week at the Waldorf-Astoria: a traditionally raunchy roast. Grant, 78, faced a deferential showbiz crowd of 1,500-plus (at up to $1,000 a plate) who dressed to kill, but didn't. "There will be a lot of love tonight," warned host Frank Sinatra. Perhaps the Grant legend was too intimidating. Now a director at Faberge, the onetime cockney stiltwalker (at age 18) retired from the screen 16 years ago. But his 72 films, including such gems as Bringing Up Baby and North by Northwest, keep his debonair image alive on the Late Show.

"Cary is everyone's idea of what a man ought to be: intelligent, talented, sophisticated, successful and rich," said Gregory Peck. Dittos followed from the likes of Red Buttons, Tom Brokaw and George Burns. Comic Charlie Callas kiddingly put down the affair: "It was this or Conan the Barbarian, so I came." Letters from leading ladies like Princess Grace, Ingrid Bergman and Audrey Hepburn were read. Elizabeth Taylor's was best: "Though we have never worked together, I have lusted for you, yea, these many years. Is there a chance for us yet?" Former love Sophia Loren wired nothing. Neither did any of Cary's previous wives, though his current spouse, the former Barbara Harris, 31, sat devotedly by his side throughout the evening. Grant's only child, Jennifer, 16, by his fourth wife, Dyan Cannon, did not appear.

Taking the podium, Grant was touchingly shy and awkward. "There are many advantages to being old," he pshawed. "I just can't think of any." Guest Helen Gurley Brown could: "Cary's an inspiration to how great you can look at 78."

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