Don't Take Her for Granted
05/03/1993 at 01:00 AM EDT
CARY GRANT AND DYAN CANNON NEVER SEEMED DESTINED TO grow old together. For one thing, when they married in 1965, he already was fairly old—61 to her 27. And they fought incessantly. But when they finally got through their sensational divorce three years later (remember her revelation that he had experimented with LSD?), Grant and the actress who had been his fourth wife did have one thing in common: a daughter. Jennifer Grant, born in 1966, was and is the only child of her father's grand total of five marriages and her mother's two. So rare are Jennifer's bloodlines, in fact, that Hollywood producers began offering her film roles when she was still a kid. Her parents, says Grant, now 27, "just turned the jobs down." She wasn't interested either: "I was riding horses, I was with friends, I was out on the beach. Besides, I don't think I could have lived with myself very easily. I never would have felt as if I earned it."
But genes will out, as Grant's debut acting role proves. She has a small but sexy part on Fox's Beverly Hills, 90210, where she plays Celeste, a dating-show contestant nabbed by Steve (Ian Ziering) for the May 5 prom episode.
What the world is learning, somewhat belatedly, about Jennifer is that while she does not have Cary's classically cleft chin, she does have Dyan's button nose and doe eyes—and some of that fizzy Cannon charm. For example, Jennifer can communicate without resorting to mere words. "She has certain hand signals that I've come to recognize," says her fiancé, Randy Zisk, 34, a television director (NBC's Reasonable Doubts). "Like twirling her hands upwards when she wants to say Evian water."
Given her background, you would scarcely expect her to settle for the trickle from the tap. But in fact, thanks to her parents' joint guidance, which continued after the divorce, Jennifer was shielded from the ways of Hollywood. Says Cannon now: "I always told Jennifer it was all right for her to love her daddy." Jennifer says she never resented the split. "If they couldn't bring me up together in an atmosphere of love," she says, "I was much better off as I was."
That meant spending two weeks of every month in Malibu with her mother (who subsequently was married to and divorced from real estate developer Stanley Fimberg), then two weeks in Los Angeles with her father (and his fifth wife, former publicist Barbara Harris). Her father, who once described her as "the most captivating girl I know—and I have known quite a few," would take her boating and horseback riding. Did it make a difference that Cary, who died of a stroke at age 82 in 1986, was old enough to be her grandfather? "I always knew that his death couldn't be too far away," she says softly. (In a letter of musings that Cary left for Jennifer, he urged her to "be thankful for ears that can listen to Beethoven and a bird singing on a telegraph wire.")
Back in Malibu, says Cannon, "my job was to give Jennifer a groundwork. I let her work in health-food stores. I had her buying clothes in thrift shops. And I didn't let the press near her." Jennifer went from private schools to Stanford University, where she earned A's and B's as a double major in political science and history. After graduating in 1987, she considered a range of career paths. An accomplished equestrian, she did promotional work for the 1987 Breeders' Cup, when the big-stakes Thoroughbred competition was held at Hollywood Park. She was an apprentice chef at Spago restaurant on the Sunset Strip—but lost interest in that after a rack of lamb fell on her head. And she worked in a law office. Then in 1990 she took a course in acting—a career, says Cannon, that Cary never wanted for his daughter. "But I fell completely in love with acting," she says. "I guess I was bitten."
Grant did indeed go through the ritual turndowns. Then an agent advised her: "You've got to be on Beverly Hills, 90210." After several auditions, that's where she found herself, forced to chose between Ziering and Priestley (Brandon).
In real life, Grant has already made her choice: She and Dallas-raised Zisk will wed in L.A. on May 30. "I knew from our first date"—5½ years ago—"that we would many someday," she says. "It's cellular. You just know." The couple are house-hunting and, says Grant, looking forward to starting a family. She already has some thoughts about what lessons to teach a child. "It's not what your parents give you," says she. "It's what you do with your own stuff."
DORIS BACON in Los Angeles