by Marc Eliot
Cary Grant may have exuded charm onscreen, but much of his life wasn't charmed, as Eliot's highly readable biography shows. At 10, young Archie Leach of Bristol, England, was told his mother had died. He joined a theater troupe at 14, came to America, and not until he visited England in 1933 as promising actor Cary Grant (with a name assist from Fay Wray) did he learn that his mother was alive, having been committed to an asylum for 19 years by his father. Feeling betrayed by both parents may have been the root of his deep emotional conflicts: Alcoholic and stingy, Grant worked as a gigolo in the 1920s but had gay roommates; he spent a confusing, competitive 11 years with lover Randolph Scott, and after their split, Grant married five times. Eliot also details Grant's chumminess with Howard Hughes; they partied together and in 1947 were reported—erroneously—to have died together in a plane crash.
Eliot offers a shrewd analysis of the actor's career, including Grant's audacity in cutting himself loose from the studio system in 1936. (The author also can be unreliable: He asserts that if Grant had played Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady he would likely have won an Oscar, but then says that Grant would have been a laughingstock in the role.) It was Alfred Hitchcock, Eliot argues, who elicited Grant's best work—as a sexual manipulator in Notorious and a parasitic husband in Suspicion. Glimpses of the debonair leading man's dark side are the most intriguing elements of this welcome biography.