This week's installment of our "5 Things You Didn't Know About..." series focuses on one of the finest comic actors of all time. Whether in comedies like The Philadelphia Story and Bringing Up Baby or Hitchcock thrillers like North by Northwest, Cary Grant could make even throwaway bits of dialogue screamingly funny with his superb sense of timing and brilliant facial expressions. Here are a few things you might not have known about him.
1. He Was Almost Cary Lockwood
The man we know as Cary Grant was actually born Alec Archibald Leach in 1904 in Bristol, England. When Archie Leach finally made it to Hollywood in 1931, studio execs at Paramount didn't think that "Archie Leach" sounded sturdy enough for a leading man. As Grant later told it, someone at the studio said, "'Archie' just doesn't sound right in America," to which he grudgingly admitted, "It doesn't sound particularly right in Britain, either."
When he was faced with the task of literally making a name for himself, Leach enlisted the help of his friends Fay Wray and John Monk Saunders, who suggested "Cary Lockwood." When Leach took the "Cary Lockwood" moniker back to Paramount, the studio honchos liked the "Cary" part but felt that "Lockwood" was too long and too similar to other actors' names, particularly silent film star Harold Lockwood. Grant would later tell The New Yorker that at this point, someone in the meeting just started reading down a list of potential last names and eventually stopped at "Grant." Archie Leach liked the sound of it and nodded, and Cary Grant was born. In 1941, the actor legally changed his name to Cary Grant.
2. Archie Leach Had Some Adventures of His Own, Though
The name Cary Grant may not have emerged until 1931, but long before that Archie Leach was already showing the inimitable charm and comedic gifts that would later light up the screen. He left home at age 13 to join the Bob Pender Troupe, a group of traveling boy comedians, and from that point on he focused on learning acrobatics, tumbling, and vaudeville techniques, where he excelled as a straight man. In 1920, Bob Pender brought his troupe to the U.S., where they successfully toured for two years. At the end of the engagement, Archie Leach decided he'd rather just stay in the U.S. than return to England.
For the next nine years, Grant did a little bit of everything. He juggled on-stage, served as an audience plant for mind readers, worked as a barker at Coney Island, and walked on stilts to advertise Steeplechase Park. He also worked as an "escort" who could fill in empty seats at dinner parties; he once escorted the great soprano Lucrezia Bori for an evening. By 1927, he'd met legendary producer Arthur Hammerstein and was appearing on Broadway, which opened the door for his film career.
3. He Took Thriftiness To a New Level
From just watching Grant's movies, you'd think that friends would describe him as witty, charming, and urbane. While his associates certainly give him credit for all of those qualities, he's just as legendary for being a cheapskate. Although Grant was the first star to break out of the studio system and negotiate a deal where he got a percentage of his films' box office takes, he was famously careful with his cash and obsessed over how much everything cost. (If Grant attended an expensive charity event, he was quick to point out that the entrance fee was deductible.)
Rumors circulated that Grant was so cheap that when he'd worn out a shirt, he'd cut all the buttons off and save them before throwing it away. Grant never denied this rumor; he simply explained in an interview that he liked to have some extra buttons around and that if his maid used his old shirts as dust rags he didn't want the buttons scratching his furniture. As he told the New York Times, "I think it's a very sensible procedure and should be adopted as a household tip."
4. He Did a Lot of LSD
Although Grant was outwardly a clean-cut light-comic actor, he struggled with depression throughout his life. Part of this unhappiness stemmed from his uneasy relationship with the fairer sex, a problem that may have sprung from losing his mother when he was just nine years old. (Family members told Grant his mother had either died or gone on vacation, but she'd actually been committed to the Country Home for Mental Defectives in Fishpond.) While Grant was quite the ladies' man on screen, he didn't fare quite so well in his own life. He was married five times, and the first four wives all left him.
In an effort to confront these problems and restore his mental health, Grant underwent a hundred or so LSD sessions. He started taking LSD under the supervision of doctors in 1963 when his third wife, actress Betsy Drake, hit the road. According to Grant, when he took LSD and talked to a psychiatrist he "went through rebirth," and although he discouraged the recreational drug culture that emerged later in the 60s, he remained firmly convinced that LSD helped him come to terms with his issues. In fact, Grant felt so grateful for the breakthroughs he had with LSD that he left $10,000 in his will to the doctor who had overseen the treatments.
5. He Was No Fan of Chevy Chase
It sounds ridiculous now, but when Chevy Chase was first starting to make his splash in show business, people compared him to Cary Grant. During a September 1980 interview on Tom Snyder's talk show Tomorrow, host Snyder favorably compared guest Chase to Grant. Chase responded, "I understand he was a homo. He was brilliant. What a gal!"
Chase's comments addressed the long-standing Hollywood rumor that Grant was bisexual, and Grant was less than amused. He sued Chase for $10 million for slander the following day, and the pair eventually settled out of court. (Grant allegedly received a $1 million payment from Chase for the ill-chosen comment.) Grant, who was 76 at the time, told the media, "True or untrue, I'm old enough not to care."
'5 Things You Didn't Know About...' appears every Friday. Read the previous installments here..