8 Surprising Facts About Cary Grant

Cary Grant is pictured in a publicity photo circa the 1940s.
Cary Grant is pictured in a publicity photo circa the 1940s. / Getty Images

If you’ve never heard of Archibald Leach, you probably recognize the face. Going by the stage name Cary Grant, Leach (1904-1986) was one of the biggest movie stars of the 20th century, deftly moving from madcap comedies like 1937’s The Awful Truth and 1938’s Bringing Up Baby to a long relationship with director Alfred Hitchcock for thrillers like 1941’s Suspicion and 1959’s North by Northwest. Take a look at some of the more intriguing facts of the actor’s life and career, including an offer to play James Bond and why he was so fond of LSD.

1. Cary Grant was a teenage runaway.

Born in Bristol, England, on January 18, 1904, Cary Grant’s childhood was anything but idyllic. His father, Elias, was a clothing presser who left his family to take up with another woman. When Grant was 10 years old, he was told that his mother, Elsie, was dead. In fact, Elsie had been committed to a psychiatric institution—a fact Grant wouldn’t learn for years. (He didn't see his mother again for two decades.) Desperate to escape his tumultuous home life, Grant joined a touring comedy troupe led by a man named Bob Pender as a juggler, forging a letter of permission that appeared to be signed by his father. Grant was obsessed with performing and cared little for school; he was eventually expelled for sneaking into the girls’ bathroom. After traveling with the group and learning skills like pantomiming and stilt-walking, he followed them to New York City in 1920 at the age of 16 to pursue a career in show business.

2. Cary Grant was almost Cary Lockwood.

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After stints in vaudeville and Broadway over the next decade, Grant—then still known as Archie Leach—decided to head to Los Angeles to assess his potential for a career in the film industry. B.P. Schulberg, then the head of Paramount, met Grant at a dinner party and invited him to do a screen test. When it was obvious that Grant’s looks and charm translated well to motion pictures, Paramount decided to place him under contract. But executives weren’t fond of his given name. Grant’s friends, including King Kong star Fay Wray, suggested he use Cary Lockwood. The executives liked the name Cary but thought Lockwood was too long. After running down a list of last names, they settled on Grant—and by the end of the 1930s and thanks to hits like 1937’s Topper and 1939's Gunga Din, Grant’s name was known to millions of moviegoers. (He didn’t completely abandon his old name; he dubbed his dog Archibald.)

3. Cary Grant was offered the role of James Bond.

Though he was born in England, Grant became an American citizen in 1942. As a result, he would have been an intriguing choice for the role of British spy James Bond when filmmakers were casting 1962’s Dr. No, the first big-screen adaptation of the Ian Fleming novels. Grant was close friends with Bond producer Albert “Cubby” Broccoli; he was even best man at Broccoli's wedding. Their relationship made it inevitable Broccoli would offer him the role. It was ideal casting, but two things hindered the deal. For one, Grant refused to commit to a multi-picture contract, as was eventually required of Sean Connery. For another, Grant was already 58 years old. So he passed.

4. Cary Grant really loved LSD.

In an era where film stars led closely-guarded private lives and studios were vigilant in protecting the images of their biggest names, Grant had no reservations about professing his love for psychedelic drugs. Treating it as therapy in part for unresolved issues concerning his mother, Grant took LSD weekly in 1958 and may have had as many as 100 trips; he referred to his subsequent enlightenment as a “rebirth” and “unscrewing myself.” Grant's use of LSD reportedly persuaded Timothy Leary to experiment with it.

5. Cary Grant had a wicked sense of humor.

Grant’s onscreen persona was often marked with a kind of wry humor. It’s an attitude he apparently carried offscreen, as well. When a newspaper editor wanted to run a story on Grant but wasn’t sure about his age, they sent him a telegram: HOW OLD CARY GRANT? Grant received the message and replied: OLD CARY GRANT FINE. HOW YOU?

6. Cary Grant enjoyed snipping the buttons off his shirts.

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Grant was perplexed when someone who used to work for him wrote an article that described Grant cutting the buttons off of his discarded dress shirts. It was presented as a personality quirk, but Grant thought the practice was perfectly normal. “There are two good reasons why I do it,” he told The New York Times in 1977. “First, my shirts were made with a particular kind of button and I wanted to save them to replace buttons that fell off of other shirts. Secondly, the house cleaner liked my old shirts as dusters because they were soft, and the buttons, if left on, would have scratched the furniture.”

7. Cary Grant kept a bank vault in his home.

Owing to the German bombing of the UK in World War I, which saw all of his childhood mementos destroyed, Grant was determined not to let anything happen to his family’s archives. His daughter, Jennifer Grant, wrote in 2011 that her father kept a “bank-quality vault” in the family’s home, where all of their photos, letters, and home movies were stored. She drew upon the files for her memoir, Good Stuff: A Reminiscence of My Father, Cary Grant, published that same year.

8. Cary Grant retired early.

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Following his role in 1966’s Walk, Don’t Run, Grant decided he was done performing. Though he was only 62 at the time, he retired from acting and entered a new chapter of his life as a businessman. He agreed to step into an executive role for the Faberge cosmetics company—a decision he said he made because it allowed him unlimited use of the company’s private plane—and also served on the board of MGM. Surprisingly, he was also fond of taking his old films out as part of a touring road show, screening them and then answering questions from the audience. He died November 29, 1986 in Davenport, Iowa, shortly before he was expected to appear at one of the engagements.

Asked how he’d like to be remembered four months before his death, Grant was succinct. “As a congenial fellow who didn’t rock the boat, I suppose,” he said.