8 Surprising Facts About Cary Grant

Getty Images
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 film 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 wasn’t one for commitment: He left his family to take up with another woman. When Grant was 10 years old, Elias told him his mother, Elsie, was gone. In fact, Elsie had been committed to a psychiatric institution—a fact Grant wouldn’t learn for years. (He would not see his mother again for two decades.) Desperate to escape a toxic 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. Obsessed with performing, Grant cared little for school and 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.

British film actor Cary Grant, originally named Archibald Leach (1904 - 1986)
Evening Standard/Getty Images

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. Running down a list of last names, they settled on Grant. 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.

English-born actor Cary Grant (1904 - 1986) leaves his London hotel, 24th April 1946
Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Grant was perplexed when someone who used to work for him wrote an article that depicted Grant cutting the buttons off of his discarded dress shirts. Presented as a personality quirk, 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.

Cary Grant, the stage name of Archibald Leach (1904 - 1986), the English born Hollywood star and film actor
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Following his role in 1966’s Walk, Don’t Run, Grant decided he was done performing. Though he was only 62 at the time, Grant 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.

When Mississippi Once Banned Sesame Street

Children's Television Workshop/Courtesy of Getty Images
Children's Television Workshop/Courtesy of Getty Images

Since it began airing in the fall of 1969, Sesame Street has become an indelible part of millions of children's formative years. Using a cast of colorful characters like Big Bird, Bert, Ernie, and Oscar the Grouch, along with a curriculum vetted by Sesame Workshop's child psychologists and other experts, the series is able to impart life lessons and illustrate educational tools that a viewer can use throughout their adolescence. You would be hard-pressed to find anyone—even Oscar—who would take issue with the show’s approach or its mission statement.

Yet that’s exactly what happened in early 1970, when a board of educational consultants in Mississippi gathered, polled one another, and decided that Sesame Street was too controversial for television.

The series had only been on the air for a few months when the newly formed Mississippi Authority for Educational Television (also known as the State Commission for Educational Television) held a regularly scheduled meeting in January 1970. The board had been created by the state legislature with appointees named by Governor John Bell Williams to evaluate shows that were set to air on the state’s Educational Television, or ETV, station. The five-member panel consisted of educators and private citizens, including a teacher and a principal, and was headed up by James McKay, a banker in Jackson, Mississippi.

McKay’s presence was notable for the fact that his father-in-law, Allen Thompson, had just retired after spending 20 years as mayor of Jackson. Highly resistant to integration in the city during his tenure in office, Thompson was also the founder of Freedom of Choice in the United States, or FOCUS, an activist group that promoted what they dubbed “freedom of choice” in public schools—a thinly veiled reference to segregation. Mississippi, long the most incendiary state in the nation when it came to civil rights, was still struggling with the racial tension of the 1960s. Systemic racism was an issue.

Entering this climate was Sesame Street, the show pioneered by Joan Ganz Cooney, a former journalist and television producer who became the executive director of the Children’s Television Workshop. On the series, the human cast was integrated, with black performers Matt Robinson and Loretta Long as Gordon and Susan, respectively, appearing alongside white actors Jada Rowland and Bob McGrath. The children of Sesame Street were also ethnically diverse.

Zoe (L) and Cookie Monster (R) are pictured in New York City in November 2009
Astrid Stawiarz, Getty Images

This appeared to be too much for the Authority, which discussed how lawmakers with control over ETV’s budget—which had just been set at $5,367,441—might find the mixed-race assembly offensive. The panel's participants were all white.

The board pushed the discussion aside until April 17, 1970, when they took an informal poll and decided, by a margin of three votes against two, to prohibit ETV from airing Sesame Street—a show that came free of charge to all public television stations. (The decision affected mainly viewers in and around Jackson, as the station had not yet expanded across the state and was not expected to do so until the fall of 1970.)

The members who were outvoted were plainly unhappy with the outcome and leaked the decision to The New York Times, which published a notice of the prohibition days later along with a quote from one of the board members.

“Some of the members of the commission were very much opposed to showing the series because it uses a highly integrated cast of children,” the person, who did not wish to be named, said. “Mainly the commission members felt that Mississippi was not yet ready for it.”

The reaction to such a transparent concession to racism was swift and predictably negative, both in and out of Mississippi. Board members who spoke with press, usually anonymously, claimed the decision was a simple “postponing” of the show, not an outright ban. The fear, they said, was that legislators who viewed ETV as having progressive values might shut down the project before it had a chance to get off the ground. It was still possible for opponents to suffocate it before it became part of the fabric of the state’s television offerings.

The concern was not entirely without merit. State representative Tullius Brady of Brookhaven said that ETV exerted “a subtle influence” on the minds of children and that the Ford Foundation, which funded educational programming, could use its influence for “evil purposes.” Other lawmakers had previously argued against shows that promoted integration.

Grover is pictured at AOL Studios in New York City in May 2015
Slaven Vlasic, Getty Images

Regardless of how the decision was justified, many took issue with it. In an anonymous editorial for the Delta Democrat-Times, a critic wrote:

“But Mississippi’s ETV commission won’t be showing it for the time being because of one fatal defect, as measured by Mississippi’s political leadership. Sesame Street is integrated. Some of its leading cast members are black, including the man who does much of the overt ‘teaching.’ The neighborhood of the ‘street’ is a mixed one. And all that, of course, goes against the Mississippi grain.”

Joan Ganz Cooney called the decision a “tragedy” for young people.

Fortunately, it was a tragedy with a short shelf life. The following month, the board reconvened and reversed its own informal poll result, approving of Sesame Street and agreeing that ETV could air it as soon as they received tapes of the program. Thanks to feeds from Memphis, New Orleans, and Alabama, Sesame Street could already be seen in parts of Mississippi. And thanks to the deluge of negative responses, it seemed pointless to try to placate politicians who still favored segregation.

In the fall of 1970, the Sesame Street cast appeared in person in Jackson and was met by representatives from the board, which helped to sponsor the live performance, though it’s not clear any apology was forthcoming.

Sesame Street would go on to win numerous awards and accolades over the proceeding 50 years, though it would not be the only children’s show to experience censorship on public television. In May 2019, ETV networks in Alabama and Arkansas refused to air an episode of the PBS animated series Arthur in which a rat and aardvark are depicted as a same-sex couple getting married.

Attention Movie Geeks: Cinephile Is the Card Game You Need Right Now


If you’ve got decades worth of movie trivia up in your head but nowhere to show it off, Cinephile: A Card Game just may be your perfect outlet. Created by writer, art director, and movie expert Cory Everett, with illustrations by Steve Isaacs, this game aims to test the mettle of any film aficionado with five different play types that are designed for different skill and difficulty levels.

For players looking for a more casual experience, Cinephile offers a game variety called Filmography, where you simply have to name more movies that a given actor has appeared in than your opponent. For those who really want to test their knowledge of the silver screen, there’s the most challenging game type, Six Degrees, which plays like Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, with the player who finds the fewest number of degrees between two actors getting the win.

When you choose actors for Six Degrees, you’ll do so using the beautifully illustrated cards that come with the game, featuring Hollywood A-listers past and present in some of their most memorable roles. You’ve got no-brainers like Uma Thurman in Kill Bill (2003) and Arnold Schwarzenegger in Total Recall (1990) alongside cult favorites like Bill Murray from 2004's The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and Jeff Goldblum in The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension (1984). Of course, being a game designed for the true film buff, you’ll also get some deeper cuts like Helen Mirren from 1990’s The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover and Sean Connery in 1974's Zardoz. There are 150 cards in all, with expansion packs on the way.

Cinephile is a labor of love for Everett and Isaacs, who originally got this project off the ground via Kickstarter, where they raised more than $20,000. Now it’s being published on a wider scale by Clarkson Potter, a Penguin Random House group. You can get your copy from Amazon now for $20.

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we choose all products independently and only get commission on items you buy and don't return, so we're only happy if you're happy. Thanks for helping us pay the bills!