CARY GRANT: 'I DO WHAT MAKES ME HAPPY'
By Guy Flatley
When I interviewed him for The New York Times in 1973, Cary Grant struck me as witty, urbane, extraordinarily well-preserved and a bit daffy. Of course, it's possible he was putting me on. Whatever the case, he was uniquely charming, and I feel privileged to have spent an hour or so in his company. --GF
"Do you have children?" asks the soft-spoken man with snow-white hair.
"Yes, a girl and a boy."
"You did it the right way," he says, returning to a shelf the third portrait he has shown me of his one and only child.
She's 7 and beautiful; her papa is pushing 70 and handosme. He is also the most celebrated personality on the board of directors of Faberge--a firm dedicated to the pursuit of happy scents--as well as a top executive of Western Airlines and a founding father of an idyllic, get-away-from-it-all-if-you-can afford-it community that is being set up near Shannon, Ireland.
And he is, he insists, a former movie star.
"If I had known then what I know now... if I had not been so utterly stupid or selfish … I would have had a hundred children and I would have built a ranch to keep them on."
He could have easily afforded it, since his fortune is estimated at a modest $25-million. But he never built that ranch, perhaps because he was so busy building an indelible screen image–-the image of the passionate but poised lover, the man among men and, above all, the suave funnyman who was nobody’s fool.
The elusive, inimitable Cary Grant style, a smoothly male style which retained its unique grace under phenomenal female pressure-- from predatory Mae West purring "You can be had" to him in "She Done Him Wrong," to madcap Katharine Hepburn (and her wayward leopard) stalking him in "Bringing Up Baby," to fledgling femme fatale Rita Hayworth bedeviling him in "Only Angels Have Wings," to spunky ex-spouse Irene Dunne sabotaging his honeymoon with Gail Patrick in "My Favorite Wife," to naughty Ingrid Bergman nibbling his ear in "Notorious," to bebopping Shirley Temple, bent on making him her best beau in "The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer," to mischief-making Marilyn Monroe taking him for a joy-ride in "Monkey Business," to blue-blooded Grace Kelly burning a red-hot flame for him in "To Catch a Thief," to super-virgin Doris Day smothering him with candy kisses in "That Touch of Mink."
And it seems only yesterday that he smooched and sparred with the likes of Dietrich, Bankhead, Harlow, Lombard, Jean Arthur, Rosalind Russell, Sylvia Sidney and Myrna Loy. Yet today, this bustling, smartly-dressed industrialist would prefer talking about a new movie, a non-Cary Grant movie. He is settled down in his Manhattan pad –- a spacious suite at the Warwick, a hideaway once called home by Marion Davies –- to chat about "A Touch of Class," partly because he feels the George Segal-Glenda Jackson comedy is a delicious trifle in the sophisticated but screwball tradition of such Grant goodies as "The Awful Truth," "Bringing Up Baby," "His Girl Friday," and "The Philadelphia Story," and partly because "A Touch of Class" is a Brut production, and Brut is the showbiz baby of father Fabergé.
If you’ve been reading the gossip columns lately, however, or scanning the ads on the movie pages, you probably think "A Touch of Class" was produced by Joe Levine, a not excessively timid showman who is merely functioning as the distributor of the film for Brut.
"Despite what it says on the billboards, Joe Levine did not produce the movie," Grant says emphatically. "If anyone is responsible for "A Touch of Class," it is Mel Frank, the man who wrote it and directed it. I like Joe Levine, but I do believe it’s a habit of his to take credit when he really shouldn’t, something that applies even to ‘The Graduate.’ "
Be it Brut or be it Levine, "A Touch of Class" has a touch of sass about sex that would have been strictly taboo in the days when the Hays Office forced Grant to keep at least one foot on the bedroom floor. Take, for example, the scene in which cheating husband George Segal beds down in a Spanish hotel room with liberated divorcèe Glenda Jackson, only to have his aching back go kaput at the crucial moment. And a few scenes later –- after the frantic couple has finally succeeded in making it –-Glenda gives George a not-so-gentle appraisal of his sexual performance that would have brought a blush to the cheeks of Mae West in "She Done Him Wrong."
"In the old days, we might have liked to be that explicit," smiles Grant, "but I’m not so sure we would have had the courage."
And who can be sure that such courageous sex will scoot by small-town censors, now that the Supreme Court has given them the power to decide what is and what is not obscene?
"I’m damned if I know where I stand on the Supreme Court ruling," says Grant. "I mean, what makes one word for something obscene, and another word for the very same act not obscene? As for nudity and the visual depiction of sex . . . well, that’s part of our anatomy, isn’t it? It’s the method by which we are born, so it should be thought beautiful. I just don’t know what to make of it all.
"It does seem to me that if a man wants to see a film that reveals everything, it should be up to him. I myself have never seen a pornographic movie, except for ‘Last Tango in Paris.’ They had a big charity screening in Hollywood -- $100, deductible –- and everyone wore black tie. I went with a very distinguished crowd, including Norton Simon and his wife, Jennifer Jones. And I’ll tell you the truth, I don’t know precisely what I thought of ‘Last Tango in Paris,’ except that it did seem crude to me. I really don’t know why Marlon made it."
Grant would never dream of doing a new-fangled "Tango."
But he has been tempted, from time to time, to waltz back into the limelight he left in 1966, soon after "Walk, Don’t Run" –- a flat remake of "The More the Merrier" –- caused customers to run, not walk, away from the box office. "I was asked to do the movie of ‘Sleuth,’ but in the end I decided it would be too much work. I mean, I’ve done all that –- almost 70 times – and it’s a tiresome and very strenuous business."
He was also Jack Warner’s pick for the plum part of Professor Henry Higgins in "My Fair Lady." "At that time, I was considered more commercial than Rex Harrison, but the thing that stopped me from taking the role was the fact that I had seen the show on stage three times and I just didn’t think anyone could do it better than Rex. Jack Warner kept pushing, though, so finally I said to him, 'Look, Rex does it; use him.’ Actually, I always thought the movie should have been done with Julie Andrews, too, although I adore Audrey Hepburn and had a great time with her in ‘Charade.’ I just think that once something has been done to perfection, why interfere with success?"
But isn’t there some role that Grant would like to bring to cinematic perfection? "I don’t wish to sound ungrateful, but the truth is I have very little to do with movies anymore. I seldom go to the movies. I realize that they fill an enormous gap for many people, but not for me. I am more attracted to the world of reality. I won’t say that I’ll never make another picture, because I can’t look into the future. I guess you can say that I’m retired from the movies until some writer comes up with a character who is deaf and dumb and sitting in a wheel chair. At my age . . ."
"Why are you so sensitive about your age?"
"I didn’t say I was sensitive about my age."
"I don’t want to misquote you."
"Go ahead, I give you permission to misquote me. I improve in misquotation. But I’m not sensitive about my age. The fact is, no one is delighted about getting old, but you have no real choice but to go along with it. If one is too eager to pursue his lost youth, it becomes immediately evident."
Now that he has put his romantic movie past behind him and become a big business man…
"What makes you think I wasn’t always a big business man? Do you know of any other business where a man can earn a million dollars in 10 weeks?"
"Can I ask you how much you make at Fabergé?"
"Certainly you can ask, but I won’t tell you."
He’d rather tell me about the astonishingly lovely Jennifer, the daughter of his otherwise disastrous marriage to actress Dyan Cannon. Newspaper accounts of the custody dispute made for depressing reading, and it is hard to imagine that any child could survive that sort of trauma without psychological bruises.
"That’s going to be all right," Grant says. "Jennifer and I level with each other. She finds it difficult to leave me, and she also finds it difficult to leave her mother. Any court that can handle that situation has to have the wisdom of Solomon. Her mother and I are trying to handle it the best we can, and I think the love we feel for Jennifer will be reflected. The press builds these things up so, using words like battling and fighting. Nobody’s fighting; it’s just that when you have a point of disagreement which you cannot resolve, you must go to the man who will arbitrate –- the judge."
Miss Cannon went to the judge and told him that her husband had been physically abusive to her in front of the servants. Would Grant care to comment on his alleged breach of domestic etiquette?
"Oh, I think those things speak for themselves, don’t you? So many unpleasant things come up in a divorce case."
One of the more unpleasant –- and surprising –- things pointed out by Miss Cannon was the fact that Grant was uncommonly keen on LSD.
"My intention in taking LSD was to make myself happy. A man would be a fool to take something that didn’t make him happy. I took it with a group of men, one of whom was Aldous Huxley. We deceived ourselves by calling it therapy, but we were truly interested in how this chemical could help humanity. I found it a very enlightening experience, but it’s like alcohol in one respect: a shot of brandy can save your life, but a bottle of brandy can kill you. And that’s what happened when a lot of young people started taking LSD, which is why it became necessary to make it illegal. I wouldn’t dream of taking LSD now; I don’t need it now."
Not only are illicit drugs a thing of the past, but so –- apparently –- is the bitterness between Grant and Miss Cannon. In fact, he has just returned from personally delivering Jennifer to her mother in Canada, where she is now making a movie. But then Grant has always striven to maintain a good-neighbor policy with his former wives, from Virginia Cherrill (1933-1935) to Barbara Hutton (1942-1945) to Betsy Drake (1949-1962).
"Virginia is happily remarried," he says affectionately of Miss Cherrill, the former actress who is best remembered as the enchanting blind flower seller in Charlie Chaplin’s "City Lights." "She lives in Santa Barbara now, but every once in a while she comes to Los Angeles and we have a long chat, gabbing about one thing and another. During my last divorce, Virginia called and said, ‘If you need a character witness, I’ll come right down there and give you one.’ "
Nor were there ever bad feelings between Grant and Barbara Hutton. "Barbara and I talked often after the divorce. That’s the way it should be, don’t you think? The difficulty in going through any divorce is that the lawyers must do all the talking."
But of all his ex-wives, the one who has remained closest is Betsy Drake [pictured at left], Grant’s vivacious leading lady in two slight but engaging comedies, "Every Girl Should Be Married" and "Room for One More." "I’ll be talking to Betsy later today, as a matter of fact. She’s applying for her doctorate in psychology at U.C.L.A. Betsy was a delightful comedienne, but I don’t think that Hollywood was ever really her milieu. She wanted to help humanity, to help others help themselves."
Feminists might well applaud Grant’s pride in his ex-wife’s pursuit of a meaningful career, but they would find troublesome his assertion that the most natural thing a woman can do is to marry when young and to have children just as soon as possible.
"As far as I know, most animal life behaves in that manner," Grant says. "They mate when they find they are biologically able. But we’ve thrown the world out of whack; we prevent young people from having children when they are ready, which is when a boy is about 13 and a girl achieves menstruation.
"In our competitive society, parents instill in children the need to succeed. Since they’re not permitted to get jobs when they are 14, they can’t support themselves or the children they might have. So what are they to do? The religions tell them they shouldn’t mate until they get married, that anyone who does is bad. But it’s not that way in the South Seas; there is no need for status there, no need for the latest bellbottoms. They go to bed when the animals do, they pick leaves from the trees to protect their genital organs, they make love when the mood strikes them, and the community takes care of the children.
"You can’t suppress young people. I know I felt the need of a girl when I was 12 or 13 –- I think everybody does. Yet our society sets out to divorce boys and girls. They even have bucket seats in cars now, so you can’t neck in a drive-in. Just the same, I think our young people are getting it all together. Not that I think you should be making love all the time –- who can do it all the time? Though I do try."
Does that mean that Grant has a steady girl, if that is not too old-fashioned a way of putting it?
"That does sound a bit old-fashioned, but if you mean is there one special girl that I see all the time, the answer is no. Whatever comes my way, comes my way; whatever happens, happens."
In politics, as in sex, Grant does not go steady these days. "I don’t always vote on the same ticket; I vote for the man I think will do the best job. I have supported President Nixon in the past because I think he has done some wonderful things. He stopped the war in Vietnam, and he brought 550,000 men home smoothly. He has created friendship with the Russians and with the Chinese, as compared with the fiasco of the Bay of Pigs. I don’t know what to think about Watergate, except that I’m sorry about it and that I think the press has blown it up out of proportion. Not that I think bugging should be excused –- I wouldn’t want my phone bugged –- but bugging has been used in Washington for many years."
Without doubt, Washington is situated this side of Paradise. Does Grant ever feel the urge to pocket his $25-million and trundle off to Tahiti?
"This is my Tahiti. I don’t put a great deal of effort into my work for Fabergé. I get up in the morning, go to bed at night, and occupy myself as best I can in between. I do what I want when I want. Once, in St. Louis, I knew a fellow who ran a whorehouse, simply because it made him happy," says the trim and tanned superstar-turned-tycoon. "Well, I do what makes me happy."
CLICK HERE TO READ MORE INTERVIEWS WITH PROMINENT FILM PERSONALITIES BY GUY FLATLEY AND DIANE BARONI.