Cary Grant in Books and Bristol

The Daily — Oct 21, 2020
Cary Grant

Every two years, Bristol celebrates one of its favorite native sons, Archibald Leach, the vaudeville performer who went to Hollywood and reinvented himself as Cary Grant. This year’s Cary Comes Home Festival will, of course, be a virtual event, slated for November 20 through 22, though, to an extent, it’s already underway. The site is rich with audiovisual essays, illustrated talks, and conversations with scholars and authors—and it’s growing.

Festival director Charlotte Crofts has recorded a Zoom conversation with Mark Glancy, who explains that, with his new book, Cary Grant: The Making of a Hollywood Legend, he aims to counter the prevailing perception of Grant as a man whose public persona belied his private life. The debonair hail fellow well met we see on the screen was portrayed in the slew of biographies that appeared in the fifteen years or so after his death in 1986 as a dark bundle of deep insecurities. Glancy, who has been digging deep into archives in Los Angeles and Bristol, argues that the truth is more complicated, that the man had his bright sides as well.

It’s hard not to wonder what Glancy might have to say about Scott Eyman’s new book, Cary Grant: A Brilliant Disguise. “Biographers believe that lives resolve into themes, and the theme of Cary Grant’s life was anxiety, because he always had difficulty assimilating Archie’s angers and fears into his prodigious creation of a predominantly suave acting alter ego,” writes Eyman in a brief introduction at Air Mail. “He made no secret about any of this. His famous line—‘Everybody wants to be Cary Grant. Even I want to be Cary Grant’—was not a joke. Rather, it was an admission.”

Eyman has written books on the friendship between Henry Fonda and James Stewart, on the advent of sound in the movies, the style of Hollywood’s golden age, and on the lives of John Wayne, Cecil B. DeMille, John Ford, Louis B. Mayer, Mary Pickford, and Ernst Lubitsch. In Cary Grant, Eyman “supplies what feels like the ‘true gen’—the real lowdown—on the directors, producers, and studio heads with whom Cary Grant worked,” writes Joseph Epstein in his review for the Wall Street Journal.

At North Shore Movies, Sean Burns finds that Eyman “paints the invention of Cary Grant as a triumph of discipline and sheer force of will, with the handsome up-and-comer shedding his Cockney accent for that unplaceable mid-Atlantic purr, fastidiously studying comedy with an athlete’s approach to replicating results. Grant was one of the few Hollywood stars who watched his own movies not in Bel Air circuit screening rooms but in actual theaters with regular folks, studying the cause-and-effect of gestures and motions. His apparently effortless timing a matter of strict, scientific rigor, Grant put the most work into making it all look easy.”

Cary Comes Home is hosting Some Versions of Cary Grant, a talk delivered by James Naremore, the scholar and author of several books, including Acting in the Cinema. Naremore analyzes the variety of performance styles in Grant’s movies, and for supplementary reading, we might turn to Luc Moullet’s meticulous breakdown of Grant’s tics and techniques in his 1993 book, Politique des acteurs.

The theme of this year’s festival is the journey, as 2020 marks the hundredth anniversary of Grant’s transatlantic voyage with the Pender Troupe of acrobatic and comedic performers to New York. He was only sixteen, but he decided to stay, delivering stunts and punchlines all around the country before breaking through, first on Broadway, and then in Hollywood. The Journeys of Cary Grant: An Audiovisual Celebration is a collection of video essays copresented by the festival and the Video Essay Podcast. Six entries are already up and the call is out for more.

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