Cary Grant: What you didn't know

     Millions have come to the U.S. to pursue the American dream and have endured much to have a chance to better their lot in life. Archibald Alexander Leach came from Bristol, England in 1920 and became a part of history in the Golden age of Hollywood. He epitomized the handsome, suave sophisticated leading man for decades. He arrived in Bristol on January 18, 1904, at 1:00 a.m. He was raised as an only child of Elsie and Elias Leach. He left this earth as Cary Grant one of the most famous actors in history. He had an older brother who died before he was born, and that death would haunt the family resulting in decisions and behavior with affected Cary his entire life.


      I grew up with only small references to him, he was a retired actor by the time I was able to perceive his presence. To me he was Cary Granite on the Flintstones, 30 minutes of Father Goose when I was eight, and as an adult the actor in North by Northwest. It was not until the internet, and You Tube old movies I became aware of him. Yet now after getting to know who he was and his work I consider him profoundly extraordinary as an artist and a person. In fact, Cary Grant is a national treasure whether you like his style or not.

     I was reluctant to tell his story as a person, but to honor him his story must be told. It seems to me at times we think those who are public do not deserve privacy. Since he has passed on, I will tell you parts of what I have read and learned from watching his movies. I have watched at least 25 of them from Sinners in the Sun to Walk, Don't Run.  For the blog I have utlized his own account and that of a biographer Scott Eyman along with that includes his story in his words.

      My own recovery has taught me it can be difficult to recover from trauma in childhood. Knowing that made me appreciate him more. If you have suffered and worked through it, you understand the incredible nature of his story.  He was raised with addiction, abandonment, and the profound grief of his mother. Cary had an older brother who passed before he was born, and his mother struggled with her grief. She struggled so much that his father committed his mother to a sanitarium, where she stayed for decades. Cary was told at first, she left and then she died. He was 9 years old at that time.

        Upon his death bed Cary’s father confessed his mother was still alive. Cary was about thirty-five, and it was just as his career was taking off in Hollywood. He later was reunited with a woman who he did not know and who did not recognize him. She lived until 1973 so there was time to get to know her later in life. Elsie was released and cared for financially by Cary, who visited her periodically. She lived on her own at least 20 years after that period.

.     After Cary’s mother was gone, he was left to fend for himself. His father was gone most of the time and had started another family in a nearby town. They were a financially modest family even before Elsie’s disappearance.  A teacher brought Cary around to the local theatres in Bristol. Cary ended up getting a job helping behind the scenes at 13-14 years old. He fell in love with performers, and the whole environment. It created a place to go where he was part of a “family.” A sentiment he felt much through his life. He said once that he thought acting drew orphans looking for a family. Cary got permission to join a troupe of acrobats The Pender Group when he was “released” from school. He first forged a signature, but later Pender and his father worked out a deal. Cary would learn a trade, be cared for, and send money home weekly. He ended up caring for his family in a way he never saw as a child. The group toured though England performing. It was the Pender Troup that would get Cary Grant to New York City during the time of Vaudeville. Grant trained and performed from the Vaudeville era until the modern movie era. He could play the piano, sing, and perform acrobatic stunts. He was also a stilt walker, and one of his early jobs was walking on stilts at Coney Island.

       Those around him said Cary was beautiful as a young boy. He was handsome when he got himself to Hollywood. The silent movies had given way to the “talkies” when motion pictures had sound. The famous Mae West was one of the first to help him get his start in the movies. He realized early on he need an approach and used his leading man good looks and skills for comedy, though he also acted in several dramatic movies as well. It was his personal struggles that drew me to his story. Some of the same issues were part of my own story, just without all the enormous success. To me it made his journey even more incredible.

        When you are deprived and neglected in childhood it sets up situations of survival and creates behavior that is not easily changed. He was considered miserly by many, others stated he was just frugal. What I recently read is that even though he stopped school at 14 he had the wisdom and savvy of an MBA. Cary considered himself a businessperson and managed his career as such, he made his own financial deals.

      As he aged, he struggled with his romantic relationships, so he tried to work it out with a therapist using L.S.D. It was an experimental procedure at the time. He used it for breakthroughs to hasten his recovery around women and relationships. There were rumors about his sexuality through his life. Two of his wives have come forward to dispute rumors. If he were alive today there would be no speculation, no one would care. His biographer Scott Eyman was thorough and covered it better than this blog. Frankly, it is not our business. He did end up having a good marriage with his last wife Barbara Harris who had nothing to do with show business, except him.

         Archie created a character with the name Cary Grant. He did what many who come from traumatic backgrounds do, he reinvented himself. Many in Hollywood change their names for the business it seems the producers did not think Archie Leach had the same draw. He was talented, and handsome. He created a tall, handsome, sophisticated, and well-dressed leading man with a mid-Atlantic style accent. He made sixty-five pictures, becoming rich and famous. Personally, he often struggled between Archie Leach and Cary Grant. Grant once said no wonder his marriages failed; his wives had married a hollow man.

        Friends said when he retired in the 1960’s he began to relax and became happier with himself in general. He had a daughter Jennifer at 62 with Dyan Cannon, but the marriage did not last. Jennifer was adored by her father, and he focused on being the kind of parent he did not have. He finally wed Barbara who created a loving marriage with him, and Cary Grant had found peace. He died November 30, 1986, and there is no actor his alive that is his equal.

     I appreciate how hard he worked to improve his lot in life and then himself as a person. It allowed me to understand his journey from a recovering perspective. Most people would have stopped with being rich and famous, but he worked too to improve himself. Though born in Bristol, England he became a citizen of the U.S. in the 1940’s. He is a tremendous example of the human spirit's determination to succeed. He came from very humble roots and overcame those situations, he rose to become a Hollywood legend. 

        Cary Grant, “I have made over sixty pictures and lived in Hollywood for more than 30 years. Thirty years spent in the stimulating company of industrious, excitable, dedicated, loving, serious, honest, good people. Casts and crews. I recognize and respect them. I know their faults and their insecurities. I hope they know and forgive mine. Thirty years ago, my hair was black and wavy. Today it is gray and bristly. But today people in cars, stopped alongside me at a traffic light, smile at me!”


The Ultimate Cary Grant Pages,

Eyman, Scott, (2020), Cary Grant: a Brilliant Disguise, Simon and Schuster