Jan 23, 2007

'It makes us happy just to look at him'

How Archie Leach became Cary Grant. He'd been in 20 movies before he became a star, Benjamin Schwarz, writes.
In middle age, Grant would write that in his youth he had lacked "daring and abandon," as well as "confidence and the courage to enjoy life." But now he abruptly came into his own. With his contract soon to expire at Paramount, he resolved to choose his own roles and shape his own career. In one of the gutsiest gambits in Hollywood history, he broke from the studio system, becoming the first freelance star in the modern era. He soon made Topper, a flat, "sophisticated" trifle, but one that made oodles of money and displayed Grant's heretofore unrevealed feel for light comedy. That same year, though, he also made The Awful Truth -- and seemingly from nowhere the Cary Grant persona gloriously appeared, fully formed. All at once there was the detached, distracted wit; the knowing charm; the arch self-mockery; the bemused awareness of his audience, with whom he was sharing a joke (a quality that made him simultaneously cool and warm); the perfectly timed stylized comedic movements—the cocked head, the double takes. And, not least, the good-natured ease combined with a genius for pitiless teasing (see the hilarious, similarly agonizing interrogations, in The Awful Truth and three years later in His Girl Friday, to which Grant's character subjects his former wife and her suitor -- the latter played on both occasions by that brilliant stooge Ralph Bellamy -- regarding their anticipated provincial home life).

See also Cary Grant's suit, about the remarkable outfit that Grant wore in North by Northwest.

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