Ambitious Summer Reading List: Cary Grant By Marc Eliot (2004)

We just got back from a week-long vacation and I’ve finished another book from the Ambitious Summer Reading List! First, I knocked out The Death-Bringers by Dell Shannon, then I finally finished Stephen King’s Desperation, I read all of Marc Eliot’s Cary Grant in about three days and I’m now nudging my way into Alistair MacLean’s When Eight Bells Toll, but that’s a story for another post.

I decided to buy this bio on the Hollywood legend after reading George Hamilton’s fascinating autobiography a few years back. It’s been a while since I read that one, but I have this vague memory of Hamilton mentioning how Grant rode onto a golf course on a horse or something along those lines. It must have been enough to capture my curiosity, because I ordered the book…and then it sat in a box for several years.  

When putting together this season’s stack of books I wanted to read, Cary Grant was an easy pull because I’ve been getting into classic films lately, mostly because I’ve become a huge fan of the You Must Remember This podcast. I don’t believe host Karina Longworth’s covered Grant in great detail, but it’s all part of the same thing.

Writing about biographies is kind of strange because you’re not turning a critical eye towards the story beats so much as how they’re presented and the amount of interesting tidbits you walk away with. However, like Hamilton, Grant’s life itself featured enough wild adventures to keep me glued to this book. He started out as a kind of acrobat in his native England and wound up touring the States where he decided to stay and took up shop in New York City for years. Never a wildly successful stage actor, he eventually made his way out west and became one of the biggest stars ever. EVER.

But it wasn’t a meteoric rise by any means. He kicked around the studio system for a while and then made the big timer baller move to go freelance at a time when pretty much no one did that. As interesting as all that was, I was even more intrigued by his personal life. As a boy, he was told his mom died, but she was actually in an asylum. He learned the truth after 15 years or so and then got to know his mom again, though she had trouble remembering him.

He also lived a fairly open life as a bisexual man during his time in Hollywood. He lived with an actor named Randolph Scott for years, but also married several different women. The dynamic here is very interesting because the definition of being out was a lot different back then. He didn’t come out in the way we think of it today, but he and Scott went around together to all kinds of parties and restaurants and the like. But, he also had to keep up a certain image for the public as guided by the studios (when he worked for them). He also dealt with gossip columnists that were also mostly run by the studios. The whole thing just sounds exhausting, but he seemed to take in stride, as all part of the gig.

Upon completing this book, I immediately looked up every Cary Grant movie on Amazon Video and Netflix and added them to my queue. I haven’t gotten around to watching any of them yet — though I did happen to check out To Catch A Thief a few months back on the ever-changing TCM On Demand — but am very excited to round out what I read with what was on the screen. I was also so impressed with how Eliot crafted this story and poetically presented it that I ordered two more of his books Burt! The Unauthorized Biography from 1982 and 1993’s Walt Disney: Hollywood’s Dark Prince.

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