Grant, Cary: Hollywood’s Ultimate Movie Star (Part II)

Part II

Peer Esteem and Oscar Gold

“Our thanks to Cary Grant, who keeps winning these things for other people,” said Peter Stone upon winning the Screenplay Oscar for  Father Goose.

It had been the talk of the movie industry for years: Why hadn’t Grant received a competitive Oscar Award .

It seems absurd that the roles for which Grant did receive nominations deviated from his specialized image. The first nomination was for “Penny Serenade,” a soap opera, and the second for “None But the Lonely Heart”, a faux proletarian melodrama.

It’s no coincidence that Grant earned nominations were during WWII, when most of Hollywood A-list actors were mobilized into the military. Grant lost on both occasions. In 1941, the Oscar went to Gary Cooper for the patriotic “Sergeant York”, and in 1944, Bing Crosby took the prize for portraying a sympathetic priest in “Going My Way.”

Grant suspected he would never win an Oscar, for the following reason: “Light comedy has little chance for an Oscar.”

He was right. As I showed in my book, “All About Oscar,” comedy as a genre and comedic performances are the most overlooked–least recognized–in Oscar’s annals. None of the great comedians, Charlie Chaplin included, had won a legit Oscar, and Jack Lemmon won his Oscar for a soupy melodrama, “Save the Tiger,” rather than for “Some Like It Hot,” or another Billy Wilder comedy.

At the 42nd Oscar ceremony, on April 7, 1970, Grant was given a Special Honorary Oscar, meant to cover three decades of continuous achievement. Presented by Frank Sinatra, the statue’s inscription read: “To Cary Grant, for his unique mastery of the art of screen acting with the respect and affection of his colleagues.”

Sinatra later explained: “No one has brought more pleasure to more people for many years than Cary Grant has, and nobody has done so many things so well.” The honorary Oscar was the show’s highlight and Grant’s only TV appearance.

Early Retirement

For two years in the early 1950s, Grant didn’t make any movies, claiming that he couldn’t find any suitable scripts. Most of his films after 1946 didn’t provide an outlet for his comic talents or abilities as leading man.

In 1953, when his box-office clout began to wan, he determined to retire. It was the period of the rebellious blue jeans worn by James Dean, Elvis Presley’s rock n’ roll, Method acting of Brando and Clift. Nobody seemed to care anymore about elegant comedy.

Two years had passed before Grant made another film. It was Hitchcock who brought Grant back to the screen in “To Catch a Thief,” which rejuvenated his career.

It was Hitchcock who was responsible for the second peak in Grant’s career, in the late 1950s.

Photo: Grant and Hitchcock, after the his retirement.

 

In the 1960s, most of Grant’s contemporaries either passed away or switched to playing character roles. Grant never played second bananas.

In his very last film, “Walk, Don’t Run” (1966), Jim Hutton and Samantha Eggar played the love interest, with Grant serving as their matchmaker. The scene in which Grant gives Eggar a glass of champagne and a kiss on the hand might have been the scene that signaled Grant’s end as glamorous image.

Grant finally realized that he was too old to play opposite young women like Eggar. If audiences only wanted him as a romantic figure, and he felt too old for that, the rational thing to do was to quit, which he did in 1966, at the age of 62.

Grant didn’t want to overstay his welcome, or let the audience get tired of him. He applied his long-held philosophy to his own career: “Always leave them laughing and wanting more.”

Grant’s Most Popular Films

Notorious 4,800,000*

The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer 4,500,000

I Was Male War Bride 4,100,000

To Catch a Thief 4,500,000

Pride and Passion 4,000,000

North By Northwest 6,450,000

Operation Petticoat 9,500,000

The Touch Of Mink 8,500,000

Charade 6,150,000

Father Goose 6,000,000

*In millions of dollars

Of Grant’s 72 movies, 28 had opened at Radio City Music Hall, the country’s most prestigious showcase. Grant’s production company made several films distributed by Universal. “Operation Petticoat,” for which his take amounted to $3 million, was most commercial film in terms of box-office.

Grant’s Directors

Grant had worked frequently with Hollywood’s best directors:

Howard Hawks (5 films)

Hitchcock (4)

Stanley Donen (4)

George Cukor (3)

Leo McCarey (3)

George Stevens (3).

Each of the aforementioned directors brought out a different facet, a different nuance of Grant’s rich screen personality.

Roles Grant Should But Didn’t Play:

Grant turned down some of Hollywood’s best-known roles–always for a reason.

Roman Holiday (later played by Gregory Peck), because “it was too similar” to what he had done before.

Sabrina (made with Humphrey Bogart), fearing he might look too old next to William Holden as his romantic rival.

A Star Is Born (James Mason) as it was “too close” to his own off-screen life at the time.

Grant on Grant’s Durability:

Two quotes sum up the values and methods that had kept Grant in the public eye for over three decades:

“The ones who have stayed the course are the ones who behave most nearly like themselves. Behave true to yourself and behave in tempo with the times. The public has an unfairly sense for spotting a flake.”

 

The Entertainer:

“There’s a great satisfaction in making people laugh.  If I can make people forget their worries for a couple of hours in a cinema, I consider I have achieved something that few politicians can ever do.”