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The life and times of Cary Grant revealed in new book

THERE’S something about Cary Grant that’s endured long enough to secure his status as one of our favourite film stars of all time.

THERE’S something about Cary Grant that’s endured long enough to secure his status as one of our favourite film stars of all time.

The debonair leading man who epitomised the golden days of Hollywood has never fallen out of favour, probably because few actors have come near to measuring up.

Grant was the complete package: handsome, talented, witty and sophisticated: a style icon who wore a dinner suit like a second skin.

Fans have been inundated with books about him since his death in 1986 at the age of 82 but few have been written by someone who could truly claim to know him.

Now a new edition of Nancy Nelson’s book Evenings With Cary Grant is – as we’re told in the blurb on its front – a medley of “recollections in his own words and by those who knew him best”.

A short foreword by the late star’s wife and daughter, Barbara and Jennifer Grant, gives further credibility to an engaging book which draws together reminiscences from 150 family and fellow actor friends whose names read like a who’s who of old-style Hollywood: James Stewart, Katharine Hepburn, Gregory Peck, Sophia Loren.

Then there’s Grant’s words, recollections, extracts from private papers and letters.

Nelson, who lives in New York, worked closely with the actor during the series of lectures he gave during the last years of his life.

It was she who first persuaded Grant to make those public appearances after his retirement and she accompanied him and Jennifer on the one-man shows, entitled A Conversation with Cary Grant.

This is not a biography, she insists, and indeed it reads more like a love letter. For fans it has everything, from those early days as Archie Leach at the Empire Theatre in his home town of Bristol which he left behind as a 16-year-old in 1920.

He set sail for New York – on the same ship, we discover, as Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford, returning from their honeymoon in Europe (just one example of the interesting little facts that make this account stand out from the others).

Besides the well-trodden track – including the “disappearance” during childhood of his mother, whom he discovered in later life was still alive, having been committed to a sanitorium for the mentally ill – there are anecdotes that freshen up the picture and offer insight into the multi-faceted man behind the public image. These serve to show a driven person, a perfectionist, who didn’t gossip and – as we’re told – “never wasted a dime yet shared his wealth with charities”.

He was humble and couldn’t for the life of him understand why anyone would be interested in hearing him talk.

Nelson’s book traces his rise to stardom, through films he made and feelings about leading ladies, such as Grace Kelly in Hitchcock’s To Catch A Thief and Sophia Loren, the Houseboat co-star he fell in love with.

Nancy Reagan recalls them talking about their daughters while actress Deborah Kerr was inspired to write a poem after his death.

Grant’s failed marriages and dabbles with LSD are all in there but this is an affectionate book, with great snippets like the fact he loved caviar.

:: Evenings with Cary Grant by Nancy Nelson is published by Applause, www.applausebooks.com

 

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