Conversations with Classic Film Stars: Interviews from Hollywood's Golden Era

In 1980, journalist James Bawden interviewed movie legend Cary Grant, whose real name was Archie Leach and who had started his career the hard way -- in vaudeville:

Grant with Audrey Hepburn in Charade (1963)


"BAWDEN: Seeing the way people behave around you, is it still fun being Cary Grant?


"GRANT: I don't like to disappoint people. Because he's a completely made-up character and I'm playing a part. It's a part I've been playing a long time, but no way am I really Cary Grant. A friend told me once, 'I always wanted to be Cary Grant.' And I said, 'So did I.' In my mind's eye, I'm just a vaudevillian named Archie Leach. When somebody yells 'Archie' on the street I'll look up. I don't look up if somebody calls 'Cary.' So I think Cary Grant has done wonders for my life and I always want to give him his due.


"BAWDEN: But you don't always dress like this?


"GRANT: At home it's jeans or slacks. Once, when my daughter was lit­tle, I had to go to the chemist's late at night for a prescription to be filled. It was a rush and I was wearing jeans and the woman cashier looked at me askance and said, 'Oh, Mr. Grant -- how could you?' I got her message. I'd disappointed her and I guess I apologized.


"BAWDEN: Do you remember your reply when Encyclopaedia Britan­nica telegraphed you for information?


"GRANT: The telegram read, 'How old Cary Grant?' And I telegraphed back, "Old Cary Grant fine. How you?" My last batch of movies, I was being reviewed for how old I looked instead of how good or bad the movie was. ...


"BAWDEN: You're as famous for the movies you didn't make as for the movies you made. ... You ... turned down My Fair Lady [1964].


"GRANT: It was Rex Harrison's part. He'd done it on Broadway. And I was sorely tempted. Jack Warner offered me $1 million plus a piece of the action. And the costars were to be Audrey Hepburn and Jimmy Cagney. When Jimmy refused to come out of retirement, I had my reason for not signing. I knew there would be a backlash, and Audrey felt it [because she took the part Julie Andrews had played opposite Harrison on Broadway.] I told Jack, 'Not only will I not do it, but if you don't use Rex I even won't go to see it.'


"BAWDEN: What was your life like in vaudeville?


"GRANT: As tough as anything. We'd work up to six performances a day and go on the all-night train to the next destination. Had to sleep in the coach car. Three or four of us would bunk in a single room. Meals were cans of beans heated on radiators. You'd wash clothes in the bathtub. I was a stilt walker. That was my specialty. But I also performed in comedy skits. When the troupe returned to England, I decided to stay [behind]. There was more promise of jobs in the U.S. and Canada.


"BAWDEN: It was a lonely life?


"GRANT: On the night trains, I'd look into the windows of the houses along the way and see people living ordinary lives. That was my goal. To live in my own home."


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