Thursday, October 8, 2020

Scott Eyman Discusses His New Biography "Cary Grant: A Brilliant Disguise"

On October 20th, Simon & Schuster will publish Scott Eyman's new biography Cary Grant: A Brilliant Disguise. Eyman, a former literary critic for The Palm Beach Post, has written the bestsellers Pieces of My Heart and You Must Remember This (both with Robert Wagner) and John Wayne: The Life and Legend. He has also written biographies about about Hollywood greats such as Cecil B. DeMille, Louis B. Mayer, John Ford, Ernst Lubitsch and Henry Fonda and James Stewart. We had the opportunity to ask him some questions about his new book on the life of screen legend Cary Grant.

Café:  There have been numerous Cary Grant biographies, including ones by his daughter Jennifer Grant and ex-wife Dyan Cannon. What inspired you to write Cary Grant: A Brilliant Disguise?

Scott Eyman:  Reading his diary. He kept it for about five months in 1918, when he was 14 years old. There is no mention of his mother, one or two passing references to his father. Most of the time he’s cutting school to go to the movies or the music hall. Especially the music hall. What struck me was how self-contained he was, and how indifferent he was to any family or society expectations. He was a street kid. Later that year, he made his break by getting kicked out of school and apprenticing with a troupe of acrobats. It was going to be a performer’s life for Archie.   

Café:  You include a great quote from the actor: “I have spent the greater part of my life fluctuating between Archie Leach and Cary Grant, unsure of each, suspecting each.” Why do you think Archie Leach felt the need to “create” the Cary Grant persona that he displayed in public and in movies?

SE:  Archie was born working class and felt he had to fit into the niche of currently popular actors of the time, who ran to elegance – Noel Coward, Leslie Howard, etc. Given his looks, it was a perfectly rational decision. Also, it was a way of building a barrier between himself and his beginnings. That said, he often made a point of talking about Bristol, and occasionally worked “Archie Leach” into scripts as an in-joke. He wanted people to realize that he was in on the joke, and I think it was also his way of signaling he wasn’t a phony or hypocrite.

Café:   Do you believe that, in his later years, he became more comfortable reconciling his private and public lives? If so, what drove this change?

SE:  Very much so. It was a combination of LSD and quitting show business. LSD worked for him in a way that therapy hadn’t, enabled him to reconcile with himself. When he retired at the age of 62, he no longer had to worry about being exposed as an imposter, which I think was an ongoing cause of anxiety.

Café:  You state that Cary Grant was conservative in choosing roles, turning down challenging ones in films such as Tender Is the Night (1962) and The Cincinnati Kid (1965). What do you think would have been the impact on his career had he accepted riskier roles?

Cary Grant in None But the Lonely Heart.
SE:  He would be regarded less as a screen archetype and consum-mate comedian, more as a consummate actor. But he was psychologically conservative. Once he established a persona and discovered how the public liked to see him, he rarely (None But the Lonely Heart, Father Goose, etc.) deviated from it. That said, I don’t know that he regretted turning down the likes of A Star is Born or The Third Man. I’m inclined to doubt it. He had his reasons, and they had to do with his psychological needs.

Café It was interesting to learn that Grant was also involved behind the scenes in making films, suggesting a remake of the British film Mandy, sending scripts to director Leo McCarey, etc. Had his career started later, could you envision him as a star/filmmaker along the lines of Clint Eastwood or Warren Beatty?

SE:  His timing was wrong for that. There were no equivalents of those careers in that era because the system wasn’t set up to service actors who wanted control of their careers. It was a classic tradeoff: we give you all this money and in return you do what we want you to do. The system began to change in the 1950s, with people like Burt Lancaster taking almost complete control of what they did. And Grant moved into production late in that decade, but that was about keeping more money, not creative experimentation. 

Café What do you consider Cary Grant’s best film performances and why?

SE:  Notorious and None But the Lonely Heart, because he dares to expose his anger and general prickliness. I love To Catch a Thief as a star turn. Among the comedies, Bringing Up Baby and His Girl Friday. And despite the fact that he hated his performance, I love two-thirds of Arsenic and Old Lace if only for his energy and technique, at least until I get exhausted during the last half-hour. 

Café You’ve written biographies of John Wayne, James Stewart and Henry Fonda, Louis B. Mayer, Cecil DeMille, and other great actors and filmmakers. Who intrigues you as a future subject for a biography?

SE:  No comment. Lots of writers like to talk about what they’re writing, but I’m not one of them. I find it reduces my energy about a project, the build-up of internal compression I need to write a book. Suffice it to say that the next one will be about one of the major artists of the 20th century.


Cary Grant: A Brilliant Disguise (576 pages) is available for booksellers such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

2 comments:

  1. Can't wait to read this. Like so many who are fans of classic film, I have long been smitten with Cary Grant. And Scott Eyman's bio of John Wayne is excellent - in-depth and objective. I imagine he approached his bio of CG the same way. Great job, Rick!

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  2. I read in an earlier biogrpahy of Grant that one time he sneaked into a theatre to watch one of his own films and commented that the image of him on the screen was impressive. Then he thought to himself that he wished he could be like that person in real life.

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