Bristol’s next salute to Cary Grant, the Hollywood star and style icon who was born and raised in the city as Archie Leach, takes place from November 20-22, this time as an online edition. Here we produce the transcript of a conversation with the founder and director of Cary Grant Comes Home festival, Charlotte Crofts, about the festival’s origins, her fascination with the actor and this year’s programme.
‘The underlying thing that’s most important about the Cary Comes Home biannual festival is the keen sense of community spirit that the festival engenders in people who are Cary Grant fans, but we also want people to become new Cary Grant fans. We are going to concentrate on creating a sense of community so people feel they can come together even if we can’t come together in a physical space. We consider him a Bristolian, but often he’s dismissed as the handsome romantic lead. We’ll talk about his technique, and his incredible acting style that he brings to every one of his
performances. There’s an academic slant which is always accessible to a wider audience. We will be joined by the author and academic Dr Mark Glancy who will talk specifically about Cary Grant’s journey across America on the RMS Olympic before he became ‘Cary Grant’ as the young Archie Leach. One of the things that we’ve discovered is that he spent nearly 12 years in New York touring the country in Vaudeville as Archie Leach developing his stage career with the Pender Troupe before he went over to Hollywood. The kind of graft, and learning his trade – it takes away from this assumption that he was just good looking and just being Cary Grant, and that it all came easy to him.
It gives recognition of his intelligence and tenacity and this will be covered during the weekend of the 20-22 November. The joy with the virtual festival is that nobody needs to make any travel plans.
We found that even if we announce things quite late, we still get people to come.
Cary Grant was loyal to the City of Bristol, but he also came back out of a sense of duty to see his mother, Elsie (whom he reunited with at the age of 31). He enjoyed the company of his relatives including his cousin, Eric Leach and his father, Elias, with whom he had a good relationship with and he came back before he knew his mother was alive, introducing him to his bride-to-be, Virginia Cherrill. It was around that time that he discovered that his mother was alive in his early thirties and this caused all sorts of tensions around his impending wedding plans. Mark Glancy has detailed this in his new book Cary Grant: The Making of A Hollywood Legend which has just been released in the U.S on 15 October, and will be released in the UK on the 14 January 2021. Cary genuinely liked
Bristol, he liked the simple things like drinking warm beer and fish and chips, it was part of his DNA, that’s strangely what makes him an endearing and enduring star. He wasn’t just this unattainable, suave person – he was a mixture which meant that he was attainable and down to earth despite mixing in high society.
None But The Lonely Heart makes for a really interesting film with Ethel Barrymore in the role as the cold matriarch, Ma Mott, but it’s more about Cary’s cold grandmother whom he lived with after his mother disappeared from his life at the age of nine. He lived in a really poor area of Bristol growing up in Horfield – it’s gentrified now. I find it really interesting to look at the places he’s connected to in Bristol. He was an astute businessman for M-G-M and Faberge, although some people think that he was stingy and tight fisted but he’d really had a difficult life – he’d been practically homeless in New York, and he’d worked for what he’d achieved. His relationship with Randolph Scott is interesting because Mark Glancy doesn’t think he was homosexual, there’s a massive kind of tension in the gay community who felt a kind of ownership over his sexuality, and other people who feel that you’re kind of bi-erasing. But it’s something that makes him more complex, interesting and intriguing as a human being. He has that kind of enigmatic sexuality makes him more attractive for both men and women. He spent a lot of time with people in the gay community and was very accepting of gay culture but he also played with people’s assumptions because he thought that they were just being bigots. Politically he supported Charlie Chaplin when he was accused of being a communist during the McCarthy witch-hunt. He was very much identified with the underdog; if he was alive today he would be supporting human rights issues. I also really like his portrayal in Notorious because I feel that that complicated relationship where he’s fallen in love with somebody then has to get to marry someone else – I think it speaks to those ‘hidden family histories’, and everything is conveyed just through just his face and his eyes – they express so much in a subtle, understated way. That’s a real powerful portrayal. Another one which is complete contrast is Penny Serenade which he was nominated for an Oscar which is a domestic drama. It’s got some very powerful scenes in it. It’s a melodrama but it’s down to earth at the same time. This idea of adopting a child, and the child dies – that’s shows a different side to Cary Grant as it ties into his domestic side. As a freelancer, he worked outside of the studio system so he wasn’t rewarded by the Board of the Academy – he had a lot of power over his own choices from the Directors he worked with to his pick of his leading ladies.
There was controversy when he received his honorary Oscar as there was a scandal where there was a paternity case against him – but nothing was ever proven. With the honorary Oscar he definitely wanted None but the lonely heart included in the clips but he didn’t want Singapore Sue to be in there which was his first film and not a good performance. He was right to give it up but he would have made a brilliant bond. Bond was based on him; Ian Fleming based the Bond character on his performance in Notorious. Because it was a franchise that needed some longevity, he knew that he would be too old to commit to subsequent features. It’s a tragedy that he never got to play that role. Some people only got to play it once including George Lazenby. In terms of the grace of retiring and quitting whilst he was ahead it allowed him more time with his daughter Jennifer. There’s a lot of feeling in Cary Grant fandom that Elias Leach didn’t treat Elsie well – he went and had a child with somebody else but he was trying to do his best in difficult circumstances in a world where it was very difficult to get divorced. I do think that Elsie did have some mental health issues, but perhaps not ones that got her committed to Glenside Hospital for 20 years. We do a walking tour and the first time we ran it, two different branches of Elsie Leach’s family met each other for the first time. There’s still a lot of people in Bristol that have a connection to him. This tour covers 12 points across Bristol city centre – since Mark Glancy’s biography has come out I’ve mapped many other points. The map is do-able in 2 hours and I conduct the tour with people, although it can be self-directed. The thing that inspires me the most is working on place, and location – the frisson you get when you go to a location where somebody has been. And you see what it’s like now – and you remember what it was like then, and you imagine them being there.
That’s how I started the Cary Grant Festival – when I did the lost cinemas app I found out that Cary Grant was going to the cinemas in Bristol and then I found out that he had a relationship with the Hippodrome and then I found out that his films had been shown at the Hippodrome. I had never done any Events Management before and I thought it would be a good idea to hire the 2000-seater Hippodrome for a double bill. There’s Colleen from Minneapolis who’s been to every festival. She came and we stood on the red carpet outside the hippodrome and she cried with emotion at the building where Cary Grant started out as she’s a huge fan. I wanted to create that sense of community. Cary’s films touch upon the journey, but I hope that people explore the intellectual idea of the journey in a more complex way because there’s social mobility, his rags to riches journey and Archie’s physical journey to America. The emotional journey finding out his mother is alive and trying to navigate that relationship.
There’s journeys that he’s made and journeys that are depicted in his films. If somebody can find a way to put all those components together I’d be really excited. It’s about psychological, emotional and geographical journeys. We will launch Mark’s book on Cary Grant’s birthday at The Bristol Festival of Ideas that’s run by Andrew Kelly and they have an association with The Observer.