May 20, 2004

Cary Grant: Elegant Charmer with Dark Childhood

CANNES, France - To fellow star Leslie Caron, Hollywood legend Cary Grant was a riddle wrapped in an enigma.

To filmmaker Robert Trachtenberg, who has just made a documentary on Grant, he was a fiercely private man forever scarred by his childhood.

To his fifth and final wife, Barbara, happy memories linger of a charmer who exorcised his demons.

Their views could not be more different of the star who re-invented himself and once admitted: "Everyone wants to be Cary Grant. Even I want to be Cary Grant."

The epitome of debonair charm was born Archie Leach, a poor boy in the English town of Bristol who came home one day at the age of nine to find his mother had disappeared.

Only years later did Grant discover she was still alive and living in a mental institution after having a nervous breakdown.

He left home to join an acrobatic troupe, went to New York, starred on Broadway and then took on Hollywood.

Leslie Caron, who starred with him in "Father Goose," recalled a man who loved to make her laugh on the set.

"But there was a dark painful secret," she told Reuters Television in an interview in Cannes to publicise the documentary "Cary Grant: A Class Apart."

"He had a really difficult childhood. I think he created Cary Grant in order to surmount this," said the French star of such classics as "Gigi" and "An American in Paris."

"This persona he created was a cat and mouse character -- Don't come near me, I might scratch."

Trachtenberg, whose documentary was given its world premiere in Cannes, said: "The overriding theme was that he was not going to go back to this miserable childhood in Bristol.

"He was always going to be very careful of his money, he was going to control his exposure to the press and public.

"If he kept to himself, he was probably a lot safer," Trachtenberg said of Grant who died in 1986 at the age of 82 after a string of Hollywood classics from "The Philadelphia Story" to "Charade" and "North by Northwest."

His wife Barbara, who was 47 years younger, acknowledged there was a dark side that he confronted in psychoanalysis and by taking the hallucinogenic drug LSD.

"By the time I met him, he had been through quite a lot of analysis and quite a lot of LSD. He really felt that had helped him to exorcise some of the demons," she said.

"The LSD he used was very monitored ... It was legal at that time," she said. "It made him face some of the problems that he maybe had difficulty facing by himself."

Offering the perfect epitaph, she concluded: "We all hope to create what we would like to be. He was maybe a great deal more successful than some of us are."

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