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Cary Grant’s cinematic persona had a seemingly effortless charm, combining his devastating good looks with great style and impeccable comic timing. An interviewer once said to him, “Everybody would like to be Cary Grant.” His response: “So would I.” The man who made such films as 1938’s “Bringing Up Baby,” 1940’s “The Philadelphia Story,” 1955’s “To Catch a Thief” and 1959’s “North by Northwest,” and who tops many polls as the greatest star in Hollywood history, married five times, but had only one child — brunette beauty Jennifer Grant, now 45. She was born to Cary and his then-wife, 29-year-old actress Dyan Cannon, when he was 62, and he retired from films to spend time with her. He became a spokesman for Fabergé, a job that gave him more free time than movie-making and came with the use of a company jet. By contrast, Cannon wanted to continue to pursue her acting career, which was at its height in the Seventies; her films include 1968’s “Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice,” 1973’s “The Last of Sheila” and 1978’s “Heaven Can Wait.” The two had lived together for three years before marrying, but their marriage lasted only two years, and was followed by years of wrangling over custody.
Cary died at 82 in 1986. Now Jennifer has written “Good Stuff: A Reminiscence of my Father, Cary Grant” (Alfred A. Knopf). She had often been asked to write about her father, and refused, but she changed her mind a few years ago when two friends unexpectedly asked her about it in one week. “He had all the qualities you see on-screen, his charm and his wit,” she says. “I know how they translated into being a father, but since I’m his only child, I wanted to share that with the world.” The phrase “good stuff” is one he used to, as she writes, “declare happiness.” Grant was an extremely hands-on, devoted parent who kept his daughter’s crib in his room when she was an infant, and who often recorded their exchanges and conversations when she was a small child and young girl. He made life lists for her and kept every drawing and note she sent him. Jennifer found all these items and many, many tapes when her stepmother, Barbara Grant, told her that she was doing some cleaning and wanted to turn over the cache of 10 to 15 large boxes to her. Grant had kept them in a fireproof safe, because he regretted that all of the physical records of his own childhood in England were destroyed by German bombs during World War I.
Given his enthusiasm for parenthood, why did Cary elect to have only one child? “I think he wanted to give his all to his career, and when he felt ready to graduate to his next phase, he wanted to give it his all,” Jennifer says. “But this is all guesswork on my part. It’s not as though he ever said that to me, [but] because I saw the way he parented.”
Cannon, with her long tousled hair and bohemian clothes, was also a style icon in the Seventies. Her daughter appreciates this, she says, “I think more so now. I had these two gorgeous parents who always looked great. As a child, you don’t really care. You have your outfit of the day, and the goal is getting out onto the beach. I was a little bit of a tomboy, sometimes it was the Hang Ten T-shirt and Levis, riding my horse. The one time that my father let me wear a logo, it was to wear Ralph Lauren’s shirts — my father ran into him, and said that I liked the shirts, and he sent them in every color. I was thrilled.” Ralph Lauren, in fact, is giving her a party today. Riding, Jennifer notes, was something her father enjoyed “because it was a group activity, something we could all get out and do together.”
Her father, she says, was “not a believer in trends,” then she adds, “If you see a picture of him now, you couldn’t tell [what year it was from]. He could walk in today in any of the clothes he wore and be perfectly in style. He actually taught me how to tie a tie when I was quite young. He would put a chair in his bathroom, tie the tie from behind him so that I learned how.” Photos of Grant turn up regularly in GQ, Esquire and other magazines in articles about classic men’s style.
What does she miss most about him? “He didn’t have rote opinions,” Jennifer says. “He would digest ideas. [If I asked a question], I knew there was no pedantic response, it would be a wise response, but something that was digested with current information. He was a great conversationalist in speaking about any issue, any problem, anything in life. He lived a very rich life, so he had a lot to bring to any question; he could see it from a lot of angles. I miss all of those perspectives on my tiny questions.”