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O'TOOLE: Cary Grant may have been the perfect man

• Feb 5, 2019 at 3:00 PM

“You know what’s wrong with you? Nothing,” Audrey Hepburn says to Cary Grant in the 1963 movie “Charade.”

I wholeheartedly agree. There was nothing wrong with Cary Grant.

He was one of the greatest movie stars of the 20th century. Most of his 72 movies were box-office blockbusters, and many are considered classics, such as “Bringing Up Baby,” “His Girl Friday,” “Philadelphia Story,” “North by Northwest” and “To Catch A Thief.”

He was both master of physical comedy in slapstick comedies and romantic hero in dramas. He could do a backflip, play the piano, sing and dance. He was awarded a Kennedy Center Honor in 1981. In 1999, the American Film Institute named him the second-greatest male star, after Humphrey Bogart, of Hollywood’s Golden Era.

He never won a competitive Academy Award, which is a travesty. Perhaps to make up for this glaring injustice, in 1970, he received a long overdue Honorary Academy Award for Lifetime Achievement for “his unique mastery of screen acting with respect and affection of his colleagues.”

Cary Grant was the epitome of style, intelligence and tact. CG was class. He was the model of how a gentleman should look and behave.

Dyan Cannon, his fourth wife, met him when she was 25 and he was 58. Her first impression? “I hadn’t, and still haven’t, seen anyone who radiated such godlike masculine beauty,” she says in her memoir, “Dear Cary: My Life With Cary Grant.” She goes on to describe conversation so enjoyable that four hours pass in what feels like a half-hour. He compliments her rather than flatter her. He asks her questions about herself as if he really needs to know the answers. He’s graceful, jovial and “glowing with youthful vitality.” His smile enchants her, as does his voice, sounding just like he does in his movies.

Early in their courtship, CG sat down at a piano and serenaded her with Cole Porter’s “You’re the Top.” While out walking, he did a perfect pratfall in the street, said, “Dyan, I’ve fallen for you,” and sprang back to his feet. Who could resist that?

Some of her anecdotes sound like scenes from a screwball comedy CG might have starred in. For example, she was visiting him on the set of “Father Goose” when he decided to go for a swim and was stung by a sea urchin. He was not one to show pain, yet he was writhing and screaming in agony, his leg luminous with the creature’s spines. The maid informed Dyan that the only way to relieve Cary’s suffering was to “make water” on it. That’s just what she did. It worked!

Another screwball-type anecdote incident occurred when they were sailing to Europe and Cary woke up to find his foot frozen to the window. Dyan pulled and pulled, but nothing happened. A porter soaked a towel in hot tea and wrapped CG’s foot in the towel. When Cary’s foot came free at last, he said to the porter, “I’d like some crumpets with my tea!”

He signed letters “Care-y.” He referred to himself as “Cary Grunt.” He was playful and fun, like his most likable characters. This is even more evident in his daughter Jennifer Grant’s memoir, “Good Stuff: A Reminiscence of My Father, Cary Grant.”

Jennifer is CG’s only child. He called her his “best production.” He quit movies when she was born so he could spend as much time with her as possible. He installed a room-sized vault of bank quality to preserve his daughter’s childhood artifacts. He wrote his daughter letters, drew her pictures, took lots of photographs and recorded hours of normal, everyday household activity.

He and Dyan, Jennifer’s mother, divorced shortly after she was born. Still, father and daughter were very close. He parked his car along her school bus route so he could wave to her. He read with her and played with her, and spent every minute he could with her.

Cary Grant, like many of his onscreen characters, whistled and sang around the house. He liked to be silly and have fun. He liked to eat. He enjoyed fine food — he was known for eating caviar by the bucket full — but he also loved hot dogs. “Good stuff,” “happy thoughts” and “that’s a pip” are phrases recited in his movies that he repeated daily in his private life.

Cary Grant never wrote an autobiography, though he was offered millions to do so. “To write an autobiography,” he said, “you’ve got to expose other people. I hope to get out of this world as gracefully as possible without embarrassing anyone.”

He kept his political opinions to himself. He was married five times, divorced four. He never spoke ill of his ex-wives, even when they called him names and smeared his character in the media. He refused to respond. Today’s celebrities would do well to take a page from his book.

“When you looked at that face of his, it was full of a wonderful kind of laughter at the back of the eyes,” said his four-time co-star, Katherine Hepburn.

“It makes us happy just to look at him,” wrote Pauline Kael.

There’s nothing wrong with Cary Grant, except that he’s gone, and he’s irreplaceable.

— By Kelly O’Toole, Tribune community columnist

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