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Cary Grant: A Brilliant Disguise

Review

Cary Grant: A Brilliant Disguise

Cary Grant emerges as a modest egotist, a bold introvert and a handsome man who seemed unaware of his dashing good looks in this sweeping biography by bestselling author Scott Eyman.

Drawing from an encyclopedic storehouse of sources, Eyman pictures Grant first as the frustrated teenager determined to escape his dark, troubled family in Bristol, England. Born Archibald Leach, the boy’s self-preoccupied mother was, rightly or wrongly, institutionalized on the say-so of his father, an alcoholic. Young Archie was drawn to theater, especially vaudeville, and by age 16 he had signed on as a member of an acrobatic troupe, a stint that landed him in New York. From there he made his way to Hollywood, where, with a handsome face and a suave, gradually transmuted accent --- from Bristol English to American Midwest --- he entered the world of film.

"The portrait painted in grand strokes and juicy tidbits is of a working-class kid who took a chance and won a prize, using his charisma and smarts as much as his acting ability to gain and sustain admiration and attention."

His movie career had ups and downs but allowed him a quiet, secure retirement. As a superstar in his heyday, he attracted beautiful women and married five of them. He also had several enigmatic relationships with men, notably Randolph Scott; he and Randy lived together on and off for years. Some observers have made much of Grant’s possibly gay side, but, although Eyman cites small innuendo and larger assertions, that part of the eponymous “disguise” remains unrevealed. 

In the late 1950s, Grant used LSD in a therapeutic manner and once met with acid guru Timothy Leary. In older age, he could still charm the ladies, though he expressed embarrassment at his “chicken skin.” He once watched as a young woman rushed up to his friend Michael Caine with obvious adoration, but never identified himself when she failed to recognize him. While some detractors concluded that Grant’s biggest fan was himself, salient positives mined and emphasized by Eyman were his determined, upward trajectory despite many challenges, his doting care for his daughter Jennifer, and his concern for other actors. Eva Marie Saint recounts Grant’s efforts to put her at ease when both were working for the very strict Alfred Hitchcock in North by Northwest

The portrait painted in grand strokes and juicy tidbits is of a working-class kid who took a chance and won a prize, using his charisma and smarts as much as his acting ability to gain and sustain admiration and attention. As Eyman says, “Cary Grant was not born with style, but he caught it, the way other people catch measles or religion, then developed it and exemplified it.”

Reviewed by Barbara Bamberger Scott on October 23, 2020

Cary Grant: A Brilliant Disguise
by Scott Eyman

  • Publication Date: October 20, 2020
  • Genres: Biography, Nonfiction
  • Hardcover: 576 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • ISBN-10: 1501192116
  • ISBN-13: 9781501192111