Cary Grant, shown through several stages of his lengthy acting career.

For, Friday, May 1, 2020

EDITOR’S NOTE: During the pandemic lockdown I’ve noticed that national critics are suggesting classic films that people should watch … or watch again … to help pass the time. And among them are some commonalities, including several that star Cary Grant — “North By Northwest,” “His Girl Friday,” “The Philadelphia Story,” “An Affair to Remember,” and many more. So when I came across this ‘Hicks on Flicks’ column that I wrote after Grant’s passing some 34 years ago it seemed like the perfect compilation of movies you should watch — during the pandemic and beyond. Under the headline, ‘Cary Grant was more than just a movie star,’ this one was published in the Deseret News on Dec. 7, 1986.

Every year we lose major movie stars, veterans of the silver screen who succumb to the ravages of old age. But to my mind, by the time they reach their 80s, there are few whose deaths really shock their fans.

One that did is the one and only Cary Grant.

Grant died a week ago, a shock and surprise not because we thought he was immortal (though, in a way — through his films – he is) but because he was so vibrant and active. He was 82. I should look and feel so good when I hit 40.

Aside from what I’ve read — including the volumes that have come over the news wires since his death — I actually know very little about Cary Grant the human being. But I know much about Cary Grant the movie star.

After all, this isn’t just a movie star. This is Cary Grant. And no one who loves movies can have gone unaffected by his screen presence.

Despite his being retired from the film industry for 20 years, Grant remains, even in death, the quintessential movie star. He had a persona that was equally appealing to women and men … well, maybe a little more to women. And though his last film was released in 1966, he was never forgotten.


One of Cary Grant's most iconic images, from Alfred Hitchcock's 'North By Northwest' (1959).

Art Proctor, who operates the Avalon Theater and Avalon Video, both specializing in golden oldies, says Grant’s films are among the few “sure” draws at his repertory theater. When a Cary Grant movie plays, people come out to see it. Likewise, says Proctor, Grant’s videos always go out.

I can understand that. Many of my favorite films are those with Cary Grant; I have several in my own video collection at home. And when I was growing up in California, developing my own personal film history by watching old movies on television, Grant was one of the few stars whose name in a listing was motivation enough to watch — even if it meant staying up too late. My parents understood. They grew up watching him too.

The comedies — from “Bringing Up Baby” to “Father Goose”; the thrillers — from “Suspicion” to “North By Northwest”; the dramas — from “Gunga Din” to “An Affair to Remember.” Grant could handle anything.

And those critics who, at the time, claimed he was merely being himself and not really “acting” should have paid more attention to his inherent abilities. Grant had a real gift for making us feel the emotion of the characters he played, a genuine knack for the subtleties of film. And a gift is what it is — it can’t be learned.

But when I think of Grant, I tend to think of his wonderful sense of comic timing.

In general, of course, Grant isn’t thought of as a comedian. Comics — from baggy-pants Chaplin to bulbous-nose Fields to gangly Jerry Lewis to silver-haired Steve Martin — usually have a funny “look.” Even Chevy Chase, a handsome man, can provoke a chuckle merely by walking into a room.

Grant was too handsome, of course; too graceful, too charming, too suave. And certainly there is no equivalent today. Good-looking men, yes. But no Cary Grant.


But that’s also true of his comic abilities.

Grant had a capacity for double-takes (and if you’ve watched “Arsenic and Old Lace,” even triple- and quadruple-takes) and an offhand way with a line that was unsurpassed in provoking laughter.

Some of his comedies are true classics, among the most hysterical ever made — “Bringing Up Baby,” “The Awful Truth,” “Holiday,” “His Girl Friday,” “The Philadelphia Story,” “Arsenic and Old Lace.” And many that don’t necessarily qualify as classics are also funny — “The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer,” “I Was a Male War Bride,” “Monkey Business,” “Topper,” “Operation Petticoat.”

There’s no question that Grant was the epitome of stylish charm. He wasn’t just the movie star we’d all like to be. He was also the one we’d most like to know.

During public speaking engagements, people frequently ask who I would most like to interview. Without hesitation I’ve always said Cary Grant. Not that I ever really thought I would get the chance.

But now I’ll have to look for a new answer to that question. Cary Grant is dead. And there will never be another.

Perhaps Audrey Hepburn said it best in this exchange from “Charade”:

“You know what’s wrong with you?” she asks

Grant responds with an incredulous, “What?”

After a pause and a half-sigh, Hepburn says, “Nothing.”