Billy Wilder on Cary Grant

Excerpt from Conversations with Wilder:

I had Cary Grant in mind for 4 of my pictures. He was a friend of mine, and I liked him enormously, and he liked me. But he was apprehensive, he did not want to be in new hands. He always played almost the same part. He had to because, you know … Clark Gable, if he’s not Clark Gable, if he has a beard and he does that Irish Republican picture, Parnell [1937], nobody wants to see it. You see? You did not even know there was such a picture. Gable always has to be Gable. He must be Gable. Just the situations are different, the characters a little bit different. Same with Cary Grant, who slipped through my net every time…

I wanted him to play the part that Gary Cooper played in Love in the Afternoon. It would have been wonderful, right? “Cannot do it … please don’t. Don’t persist. Look, I like you, Wilder, but I cannot explain it. I just … the wrong signals come up in me.”…

He loved my movies. He called me after Some Like it Hot and congratulated me that [Tony] Curtis had done a wonderful imitation. [Member how Tony Curtis mimics Cary Grant through his entire romance with Marilyn Monroe.]

No, Grant was very nice, he was absolutely great. But he was a very, very peculiar man, and he was very stingy. Stingy, Mr. Cary Grant. We had a dinner party at our apartment, and then after dinner we went to my den, where I have my radio and my television. I started playing for him a recording by a German composer, a medieval hymn of instruments and of voices…It was very strong and very loud. So he sits there, and he says, “How much is your loudspeaker? How much is your phonograph?” So, knowing how stingy he is, I say, “A hundred and eleven dollars.” So he calls his wife, “Barbara! This machine here! We are crazy, we are crazy. We paid two hundred and fifteen!” [Laughter]…

He was a very good friend. My disappointment was professional disappointment, never personal…

Now, just to finish the story about the phonograph. He says, “Now, tell me, those two loudspeakers. Tell me, are they included in the hundred and eleven dollars?” And I say, “No, they were extra.” He says, “How much?” “Six-fifty apiece.” “Barbara!!! Barbara!!!” [Laughter.] He was absolutely … [shakes head with wonder.] I’ve never seen it, but I understand he had a room in the basement that was filled with gold cigarette cases. He would buy them and throw them down there. A pile of gold. Very very nice guy otherwise…

I did not know him very well, but I saw him all the time. The two of us were on the board of directors of the Pasadena museum … We would go there for the meeting and have lunch. He only came there for the lunch… because he didn’t have to pay for it. [Laughs.] It’s all right. On him it was becoming. It went with his chaqracter. If he had also been very generous, then that would kind of disturb me. Too perfect.

That last anecdote shows why I think Wilder was such a good director. He liked contradictions, and he didn’t like “perfect”. (“Nobody’s perfect”, after all…)

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2 Responses to Billy Wilder on Cary Grant

  1. Bernard says:

    “On him it was becoming.”

    Kind of a real-life Jack Benny thing?

  2. CW says:

    Although I did already, Wilder’s comments make me feel like I really LIKE Cary Grant.