Happy Birthday to My Favorite Actor, Archie Leach


As my friend Mitchell observed (in our conversation about Cary Grant – nee Archie Leach – linked to below):

To this day, people say, “Oh so-and-so’s the new Cary Grant.” Cary Grant was acting in 1930. We’re talking 70 years ago. Almost 80 years ago, and we’re still referring to people as the “new Cary Grant”. Well, guess what, there’s no such thing. If 80 years later, you’re still trying to find someone to be the next so-and-so, there is nobody. It’s only him.

It’s only him.

He created the mould. The mould for what it means to be a modern Movie Star. (He and Joan Crawford. Both.) But the mould was so totally in his own shape that nobody else could ever fit into it. They try. And marketing departments try to convince audiences: “Look. It’s the new Cary Grant.” But it’s like the Uncanny Valley. Nobody buys it. Actors have to create their own mould.

There’s talent, which he had. There’s versatility, which he had. There’s career and money smarts, which he had. There’s beauty, which he had. These all helped enormously especially in the longevity of his career. He played it really really smart. But the thing he really had – which is difficult to talk about or define – is Magic.

And THAT’S Cary Grant.

I watch him in WONDER.

Here are some of the things I have written about him over the years:

#1, an enormous essay on one of his best performances in Hitchcock’s Notorious:
The Fat-Headed Guy Full of Pain: Cary Grant in Notorious

#2: Mitchell and I discuss Justin Timberlake, Lena Horne, Doris Day, Jill Clayburgh, Don Rickles and Cary Grant:
Mitchell Fain Presents: Part 1

#3: For Bright Wall/Dark Room:
You Are What You Do: His Girl Friday

#4. On Sylvia Scarlett, the extremely strange film that represented Cary Grant’s real “break” although he had been in films for a while:
The Wonderful Weird WTF-ness of Sylvia Scarlett

#5. Because of course:
Anatomy of Two Pratfalls: Cary Grant and Elvis Presley

#6. For Capital New York:
On Bringing Up Baby

#7. For House Next Door:
5 for the Day: Cary Grant

The rest of the stuff I’ve written on Cary Grant can be found here.


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35 Responses to Happy Birthday to My Favorite Actor, Archie Leach

  1. Johnny says:

    I’m not an expert in the Old Hollywood but I do wish I knew more because I find it fascinating. For someone who doesn’t know much about mr. Grant, how would you explain him?

    • sheila says:

      There’s a reason why I have written long long essays about him – because he warrants that kind of examination and time. He is a mystery. You can read these posts to get a feel of the land. And then see all his films to watch him at work. He is the greatest movie star ever.

  2. Helena says:

    Happy birthday, Archie Leach, and thanks for all the amazing writing, Sheila. I’ll be wrestling with this piece of expensive furniture and slipping on olives in honour of the day.

  3. Johnny says:

    Thanks Sheila, I’ll take a look when I can!

    I really like what you said about him when he was criticised for playing himself.

    • sheila says:

      Not so much criticized as dismissed and under-estimated.

      Cary Grant makes it look so easy that people never clock him as “acting” at all – and, in general, critics/industry-people tend to reward those who “show their work” a bit more. Those who show how hard they are working. Acting is mysterious. Cary Grant was aces at it, and you never see him working.

      It’s the ultimate crime of making it look easy.

  4. Helena says:

    //Thanks, Helena!! And I will wrestle with a wild leopard in honor of the day!//

    hahaha! And I’m sure you’ll win.

    I think what I’ll really do is drink a martini and watch Notorious. I love that darker side of Cary Grant.

  5. Barb says:

    One of my favorite Cary Grant moments was just a small one, in My Favorite Wife, when he sees Irene Dunne in the hotel lobby just as he’s stepping into the elevator, and he makes his whole body fall sideways to get a closer look at her as the doors close. He’s perfectly matched to the speed of those doors!

    • sheila says:

      Ha!! Yes!!

      He was so brilliant at physical comedy – unmatched.

      I also love in that movie when he is haunted by the sight in his minds eye of the hot guy (i.e. Randolph Scott!) twirling around on the rings like an Olympian.

  6. Maureen says:

    Happy Birthday, Archie!! I love all the pieces you have written about him-just re-watched Only Angels Have Wings-I love your thoughts on that movie.

    Since people are sharing their favorite Grant movies-Philadelphia Story is a movie that I find perfect in every way. One of my favorite all times scenes in any movie, is after the big shindig, and Macauley Connor goes to see C.K. Dexter Haven. Stewart has the showier part, playing drunk, having the hiccups-but the reactions that Grant gives to him-so classic. After Stewart hiccups and says “hmmm?” and Grant says “excuse me” looking down, trying not to laugh-I have probably watched this movie 50 times, and that NEVER gets old.

    Sheila, I feel like I have learned a lot about acting from you-and you always talk about actors listening to each other, not just waiting to say their lines. In that scene, it is all about Grant reacting to what Stewart is doing-and to me, it is perfection!!

    • sheila says:

      Oh my gosh, that scene is so amazing. They’re basically improvising, and they’re both so good they react to the unexpected. Grant saying “excuse me” KILLS me.

      CK Dexter Haven is a difficult part – that monologue about her being a “goddess”?? – I’ve seen it sink many a talented actor in stage productions – and he is PERFECT.

      I love how the whole movie opens with him putting his hand over her face and pushing her down to the floor. Rude! But boy, she had it coming. And it’s only 20 seconds into the movie. Ha!!

  7. Maureen says:

    I LOVE the opening! Tells you just what you need to know about the marriage.

    “Where is my wandering parakeet?” uttered by Ruth Hussey? Favorite line in any movie I have ever seen :)

  8. Fiddlin Bill says:

    TCM showed the documentary of the 1970 Vegas Elvis concert the other day. At the end, during the credits, Cary Grant is back-stage in Elvis’s dressingroom, congratulating him on the show. What a great moment for Elvis.

  9. Jessie says:

    Oh, if we are talking favourite movies with CG in them it has to be Holiday, but he jumps off the screen a bit more in BUB; everything is so much BIGGER in BUB! I brought Penny Seranade on my travels with me, I am looking forward to the right moment to pop it on! Love the guy so much and I have tons more to explore with him, very exciting, like a prolififc favourite author.

    • sheila says:

      Holiday is definitely up there for me – Grant is just perfect in it, shimmering and friendly, funny and sincere. And his tumbles and cartwheels!!

      Bringing Up Baby is so funny I have now been laughing at it for the majority of my life – How many times have I seen it? Definitely over 100 times. I roar with laughter every time. “The next person that mentions a leopard, I’m putting on bread and water for 30 days!”

      I love that you brought Penny Serenade with you! That’s so cool!! Penny Serenade really REALLY pours on the ol’ sentimentality … but I just love the scene work between him and Irene Dunne, the different stages of their relationship – and the acceptance of harsh biological truths, really adult stuff, like infertility and how that can affect how a couple deals with each other. How they see themselves in the world.

      Also – it has one of the sexiest lines EVER. Granted, I have a dirty mind, but I don’t think I’m making this up.

      He has found out he is going to be sent to Japan (pre-Pearl Harbor!!) for two years. The two of them have been dating, but are not engaged yet. When he tells her the news that he is going to Japan – TONIGHT – they race from the New Years’ Eve party, find a Justice of the Peace, and get married.

      He has to race to his train – and she comes on the train while it sits in the station to help him settle into his room. They were just married, like, 10 minutes ago. So … you know … sex is in the air, it is implied that they have not had sex yet (of course). She is supposed to leave the train – but instead, once they are enclosed in his compartment, they start kissing. As they start kissing, chug-chug, the train starts to leave the station.

      She starts in alarm – and says, “The train!”

      He reaches out to close the door of the compartment (basically in our faces, shutting us out) , and as he does so, he murmurs, “We’ll get you off.”

      He could mean: “You can get off at the next station. Don’t worry.” The censors wouldn’t object to that interpretation. But the way Grant SAYS is totally carnal, “get you off” may not even have been in the lexicon then for orgasm, I have no idea, but it’s in the lexicon now, and besides – it’s the way he says it, shutting the door as he says it. Wonderful.

      There’s nothing like late-1930s Cary Grant. Just perfection. But there are so many different phases of his career. I love gleaming 1950s, 1960s Grant, too. He was unstoppable!

  10. Jessie says:

    And loving the new bg, so funny!

  11. Jessie says:

    Holiday has such a carefully managed melancholia and everything about it is perfect. It’s in my top five. It was the first Grant-Hepburn I saw and when they start tumbling in the games room, and they’re so perfect together and you just KNOW IT….and then The Kiss. Dot me, file me, stick me in a box marked Done.

    BUB, my god!!! It just gets funnier. Any discussion of it just turns into listing favourite moments. “Oh David, your sock’s on fire” is one of the funniest deliveries I have ever heard. And I have been walking aroung some very hilly areas and it’s all I can do to not start limping around…I was born on the side of a hill…

    Love your comments on PS I really look forward to swooning!

    • sheila says:

      I LOVE Lew Ayres as the dissipated brother in Holiday. His performance kills me. And yes: Grant and Hepburn tumbling around in the play room … it’s to die for. And his back flip from a standing position in that final scene. Grant is amazing! So charming you want to fall apart!

      I love in Bringing Up Baby when they are about to cross the river, she says blithely, “We can walk across” and they take a step and are plunged in over their heads. As they struggle across, she says, “The riverbed’s changed” – a hilarious line in and of itself – but I love his cranky response – he just repeats what she said, as he flails through the water, and his tone drips with contempt: “The riverbed’s changed.”

      So funny!

      Penny Serenade POURS on the schmaltz at times – but it really is a serious drama about a serious topic. And he and Irene Dunne are so great together! It’s a real departure for him. He plays just a regular guy, a little bit limited, and completely unprepared for his wife’s total transformation when she finds out she can’t have children. He doesn’t really care about having babies – he just wants HER to be her happy self again. It’s really poignant. Much to swoon over, too – I love their romance.

  12. Jessie says:

    And Lew Ayres doesn’t even make it out! So sad! Those are the stakes for Hepburn. Any longer in that house and she wouldn’t have been able to leave. I love the movie for the history you feel, how it weighs a little more each scene, a d Grant’s lightness and determination become more and more important.

    Love the riverbed moment and that whole run through the underbrush! It’s so rare to find slapstick and dialogue work so perfectly together. Usually you just get one or the other.

    • sheila says:

      Jessie – Every single time I watch “Holiday,” I hope that Lew Ayres will make a different choice. It’s so so sad that he doesn’t!

      • Kristen says:

        Oh, Lew Ayres breaks my heart in Holiday. He believes in his sister so much, really sees her potential, but he can’t see his own. I have the same feeling you do when I rewatch the movie. I want to jump into the tv and get him out of that house. I was a mess when I saw the Normal Heart and they got to the point in the play where Ned Weeks says he renamed himself after that character. Well, I was a mess throughout. As for Cary Grant, you introduced me to The Awful Truth probably over a decade (!) ago, and I can’t count the number of times over the years that I’ve thought about that recital scene and burst out laughing. His hair! The drawer! The little old man next to him! Her laugh! And, I love him in Charade … “It’s a Drip-Dry!”

  13. Todd Restler says:

    “Everyone wants to be Cary Grant. Even I want to be Cary Grant”
    – Cary Grant

    “How can anyone be ‘Cary Grant’?” But how can anyone, ever after, not consider the attempt?”
    – David Thomson

    I’ll thrown some love to Gunga Din, which I don’t see mentioned that often when people are discussing great Cary Grant movies.

    Believe it or not there is a great Cary Grant story in the Rob Lowe book Sheila!

    • sheila says:

      Gunga Din is a lot of fun! A boys-club romp. They’re all so much fun together.

      One of the stories I love about the shooting of Gunga Din:

      Cary Grant came from poverty. He decided to be successful, basically. He had to CHOOSE it. Once he started becoming a star, he was not one of those passive actors who let a money-manager invest for them (often to disastrous results) and he never relied on just his salary, since he was smart enough to know it would go away some day. He always wanted a source of what he called “lying down” money – and what that meant: One day, years later, he wanted to be lying on the couch in his home, or in bed, and see one of his movies come on television. And since he had a financial stake in that movie, a producer credit, as he was lying there, doing NOTHING, he would be making money. He was friends with Quincy Jones – and Jones is responsible for telling us about Grant’s theory of “lying down money”. Jones loved it so much – it was an inspiration to him to never accept being just an employee. The whole goal was to be an OWNER, so that while you were working your ass off, you were also creating a source of “lying down money.”

      So anyway, along those lines, Grant played the stock market himself. He picked stocks – mostly conservative ones, naturally – not the wild-cycling ones. He didn’t want to get rich quick. He already was rich. But he wanted to invest in stocks that would bring in another source of income. He did not have anyone do this for him. He was smart about money and smart about when to buy/sell.

      So during the downtime of Gunga Din, when the other boys were all whooping it up in the desert, having pissing contests (literally, sometimes) – Grant would be huddled in his makeshift “dressing room – i.e. tent) – telegraphing his broker in New York to buy/sell/shift.

      I just love the incongruity of that.

      • fercris hart says:

        Greetings Sheila,

        I only recently discovered your excellent work (an essay on Delon in Le Samourai); Thank You!

        On Grant, back in the 1980’s I had the good fortune to attend a live interview with Mr. Grant. He was of course charming and all one would expect, but at the end of the interview he took questions from the audience and a woman asked him “why did you become an actor?”

        Without hesitation, indeed faster than the tiger in the jungle he shot back “everyone wants to be loved”.

        He was Cary Grant when he said this but it was Archie Leach who replied.

  14. Todd Restler says:

    That is such a great story!

    ” I just love the incongruity of that.” Everything about the man seems incongruous.

    I’ll admit that I have only seen about 6 or 7 Grant films so I am far from an authority, in fact I’m not sure I’m even qualified to comment on his acting, but I will try.

    It’s weird when I watch him act, because what he is doing seems so unique, and it also seems to me like it SHOULD NOT WORK. He has this way of seeming to be a little removed from the action, a little above it, that I would expect an actor behaving this way to distract a bit from the movie. Yet he never does. I think Harrison Ford in Indiana Jones had some of this. Just an innate coolness. He’s able to convince the audience somehow that his characters really are this cool.

    His screen presence, as well as Humphrey Bogart’s, is just larger than life. It takes about 15 seconds of watching either of these two guys to say, “Oh, okay, I get it, now I know what a movie star is”.

  15. Barb says:

    Happy Birthday, indeed! My son shares this birthday–maybe we should have named him Archie. Maybe I’ll show him Philadelphia Story tonight-

  16. Cameren says:

    I am stealing the gif at the top so so hard.

    • sheila says:

      Isn’t that the best? My friend Mitchell and I recently watched The Bishop’s Wife – which that is from – and it stands out so clearly as Movie Star Moment. You just gasp at the sight of him.

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