Interview with Cary Grant (1937)
Cash — and Cary
Moreover, if you haven’t given Cary Grant credit for a lively sense of humor as well as a sane outlook on life, you will after reading this swell interview.
by Virginia Wood
“What would you do”, I asked Cary Grant as we sat on the set at Columbia where The Awful Truth was being filmed, chatting about this and that, “if you found yourself at the end of your career and with no money?”
“Well — I don’t know”, Cary replied, reflectively, “I’d never even thought of it. Guess I’d just start over again, and go out and look for another job.”
And the funny part of it is, that’s about what Cary would do if he were confronted with such a problem. Certainly, it wouldn’t be the first time he’s been broke and had to take the first job that came along to keep on living. There were plenty of long, lean years after Cary ran away from his home in England to seek his fortune when he didn’t know where his next meal was coming from. And I can assure you Cary’s present enviable position hasn’t softened him to the point where he wouldn’t be able to buck those same hardships again.
“In the first place, Ginny”, Cary went on, “I don’t think the day will ever come when there will cease to be some medium of entertainment. I believe it will always exist in some form or another — maybe not for myself, as an individual, but certainly for us of this profession. Look back at the first days of the depression in this country. Theaters went out of business, to be sure, but not nearly in proportion to other businesses. People would spend their last half dollar to go to a movie or a vaudeville show, just to take their minds off their own troubles.
“Charlie Laughton said something to me one time that made a very deep impression on me. I was terribly depressed one day at the studio — you know, in one of those Russian cellar moods. I happened to run into Charlie on the Paramount lot, where we were both working at the time, and started to tell him all my troubles.
“‘Did you ever stop to think, Cary’, Charlie said, ‘that all those people in the audience who see your pictures are faced with the same problems — and probably worse difficulties than you are? It’s something that occurred to me years ago when I first went on the stage. I was feeling very sorry for myself. I didn’t think I’d ever make a success of acting. I was terribly upset about financial matters and life just didn’t seem worth the living. And suddenly it dawned on me that whenever I did a good job on the stage or screen I was diverting those thousands of people down in front from their own troubles by interesting them in mine — as the character I portrayed.
“‘So I determined that no matter what happened to my own private life, I’d try my level best to help those folks forget about themselves for at least as long as they looked at my performance. And I can’t tell you what a great deal of satisfaction I’ve gotten out of that one idea!’
“Don’t misunderstand, Ginny”, Cary went on, “or run away with the idea that I fondly imagine myself a public benefactor, philanthropist, or what have you. It’s true I’m being paid for it — but that follows as a natural course. The better your acting is, the more money, as a consequence, you earn. But that’s the same in any business. If you’re interested in your work, it’s bound to further you, thereby bringing in more money. And actors, just as human beings in any other walk of life, have the same desires, the same disillusionments and dis- appointments to contend with. It all boils down to getting the most out of what you have and making as few people unhappy in the doing of it. And if you can add, in any small way, to another’s happiness, that’s about the best you can do. Phew — we’re getting profound, aren’t we?”
Cary chortled and just then the director called him back on the set. I watched him as he loped across the stage. ‘Loped’ is really the only way to describe the way Cary walked. Six feet one, tanned as dark as a Hindu from his outdoor life at the beach, wearing an old pair of slightly mussed white pants and a not-too-new polo shirt, Cary looked anything but a movie star. And I must say he doesn’t act like one — except in front of the camera. On this particular day, he was crouched down behind it, as a matter of fact, playing with a dog, while Irene Dunne and Ralph Bellamy enacted the rest of the scene in front of it.
“It’s always been a mystery to me”, Cary went on, as he flopped down in a chair facing me, the scene finally completed, “how people can feel that money is absolutely essential to happiness. After all, there are only a certain number of things that money can buy. It can assure you of eating more or less regularly, that’s true, and it can provide you, possibly, with a more comfortable bed on which to sleep. But all the money in the world can’t buy that harmony and contentment which must exist only within yourself.
“I can look back now and think of a hundred instances when I was broke, jobless and all the rest of it, when I was every bit as happy as I am today. I can recall dozens of times, when I’ve been down to my last dime, spending it on some small luxury and getting that full dime’s worth of enjoyment in return, simply and purely because my mental attitude was right.”
I know Cary really means this because I remember, when he first came out to Hollywood from New York, how he would sit around for hours with a few of his old cronies and reminisce about their various and sundry escapades. And many a laugh we’ve all had at his expense, too. Incidentally, Cary enjoys nothing more than a good laugh on himself.
“Right now”, Cary continued, seriously, “the thing I’m interested in more than anything else is to perfect myself at my job. I want to be a really good actor more than anything in the world. It’s much more important to me than accumulating wealth. It wasn’t easy for me to leave Paramount, they made it worth my while to stay. They were swell! But I’ve realized, these past few years, that an actor can only be good if he plays in the type of roles he has faith in. When you’re under contract to a large studio, you have to take the good with the bad.
“Besides, I got bored a long time ago with straight leading man parts. And there’s nothing that gets a guy down as much as being bored with his job, believe me! I got so darned tired of always having to say nice things, always acting like a perfect gentleman — as you do when you’re a leading man. Character parts give an actor much more opportunity to express himself — to be natural.
“And, actually, they’re a lot easier. If a director tells me, for instance, to walk across the stage as / would, naturally, I immediately become self-conscious. But if a director tells me to stagger across the stage like a drunk, it’s a cinch and I snap right into the role — (fine thing!).
“One thing that really broke my heart was when another studio bought a play I had seen in London and was dying to do. I wanted to do that part more than anything I’ve wanted in a long time and I begged my studio to buy it for me. But they were afraid the part (which was a pretty unsympathetic one) would hurt my career and they refused.”
I was reminded of another story I’d heard about Cary the other day. A big producer wanted Cary to play in a very important picture. Cary was crazy about the part, although it wasn’t the most important one in the film. But the producer happened to be a friend of his and Cary knew he was spending a large sum of money on the rest of the cast.
“You can’t afford to have me in the picture in such a small part”, Cary told him. “Get someone else to do it for less money.” But the producer insisted. “All right”, Cary finally agreed. “Tell you what — I’ll play it for nothing!”
The producer was practically overcome! But of course couldn’t agree. Cary finally played the part and the picture was a tremendous success, as Cary had been sure it would be. The point is, however, Cary really would have sacrificed any monetary gain to appear in a part he was sold on!
“You know, you’ve got me all upset”, Cary said, suddenly. “I don’t know what I really would do if I couldn’t act any more. I’d be rather badly equipped for any other job after acting for so long. You don’t have to be particularly intelligent to be an actor, you know. You just have to have a certain peculiar facility of expression and imagination that is indispensable but pretty hard to acquire. And it isn’t particularly adaptable to any other business — unless it’s writing.”
“Tell you what, Cary”, I suggested, “you could write fan magazine stories.”
“No thanks!” Cary said, emphatically. “I have enough grief trying to be an actor without taking anything like that on myself. Guess I’ll keep on concentrating on acting and not worry about the future.
“The best anyone can do, anyway, when it comes right down to it, is to eat, sleep and be as happy as you can and let the future take care of itself.”
And with that sound bit of philosophy, Cary rushed away to his dressing room to change clothes for his next scene. Think I’ll try his prescription myself. He certainly seems to be thriving on it!
Cary Grant, always seeking good acting company, finds it in his newest screen assignment, as leading man for Irene Dunne, here in a scene with Cary and Ralph Bellamy.
Popular co-stars Robert Montgomery and Rosalind Russell are making a comedy for their next film together.
Source: Screenland, November 1937