Cary Grant is undoubtedly one of the most iconic actors of Hollywood’s Golden Age. But behind the suave and debonair persona he presented on screen, there was a deeply troubled soul. Here’s a look at how his fourth wife and only daughter experienced life with the silver-screen legend.
Before Grant ever tasted fame, however, he had endured a difficult childhood. When the future star was just nine, his alcoholic father admitted his clinically depressed mother to a psychiatric hospital. Grant’s dad then told his son that his mom had in fact died – something that Grant only discovered wasn’t true at the age of 31. After that, Grant’s father swiftly remarried and abandoned his son to forge a new family.
Grant sought solace in the theater, however, and after being expelled from school, he toured both sides of the Atlantic with vaudeville troupes. Then, in 1927 he landed a role in the Reggie Hammerstein-penned musical Golden Dawn. He spent the next few years after that treading the boards before ultimately signing a contract with Paramount Pictures.
And after Grant made his screen debut in 1932 comedy This is the Night, his movie career began apace. He then established his reputation for being suave with roles in Merrily Go to Hell, Hot Saturday and Madame Butterfly and showcased his natural charm in box-office hits She Done Him Wrong and I’m No Angel. But while a series of flops that followed in the mid 1930s briefly threatened to derail his career, Grant soon bounced back.
Indeed, the star then enjoyed what The Atlantic critic Benjamin Schwarz once termed “the most spectacular run ever for an actor in American pictures.” This included Bringing Up Baby and The Philadelphia Story – hailed as two of the greatest comedies ever – and screwball hit My Favorite Wife. Furthermore, Grant received his first Best Actor Oscar nomination for 1941’s Penny Serenade; his second was awarded for 1944’s None But the Lonely Heart.
Grant also became an Alfred Hitchcock favorite, appearing in many of the director’s classic films including Suspicion, To Catch a Thief and North by Northwest. His talents were recognized by the Golden Globes, too, with Grant receiving five nods in the Best Actor category in as many years from 1959 to 1964. These were for his performances in Indiscreet, Operation Petticoat, The Grass Is Greener, That Touch of Mink and Charade, respectively.
However, Grant decided to quit showbiz at the age of 62, following the birth of his daughter Jennifer. The star instead switched his focus to the business world, serving on the board of directors of companies such as Fabergé, Hollywood Park (now Pinnacle Entertainment) and Western Airlines. He also became a director of MGM in 1975.
Then, in November 1986 Grant passed away from a stroke, shortly before he was due to take to the stage for a one-man show in Iowa; the screen legend’s ashes were eventually scattered in the Atlantic Ocean. In addition, his estate, which was reportedly worth between $60 and $80 million, was left to daughter Jennifer and wife Barbara Harris.
Harris was Grant’s fifth wife, however. The actor had first said “I do” in 1934 when marrying Virginia Cherrill; the pair would divorce just a year later amid allegations of domestic abuse on Grant’s part. Then, in 1942 he wed one of the world’s richest women, Barbara Hutton. Following their 1945 split, Grant moved onto wife number three in 1949, co-star Betsy Drake. Grant and Drake’s marriage lasted a relatively lengthy 12 and a half years.
In 1965, then, Grant wed actress Dyan Cannon, who gave birth to the star’s first and only child Jennifer a year later. And after heading to the divorce court for a fourth time in 1968, Grant dated photojournalist Maureen Donaldson and Victoria Morgan. He married his fifth, final and much younger wife, hotel PR agent Harris, in 1981.
But life as Cary Grant’s spouse wasn’t always a bed of roses. Indeed, footage from 2017 documentary Becoming Cary Grant sees the actor admit that his first marriage to Cherrill was ill-fated. He explains in the movie, “I doubt if either of us was relaxed enough to trust what we had. My possessiveness and fear of losing her bought about the very thing I had feared: the loss of her.”
And in 2011 fourth wife Cannon published a memoir, Dear Cary, about their relationship. There, she revealed that although she had initially enjoyed dating the actor, she soon started to see his darker side. Grant allegedly told Cannon to give up her lifelong dream of acting; reportedly, he even began changing the way in which she looked.
Cannon also claimed that Grant’s behavior took a turn for the disturbing after he had proposed to her. She said, “He’d started criticizing my appearance and was agitated on our wedding day. The following day, my ring finger started to swell up and we had to find a plumber to blowtorch my wedding ring off. If that wasn’t a sign, I don’t know what was.”
And Cannon’s pregnancy with daughter Jennifer apparently also caused problems in the relationship. Cannon wrote in her memoir, “By the time I was pregnant, [Grant] had also withdrawn from me physically – which is hard because, before that, we had been all over each other. Things became polite, almost cold, between us.”
In perhaps her most shocking allegation, though, Cannon has asserted that Grant persuaded her to take mind-altering drugs. And following their split, she spent time in a psychiatric hospital having suffered a nervous breakdown; doctors at the facility told her that her use of LSD had played a part in her mental health issues.
But Cannon has also admitted that her expectations of married life with Grant may have been too high. She said, “As much as I loved him then – and how could I not, as he was kind and funny and charming – I’d have to say I’d also fallen in love with his image and expected that image to make me happy, which was impossible.”
Meanwhile, Grant’s only child has also written about her life with the screen legend in 2011’s Good Stuff: A Reminiscence of My Father. There, Jennifer alleged that the actor was rather authoritarian when it came to certain matters, including the use of make-up. Indeed, she reportedly once found herself in deep trouble when Grant discovered some eyeshadow in her bedroom.
But Jennifer has additionally claimed that Grant’s reputation as being stingy with his fortune is unfounded. She explained, “I always found him generous to a fault, but he wasn’t reckless with his money – which was rather rare in Hollywood. He’d grown up with nothing and he wasn’t about to fritter it all away. His attitude was [that] he knew he could walk into any shop and buy whatever he wanted. He just didn’t have to.”
Plus, Jennifer has said that she’s read about her father’s darker side in her mother’s memoir, although she stated, “She was his wife. I was his daughter. The relationships are quite different.” She added, “It was lovely to read about their romance, but the details of their dissolution were difficult. Sadly, he’s no longer around to give his perspective on their marriage. He never wrote an autobiography.”
However, despite their apparently turbulent relationship, Cannon is seemingly still keen to keep Grant’s memory alive. The Oscar-nominated star spent five years writing a musical intended for Broadway in which she also intends to appear. And in a 2018 interview with Fox News, Cannon revealed that her ex-husband will indeed be a feature of the play.