First a great story. Hale Boggs, a great friend of The Luncheon Society for so many years, relayed a tale of his former mother-in-law who was stranded on an LA freeway. As she stood outside of her car, a Cadillac pulled up from behind and an elegant white haired man with glasses emerged out from the driver’s side.
“Darling,” he said, “I might not be from the Auto Club, but perhaps I can help out in a pinch.” He then pulled out the jack, changed the tire and wished her well, before getting in his car and driving off. It was Cary Grant.
It’s a wonderful LA story, an extra delight when the person exceeds persona, epecially when that persona belongs to Cary Grant.
Better still, there is another story that is seldom seen: Daughter of two Hollywood icons grows up normally and cherishes her parents. In a world where overgrown tabloid celebrity has become commonplace, it’s rare for someone to describe their childhood with a sense of gentle modesty.
With that, Jennifer Grant joined The Luncheon Society in San Francisco at Credo, in Manhattan at Danal, (with special thanks to our friend Haviland Morris who hosted) before heading off to our LA-home-away-from-home, Napa Valley Grille, for a delightful conversation about his role of a lifetime—a full time father.
“With the birth of his daughter,” she writes, the sixty-three-year-old Cary Grant, still urbane, athletic, sublimely handsome, and always self-effacing, retired from the screen to devote himself to his longed-for child.” At a time when most were looking forward to their first social security check or Medicare benefits, Cary Grant took this role as professionally as he prepared for any film.
What Jennifer Grant offers is a graceful excursion into her father’s life–not as an actor or movie icon but as a father. Needless to say, he nailed the role.
Grant kept a complete record of Jennifer’s childhood, with home movies, reel-to-reel tapes, every piece of homework, and every touchstone of her young life. Grant himself lost his childhood memories during the Nazi blitz but purchased a room-sized safe to keep his daughter’s items secure. Grant, perhaps looking at the actuarial table, knew that becoming a father at 63 might not afford the time that others would have. By building a time capsule of their life together, his memory and legacy would extend long beyond his mortal years and transcend down into generations yet to come.
When you open the book jacket, “In Good Stuff, Jennifer Grant writes of her enchanted but very real life with her father, playing, laughing, dining, and dancing together through the thick and thin of Jennifer’s growing up; the years of his work, his travels, his friendships with old Hollywood royalty (the Sinatras, the Pecks, the Poitiers, et al.) and with just plain old royalty (the Rainiers) . . . until Grant’s death at the age of eighty-two.
“She writes of the love he showed her, the lessons he taught her, of his childhood as well as her own. Here are letters, notes, cards, and drawings from father to daughter and from her to him . . . photographs taken at home and on their many adventures . . . and bits of conversation between them (Cary Grant kept a tape recorder going for most of their time together).”
“Good Stuff captures the magic of a father’s devotion (and goofballness) and reveals a daughter’s special odyssey of loving, and being loved, by a dad who was Cary Grant.”
She writes, “My hopeful guess on his attempted autobiography is that Dad was done with his homework. He came to terms with who he was and who his parents were. Let others play their guessing games. He trusted that those who knew him, knew him. Those who didn’t, never really would. To make a case for himself would therefore be a fruitless, energy- wasting endeavor. He’d forgiven who he needed to forgive, let go of what he needed to, and accepted himself as he was. Archibald Alexander Leach, Cary Grant, and all.”
“Dad had two somewhat conflicting beliefs,” Jennifer would write. “He would remind me to never pay attention to what other people were thinking about me, because, he said, they were too busy thinking about themselves to really think about me. Funny. The polar opposite belief he espoused was “All you have is your reputation.” The latter, I’m guessing, was learned through the business of “show” business. Dad has, and had, a deservedly glowing reputation. However, this belief in “reputation first” seems to have given rise to his fears of what might be rumored after his death. Then, there are interesting misconceptions about Dad. My choice is to leave these misconceptions to themselves. My hope is that we are wise.”
Life is more than knowing your lines. Cary Grant exhibited a great sense of timing throughout his career, something that extended beyond hitting a mark or creating a great reaction shot. He knew when to start and when to stop his career but also knew that acting was only one part of his life’s mosaic.
Cary Grant remained light years ahead of his colleagues because he never belonged to any studio system that squandered talent and often disposed of actors with a knee-jerk convenience. Long when his contemporaries had faded from the scene, Cary Grant still reigned supreme. He still does today, a generation after he passed away.
One wonders if he traveled to the William Morris mail room, might he have surpassed Lew Wasserman within a short period of time? Yes, and with grace.
Another great story. As Jennifer was discovering her father’s legacy, she stayed up late night to watch “Bringing up Baby,” that great Howard Hawks screwball comedy with Katherine Hepburn and Ward Bond. When she told her father that she was knocked out by his dexterity, he smiled and replied, “Jennifer, what were you doing up so late?”
In the end, good parentage and a basic charm trumps all. It’s all “Good Stuff.”
The Luncheon Society ™ is a series of private luncheons and dinners that take place in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Manhattan, and now Boston. We essentially split the costs of gathering and we meet in groups of 20-25 people. Discussions center on politics, art, science, film, culture, and whatever else is on our mind. Think of us as “Adult Drop in Daycare.” We’ve been around since 1997 and we’re purposely understated. These gatherings takes place around a large table, where you interact with the main guest and conversation becomes end result. There are no rules, very little structure, and the gatherings happen when they happen. Join us when you can.