Cary Grant’s marriage to Dyan Cannon lasted just two years, but it gave him his only child, Jennifer. Now, as the two women release their memoirs, they give very different accounts of life with the Hollywood enigma
Jennifer Grant today with a picture of her father
Jennifer Grant, 45, Cary Grant’s only child, was just one year old when her mother and father split up.
'To be honest, I think I’d become a bit selfish with memories of my father. I wanted to hug them close to me. When someone suggested I write a book, I tested the idea on Barbara Harris, Dad’s fifth wife and my stepmother, thinking she’d say, “Absolutely not!” But to my amazement she said, “That’s a lovely idea. You must do it.”
‘When I knew I was pregnant four years ago with a boy, a friend suggested I call him Cary, but I initially resisted. There was only one Cary Grant. But a week before he was due, I started thinking it would be wonderful to pass the name on to him. And anyway, my father wasn’t Cary to me. He was Dad.
‘Almost from the start, I saw familiar characteristics in my son. He’s funny, for instance, and he’s been that way from the start. Like his grandfather, he has funny bones. No one had better comic timing than Dad. People ask if any man can ever measure up to him.
'Every daughter looks up to her father but the fact is we were incredibly close. He retired at 60, when I was born, so I had him for the first 20 years of my life. Although I lived with my mother, she’d be away making a film for three months, say, and I’d be at my father’s house. I saw him so much more than the child of divorced parents might expect.
‘I knew he was older than most fathers, but when you’re young you tend to live in the moment. The concept of death was alien to me. And yet, he made a particular point of bringing up the subject. I hated those conversations.
'But he wasn’t being morbid. And he was right because, of course, in a way it prepared me. He used to discuss his will with Barbara and me. She was 46 years younger than him. He wanted my relationship with her to endure so I came to realise that that kind of practicality was extraordinarily romantic and loving.
‘One of the myths about Dad was that he was mean. That simply wasn’t true. 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 he knew he could walk into any shop and buy whatever he wanted. He just didn’t have to. That taught me the proper value of money. Dad’s style was innate. In many ways, he invented himself. He knew what he wanted and he stuck to it. And he was just like that at home. I never once saw him dressed down. Even his pyjamas were monogrammed.
‘He tried to let me wear what I wanted when I was a teenager but I think he found it hard. He was always strict about make-up. He once found some eyeshadow in my drawer. I got into big trouble. He could be very firm on certain things. Make-up, manners... and he was a stickler for proper English. Yes, I’ve read Mum’s book. It’s her point of view on Dad. She was his wife. I was his daughter. The relationships are quite different. 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.
In the spotlight: Jennifer pictured in 1966, making her debut with her famous parents
‘Was Dad gay? My gut instinct was he was straight. Perhaps his maverick nature coupled with his grace made him difficult to categorise. Perhaps he had what Virginia Woolf described as “an androgynous mind”. I’m sure he was sometimes a bit flirty with men. People can be so black and white. I'd like to think Dad greyed the line a bit. Not long ago, someone asked if I’d heard George Clooney might be gay. It made me laugh out loud. It seemed so ridiculous but then, of course, he’s not my father. I happen to know George a little and I’d never in the world think that man was gay.
He was always strict about make-up. He once found some eyeshadow in my drawer. I got into big trouble.
‘The best word to describe my father? Thoughtful. There was a tender quality to Dad that his sense of fun could sometimes mask. But, above all, he was sensitive and looked out for those he loved. Luckily for me, none more so than myself. When he died, I had the additional burden of everyone being aware of my grief. Now it’s fine. People stop me all the time with their recollections of Dad and it gives him a kind of immortality. But it was hard at first. The book was a kind of closure. Now I can watch his movies and be an audience member as well as his daughter.
‘I have tapes, letters and photographs my father collected over the years. Here (right) is an abridged excerpt from one birthday letter he wrote me. It still moves me to tears today.’
As told to Richard Barber Good Stuff, A Reminiscence Of My Father, Cary Grant by Jennifer Grant is published by Alfred A. Knopf at £15.68.
Actress Dyan Cannon, now 74, was 28 when she married Cary Grant, then 61, in 1965. They had Jennifer a year later, but the marriage lasted just two years.
Motherly: Dyan Cannon pictured in 1963
‘Whatever problems eventually arose between Cary and me, it was obvious he adored Jennifer. She was so young when we divorced, but she was never used as a football between Cary and me and I think that’s why she grew up so well-adjusted.
‘Cary and I had a great romance in the beginning – loving and fun, a fairytale in parts – but then he started to change me. My hair, my clothes, my bags, my shoes, he even told me not to act – although I’d wanted to be an actress ever since I was a little girl – and I went along with it all.
'He once told me to choose something in a shop, and when I came out he was standing there with Rock Hudson and they were saying how elegant I looked. He paid me so much attention, but then I’d look in the mirror and think, “I don’t know who this person is.” He picked me because I was young and he could fashion me. An older woman wouldn’t have put up with it.
‘But being young, I wanted to get married and have a family. Whatever doubts I had, I remember thinking, “When we get married, everything will be OK”, or “When we have the baby, it will be fine.” But our relationship started to change when he asked me to marry him. He’d started criticising 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.
‘By then I was pregnant and, though he was so happy to be a father, he’d also get scared as it brought up memories of his childhood. When he was ten he was told his mother had died, but in fact his father had her committed to an asylum so he could carry on womanising. By the time I was pregnant he 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. When Jennifer was born he was besotted with her – when I saw the two of them together it was heart-rending. He had so much kindness for her it was beautiful to watch.
‘Before we got married, he’d encouraged me to take LSD. I hated it but he said, “You and I have a child together and I want to make this marriage work”, so I took it again. I reacted horribly and I knew I couldn’t do it any more. When I eventually asked Cary, “Do you love me just as I am now?” I was met with silence. It was like my insides had fallen out. I felt empty. When we split up, I was terribly depressed. I had a breakdown and ended up in a psychiatric hospital – the doctors said LSD had contributed to my mental state. Only a couple of people knew about it but I told Jennifer before she read my book because I wanted to warn her.
As for the gay rumours, I was in bed with him most of the time so I didn’t notice. I don’t know what he did before or after me
‘While I was with Cary I didn’t act for almost three years, and wasn’t being offered great jobs. It was hard raising Jennifer and there was very little money coming from Cary. We went through a not-very-pretty divorce, which added to my depression. But I never worried I’d lose custody of Jennifer. Relations became polite between Cary and me for her sake and she’d spend weekends with him and go on trips with him every summer. But because she lived with me, I had the job of disciplining her and was kind of made out to be the bad guy. When Cary died in 1986, we’d been divorced for almost 20 years, but his death really hit me. It was partly because things hadn’t fully healed between us, but mostly because I felt so much love for him. I love him more now than when we were together – I understand him much better.
‘As for the gay rumours, I was in bed with him most of the time so I didn’t notice. I don’t know what he did before or after me, but I do know there was never another woman or man in our relationship and he was so full of energy and life that men, women, children… everyone was just drawn to him. Jennifer has a theory Cary enjoyed the rumours because it made women want to prove them wrong, but I don’t know. I do know women wanted him and they’d be desperate for his attention even when I was standing next to him.
‘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. I wrote my book to help people love and understand Cary more and to humanise him. I know he’d have been so proud of Jennifer and thrilled she’s a mother. My grandson, who’s also called Cary, is now three and has his grandfather’s mannerisms. I’m sorry Cary’s not here to experience it or to see his new grandchild – Jennifer’s expecting again – but somewhere out there I’m sure he’s watching.’
Dear Cary by Dyan Cannon is published by The Robson Press at £18.99.
Read more: Cary Grant: Hollywood enigma was a devoted dad but a despicable husband | Mail Online