Book Review--Cary Grant: A Brilliant Disguise


Cary Grant: A Brilliant Disguise
Scott Eyman 
Simon & Schuster, 2020

Cary Grant was a complicated man. That much has been common knowledge among his fans for years. He would pinch a penny until it squealed, but was generous with his time and possessions. He’d be as respectful to a studio secretary as a studio boss, but when it came to romance, he wanted a woman who would cater to his needs and even live her own life in accordance with his preferences. He could give you an ulcer or save your life.

All these aspects of the actor have never really been woven into a compelling portrait though. I’ve read a few Grant biographies over the years and I’ve never felt that any of them mined the depths of the man effectively. They always seemed to view him as a bit alien, unknowable. 

Scott Eyman's  new book about the actor, Cary Grant: A Brilliant Disguise is the first telling of Grant’s life in which I’ve felt he was given the grace of his humanity. It is clear that the man who started life as Archie Leach was a conflicted, but essentially self-possessed person who could offer profound generosity, but felt the insecurity of early poverty.

Eyman circles back to several topics throughout the book: Grant’s uneasy relationship with his mother, his also difficult marriages, and the ever-hanging speculation about his sexuality. While his issues with the women in his life played a key role in his insecurity about himself, his sexuality seems to have been of less consequence to him than the rest of the world. 

Eyman returns to the topic several times, to the point of it becoming tiresome, but I understood that detailed exploration to be of great interest to many potential readers. In essence, it seems that Grant did have some bisexual tendencies, including with his one-time roommate Randolph Scott, but that he viewed those escapades casually, as if he was horsing around in the locker room.

I appreciated that Eyman’s analysis of Grant’s career acknowledged the actor’s hesitancy to take risks and expand his craft. He certainly had the ability to excel in roles more adventurous than the comedies, romances, and thrillers he favored. 

The work he did, especially in comedy, required great skill, and he made it look a lot easier than it was, but he could have gone deeper if he’d had the nerve to divert from his image and take a risk. It’s fascinating to imagine what he could have done with something like either of the male lead parts in The Third Man had he taken the offer.

While Grant turned down several roles that could have challenged him to grow, he was nevertheless brilliant when it came to managing his career. He mostly free-lanced, striking multi-picture deals when it seemed advantageous. When Grant retired from acting, he easily slid into business, finding that being an active member of several boards required some of the same skills he’d used in his career.

In the end, Grant found himself adored, wealthy, married to a woman who catered to his needs, and well-loved by the daughter he had after leaving acting behind. He never entirely figured himself out, but who does? He worked his way to a sort of peace and he was generous in helping the younger people in his life to learn from his mistakes.

I finally felt like I understood the essence of Grant after reading Eyman’s book. The richness of the narrative, which was smoothly written and filled with enlightening first-person accounts, and the thorough research made me feel that every possible crevice of his life had been examined. We are as close to knowing this man as we will get and I admire him more than I ever have.

Many thanks to Simon and Schuster for providing a copy of the book for review.


Jeff 68 said...

Enjoyed your review of the Scott Eyman's Cary Grant biography. Thought you might like to know about the forth-coming book Steve McQueen: In His Own Words. If you send me your email address - I can send you a PDF of the book if you send me your email address Thank you, Jeff -

phillyrich said...

Thank you for a thoughtful review.

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