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Cary Grant

Chapter Seven

et Universal Studios, where I work, presently engages the services of more stars than any other company in Hollywood — Rock Hudson, Doris Day, Marlon Brando, Kirk Douglas, Tony Curtis, Gregory Peck and others — and consequently has become, under the capable leadership of Milton Rackmil, the most successfully functioning company in our business. Stars are proffered complete financing for their ventures and, with the collaboration of the best writers, producers, directors and technical talent available under the protective shelter of Universal-International’s goodwill, have turned out the recent record-breaking successes that are reflected in the company’s highly profitable operation, and financial statements.

In a world in which almost everyone blames someone else for a position in which he himself has put himself, and in my profession particularly, criticism -- rather than encouragement -- is defended as if it's a virtue; but if those self-appointed criticizers, both within and outside our belabored industry, keep up their criticism long enough, there won't be any industry, or stars, left to criticize. Then what will the criticizers criticize? Themselves? That'll be the unlikely day.

Somewhere they'll manage to seek out new targets for whatever hurts them. Everybody does. Ah, well, if every knock is a boost, it's no wonder we're so amazingly successful!

In 1951 a friend of mine, an erstwhile writer and director named Don Hartman, became head of production at Paramount's Hollywood studios where, on his first day in office, some of the corporation's New York business executives came to welcome him. At that gathering one of the men opined that a recent film was an excellent film, since it represented an investment of about $1,000,000 and had made $2,000,000 in profit. Don agreed that it was profitable all right, but disagreed with the claim that it was an excellent film -- and was momentarily squelched with the reply that he, Don, was an artist and therefore did not understand business. That night at dinner with me Don couldn't get the remark out of his mind; and suddenly it occurred to him how best he might have retorted.

He could have told that meeting, and that man, about a certain fellow who owned a typewriter and some foolscap, erasers and pencils — an outlay, including part amortization of the typewriter’s cost, of probably not more than $30 — and, with that total investment, turned out a piece of writing for which, only that week, Harry Cohn, then head of Columbia Pictures, gratefully paid $1,000,000. The writer’s name was Garson Kanin and the writing was called Born Yesterday.

My mind went to Larry Adler, who, carrying only a pocket harmonica, need never be without means of sustenance. He could enter any place in the world, where any language is spoken, and by playing a few melodious ear-arresting notes, earn the bacon and eggs, three, and be effusively offered shelter and comfort, free. Think of that. A means of livelihood in a small harmonica. Added to a large talent! Oh, I bow deeply to artists!

Warming to his own examples, Don Hartman thought about another man, in France. Unretired, even now, at 82. A man who had some used paintbrushes, a lot of half-squeezed tubes of oil paint and a canvas. An investment of, let’s say, oh, $22.80? Well, this fellow, this nonbusinessman, this artist, put some paint upon that canvas and calmly sat down to wait for the phone to ring, which was hardly a moment, and said, “Yes, Mr. Soandso, if you will really enjoy having it, I could arrange to sell you my new painting. A quarter of a million dollars, please.” And the caller answered, “Oh, thank you, thank you! Please save it for me. I’ll be right over, Mr. Picasso.” Now what did that Paramount executive mean: artists aren’t businessmen?

I can only suggest that businessmen retaliate by becoming artists, so that they, too, can more quickly acquire all those butlers, valets, chauffeurs, playgirls and high-powered cars; and caviar and champagne and emerald-studded swimming pools; and a colossal gold-plated mansion.

Well, that Eighth Avenue apartment was no mansion, I can tell you. It wasn’t even much of an apartment, and the nearest thing to a swimming pool was the kitchen tub where we nightly lined up after the show, to wash our socks and handkerchiefs and, whenever the order of the day demanded, the dish towels; followed by a cue at the communal iron and ironing board. I was able by now to keep house, cook, sew buttons on, and do my own laundry, and consequently had a fair degree of independence. So, naturally, having such independence, it was about time to become dependent upon a girl. How extraordinary that as soon as a man becomes self-reliant he wants to become reliant upon one of the opposite sex. I suppose that’s because it is the only way for him to someday teach a son how to become self-reliant — so that he in turn can become reliant upon one of the fairer and, I’m certain, stronger sex.

She was in the show. A ballet dancer. Blond, blue-eyed and bountifully bosomed. About a year or so older than I. Of all the Hippodrome girls, I lavished my timorous ogles only on her. And only from afar. She didn’t seem unmindful of my distant infatuation, but somehow neither of us ever managed to improve the relationship. Still, her presence inspired me to better work whenever she was watching, and I became extraordinarily reliant upon her smiles of approbation. Ah, it takes a woman to bring out the best in a man and sometimes, alas, the worst in a man, depending upon what you consider worst or best, of course. Often they’re interchangeable.

At Christmas, after hours of shopping and agonizing indecision, I selected an incredible gift for her, now that I think back over it. A multicolored woolen coat-sweater-and-scarf combination that would have won the first two falls with any rainbow. In those days I hadn’t aspired to the extravagant production costs of dressing one’s leading lady, nor to the fashion world of Norell, Balenciaga, Molyneux or Dior. I bought it at Macy’s. Proving that even then I knew where to get good value.

I missed my inamorata’s encouraging looks on Sundays, but, what with sampling different-flavored ice-cream sodas (for breakfast, mind you; how could I have done that?), and those huge banana splits (which were unknown in England then), and the days’ sight-seeing and the evenings’ movies (there were no Sunday movies in England either), my thoughts kept busily occupied.

I traveled New York City from one end to the other. From the Bronx Zoo to the Battery.

I spent hours on the open-air tops of Fifth Avenue buses. (How unkind of the company to have discontinued them.) I contentedly rode from Washington Square, up the Avenue and across 72nd Street, to the beauty of Riverside Drive, with its quiet mansions and impeccably kept apartment buildings. It’s all quite different now. I passed Grant’s tomb countless without an inkling that I would someday be known by the same name. Even if not similarly memorialized.

With the Hippodrome season closing and the performers planning future engagements in faraway places, and everyone trotting around saying good-byes, humor-coated in a variety of accents, languages and embraces, I became quite despondent. I dreaded the bustle of packing backstage that last night, as I have at the finish of every show or film I’ve been associated with ever since. I am always content to stay doing what I’m doing wherever I’m doing it; only circumstances seem to propel me on. I seldom leave anyone or anyplace of my own conscious volition. When the meal or party or association is over, and the people or person close to me no longer there, I seem unwishing to move; without urge to change the situation, even though it could be for the better. Perhaps death is like that. Perhaps it is better on the other side of death; but I’m in no hurry to get there to prove it.

Meanwhile I manage to like wherever I am; inside and outside of me.

The show closed. The building began to empty. And while the other boys impatiently waited outside the stage door, I languished around the time clock, longing for a last tender look from my beloved. Her name was Gladys Kincaid and, for her, I can only hope that by now, unlike me, she has hordes of tiny grandchildren joyously romping all over her.

When she appeared, I remember standing there tongue-tied and fuddle-headed, while people milled around us at the time clock, and those nitwits outside kept putting their heads around the door yelling “hurry up” and “come on.” Oh, the pangs of youth! Charles Lederer once wrote that a youth is a series of low-comedy disasters. We both stood there, though with the condition of my knees I’m amazed I stayed upright, mumbling something like “I do hope we see each other again.” Both of us together. At the same time. Same words. And then she was gone. And I was left there, alone, with her lingering perfume. And my shyness. Which I could have kicked. Here I was seventeen, and incapable of sufficient progression toward testing that birds-and bees theory. Sufficient progression! I hadn’t even held her hand!

That following day, Sunday, our troupe departed for Philadelphia to begin what turned out to be a glorious tour of the entire B. F. Keith Vaudeville Circuit. We performed in new, first-class, well-equipped theaters in Cleveland, Boston, Chicago and throughout the principal cities of the East, including, at the tour’s end, the epitome of variety theaters, that goal of all vaudevillians, the Palace in New York City.

It was 1921. The beginning of an era that became known as the “Roaring Twenties.” An era that caroused unmindfully toward its eventual stock-market collapse — payment of the piper.

The popular songs were Japanese Sandman, Margie, Avalon and Whispering.

Man o’ War was the great horse, having won both the Belmont and Preakness stakes.

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