Extracts from
"The Journey"
by Robert Barham.

Chapter One

Whilst many books have been written about Cary Grant, none had been written by Cary Grant, except for a short biography he wrote for a magazine in the late sixties.  The first problem I had as I started to research "Archie" was that each time I took home a book from the library, it would tell a slightly different story from the one before.  One would say for instance that Elsie Leach was not his real mother, or, that his father had "sold" him to a traveling circus!

Only over much time, and many books would a consistent story emerge.

Cary Grant was born Archibald Alexander Leach in the seaport town of Bristol England on January 18 1904. He was the second child of Elsie and Elias Leach.

Initially I had been interested in using the whole of Cary's life for the show, introducing people like Hitchcock and Monroe into it, but finally settled on basing "Archie" on the period before he became the big star we know today. Three people in his early life, who I felt were crucial to the story, Elsie and Elias Leach, and Bob Pender, had fascinated me.

Elsie had come from a very wealthy family with shipping interests. She was the youngest of five children, and had remained at home caring for her parents, when her siblings had flown the nest. That was until she met and fell in love with a young Tailor, Elias James Leach.

Elsie and Elias were married in May 1898. In February of the following year, they had their first child, John William Elias Leach.  John Leach was to die one day short of his first birthday. This would in reality be the beginning of the end for Elsie and Elias.  Elsie in my opinion would always blame herself for John's death, feeling that she could have done something to prevent it.  When John became ill, Elsie watched over him night and day. In the end her doctor ordered her to get some rest. On that night as she slept, John died.

Four years later, their second child, Archibald Alexander Leach was born. After the losing baby John, Elsie was determined that nothing would happen to young Archie.  In those early years Elsie dedicated herself to Archie. She became overly protective, and slowly started to exclude Elias from her life.  Husband and wife began to argue, mostly over money, and slowly drifted apart. Archie would become Elsie's whole world.  Over time Elsie's mental state deteriorated, causing her to become erratic.  Finally, in 1911 Elias had Elsie committed to Fishponds mental asylum, where she remained for the next twenty years.

Archie had been at school the day Elsie was committed. Returning home, he found his father waiting for him.  When Archie enquired where his mother was, Elias told the young boy she had gone away for a rest, and would return shortly.  That is all he was ever told. Archie would be a fully-grown man, and a famous film star by the time he discovered the truth.  As far as I could make out, Elias had either no, or very little contact with Elsie from that point on, and it appears she was rarely mentioned in conversation.

Archie became a bit of a loner, his father was rarely at home, so he often spent the evenings walking the streets, or down by the docks.  A few years later a chemistry teacher at school introduced him to the world of the theatre. From that moment Archie knew where his future lay.  Archie would run away from home to join his favourite comedy/acrobatic group called, "Bob Pender and his knock about comediennes".  Elias would find the runaway and take him back to Bristol, but it wasn't long before Archie had got himself expelled from school, and, this time with his fatherís permission, rejoined The Pendertons.

For me, Bob Pender is perhaps the biggest influence on Archieís film success, having once been a famous Dury lane clown; Pender was a master of physical comedy, a skill passed on from his father, and grandfather.  After his years of success as a clown, he formed "Bob Pender and his knockabout comediennes." They would travel around the country throughout the year, performing their mixture of acrobatics and comedy.  During the First World War, Pender found his troop of performers regularly depleted, as those old enough went off to join the fighting.  Pender was now recruiting younger lads to perform in the troop. The young Archie Leach grabbed his opportunity, and quickly found himself performing all over England.

Pender was an excellent tutor, not only in passing on his acrobatic skills, but more importantly in Archieís case, he taught his entire troop the skill of communicating with an audience, without having to say a single word.  The facial expressions that Archie would later use to great effect in his films began here. Two very clear examples of this can be seen in two of his films.  The first is in "Arsenic and old lace". There is a scene where Archie discovers a dead body in a chest under a window. After his initial shock, he realises that the unlikely culprits of this crime are his two elderly aunts. Within the space of thirty seconds, and only using his face, the twenty or so minutes proceeding that point are brilliantly summed up, without using one single word.  Whilst this is a brilliant piece of acting, one must not forget all those years spent with Bob Pender.  Another Example is in "An Affair to remember". Near to the end of the film, Archieís character (Nickie Ferrante) goes to see Terry McKay. (Played by Deborah Kerr) He goes into a room and sees a bed, the realisation of the events in the previous 30 minutes are all summed up in a single movement.  There are those who think that Cary Grant could not act, but you only have to look at these two examples (and there are many others I could point out) to begin to realise he was a fine actor, an actor who made everything look effortless, a skill that very few actors master.

As each day passed the exact story I wanted to tell was taking shape. I had a strong feeling this was not only a good story, but also one that was important to relate.  Then, totally out of the blue, something happened that would hold up writing for much of the year....

           

The Journey by Robert BarhamIn late 1996 Robert Barham began work on a musical about the early life of Cary Grant. The musical was entitled "Archie". During the course of his research, Robert came across a number of extraordinary coincidences between his own life, and that of Cary Grant. In "The Journey", Robert tells the fascinating story of his three years writing and researching the musical, from page to stage. A tale which would take him from London, to Cary's birth town of Bristol, and finally on to Hollywood. 

To order The Journey, go to http://www.lulu.com/content/877810.  You will then have the ability to download this e-book for $5.90.

    

Chapter One  |  Chapter Four  |  Chapter Six

Chapter Eight  |  Chapter 11  |  Epilogue

  Autobiography  |  "Archie" the Musical  |  The Journey  |  Guestbook  |  Home

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