Book Review: Cary Grant: A Brilliant Disguise by Scott Eyman

Cary Grant: A Brilliant Disguise
Scott Eyman

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I just finished this new biography of Cary Grant and now I’m in the mood to re-watch some of my favorite movies starring this legendary actor. Scott Eyman has written an excellent and thorough book, a detailed account of Grant’s life, beginning with his childhood in Bristol, England.

Long before he became a famous movie star and heartthrob, Cary Grant was a neglected child from a working-class family. He was Born Archibald Leach in 1904 to an alcoholic father and an overly protective and controlling mother, who one day disappeared from his life. It would be years before he learned that his father had committed her to a mental institution. Archie spent much of his youth on the street and joined a troupe of vaudeville acrobats where he learned physical comedy. He arrived in New York at sixteen and, after traveling with the Bob Pender Troupe, made his way to Hollywood, where he signed with Paramount Pictures and changed his name to Cary Grant.

Grant starred in over seventy films, including Bringing up Baby, The Philadelphia Story, An Affair to Remember, Suspicion, Notorious, North by Northwest and To Catch a Thief. His numerous famous co-stars included Ingrid Bergman, Eva Marie Saint, Grace Kelly, and Sophia Loren.

If you remember Cary Grant, you most likely think of him as a handsome, sophisticated and smooth-talking comedic actor and irresistible leading man, but this was a carefully crafted persona. Underneath he struggled with depression and feelings of abandonment and spent his life trying to reconcile these very different sides. He also struggled with relationships and married five times.

Grant longed to be a father and was thrilled when his fourth wife, Dyan Cannon gave birth to their daughter, Jennifer. To find inner peace, he experimented at least 100 times with LSD (when it was still legal) sometimes under a doctor’s care and other times by himself, proclaiming this was the reason he finally forgave his parents for abandoning him.

In addition to showing how Grant worked at achieving this goal, Eyman provides a history of the movie business and how it changed, from the 1930s through Grant’s retirement in 1966. Classic movie fans will enjoy reading about the greats he worked with, including talented writers and directors such as Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Donen and Leo McCarey.

Although friends and colleagues complained about his unwillingness to pick up the tab at dinner, Grant was a smart businessman who understood how to negotiate contracts and was one of the first to demand not only an actor fee, but a percent of gross and profit and ownership of the negatives. He often made deals as a free agent, an almost unheard-of arrangement.

I totally enjoyed this biography and learned a lot about Grant and the movie business during that time and I recommend it to all readers.

Here are a few quick videos about Cary Grant.

The Hidden Origin of Cary Grant – from Simon and Schuster
Cary Grant: From Vaudeville to Hollywood | BFI video essay
Cary Grant receiving an Honorary Oscar®

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!

60 thoughts on “Book Review: Cary Grant: A Brilliant Disguise by Scott Eyman

    1. Hi Stephanie – yes there was a lot I didn’t know about Cary Grant – I was just a kid when he had already retired, so I wasn’t really tuned in. But seeing him in the classic Hitchcock and other movies made me a fan. Thanks for the visit.

    1. Hi Lynette – yes I definitely recommend it. It’s long and very thorough. I think the author must have spent years researching it and I’m sure he watched all of Cary Grant’s movies. It shows. I hope you enjoy it if you get a chance to read it. Thanks for the visit!

  1. Cary Grant is definitely one of the most fascinating personalities from Hollywood’s classic era. I’m old enough to remember the tut-tutting in the press about his rebirthing experiences and his LSD use. We’d be a lot more accepting of that now.

    1. Hi Jan – defnitely one of a kind. He certainly struggled with the hurt in his past, but it’s fascinating to see a person reinvent him or herself. Thank you for reading and commenting. 🙂

  2. I adore Cary Grant and have heard some great things about him. So, now I’ll have to add this to my to-read list…or just watch Philadelphia Story 😋

    1. Hi Tammie – you know I’ll be checking out a few of his movies, including Philadelphia Story. and defninetly the Alfred Hitchcock ones! Thanks for the visit – hope you are doing well. 🙂

  3. sounds like a good book
    i know a couple of movies with grant starring i them
    side note / you noted he sighed sigh paramount–
    well watching the super bowl right now and paramount is now streaming and they have had a few commercials !
    my my my have we come a long way since the time Grant was advocating for fees and “negatives” – now we have digital streaming and very wealthy actors
    -sounds like Eyman did a thorough job with this book about such a well know, classic actor

    1. Hi Prior – yes the movie business has changed dramatically, especially because of the pandemic. I think actors (and their agents) must have to be thinking about how they can stay on top of the ever-evolving structure. Streaming is the new way, for sure. We watched the Super Bowl but stayed on that channel 😉 Thanks for reading and commenting.

      1. Hi _ I stayed ob that channel too – and that was where the Paramount Sttreaming commercials were – with Patrick Stewart and the many others??
        there is a really nice Pride and Prejudice recording streaming on amazon prime – a live musical from 2020 and it reminded me of how everyone had to think different last year and not sure that would have been online had it not been for “the COVID”

      2. yes – my husband was just saying her wondered about that – I guess we will see.
        also heard someone say that the roaring 20s were an unfolding of the pandemic that preceded that fn decade and so maybe we have some really good stuff to look forward to – we shall see
        have a great day

      3. maybe! and i read that somewhere about the 1920s and not sure it was all that good because i’m then came the great depression – ha

  4. This looks like a great read. I’ve loved all movies with Cary Grant in them. He was a good actor – in life as well as in the movies, it seems. I will read this one.

    1. Hi Pam – yes I learned a great deal about the real Cary Grant – I had no idea of his background. He worked very hard at his profession. Seeing how that meshed (or didn’t always mesh) with his true personality was fascinating. Thanks for stopping by!

    1. Hi Donna, yes I knew nothing about Cary Grant except the highly polished persona he worked under and about 5 or 6 of his movies. It was very interesting to read about his true personality. Thanks for stopping by!

  5. There’s nothing like a good biography, as this one undoubtedly is, by your review. I had no idea about his childhood, or how he came to the US at only 16, wow. Great post, Barbara.

    1. Hi Jennifer – yes, this is the type of biography I like. It was so well-researched and the author is clearly an expert on the subject and on writing biographies. I was such a silly child at 16, I can’t imagine being able to do that. Thanks for stopping by 🙂

  6. This is very interesting, Barbara. Cary Grant was before my time and I’ve never seen one of his movies. It is such a shame about his childhood but he may never have achieved what he did if his life had been different.

  7. Thanks, Barb! I love reading biographies and autobiographies of Hollywood legends. One of my faves is Lauren Bacall’s. This one, about Cary Grant, sounds great.

    1. Hi Mary – I’ll have to look for the one about Lauren Bacall. Such a great era for movies! Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I hope you are doing well 🙂

  8. Blessed with movie-star (!) good looks, it’s difficult to digest the fact that he was a neglected child from a working-class family. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. Hardly anything surprises me any more. It seems he was a good negotiator with business acumen, a skill many celebrities lack.

    I’d love to revisit some of his films. Thanks for all this, Barbara!

  9. He is, for sure, someone I think of as a classic heartthrob and “handsome leading man” but I never knew anything about him. It’s always interesting to hear of things behind the scenes (literally in this case). His life was such a departure from his screen persona.

    1. Hi Sarah – I was also surprised at his background and what he was really like under the image he created. You’re right that it was a true departure from his screen persona. Thanks for stopping by!

  10. I had no idea that Cary Grant had such a rough childhood. It’s no surprise that he carried some of those issues with him for many years. I’m sure it also fuelled some of his motivation and ambition. Now I want to go back and rewatch some of his old films. Thanks for sharing.

    1. I feel the same way – since I work at a library, I can grab those DVDs whenever I want – I might start with North by Northwest. Thanks for reading and commenting!

  11. Barbara, a brilliant review and I already feel much more knowledgeable about Cary Grant. I had not idea he was British and what a terrible childhood – his form of ‘recovery’ was most unusual and not one prescribed today! I’m do not read many biographies but you’ve made this one sound very tempting.

    1. Hi Annika – I really enjoy biographies, especially from this time period. I’d always liked Cary Grant, but I didn’t know his story. This is an excellent biography – some of them can be really cheesy. I also didn’t know he was British and I’d always thought he came from a wealthy background – his image was convincing! I agree, the LSD experimentation was a little out there. Thank you for stopping by. I hope you’re out on a new virtual walking experience! 🚶‍♀️🏃‍♀️🚶‍♀️🏃‍♀️

      1. Starting my new virtual walk tomorrow – a bit longer this time and called The Ring of Kerry. Stunning landscape and I travelled the route on business years ago. Thank you so much for your like on Twitter.🙏

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