A passion for classic films has altered my view of reality. I’ve developed these old-fashioned expectations that tend to trouble my interaction with people who have been shaped by the culture of the 21st century. Our tastes in general diverge in opposite directions and I have a difficult time understanding the way they think. There is one area of preference, however, where I believe I am right to hold the standards that I do. I am convinced that Cary Grant is a worthy, timeless model of what men should aspire to and what women should find irresistible. Yet I look around at the men and boys I know and cannot help but wonder: Where are all the Cary Grants?
When I say “Cary Grant,” I want you to know that I do not just mean the physical, real person who was Cary Grant. In fact, his real name was Archie Leach and he was christened with this new name when he arrived in Hollywood. Of course, this man had many wonderful qualities of his own, but like the rest of us, he was human and flawed. For my Cary Grant, I’m really talking about the man as the collective of all the characters he portrayed. From David Huxley in “Bringing Up Baby” to Devlin in “Notorious” to Walter Eckland in “Father Goose,” the roles that Cary Grant played each added something to this persona that is remembered today. His depictions of comedic goof-balls, slick thieves, charming millionaires, rougharound-the-edges soldiers, and love-struck white-collar working-men all work together to create this creature called Cary Grant that is, in my opinion, immensely appealing.
The persona of Cary Grant is composed of a number of amiable traits. First of all, Cary Grant was clever. It is one thing to have a good sense of humor and some intelligence; it is quite another to be truly clever. Grant’s wit was superb. He had a quick mind, great comedic timing, and was a good conversationalist. We see this most in films such as “His Girl Friday,” “Arsenic and Old Lace,” and “The Philadelphia Story.” Instead of the crude oneliners of modern leading men, the comedy of Cary Grant was subtle, smart, and sharp. His jokes, whether made in good-humor or as an insult, were delivered with a degree of class and reflected the maturity and intelligence of the speaker. It is his cleverness that makes Cary Grant naturally charming. The allure of his character is not that he is some genius, but that he didn’t compromise his dignity to be attractive and funny. There was originality and purity in his speech and his jests.
Cary Grant was elegant. I know that sounds somewhat feminine, but it is the only word I can think of that captures the Cary Grant style. It’s not just that he wore a nice suit in most of his roles. He was elegant in the sense that he moved with grace, his clothing was simple and fit well, and his whole demeanor was one of sophistication. It saddens me how tacky people can dress and act today. There is no shame whatsoever in being able to walk well, knowing how to dance, or wearing a belt so that your pants don’t slide down. Grant’s refined, polished appearance is part of his appeal and though fashions change, elegance should never be tossed aside as a useless quality. After all, Cary Grant always got what he was going after, which was usually a lovely, intelligent woman. What a wonderful reward for a little extra care being paid to one’s disposition!
The character of Cary Grant was also lively. He had abounding energy whether he was playing a comedic clown or a serious, dramatic role. There was not a lazy bone in the Grant persona. He didn’t shy away from any adventure or duty, whether it was all in good fun or involved real danger. His enthusiasm was apparent when he did a slapstick routine or was engaging in an animated dialogue. This is not the “liveliness” that sets Grant apart from today’s leading men, however. Grant had this unconquerable vitality even when he was faced with immense difficulties. In “Only Angels Have Wings,” his team of pilots encounters great challenges and disasters and yet his spirit does not fail in the most crushing of circumstances. He shows immeasurable courage with his trademark style. His courage, I believe, is true manly courage. It is strength, both internal and external, that gives his character gracefulness and temerity. Grant embodied an unquenchable zest for life, a real carpe diem attitude that one rarely finds in a man today. Now we encounter depression in those who fail, drunkenness in those who are bored, and sluggishness in those who are lazy. I have made a generalization, I know. But there are so few with the Cary Grant brand of heartiness. He faced the world with a tongue-in-cheek kind of humor in the face of disaster. His vivacity was an essential part of the Cary Grant image.
I once tried to explain to a friend why I admire Cary Grant. My friend thought me completely insane upon learning what I admired in men and replied, “You’re just in love with the grey suit.” This is completely untrue. The suit doesn’t have to be grey. But the man who is wearing the suit should have some semblance of Cary Grant in him. Cary Grant himself once said, “Everybody wants to be Cary Grant. Even I want to be Cary Grant.” While the ideal is impossible to achieve, the qualities that made up the persona of Grant are not. He was a man of substance, not just an image of Hollywood. It is my profound hope that one day, hopefully in the near future, men will once again say “I want to be Cary Grant.” They will find that some qualities in human beings will be eternally attractive. We will once again be able to describe men as being truly charming. Until then, I will watch my classic films and save my praise for Cary Grant.