Happy 113th Birthday, Cary Grant!

The great Cary Grant was born Archibald Alexander Leach 113 years ago today in Horfield, a suburb of Bristol, England. Here are 10 CG Did-You-Knows:

  • Grant’s parents worked in the garment industry—his father as a tailor’s presser; his mother as a seamstress. His older brother, William, died very young of tuberculous meningitis.
  • Grant showed an interest in performing at a very early age, and his mother, who was otherwise very cautious regarding his upbringing after the death of his older brother, encouraged him in pursuing this interest.
  • When Grant was just nine years old, his father had his mother placed in a mental institution, telling Grant she was away on holiday. He later told Grant that his mother had died—she had not. Grant didn’t learn she was still alive until twenty years later.
  • By his early teens, Grant was performing as a stilt walker with a touring group of acrobats. When he was 16, the troupe traveled to New York City, where it enjoyed nine-month run at the Hippodrome—at that time the largest theatre in the world—before touring the country in vaudeville.
  • When the time came for the troupe to return to England, Grant and a few of his fellow performers decided to remain in the U.S. Grant returned to NYC and continued to work, first in vaudeville and then the legitimate theatre, which eventually led to a contract with Paramount Pictures. He made his debut in 1932 in a comedy called This Is the Night that also starred Lili Damita, Charles Ruggles, Roland Young and Thelma Todd.
  • Douglas Fairbanks was a key role model for Grant, who shared the star’s good looks and athleticism (Grant had met Fairbanks aboard ship when he first crossed the Atlantic bound for NYC).
  • Ian Fleming is said to have based the character of James Bond in part on Grant (we think he’d have made a great Bond), and Raymond Chandler once wrote, “If I had ever an opportunity of selecting the movie actor who would best represent [Philip] Marlowe to my mind, I think it would have been Cary Grant.”
  • A telephoned complaint from Grant, who was staying at the Plaza Hotel in NYC, to Conrad Hilton, who was in Istanbul at the time, convinced the hotel czar that the Plaza should serve two full English muffins with room service breakfasts, rather than the one-and-a-half they had been serving.
  • Grant donated his entire salary of $137,000 from The Philadelphia Story (1940) to the British War Relief Fund. Four years later, he donated his salary of $160,000 for Arsenic and Old Lace to British War Relief, the USO and the Red Cross.
  • Grant was a big fan of Elvis Presley and can be spotted in the audience and backstage in Presley’s concert documentary Elvis: That’s the Way It Is (1970).

Happy birthday, Cary Grant, wherever you may be!

Cary Grant

Happy 117th Birthday, Noël Coward!

Sir Noël Coward was born 117 years ago today in Teddington, a suburb of London. He gained fame as a playwright, director, composer, singer, actor and wit. Here are 10 NC Did-You-Knows:

  • Coward’s father was a piano salesman of limited ambition, so Noël grew up in modest circumstances. He took to performing early, performing on an amateur basis at the age of seven.
  • Coward’s mother chose his first name because he was born so close to Christmas.
  • Coward’s mother sent him to a dance academy in London, and Coward made his professional debut at age 11 in a children’s play called The Goldfish. Within months, he was appearing in Where the Rainbow Ends at the Garrick Theatre in London’s West End.
  • At 14, he became the protege of society painter Philip Streatfeild, and when Streatfield died, his friend, wealthy socialite Mrs. Astley Cooper, took Coward under her wing and helped to promote his career.
  • Coward was drafted to serve in the Army during World War I, but was considered likely to contract tuberculosis and was given a medical discharge after nine months. Thereafter he began writing and selling short stories to help support his family and he made his initial stabs at writing plays—first in conjunction with other playwrights and finally, in 1918, completing his first solo effort, The Rat Trap.
  • In 1920, Coward wrote and starred in the light comedy I’ll Leave It to You. It debuted in Manchester before opening in the West End at the New Theatre (renamed the Noël Coward Theatre in 2006).
  • In 1921, Coward traveled for the first time to the United States, hoping to interest New York producers in his plays. He had little luck initially, but was greatly influenced by the shows he attended on Broadway. He tried to bring some of the youthful verve those shows exhibited to his own plays, and he made a success of it.
  • Coward wrote dozens of works for the theatre, amassed more than 100 writing credits in movies and television, and composed more than 300 songs.
  • Coward, a friend and neighbor of author Ian Fleming, was offered the title role in the James Bond film Dr. No (1962). His response: “No, no, no, a thousand times no!” That same year, he was also offered (but declined) the role of Humbert in Lolita.
  • During World War II, while Coward toured extensively to entertain the troops, he was also secretly working for British intelligence.

Happy birthday, Noël Coward, wherever you may be!

Noël Coward