PBS: "Cary Grant: A Class Apart"
Thursday, May 26, 2005; 12:00 PM
The documentary "Cary Grant: A Class Apart" explores the life and career of the Hollywood actor who got his start by touring in vaudeville, eventually arriving in New York in 1920. Archibald Leach was born 100 years ago in Bristol, England, beginning his path toward stardom as Cary Grant. Before landing small Hollywood parts, he walked on stilts at Coney Island and sold neckties on mid-town street corners. In 1933, he hit it big as Mae West's leading man in "She Done Him Wrong." The film is part of the "American Masters" series on PBS. It aired on Wednesday, May 25, at 9 p.m. ET (check local listings).
Grant's wife, Barbara Grant Jaynes, and the film's writer, director and producer Robert Trachtenberg were online Thursday, May 26, at Noon ET to discuss the actor and the PBS film "Cary Grant: A Class Apart."
Born in East Africa to English parents Leslie and James Harris, Barbara Grant Jaynes first met Grant in 1976 and moved to the United States to be with him in 1978. They were inseparable until his death.
Grant worked with directors such as George Cukor, Alfred Hitchcock and Howard Hawks in such films as "Bringing Up Baby," "The Philadelphia Story," "His Girl Friday," "North by Northwest," "Notorious," and "I Was a Male War Bride."
Trachtenberg's career includes photography, writing and filmmaking. He has won several awards and his photographs have been published in The New York Times Magazine, Vanity Fair, Entertainment Weekly, The New Yorker, In Style, Interview and numerous foreign publications.
The transcript follows.
Barbara Grant Jaynes: Hello! I hope you all enjoyed this very much. I was lucky enough to be married to Cary, so any questions you might have -- just go ahead!
Robert Trachtenberg: Thank you for having us on and I hope everyone who watched enjoyed the film last night.
Trenton, Mich.: Robert, the film comes across as ginger and loving, so I'm curious about your approach to it. Were you looking for the "man behind the myth" -- or the "rise of the movie star" angle? Were you a Grant fan that wanted to know more or a filmmaker doing an objective assignment?
Robert Trachtenberg: LOL (laughing)! A lot of questions! I was asked to do the film, and I had always been a Cary Grant fan. I immediately realized that I knew very little about him beyond the films. The moment I started doing research, every day became more and more interesting, interesting in a way that hadn't happened with some other documentaries. Because his background, beginnings are so dramatic and helped form him in later life. An unusually rich story. In a way, yes to everything -- it was all those things combined. I approached it as a fan, and as a filmmaker went from there.
Hollywood, Calif.: I recall the story toward the end of his life when someone asked Cary Grant something to the effect of "didn't you used to be Cary Grant?" Since he was using his given name and not his stage name at that time, he made some witty retort about how he indeed did use to be Cary Grant. Did Archibald Leach, the man, find many ironies in many a person with two identities?
Barbara Grant Jaynes: Interesting question. I really don't think he found many ironies because he was the same man. People would ask him questions about "Didn't you used to be..? He lived in the same skin, and no I don't think there was any problem with the answering of that.
Washington, D.C.: Mr. Trachtenberg, a wonderful film. How do you choose your projects? What are you working on now? Thanks for a great film.
Robert Trachtenberg: Thank you for watching!
I am working on, I know this sounds like a cliche, but I am working with PBS and Turner Classic Movies on a couple of different projects that we just can't announce yet!
And I choose my projects very carefully! The real answer is spending almost a year, if not a year with one subject, you may not have to love them, but for me, you have to admire a major component of their personality to spend this much time with them. So, that helps inform my choice.
Wilmington, Del.: Barbara, Obviously you knew the screen star before he became your husband. How hard was it to separate the two as you pursued a real-life relationship?
Barbara Grant Jaynes: It really wasn't difficult at all, because at that stage of my life I had really had very little to do with films or even watching films. I was born in Africa and didn't watch any films there. But certainly it was obviously the man I was interested in, the character of the man, and that was most important to me. I really didn't mix it too much with the so-called screen idol. Plus, they were not really too terribly different!
Sterling Heights, Mich.: Comment: Cary Grant was, and always will be, my idea of a "leading man." I loved him. So sexy, so very funny. There will never be anyone to equal, let alone surpass, him.
Barbara Grant Jaynes: I second that one!
Robert Trachtenberg: Same!
Falls Church, Va.: I was struck by your film's contention that Grant's life's work was creating the "Cary Grant" persona and extending it across all his screen roles and into his public life. Did Grant the man ever feel privately trapped or resentful of "Cary Grant" the persona? It seems like maybe the reason he was finally able to be happily married was because he had stopped making movies and no longer had to keep up the persona.
Barbara Grant Jaynes: Well, thank you for that question. I am sure that the reason he was finally happily married was that he met me!
I do NOT think that Cary was trapped by his persona, because it really was a part of him. The person you saw on screen was certainly the man I married - full of charm and wit and humor, caring and great intelligence. So, in the film he simply showed that man in funny and untenable circumstances. So, no, I do not think he had a problem, or felt trapped, and I was just lucky enough to meet him and I guess for him to see something in me that he liked.
Robert Trachtenberg: Barbara, wouldn't you also say, that unlike female movie stars of that era, you would read interviews with them or hear anecdotes about them where they literally would not want to leave the house unless they had the "Joan Crawford" -- they knew they had to walk out the door made up and with their public persona. Cary didn't have to do that. What Barbara is saying about not really being two different people, I think it was probably tougher for women. Wouldn't you say Barbara?
Barbara Grant Jaynes: Plus, Cary really looked better as he got older! Which was wonderful for him, and as Robert is saying, that is much more difficult for a woman.
Waldorf, Md.: Saw the show, enjoyed it very much. Was impressed to learn about Grant's strong work ethic on the set, somewhat surprising for a man who often made his work look "effortless." And was also interested to learn that once he retired, he was able to pretty much walk away from the industry.
What were Grant's own favorites among his films? What actors/actresses/directors did he most like -- on a personal basis? Did he like to watch his own movies?
Barbara Grant Jaynes: Again, thank you for your question. Cary really did not have a favorite movie and really was not very fond of watching his movies. As far as the actors, directors or producers, I really do not think that he had a favorite. If he did, he certainly would not tell anyone. Clearly, with the majority of people that he worked with, he had a great relationship. Hitch was a great friend of his, Grace Kelly, Ingrid Bergman, Deborah Carr, I could go on forever.
New York: I always loved Cary Grant but never knew of his background. How did he reconcile creating this persona of urban, sophisticated male with how he grew up? Also, what did he consider his best performance? North by Northwest?
Robert Trachtenberg: I would say, and Barbara correct me if you feel this is wrong, I think for the majority of people where you came from and where you end up are two different places. I don't think, while you may always carry it with you, I don't think it preys on your mind every hour of the day.
Barbara Grant Jaynes: Absolutely, we all start at one place and end up in another. And those origins and finishes can be very disparate. So I don't think he spent any time really thinking of it. And again, he did really not have a favorite film.
Yonkers, N.Y.: This is not a question but I wanted to thank Mr. Trachtenberg and Mrs. Barbara Grant Jaynes for putting together a wonderful documentary about, in my humble opinion, the most brilliant and amazing actor of our time or for that matter, anytime. For Cary Grant was and is the greatest movie star of all time.
I also enjoyed your list of Cary Grant essential movies but you left out a couple such as "Gunga Din" and "None But the Lonely Heart."
I do have one question. What is the hardest thing about putting together a documentary? And what is each of your favorite movies/movies? Mine is still Bringing Up Baby. I still love Cary Grant the comedian more than anything!
Sincerely, Rose Young
Robert Trachtenberg: The hardest thing about putting these together is -- getting the wives to talk!!
(Barbara: It took you forever didn't it?!?)
(Back to Robert:) It's a combination of things - getting the trust of those who knew the subject best. And these are hugely, expensive to do. There is absolutely no chance of recouping the investment, so these are really done - and I know it's odd in today's world - but it is a labor of love and a tribute on the part of the producing companies. So, it's a combination of trust and money. The clips, the music, everything, is hugely expensive at this point.
And you have to do it correctly when it's someone of Cary's stature.
Favorite film -- oh god! Probably His Girl Friday, he is on fire in that movie. I think what someone says in the documentary, he is, you can see how much fun he's having, and it's infectious, terrific to watch. Barbara do you have a favorite?
Barbara Grant Jaynes: I really don't have a favorite, although I do enjoy watching To Catch a Thief. But, there are so many that I loved.
Barbara Grant Jaynes: Also An Affair To Remember.
(And the typist/interviewer is partial to Gunga Din.)
New York, N.Y.: The research was really well done for the Cary Grant documentary. It featured images never seen before. It seems like you captured the closest thing to the real Cary that we will ever know. Was it difficult finding all the visuals for the show?
Robert Trachtenberg: It was difficult only because I, when I do these films, I try to never repeat a photo, and that makes it particularly difficult. It's an enormous amount of research.
Barbara Grant Jaynes: But you did have an enormous amount of help from his last wife!
Robert Trachtenberg: It's true!! I can't believe you left me alone with all those boxes!! With the guard dogs!
Barbara Grant Jaynes: Trained to attack if you took anything!!
Cleveland, Ohio: Robert: Were there similarities in making the two American Masters films on Grant and Gene Kelly? Observations about the way they approached their art? The types of things you discovered along the way?
Robert Trachtenberg: The similarities between the two, also extending to my films on George Kukor and Irving Phalberg, is that all four of these men had an overwhelmingly strong work ethic. And I never get tired of exploring that, because after you've reached a certain level of success, the fact that they got up every morning and put in a good days work and strove to do something better, is very attractive to me as a film maker.
Keyport, N.J.: Ms. Jaynes, I'm a huge fan of your husband's work and am very sorry for your loss. Is there anything you want people to know about Mr. Grant that may not have been played up in all the press about him? Thank you.
Barbara Grant Jaynes: That's a sweet question. There really isn't anything more that I could say about Cary that I haven't already said. That he was truly an extraordinary man because with all of the success and adoration that he had throughout his life, he still managed to remain with two feet very firmly placed on the ground. And with a great care for other people. Possibly attributes that get a little lost along the way sometimes.
San Diego, Calif.: Cary Grant has appeared in so many fine films, and each one is a treasure to us today.
Were there any film roles that he turned down which he was later to regret?
Robert Trachtenberg: I had heard stories about him regretting turning down the lead in A Star is Born, but then Betsy Drake, Cary's third wife, completely cleared up that misconception. Other than that, I don't really know...
Barbara Grant Jaynes: I think basically he wasn't a man to be filled with regrets. If he didn't do it, he didn't do it. I think he just went forward, rather than looking backwards.
Fairfax, Va.: The actress Betsy Drake, when married to Cary Grant, was on the Andrea Doria when it sank. Some accounts of the sinking say that she handled her ordeal calmly, but others describe a very different outcome. The latter imply that she suffered severe emotional turmoil as a result of her experiences, and that Grant was worried about her condition. Do you know which is closer to the truth?
Robert Trachtenberg: While I've spoken about that experience with her a few times, we really didn't touch on that aspect of it.
Barbara Grant Jaynes: Obviously Cary was concerned, because for anyone to be on the Andrea Doria when it went down must have been terrifying, let alone your wife.
St. Louis, Mo.: What kind of music did he like to listen to?
Barbara Grant Jaynes: Cary loved music. It would bring tears to his eyes when he listened to something. It could be Peggy Lee, Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett or a wonderful piece of classical music. He really enjoyed all forms of music.
Robert Trachtenberg: He loved Dave Brubeck.
Barbara Grant Jaynes: Absolutely jazz, he loved Dave Brubeck. It was an important part of his life, music.
Robert Trachtenberg: Oh and by the way -- I'd like to thank everyone for NOT watching the American Idol finale last night and for tuning in to PBS instead!
Basking Ridge, N.J.: A question for both of you: Anything you wish was included in "A Class Apart" that wasn't?
Robert Trachtenberg: Yes, of course. There is always more music, longer clips or something. But again, we had a running time we had to adhere to. You do what you can with what you've got.
Harrisburg, Pa.: Are there plans to produce further films exploring more of the life of Cary Grant? If so, what are some of the things that may be presented that we haven't seen yet?
Robert Trachtenberg: It's cost prohibitive, but there will probably be something down the pike!!
Barbara Grant Jaynes: There is something I am aware of at the moment, called A Celebration of Style, by Richard Torregrossa. He has contacted me, I don't know anything about it.
Baltimore, Md.: First of all, congratulations on a superb program. I enjoyed watching it. I was hoping you could confirm something I recall from Mr. Grant's later years. Didn't he speak at the 1976 Republican convention? I was in junior high school at the time and vaguely remember that he was on stage there introducing someone (possibly First Lady Betty Ford?). On that subject, how would you characterize Mr. Grant's politics? I don't think that was mentioned last night. Thanks for reading.
Barbara Grant Jaynes: Yes he did introduce Betty Ford. And as far as his politics were concerned, he was probably more Republican than anything else, but was more interested in the issues. So could go either way, but was predominantly Republican. He did stay away from publicly declaring anything with regard to politics, because he didn't think that was something that he, a movie star, should be doing.
Philadelphia, Pa.: How can I visit his home in Bristol?
Barbara Grant Jaynes: If someone goes to Bristol there is a plaque on one of the houses, but you have to remember that he lived in this country for the majority of his life.
Bethesda, Md.: Barbara,
What is it like to be able to see your husband on screen whenever you want? Is it painful or a comfort?
Barbara Grant Jaynes: Good question. Shortly after Cary died, I wasn't able to watch anything on screen or listen to his voice. It was just too painful. Now I have no problems with it. In fact, find it quite rewarding and a happy occurrence to be able to see him on film.
Los Angeles, Calif.: It was interesting reading about Cary Grant's experiences with LSD, which, I should remind readers, was perfectly legal at the time Mr. Grant took it. Did Cary Grant ever discuss his thoughts on it, again keeping in mind for readers that it is a dangerous drug and at the time Mr. Grant took it, it was something new, little explored, and legal?
Barbara Grant Jaynes: You have to understand that when Cary did take LSD he was monitored at all times and did not do this as a recreational drug. He took it in order to try and exorcise some of his demons. He certainly never recommended it to anyone else and would not do so now. And only used it during a given period in his life when it was helpful and was legal. He was very quick to tell everyone that it was an extremely dangerous drug, if not monitored by someone who knew what they were doing.
Anonymous: Last year when Turner Movie Classics had Cary Grant month, I was turned on to Cary Grant. Oh how happy I was ... and I couldn't get enough information. I bought books on his life and look through schedules to see if a movie I haven't seen is on. What a wonderful man and actor. My question: Was it hard on Cary to see himself age (although so gracefully) on screen?
Barbara Grant Jaynes: I don't know how to answer that. It is hard for any of us to look in the mirror and see ourselves age. I mean, he was pretty secure in his own skin. He handled the aging process extremely well.
Crofton, Md.: A year ago I was re-introduced to Cary Grant while watching Night and Day on TV. Since then I have seen almost all of his films starting with "This is the Night." What a pleasure it is to know that his work is still being enjoyed after all this time ... Thanks!
Barbara Grant Jaynes: What a nice comment! I agree! I wish in fact that there were more films with Cary in them!!
Robert Trachtenberg: I would add: He is one of the small handful of movie stars who transcend whatever era they worked in and remain modern and current.
Wilkes-Barre, Pa.: Robert, I'm curious ... Cary Grant was British by birth. How was he still eligible to be an American Master?
Robert Trachtenberg: I believe, and I don't have the AM charter in front of me, but I believe that one of the criteria is if an individual has made a significant contribution to American culture. And Cary more than qualifies.
Barbara Grant Jaynes: He lived in this country from when he was 16 years old.
Barbara Grant Jaynes: He also became an American citizen in 1942.
Atlantic City, N.J.: To follow up on the question from Wilmington, Delaware ... Ms. Grant Jaynes, are you saying that the facade Cary always joked about "even I want to be Cary Grant" really wasn't a facade at all? He was very like the parts he played? My heavens, what a lucky lady you were to be married to him indeed!
Barbara Grant Jaynes: Yes I was a lucky lady to be married to him!! And the comment he made, I'd like to be Cary Grant as well, was just a quick retort, he was lamenting the fact that he wasn't Cary Grant. Because he was.
Robert Trachtenberg: I also think he was smart enough to know that what, you know, that right off screen there was hair, makeup , wardrobe, he understood the difference between what people saw on screen, the atmosphere was so controlled, versus everyday life, which is a little messier. Wouldn't you say Barbara?
Barbara Grant Jaynes: Absolutely!
Broad Brook, Conn.: Was Mr. Grant ever offered the role of 007 James Bond? He would have been the best Bond ever don't you think?
Barbara Grant Jaynes: Do you know Robert?
Robert Trachtenberg: There are all these rumors that he was, but there is really no hard evidence. I believe that may Ian Fleming had said that he had Cary in mind when he was writing, but I think that's where the association came to be.
Barbara Grant Jaynes: He would have been a very good one.
Robert Trachtenberg: He really would have been.
Charlotte, N.C.: Good afternoon. I just want to share my 15-year-old daughter's love of all things Cary Grant. Since I introduced her just a few months back to black and white films, leading to Cary Grant movies, she has named him her favorite actor of all time. She has one of his photographs as her desktop wallpaper on her computer, and we've redone her bedroom in silver, gray, black and white, including Cary Grant posters and movie photographs. We are trying to watch together all his movies, and so far we've gotten through 23 of them. She loves to laugh, and Cary Grant's style is perfect to her. This has been a beautiful bonding experience for us and created memories and a common interest we'll share for the rest of our lives. What an invaluable treasure.
Laurie Koster (mom), Dana Koster (daughter)
Robert Trachtenberg: That's terrific. What a perfect example of how he lives on.
Barbara Grant Jaynes: I think it was one of the things you particularly noticed during his conversations, was that people of all ages and certainly of both sexes, just admired him tremendously. As they should!!
Thank you for having such great taste!!
Robert Trachtenberg: Barbara you need your own talk show!!
Barbara Grant Jaynes: I don't think so!
Barbara Grant Jaynes: I've greatly enjoyed doing this, and it's very warming to my heart to see how loved and appreciated Cary is, even today.
Robert Trachtenberg: And I would probably just say thank you all for watching. Obviously there are a lot of choices out there and I really do appreciate the support for films of this kind, and PBS.
washingtonpost.com: Next week's American Masters, "Ella Fitzgerald: Something to Live For," airs on Wednesday, June 1, at 9 p.m. ET on PBS (check your local listings). A Live Online discussion will follow on Thursday, June 2, at Noon ET.
Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.