Betsy Drake, an actress and writer who in the 1950s introduced her then-husband, Cary Grant, to the hallucinogen LSD, endured his infatuation with Italian screen siren Sophia Loren and survived the sinking of the Andrea Doria ocean liner, died Oct. 27 at her home in London. She was 92.
Her death was confirmed by a friend, Michael Schreiber, who did not cite a specific cause.
Ms. Drake, whose grandfather helped build the landmark Drake and Blackstone hotels in Chicago, described a life of glittering highs and shattering lows. She spent her earliest years in Paris, where her American expatriate parents embraced the roar of the Roaring Twenties.
The stock market plunge of 1929 ended the frivolity and their marriage, and Ms. Drake was shuffled among relatives along the East Coast. She took to acting first as a balm and gradually as a career.
By the time she left the all-girls Madeira School in McLean, Va., at 17, she had begun to draw attention for her good looks and rumba skills. She attended a theater school in Washington and found work in New York as a Conover model and Broadway understudy.
She won a movie studio contract in 1946 but grew so restless and bored that she feigned mental illness to break the arrangement. The next year, she landed a leading role in the London production of “Deep Are the Roots,” a drama about race relations directed by Elia Kazan.
Grant — 19 years her senior, twice divorced and one of the world’s most debonair and captivating movie stars — saw the play and was struck by Ms. Drake’s charm and low-voiced allure. By chance, they soon met aboard the Queen Mary on a voyage to New York, and they shared an intense shipboard attraction. She soon moved into his Los Angeles home.
With Grant’s pull, she won a contract at RKO studios and debuted opposite her future husband in a confection called “Every Girl Should Be Married” (1948) as a resourceful woman in pursuit of her romantic prey, a bachelor pediatrician. New York Times film critic Bosley Crowther called her “foxily amusing.”
Ms. Drake followed that film with starring roles in trifles such as “Dancing in the Dark” (1949) with William Powell, “Pretty Baby” (1950) with Dennis Morgan and “Room for One More” (1952), again with Grant. Rejecting a lavish build-up, she pulled back from her career to focus on her home life.
She and Grant had married on Christmas Day 1949, with industrialist Howard Hughes as best man. According to an account she later gave to Vanity Fair, she cooked Grant’s meals, greeted him at breakfast each day with a poem and studied hypnosis in an effort to wean them both off cigarettes and hard alcohol.
She persuaded Grant to retire — briefly — but could not interest him in fatherhood. They delved into transcendentalism, mysticism and yoga. She became a writer and took up causes including the plight of homeless children in Los Angeles.
Grant was lured back to work by director Alfred Hitchcock for “To Catch a Thief” (1955), co-starring Grace Kelly and set in the French Riviera. The marriage began to deteriorate and was mostly fallow by the time Grant left for Spain to film “The Pride and the Passion,” a Napoleonic drama released in 1957.
Grant became infatuated with co-star Loren and proposed to her. A visit to the set by Ms. Drake did not go well, but events took an ever more dramatic turn when she boarded the doomed Andrea Doria on her way back to the United States.
The ship, which had more than 1,700 passengers and crew members, collided with the ocean liner Stockholm on July 25, 1956, amid heavy fog off Nantucket, Mass. Dozens were killed. Ms. Drake, who lost more than $200,000 worth of jewelry and a manuscript for a novel, was uninjured. Grant, meanwhile, stayed in Spain.
Ms. Drake made a handful of subsequent movies, including the comedy “Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?” (1957), in which she played Tony Randall’s fiancee. She also wrote an early script for “Houseboat” (1958), a romantic comedy that she hoped would be a vehicle for her and Grant. In a humiliating twist, the script was reworked, and she was replaced by Loren.
The Grants separated but remained what Time magazine called “intimately estranged,” living apart but on companionable terms.
Searching for understanding of her troubled childhood and marriage, Ms. Drake began seeing a Hollywood therapist who administered LSD, a drug that was then legal. In a controlled setting, she began weekly sessions.
Grant also called on the therapist, initially out of concern about the revelations his wife might make and their potential impact on his carefully cultivated image. Born in England as Archibald Leach, he had escaped a childhood of desperate poverty, with an alcoholic father and a mother who had been institutionalized.
He found that he savored the LSD-driven therapy sessions and promoted the treatment in major magazines.
“Because I never understood myself, how could I have hoped to understand anyone else?” he told Time in 1962. “That’s why I say that now I can truly give a woman love for the first time in my life, because I can understand her.”
Soon afterward, he and Ms. Drake divorced.
Betsy Gordon Drake was born near Paris on Sept. 11, 1923. In the 1960s, she deepened her interest in mental health issues and joined the UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute as a director of psychodrama therapy, in which patients are encouraged to act out their pent-up feelings.
She also wrote a novel, “Children, You Are Very Little” (1971), about a 10-year-old girl who goes to outrageous comic lengths to defy the mean adults in her life and unite her broken family. A Time magazine reviewer praised its “flair and ferocity.”
“Adults demand that children understand what they’re trying to say,” Ms. Drake remarked at the time, “but too often they interpret a child’s most serious moments as stupid or cute or funny. So children, in self-defense, learn to play for the laugh. It’s a style of craziness, a style of survival, a style of distancing. I learned this style as a child but I’m not really impressed with my comic or ironic side. I’d much rather write straight out of despair.”
Ms. Drake eventually settled in England and formed a tight social circle with friends including writer Martha Gellhorn and painter Bernard Perlin. Survivors include a brother, Carlos Drake of York, Pa.
With some exceptions, Ms. Drake avoided speaking about Grant, who wed twice more and had a daughter with his fourth wife, actress Dyan Cannon, before his death in 1986.
For his part, Grant spoke admiringly of Ms. Drake, telling the Times in 1973, “Betsy was a delightful comedienne, but I don’t think that Hollywood was ever really her milieu. She wanted to help humanity, to help others help themselves.”