Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Cary Grant's Daughter Tells All

How glamorous is it to be the child of a Hollywood celebrity? My good friend’s late father was a noted character actor. He played featured roles for Frank Capra, Roman Polanski, and Martin Scorsese, then co-starred in a long-running sitcom. Along the way, he married six times, and fathered six daughters.

My friend was fascinated by her dad. For years she’s been digging up tidbits about his career, hoping to write his biography some day. She once shared with me a long-ago photo of the two of them, laughing uproariously. When I saw this treasure, I was moved to comment that this token of their relationship made me wistful. I’d loved my own father, but had no picture that captured our connection with such immediacy. Look again, my friend said. Her photo certainly looked candid, but both father and little daughter were well-groomed and well-dressed. And the photo itself was a sharp 8x10 glossy, with somebody’s name embossed in the corner. In other words, this was a photo op: a photographer had been hired to get some at-home publicity shots. The father-daughter intimacy I envied was not entirely bogus, but it was on-again, off-again, depending on where he was in terms of his career, his marriages, and his life.

Visiting Southern California, my friend asked to be driven to one of L.A.’s scenic canyons, where we hunted for a particular street address. This was where her father had been living with his last wife at a time when my friend -— then a young divorcee with a small child —- had fallen seriously ill. In desperation, she wrote her dad asking for $500. He prepared a check for $350, then held it for a week before sending it with a note that read, “The bond market is down and my financial status is not secure.” This despite the fact that his TV series was in worldwide syndication. As my friend stared at the spacious canyon home where her dad had been ensconced while she was sick and broke, her sadness was contagious.

Which brings me to Jennifer Grant’s new memoir, Good Stuff: A Reminiscence of My Father, Cary Grant. Though Grant married five times, Jennifer was his only offspring, born during his late-in-life marriage to Dyan Cannon. Jennifer’s book about her father, who died when she was twenty, is a “Daddy Dearest,” in the very best sense. Through her pages we learn that Cary Grant -— so charming, and funny on screen —- was very much the same in daily life. He was also so thoroughly besotted with his daughter that he took extraordinary pains to give her a special childhood.

Jennifer got many celebrity-kid perks: riding lessons, a Malibu beach house, trips to Monaco to attend the circus and hobnob with Princess Grace. But Grant also clued her in to practical matters. Remembering his own days of genteel poverty, he taught her how to appreciate money, and how to handle it. (She was signing her own tax returns from an early age.) He taught her to be generous toward those less fortunate. Most valuable of all, she got her father’s undivided attention. Having retired from the screen just before her birth, he devoted himself to educating his darling daughter in the ways of the world. The depth of his affection is seen in the book’s photos and snippets of transcribed audiotape. Grant saved everything connected with Jennifer’s life, treating mementos of their time together as precious relics.

Only one problem for Jennifer Grant: she hints that no adult male can compete with her father’s memory. It’s hardly surprising that her heart belongs to Daddy.


  1. There is something about growing up in the spotlight or in the shade of a famous parent that is sad, even when the child is doted on as in this story here.

  2. I quite agree. My parents did me the favor of not being famous at all. By the way, Jennifer Grant has never married, but she did want a child. When she was approaching 40, an attractive friend volunteered to father a child for her. She was thrilled, until he said, "Imagine, Cary Grant and I making a baby." And that was the end of that. In the end, she DID have a baby (no mention of the father's identity), and named him Cary Benjamin.

  3. I'm glad she's found her niche in the world - I can't imagine growing up in the shadow of so famous and legendary an icon as Cary Grant. Thank you for the insight, Ms. Gray.

  4. You are very welcome, Mr. Edwards. Welcome back from wherever you've been!