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Book Review- Dear Cary: My Life with Cary Grant

For Cary Grant fans, the past year has been an eventful one. Several of his films have been remastered and released on DVD and Blu-ray, many of them for the first time. More importantly, we have been treated to not one, but two books about his personal life, something he guarded closely. The first book released this year was written by his one and only daughter, Jennifer. Good Stuff: A Reminiscence of My Father, Cary Grant is a daughter’s loving tribute to her beloved father, who just happened to be Cary Grant. I reviewed Good Stuff a few months back. You can find my review here. The second is written by Cary’s fourth wife and Jennifer’s mother, Dyan Cannon.

Dear Cary: My Life with Cary Grant details the courtship, marriage, and ultimate divorce between Cary Grant and the young and beautiful Dyan Cannon. In the book, Cannon spends a great deal of time recalling the beginning of their relationship, and she does so with great fondness. The couple spent many weekends at his home in Palm Springs, had romantic dinners, and enjoyed long holidays. When Grant was on set, Cannon would often accompany him and watch him work with the likes of Doris Day, Audrey Hepburn, and Leslie Caron. They appeared to be perfect for one another: he brought experience and maturity and she kept him young with her playfulness. Cannon describes this time as almost like living in a fairy tale. She was envied by many women because she was dating one of the biggest stars in Hollywood.

Once the newness of their relationship began to wear off, Cannon recalls that she noticed a different side of Grant– one that was troubled, conflicted, and controlling. He was very easily put in a bad mood and it would sometimes be days before Cannon knew the cause of it. Then there’s the subject of his mother. It is no secret that Grant had a strained relationship with his mother, Elsie. When he was a child, Elsie was sent away to a mental institution. At the time, Grant was told his mother was dead. It was not until his late twenties, when he was first starting out as a contract player with Paramount, that he discovered his mother to be alive. He found her to be cold and distant, and she was often critical of him. Despite this, Grant vowed to take care of his mother for the rest of her life while constantly striving for her approval. Whenever Grant would go visit his mother in England, Cannon noticed a negative change in his behavior. He even tensed at the mere mention of his mother’s name.

Right before they were to be married, Cannon discovered she was pregnant. Grant was absolutely ecstatic to become a father. Throughout the rest of their rocky marriage, Cannon states that Grant remained a loving father to their daughter, Jennifer. When divorce loomed over their relationship, Cannon asserts that she was convinced by Grant to participate in LSD therapy to try to save their marriage. Grant had been introduced to the drug in the late 1950s by his previous wife, Betsy Drake. He claimed it helped him be reborn and find peace. After their unconventional last-ditch effort to keep their family intact, the couple headed for divorce, which unfortunately was a highly publicized ordeal.

In writing her memoir Dear Cary, Cannon finally gains the closure she sought for so many years. Although she had a personal “liberation day” a few years after their divorce, she was not in the right place to appreciate their relationship for what it was. Cannon acknowledges her immaturity and willingness to do whatever she could to please Grant, and how it ultimately had a profound effect on their marriage. It also caused her to spiral into a deep depression leading to an eventual mental breakdown. She admits the love she had for him was real, though unsustainable. The years have acted as a kind healer to many wounds, and Cannon is finally able to appreciate their time together.

Overall I enjoyed Dear Cary. I appreciate that Cannon avoided turning her memoir into a trashy tell-all. The intimate moments between her and Grant are tasteful and kept to a minimum, as it should be. She mentions their divorce proceedings, but glosses over all the gritty details, such as their bitter custody battle over their daughter. A battle that lasted almost 10 years. One problem I do have with Cannon’s book is the sensationalizing of Grant’s LSD use. I think it is important to keep this information in context. For those who are unaware, Grant’s LSD therapy was legal. There were many psychiatrists and psychoanalysts who were experimenting with the hallucinogen at the time and there were documented benefits. Grant even wrote a short autobiography for a magazine that addressed his LSD usage. That said, it is not for everyone and can be extremely dangerous. Cannon discovered this the hard way and suffered a mental breakdown, for which the LSD was not the sole cause. Between Cannon’s Dear Cary and daughter Jennifer’s Good Stuff, I prefer the latter. Of course maybe it is not fair of me to compare them when they are from two completely different points of view. For those who are serious fans of Cary Grant, you should definitely read Dear Cary.

Dear Cary: My Life with Cary Grant by Dyan Cannon
ISBN: 9780061961403 (Hardcover)
It Books (Harper Collins)
352 pages

Full Disclosure: I received a copy of Dear Cary: My Life with Cary Grant directly from the publisher, It Books which is an imprint of Harper Collins Publishers. I thank the publisher for the opportunity to review this book.

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Jill Blake

Jill Blake is the owner of the classic film website Sittin’ on a Backyard Fence. She is also a co-founder and editor of the film site The Black Maria and film editor at CC2K. In 2012, she was interviewed on-air by Turner Classic Movies host Ben Mankiewicz. In 2013, she was a featured guest on the TCM podcast. In her spare time Jill is a stay-at-home mom, wife, fried okra connoisseur, and the neighborhood’s own L.B. Jeffries.

Comments

kimalysong
Reply

I am glad the book was not Cannon trashing Grant. Admittedly that was something I was worried about when I heard she was was writing a book about him. Cannon was not kind about Grant in the past and definitely made things very public.

I remember getting in discussions with people about things Cannon said about Grant and it was very hard to have people take into perspective that her account was just one side of the story. So I am at least happy she is more fair about Cary now. I did read that while they had a messy divorce; over time their relationship did improve (probably because of their daughter).

kittenbiscuits
Reply

She seems to be more genuine when talking about him now. Whether or not she really is, we’ll never know. I imagine that Cary was difficult to live with. His daughter said as much. Any bigger than life personality has their demons.

The Lady Eve
Reply

I’m a bit skeptical of Cannon’s book. By now she obviously knows that trashing Cary Grant would be disastrous to her reputation – he is one of the most beloved icons in Hollywood film history. And her sole claim to fame is as one of his several wives – but the mother as his only child. I suspect her of cashing in…call me cynical…

kittenbiscuits
Reply

Honestly, my first thought when I heard about this book was that she was cashing in and riding on the success of Jennifer’s book. And you’re right– I’m sure that’s the case. I guess I’m just a little surprised that she took the high road when she hasn’t in the past. I still prefer Jennifer’s book way more than this one. And Evenings with Cary Grant still remains the greatest book about him, in my opinion.

And I have to say, all the LSD talk really did not sit well with me.

Raquelle M. (@QuelleLove)
Reply

Jill – Great review! Glad you were willing to give this one a try. It was very much pitched as Dyan Cannon’s love letter to Cary Grant. Did it end up being that? From your review it seems like a more realistic view of their marriage. I saw Dyan Cannon on one of the morning shows a few days ago (Friday?) and she was talking about this book.

A lot of the major illegal drugs started off with medicinal purposes in mind but were either too strong or just ended up being abused. So I’ve never been put off by Cary Grant’s interest in LSD.

Has Grant’s last wife written anything about him? I would rather read her memoir than Cannon’s.

Anyways, great review and looking forward to reading more book reviews from you.

kittenbiscuits
Reply

I don’t know if I would consider the entire book a love letter to Grant. At the very end there is a love letter of sorts to Cary, but it basically repeats everything mentioned earlier in the book. Maybe she wrote the letter first and it inspired her to write a book? I would say the letter is more of thanking Cary for teaching her to always be true to herself.

And I’ve never been put off by the LSD usage either.

Barbara Harris has not written a book about him. I really wish she would. She seems like a lovely lady. And I’m with you– I think it would be a much better account than Cannon’s. The only book authorized by Barbara and Jennifer (other than Jennifer’s book), is Evenings with Cary Grant by Nancy Nelson. I highly recommend Nelson’s book. Unfortunately, it is out of print. It’s been a while since I’ve read it, but if I recall correctly, Harris wrote a short introduction to the book. There is one other book that had Grant’s blessing when he was still alive, and that’s Richard Schickel’s Cary Grant: A Celebration. Both of these books are fantastic, along with Richard Torregrossa’s Cary Grant: A Celebration of Style.

Thanks so much for reading the review and commenting. ;)

kimalysong
Reply

I read Evenings with Cary Grant. It is a very good book. I wish all star biographies were done like that.

kittenbiscuits
Reply

No kidding. It is pure class from start to finish. You can tell that Nelson had nothing but respect for Grant. And that she understood his reluctance to go on tour. She respected his privacy. That speaks volumes.

Now the bio by Marc Eliot? Nothing but tabloid trash. Hated that book.

william6
Reply

I have to say I’m a bit surprised by the negativity to Cannon’s work as well as all the love for Jennifer’s work. Jennifer’s work seemed cloying to me-out to make Cary Grant some kind of martyr, some perfect creature whose feet barely touched the floor when he walked. What’s even more disturbing is that the stories she told that were supposed to be “heartwarming” were creepy-Cary renting a mansion for the night so he could one of the houses that Jennifer trick or treated at when she was at her mom’s (it’s a nice thought, but almost stalker-eque in a way). Cary not speaking to his 17 year old daughter for two days because she put on lipstick (disturbing and controlling behavior).

Dyan Cannon’s account gave a much more balanced account. She presented Cary Grant as a real man with all the charm, humor and grace that we love him for but also with some issues like all of us (in his case his need to be controlling and his moodiness). What is wrong with presenting Cary Grant as a human being with good and bad points? Why is a book “bad” because it presents a balanced view? And why oh why would anyone like Jennifer Grant’s cheesy account that tells you nothing about who Cary really was as a person? Jennifer knew nothing about Cary’s life in the movies, nothing about his past, nothing about his motivations and she doesn’t seem to want to know because it might make him something less than the perfect ideal she has in her head. That’s fine for her-she lost her dad at a young age and it’s her choice. But passing off this account to the rest of the world as realistic is nonsense. I’ll take Dyan’s account any time-it rung true to me and despite everything that happened between them there is respect there. She came to love him for all of him-not just the perfect Cary Grant image that the rest of us so desperately wanted him to be.

kittenbiscuits
Reply

First of all, I’m curious if you even read my review of this book. I did not give it a negative review at all. I actually praised Cannon for taking the high road and not getting down and dirty with the details. She most certainly could have, given their disastrous marriage and ugly divorce. Regarding Jennifer Grant’s book, you must have read something completely different than I did. Jennifer Grant states in her book that she did not know the movie star side of her dad and that’s because he made the choice to give up that life to be a father to her. She also states that her father was far from perfect and had the tendency to be moody. Is renting a house for one night for trick or treating creepy? No! Is it silly? Of course! Parents do silly things for their children every day! His silly things are just more extreme because he had money! However, she is his daughter and she loves him, so why would she write garbage about him? She wrote what she knew of him–from the perspective of a loving daughter looking up to her adoring father. Not as the Cary Grant we know, but as her dad. After all, he was a real person, with real flaws.

Cannon’s book is absolutely not balanced. First of all, neither one of us was there, so how do we know what all happened? We are taking her at her word, her side of the story. She admits that her recollections are a bit foggy, so she told the stories to the best of her abilities. Also, she has the benefit of time and hindsight–two things that can heal old wounds and give a fresh perspective. In the past, she said horrendous things about him in the press. Now they are best friends, which is easy to do when someone is dead. If this were a balanced book, we’d have Cary’s input. Since he’s dead, we will never get a balanced account of his life. The closest we will ever come is with the short autobiography he wrote for a magazine and Nancy Nelson’s book Evenings with Cary Grant, which had his stamp of approval (and endorsed by his widow Barbara Harris Grant and daughter Jennifer).

Cary Grant was far from perfect. Every single book on him details his controlling nature, his obsessions, his thrift (which I personally don’t find off-putting). If you are looking for that, I suggest reading Marc Eliot’s book. It is filled with tabloid fodder. I think many people thought Jennifer’s book was going to be a juicy tell-all and it wasn’t. I found it to be tasteful and sweet. She put a lot of effort into writing it. The idea of her sitting down at a desk and pouring over all the little pieces of ephemera he saved for her is heartwarming. You know, she really did know the real man behind the Cary Grant persona. She didn’t blast him though. Like Dyan Cannon, Jennifer has the benefit of hindsight. I think it is wonderful that we get to know a little about the person, not the star for a change.

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