Navigate / search

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.

Good Stuff Indeed

Last month, Raquelle from the classic film blog Out of the Past held a contest giveaway/drawing celebrating the 4th anniversary of her blog…and I won. My prize? A brand new copy of the long awaited memoir by Cary Grant’s one and only child, Jennifer Grant: Good Stuff: A Reminiscence of My Father, Cary Grant. Big thanks to Raquelle for hosting a fantastic contest!

Note: for ease, I will sometimes refer to Cary Grant as CG and Jennifer Grant as JG.

I, like many Cary Grant fans, have waited patiently for the release of Good Stuff, which had been postponed several times over the past few years. After reading, I now know why it took Jennifer so long to finish–she had to grieve the death of her father all over again. CG maintained well organized and immaculate records of JG’s childhood. One might say he was a bit obsessive about the little pieces of nostalgia he maintained, but knowing the reasons why, it’s hard to blame him for his excesses. First, CG was 62 years old when Jennifer was born. He knew the time he had with his daughter was limited and that sense of mortality placed great urgency on ensuring that she would remember him. Secondly, CG was robbed of a meaningful childhood and the little memorabilia he had was lost in the bombings of Bristol during World War II. Longing for that lost part of his childhood, CG made assurances that his beloved daughter wouldn’t be left without a detailed history of her childhood and their time together. For instance, he had a bank quality vault placed in their home at 9966 Beverly Grove Drive. Growing up, this served as some embarrassment for Jennifer, but writes that she is now eternally grateful for the gift of his detailed records. And detailed is an understatement. Every drawing, card, letter, and telegram bears a time stamp, most often in CG’s handwriting. The collection does not stop with paper. Jennifer writes about the hundreds of hours of video and audio she sorted through for the memoir. CG would often leave a tape recorder running while spending time with JG, or video taping her playtime in the backyard. A daunting process to sort through all the archives, but one that Jennifer relished.

Cary Grant with daughter Jennifer, 1973. Photo from Parade Magazine.
Cary Grant with daughter Jennifer, 1973. Photo from Parade Magazine.

Good Stuff is a loving tribute to a father…who just so happens to be Cary Grant. If you are looking for a biography about Grant’s rise to fame and his long career, you will not find what you’re looking for with this book. JG largely avoids mentioning her father’s career for the simple fact that she didn’t know that side of him. CG retired when Jennifer was born and the “Cary Grant” star persona was just that. It wasn’t who he was at home and in real life. She does briefly discuss some of her father’s famous friends and the impact they all had (and still have) on her life, so there are some Hollywood insider tidbits that classic film fans will enjoy. I was incredibly moved by Good Stuff. I laughed, cried, and smiled through every single page. Maybe that’s the parent in me, but I would be surprised if non-parents didn’t become a little emotional while reading.

I am thankful that Jennifer Grant opened up to allow us a glimpse of the 20 years she spent with her father. The process of discovering and pouring through her father’s archives was a personal, painful, and ultimately healing process. For her to share that with us is a gift.

I mentioned earlier that Good Stuff is not a biography of Cary Grant and his film career. If you are looking for good reading material on Grant and his career, allow me to make the following suggestions:

Cary Grant: A Celebration of Style  by Richard Torregrossa
Cary Grant: A Celebration
by Richard Schickel
The Complete Films of Cary Grant by Donald Deschner
Cary Grant: A Bio-Bibliography by Beverly Bare Buehrer
Evenings with Cary Grant: Recollections in His Own Words and by Those Who Knew Him Best by Nancy Nelson

You can also visit The Ultimate Cary Grant Pages for anything and everything Cary related–including an article/autobiography written by the man himself.