Good Stuff: A Reminiscence of My Father, Cary Grant

Author(s): 
Release Date: 
May 2, 2011
Publisher/Imprint: 
Knopf
Pages: 
192
Reviewed by: 

Right up front, Jennifer Grant tells her readers that she was very resistant to the idea of writing a book about her father. Indeed, she reveals that 20 years after his death she was still reluctant about admitting to herself that he had died. (As the author puts it: “I can talk about it and around it, but those two words. ‘He died.’ What can they possibly mean?”)

And right up front Ms. Grant also tells us why she chose to write her book now and what she feels she has to share with her readers.

Of her reason for writing the book, she writes, “In my father’s later years he asked several times that I remember him the way I knew him. He said that after his death, people would talk. They would say ‘things’ about him and he wouldn’t be there to defend himself. He beseechingly requested that I stick to what I knew was true, because I truly knew him.”

Of her timing in writing the memoir now, she writes, “For many years I’ve stayed silent. Other tributes to Dad stem from the perspective of show business, where the intimate side of his life is somehow vaguely analyzed, but never revealed. I am my father’s only child. The world knows a two-dimensional Cary Grant. As charming a star and as remarkable a gentleman as he was, he was still a more thoughtful and loving father.”

Of her relationship with her father, she writes, “To me, he was like a marvelous painting. All the art historians wish to break down the motives, and the scheme, and so on. I would rather know, as I do, his essence. I believe that at the heart of a person lies passion. For the last twenty years of his life, I was given the extraordinary privilege to experience the full, vital passion of his heart.”

And about her book’s title, Jennifer Grant writes, “Dad used the expression ‘good stuff’ to declare happiness or, as one of his friends puts it, he said it when pleased with the nature of things. He said it a lot. He had a happy way of life. His life was ‘good stuff.’”

With all this out of the way in the first few pages, Ms. Grant takes the rest of the book to lovingly present a portrait of her father, Hollywood icon Cary Grant, through her own eyes. In doing so, she begins, ends and leisurely works through roughly the last 20 years of her father’s life, which corresponds with the first 20 of her own.

Ms. Grant was born when her father was already in his early 60s, the product of his union with actress Dyan Cannon. Although that marriage was generally thought of as being one of Hollywood’s oddest couplings—eclipsed only perhaps by the marriage between Frank Sinatra and Mia Farrow—little information is given about her parents’ marriage or divorce—indeed, her mother is never mentioned by name—although hints are given that theirs was not a marriage made in heaven:

“The rhythm to my parents’ postdivorce relationship was staccato. They fought. If they weren’t fighting, they were at best curt with each other.”

The fruit of their marriage, however, our author, Jennifer Grant, apparently was completely angelic—at least from her father’s point of view. We are presented with testimony in the form of reproduced letters and notes, transcribed audio tapes and childhood photographs—all of which attest that, of all his relationships with members of the female gender, it was his relationship with his daughter that was Cary Grant’s least complicated and most simply loving.

Second to this, as again attested to in these pages, was his relationship with his mother, Elsie Leach, also gentle, simple, and loving.

From there, Grant’s relationships become a little more complex, with multiple marriages, including unions with the aforementioned Cannon, as well as with actress Betsy Drake, heiress Barbara Hutton, and hotel public relations agent Barbara Harris, who would become Grant’s final wife, stepmother to Jennifer Grant and, ultimately, Cary Grant’s widow.

Ms. Grant has many gracious things to say about Barbara Grant, including this: “I use the term belle mere, which literally translates as ‘beautiful mother,’ to refer to Barbara. We have often gratefully acknowledged our relationship. We didn’t have to be friends . . . Still, together with my father, we constructed a family that we ‘carry’ forward through the years.”

But, interestingly, concerning all but the last of these marriages, Grant is surprisingly mute.

She writes: “Dad’s previous marriages went undiscussed as well. Nothing taboo: I simply never asked. He married five times. I knew the names of his first three wives and vaguely knew their faces. That was all fine, and beyond that, it was history.”

That his marriages were history is certainly true, but in that they were family history, it strains the readers sense of credulity to think that, even as a child, and certainly later as a teen or young adult, she would have never at any time shown any interest in her father’s past relationships.

Just as stunted is the information given on the subject of her father’s sexuality. Indeed, given that the vast majority of the book covers the splendor of the father/daughter relationship, it seems strange that she deals with the rumors of her father’s gay relationships at all. And yet she does, right after assuring her readers that, like multiple marriages, homosexuality is fine. Or, as she puts it, “being gay is neither here nor there.”

Under the subhead “Fame—The Price,” Ms. Grant writes, “What does one say when asked if one’s famously charming, debonair, five-times-married, crooned-over father is gay?”

Her answer to her own question? “Hmmm . . . a grin escapes me.” She adds, “the gay rumor normally seemed funny to Dad”—before mentioning that when comic Chevy Chase made a joke about Grant being gay, his open response was anger.

In exploring the notion of her father’s possible bisexuality, Ms. Grant suggests that “perhaps Dad had what Virginia Woolf described as an ‘androgynous mind,” before moving on to a tirade on the evils of gossip in the age of the tabloids. Better she had never brought it up or had ended with the quote of what ex-wife Betsy Drake had to say on the subject or whether or not she ever asked Cary Grant about his sexuality: “I don’t know, we were always too busy fucking for me to ask.”

Indeed, much of the book seems to be an odd two-step around reality, as if Ms. Grant were attempting to write a memoir without surrendering any of her more personal memories. Or as if, when thinking of her beloved father and of the golden days of her youth, the author finds herself infantilized by her memories. Either way, the portrait of Cary Grant presented in these pages is one daubed in finger paints.

Still, Good Stuff is not without some good stuff of its own. And not without its Hollywood namedropping:

“Every year we had a small Christmas dinner, and every year the same friends showed up. Quincy Jones and Frank and Barbara Sinatra were regulars. Sometimes Gregory and Veronique Peck, Johnny and Alex Carson, Kirk Kerkorian, Merv Griffin and Eva Gabor joined us as well. Once or twice David Hockney joined us, as did Sidney and Joanna Poitier.”

Better still, is Jennifer Grant’s memory of her family’s visit to the circus, made all the richer for having been the circus presented by Prince Rainier and Princess Grace of Monaco—after which everyone retired to the palace’s “disco room” to dance the night away.

Also well worth reading is Ms. Grant’s assessment of having grown up the child of wealth and fame: “You become instant ‘bubble people,’ stared at and pondered from all angles.”

And while Jennifer Grant never quite lets us into that bubble of hers, she does describe it for us, bringing us into the world that she shared with her father, a man who was so besotted with his newborn child that he retired from acting to dedicate the rest of his life to her. For that she is to be thanked.

A final note: Jennifer Grant’s mother, Dyan Cannon, is said to be publishing a book of her own this fall, called Dear Cary. The two volumes no doubt will be very interesting to compare and contrast. . . .