Scott Eyman is one of America's foremost film historians and biographers. With fifteen books to his credit, his John Wayne: The Life and the Legend became a runaway New York Times bestseller. A former literary critic for The Palm Beach Post, he has also written for The Wall Street JournalThe New York TimesThe Washington Post and the Chicago Tribune.


Stay Thirsty Magazine was honored to visit with him at his home in West Palm Beach for this Conversation about his latest book, Gary Grant: A Brilliant Disguise.


STAY THIRSTY: You have written definitive biographies of John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart and Henry Fonda, Cecil B. DeMille, John Ford and Louis B. Mayer, to name only a few, and your book about John Wayne became a very successful bestseller. What motivated you to choose Cary Grant for your latest book?


SCOTT EYMAN: I was on the fence about writing the book until I read a diary Archie Leach kept when he was 14 years old. There was no mention of his mother, institutionalized since he was 11, and only one or two tangential mentions of his alcoholic father. What concerned the boy was avoiding school, then filling in his days with the movies and the music hall in his hometown of Bristol. As he put it in one entry: “Roaming...” Later that year, he got himself kicked out of school and signed up with a troupe of traveling acrobats. It would be a performer’s life for him.


I was fascinated by the self-possession and confidence exhibited by this 14-year–old street kid.


STAY THIRSTY: After spending years researching and writing Cary Grant, how do you feel about the man? Did your feelings change during the course of your research? When you were just starting your career as a journalist, you met with John Wayne. Did you ever meet or speak with Cary Grant? If not, who helped you fill in such a multidimensional picture of him?


SCOTT EYMAN: I never met him, but I did attend one of his “Evenings With Cary Grant” events near the end of his life. He was in complete control of the audience, self-possessed, more or less playing Cary Grant but at the same time candid about his judgments and prejudices – among other things, women who wore too much makeup.


Scott Eyman

As far as my feelings, I try not to be either a prosecuting or defense attorney, but I’d be lying if I said wasn’t occasionally appalled by his persnickety temperament. That said, I was glad to find that the flip side of his character was a stubborn urge to call ‘em as he saw ‘em, defending people who were currently being crucified for perceived transgressions – Charlie Chaplin and Ingrid Bergman among others.



STAY THIRSTY: As a film historian and biographer, how did you strategize dealing with Cary Grant's internal conflict between the person he was – Archie Leach – and the person he presented to the world – Cary Grant? Is he a heroic or tragic figure in your mind?


SCOTT EYMAN: Both. Cary Grant was an incrementally constructed construct, an aspirational figure for the public as well as for the man who created him. Playing Cary Grant while knowing he was really Archie Leach, being perennially haunted by his childhood and concerned about the discrepancy between what he was and what he played, must have been extraordinarily stressful.

Mae West and Cary Grant in She Done Him Wrong (1933)

STAY THIRSTY: Not born into a family that would teach a young person how to act in graceful and sophisticated ways, how did Archie Leach assemble the character of Cary Grant and become so accomplished at playing the role? Who were his role models and mentors in his early film years? How much impact did the alcoholism of his father have on Archie's creation of Grant?


SCOTT EYMAN: His mentors were the actors he admired as a boy in the English theater, people like Noel Coward. Smooth sophisticates who never broke a sweat, or, rather, never let the audience see them sweat. That was the foundation of the Cary Grant persona, but he added to that the astonishing physical virtuosity and humor he learned as an acrobat, and authentic strains of Archie Leach’s emotionalism, which supplied the darker strains in his acting persona and resulted in performances such as Notorious and None But the Lonely Heart.


As a young man, he drank quite a bit and when drunk could be nasty. In later years, he drank very moderately. I would say his father was a road not taken, consciously so.


Randolph Scott and Cary Grant (1930s)

STAY THIRSTY: Why did Cary Grant marry five times? What was it about his personality that put him and his wives through so much turmoil?


SCOTT EYMAN: As a friend of his told me, there’s nothing anybody can do to make you feel loved if you don’t feel you are lovable. His romantic life invariably involved seduction followed by rejection. He didn’t really trust love, because his experience with his parents taught him that the cost of love was far too high.



STAY THIRSTY: What role did Cary Grant's daughter, Jennifer, play in his life?


SCOTT EYMAN: Redemption. A second chance. A righting of all the blunders that had been made by Archie’s parents. She gave him a good reason to quit show business, which enabled him to finally relax because he no longer had to worry about being exposed as an imposter. 



STAY THIRSTY: Late in life Cary Grant took LSD over 100 times. What was he searching for and did he find it?


SCOTT EYMAN: I think he was looking for a way to integrate the man he actually was with the man he played. LSD helped far more than psychotherapy had. After that, he was basically Captain Trips and would proselytize on behalf of for LSD to anybody who would listen.


Irene Dunne, Alex D'Arcy, Cary Grant and Mr. Smith (1937)

STAY THIRSTY: You dedicated your book to Edward Sykes Comstock. Who is he and how has he helped you in your work over the years?


SCOTT EYMAN: Until his recent retirement, Ned was the performing arts librarian at the University of Southern California, which has a vast cache of papers and documents about the movie business. Ned would always send care packages to writers working on projects, full of stuff they didn’t know or were too ignorant to ask for. He made my books incalculably better.



STAY THIRSTY: What movie star or director is on the drawing board for your next project?


SCOTT EYMAN: I’m always interested in people who transcend their own time, people of some permanent interest because of their creativity and vision. That said, I don’t like to talk about new projects. Some writers do, but I find it robs me of a certain creative compression; I lose impetus if I talk too much about my projects. Suffice it to say it’s about one of the primary artists of the 20th century. Wish me luck.


(Cary Grant photographs courtesy of Scott Eyman; Photograph of Scott Eyman credit: Greg Lovett)



Scott Eyman

All opinions expressed are solely those of its author and do not reflect the opinions of Stay Thirsty Media, Inc.