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Sat June 18, 2011
Author Interviews

'Good Stuff': Cary Grant's Daughter On Growing Up

Originally published on Wed May 23, 2012 9:44 am

For most of the world, Cary Grant was a Hollywood icon, but to Jennifer Grant he was simply Dad.

The screen legend retired from acting at 62 when his daughter was born in 1966. He went on to devote the last 20 years of his life to fatherhood, giving his daughter the kind of life only he could give with trips to Monaco and Christmas dinners with the Sinatras. But it was the quality of that life that left a mark.

Jennifer Grant chronicles her close relationship with her father in her new book, Good Stuff: A Reminiscence of My Father, Cary Grant.

Grant tells NPR's Jacki Lynden that she got the book's title from one of her dad's favorite expressions.

"It's something he used to say when he was happy," Grant says. "It could be a very, very simple day. We might be sitting out on the front lawn. Dad loved classical music and we might be listening to some Stravinsky or something and having some tea and eggs. And he'd say, 'Oh, good stuff, isn't it?'"

Cary Grant — who was a native of Bristol, England — took his daughter everywhere with him when he could, and was known for keeping a camera on hand to record their time together. In fact, Grant says, after her father retired, much of the focus he had once put into his acting was put to use in raising her and documenting her childhood.

"He wanted me to have accurate records of my life growing up with him because his own records were burned in the bombings of Bristol in World War II," she says. "So he made all of these tapes and Super 8 films, and took slides and photographs. And every note I wrote him, every note he wrote me — and letter — he saved in boxes. And he put them in a fireproof vault in our house to ensure the safety of these archives for me."

Grant says looking back on her father's archives has allowed her to better understand who he was as a father. She recalls one Halloween when he rented a house in the neighborhood she was trick-or-treating in just so he would be able to see her and give her candy.

"At the time ... I was embarrassed, I think, by the extent of his love and devotion to me. So I just sort of ran up and got the candy and gave him a hug and left. It's moments like that that I look back on — and I regret those moments. I wish I'd just sat down and said, 'Oh, thank you Dad!'" she says.

"Looking back at the lengths he went to [to] parent," Grant says, "that's been the beauty of writing this book."

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

JACKI LYDEN, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Jacki Lyden.

(Soundbite of movie)

Mr. CARY GRANT (Late Actor): (as character) Please don't make me feel guilty about it, sir. Even if it turns out to be one of those fool ideas that people dream about and then go flat on, I've got a feeling if I let this chance go by, there'll never be another one for me.

LYDEN: To us, Cary Grant was a Hollywood icon. But to Jennifer Grant, he was Dad. The screen legend retired from acting when his daughter was born in 1966. Cary Grant was 62, and would devote the last 20 years of his life to fatherhood. Yes, he gave his daughter, Jennifer, the kind of life only Cary Grant could give - trips to Monaco to see the Grimaldis, Christmas dinner with the Sinatras and Poitiers - but it was the quality of that life that left its mark.

In her new book, "Good Stuff," Jennifer Grant remembers her father, Cary Grant. And she joins me now from our studios in New York. Welcome to the show on Father's Day.

Ms. JENNIFER GRANT (Author, "Good Stuff: A Reminiscence of My Father, Cary Grant"): Thank you so much, Jacki.

LYDEN: It's lovely to read about this relationship, and to think about the times that your father shared with us - the public - and then just with you. Would you explain what you mean by the phrase "good stuff"?

Ms. GRANT: You know, it's something he used to say when he was happy. And it could be a very, very simple day. We might be, you know, sitting out on the front lawn. Dad loved classical music, and we might be listening to some Stravinsky or something, and having some tea and eggs. And he'd say, oh good stuff, isn't it?

(Soundbite of laughter)

LYDEN: He took you with him everyplace that he could and in many ways, you were the center of his universe.

Ms. GRANT: I was. He would put a cassette recorder into the room with me, whether he was there or not, from the time I was a baby. And of course, this wasn't all the time. But he wanted me to have accurate records of my life growing up with him because his own records were burned in the bombings of Bristol in World War II.

So he made all of these tapes and Super 8 films, and took slides and photographs. And every note I wrote him, every note he wrote me and letter, he saved in boxes. And he put them in a fireproof vault in our house to ensure the safety of these archives for me.

LYDEN: Jennifer, can you just take us back and give us a moment where you think it really paints a picture.

Ms. GRANT: My mother and I lived in a colony in Malibu, and my father lived in Beverly Hills. And actually, one Halloween - I didn't know it - but he rented a home in the colony so that when I went knocking on the door, he would answer. And at the time, I thought, oh my God, what's my dad doing in that house? I mean, you know, I was embarrassed, I think, by the extent of his love and devotion to me. So, you know, I just sort of ran up and got the candy and gave him a hug and left. And it's moments like that that I look back on and I regret. You know, I regret - I wish I just sat down and said oh, thank you, Dad.

So that's been the beauty of writing this book, and looking back at the lengths he went to parent.

LYDEN: What did he tell you, if anything, about how a former vaudevillian -Archie Leech - became Cary Grant?

Ms. GRANT: He spoke about his days as an acrobat, and he spoke about his childhood in Bristol and how different it was, you know, and some of the pains of being in World War I and, you know, the scarcity of food and how lucky we were to have the meals that we had. And I think it was very much a cornerstone of his self-determination in going out and making a career for himself.

One of the reasons that he was such a success is he was, at his core, a very happy soul and a very thoughtful soul. And he found a way to express it that was in line with need. You know, people need to laugh.

LYDEN: Somewhere in here you write, you know, later on I'd have to meet the real world and take it on my own terms. That had to be a challenge.

Ms. GRANT: Yeah, it was very awkward, to say the least. You know, I had grown up in Malibu Colony and Beverly Hills; I went to boarding school; I went to Stanford. And when I hit the world, it was a tougher place than I was ready for. I wouldn't even say tough. It was just - it was like a big maze to me. How do you get from point A to point B and make it happen? And that's what I think Dad was trying to teach me.

But he'd done it. He'd gone from World War I Bristol and a somewhat tough life to becoming Cary Grant. And it's tough to teach a child when, you know, he was raising me with a lot of privileges that he'd earned.

LYDEN: What memory on Father's Day would you say sort of most takes you back to spending a few hours with him? What activity would you be doing if you could?

Ms. GRANT: What comes to mind right now, for whatever reason, is playing Trivial Pursuit - playing some silly game together. We played a lot of games, whether it was cards or backgammon. I'd love to be able to sit with him and play Trivial Pursuit. So if your parents are still around, you know, play a game with them, watch a movie, laugh. Do something easy, but enjoy it.

LYDEN: Jennifer Grant is the author of "Good Stuff: A Reminiscence of My Father, Cary Grant." And she joins us from our studios in New York. Thanks for sharing a bit of your father on this Father's Day.

Ms. GRANT: Thank you, Jacki.

LYDEN: You can see family photos of Jennifer Grant and her father Cary Grant in a slideshow on our website, NPR.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.

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