Cary Grant’s Career Started Off With Poor Reviews Before His Hollywood Triumphs

To celebrate Variety’s 115th anniversary, we went to the archives to see how some of Hollywood’s biggest stars first landed in the pages of our magazine. Read more from the archives here.

In 1929, Variety hated the musical comedy “A Wonderful Night” at Broadway’s Majestic Theater (“remarkably dull … the outlook for this one is dreary”). However, there was praise for one of the stars, Archie Leach — who in a few years would change his name to Cary Grant and conquer Hollywood and the world. “Archie Leach makes a handsome leading man, but some of the lines of fearsome insipidity that he has to utter discounted most of his natural grace.”

Handsome, natural grace: Those words offer a hint of Leach/Grant’s appeal. Three years later, in 1932, Variety ran a two-sentence item: “Cary Grant, new leading man on the Paramount contract list, hails from vaudeville where his monicker was Archie Leach. Grant started by walking on stilts in the Loomis Troupe and later became 33% of the vaude comedy trio of Robinson, Janis and Leach.”

Grant (1904-1986) was born in Horfield, a suburb of Bristol in the U.K. He started touring America in vaudeville when still a teenager, and lived in the U.S. ever since. That created his transcontinental accent, a way of speaking like nobody else.

When he signed with Paramount in 1931, they changed his name and cast him opposite two of the studio’s biggest stars, Marlene Dietrich and Mae West. But Grant really hit his stride in 1937, with “Topper” and “The Awful Truth.” Reviewing the latter, Variety said “Grant does a grand job” and accurately predicted the film would “elevate him securely to the top flight of boxoffice names.”

He made more than 70 films, such as “Gunga Din” (1939), “His Girl Friday” (1940) and “An Affair to Remember” (1957), and four films with Katharine Hepburn, including “Holiday,” “Bringing Up Baby” and “The Philadelphia Story.”

He also shone in four Alfred Hitchcock movies: “Suspicion” (1941), “Notorious” (1946), “To Catch a Thief” and “North by Northwest” (1959). In that film, Variety hailed the director as being at his “masterful best” while “Grant brings all his glittering technique and charm to the central character.”

Grant, who was married five times, retired from acting in 1966 after “Walk Don’t Run.”

A few years before that, in 1963, Variety hailed him as the king dealmaker, under the page 1 banner headline “Richest Actor: Cary Grant.” The story by Eddie Kalish said, “He has made his millions out of earned profits and not via hefty cash-in-advance.” Variety estimated Grant could make $12 million — $100 million in today’s economy — just from his recent Universal hits “Operation Petticoat” (1959), “The Grass is Greener” and “That Touch of Mink.” Universal gave him a jaw-dropping 75% of the profits. “Grant is figured by many to be one of the most astute film businessmen now operating …He maintains full control over everything concerning a project on which he works.”

It was a far cry from “Wonderful Night.” But 90 years later, he is still the embodiment of “natural grace.”

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