From Horfield to Hollywood: Cary Grant’s Cinderella Story


Megan Lewis heads to the Cary Grant Film Festival and discovers a local hero who can inspire us all.

It was strange to think this man so rich in confidence and in looks (and in the bank) once walked the streets I do…

The weather was typically British, grey – just like Grant’s ‘North By Northwest’ suit that remarkably remains perfect throughout the film (Armani didn’t call him a style icon for nothing). I arrived with my mum, nan and grandad.  As we were early we took the best table at the piano bar – where the atmosphere and music from the piano and the Hippodrome choir washed over us. The dress code was vintage – so I’d raided my mum’s wardrobe, dusted off my prom shoes (it’s been a while) and hit the eight metres of red carpet. What an evening that finished off a ‘suit’able (pardon the pun!) weekend celebrating one of Hollywood’s most enduring stars.

I’d counted the days till the, ‘Cary Comes Home For The Weekend’. A Cary Grant festival from 11th-12th October, booked it off work and just enjoyed getting glammed up  (beating my biology homework by far).

The gala started with ‘Arsenic and Old Lace’, a 1944 dark comedy with Halloween at the centre of the sweet Brewster sisters. They have 3 nephews: Cary Grant, one who thinks he’s Teddy Roosevelt and one who’s a bit of a mad killer on the run with a love of plastic surgery (travelling with an alcoholic plastic surgeon who likes Frankenstein, what a great mix). It’s one for the whole family. Seriously after this film you’ll never walk up stairs without yelling ‘charge’ and galloping up – I mean ask my neighbours.

Who can’t be inspired by this Cinderella story?

As the evening rolled in, Hitchcock’s ‘North by Northwest’ 1959 rolled out (and my feet hurt, no wonder my shoes were dusty). It was strange to think this man so rich in confidence and in looks (and in the bank) once walked the streets I do. He worked at the Hippodrome, the very building where I sat. It was here (and the no longer existing Empire Theatre) that showed him there was ‘no other life, than the life of an actor’. Who can’t be inspired by this Cinderella story?

Richard Schickel, a respected film critic stated that Grant was ‘the best star actor there ever was in the movies’, his career lasted 3 decades, arriving in Hollywood when ‘talkies’ were still new and retiring when Beatlemania was happening. Even The AFI (American Film Institute) named Grant it’s 2nd greatest male star (just behind Humphrey Bogart).

Archie Leach was just a child,  dreaming of a brighter future, than the class-obsessed England could provide, like his friend Charles Chaplin.

Impressive? Absolutely. If you list all the Hollywood legends and then remember that Grant the suave man who’d become this global superstar was a boy from Bristol, our hometown. The city 100 years ago was in the middle of WW1 and Archie Leach was just a child,  dreaming of a brighter future, than the class-obsessed England could provide, like his friend Charles Chaplin. As actors, they didn’t just share leading lady Virginia Cherill, Grants first wife and star of Chaplin’s ‘City Lights’, 1931 (shown at this years Slapstick Festival). They shared similar backgrounds, where Chaplin had ‘The Tramp’, Archie Leach had ‘Cary Grant’ – undoubtably his best character. As a boy. Grant kept a diary, he won a scholarship to Fairfield Grammar School and constantly was top of the class. Yet his start in life was all but perfect.

But this is how audiences saw him, his films packed cinemas and he was dubbed the man from the dream city, making the dream city Bristol. Screen Goddess and Givenchy’s muse, Audrey Hepburn, plays on his popularity in the 1963’s thriller ‘Charade’.  Asking a Simon-Cowell-self-answered-question, ‘Do you know what’s wrong with you? Nothing’.

Grant can be thought of the Bond that never was.

Grant can be thought of the Bond that never was. ‘North by Northwest’ enjoys the basic formula that the 007 franchise enjoyed a few years later.  For this screening, UWE students showed up, there were a few shocked laughs and even gasps as the dialogue heated up in the dining cart.  It showed that these classic films aren’t boring or out-of-date and a great film is like a great piece of art. It’s eternal. It also showed Hitchcock’s humour as he got round the rules, known as the Hays Code designed to keep Hollywood in line. (Did anyone else pick up on that phallic imagery as the credits came up? hmm? Just me?)

At Mark Glancy’s talk, ‘Educating Archie’, I was surprised to learn Grant’s persona wasn’t an overnight character but one that took him six years and 29 films to perfect, at the age of 33.

Cary Grant had a smile for everyone. For the people of Bristol it was just a bit brighter. And now Bristol smiles back. He returned home as often as possible armed with a video recorder. He filmed Gloucester Road, the Docks and for all the people caught on camera going about their everyday lives, Grant was just another.

Next time you’re in Millennium Square, walk across and you’ll come to a 6ft 1’’ grey suited statue of a man clutching his ‘To Catch A Thief‘ script. Whether or not you’ve seen his films, remember the Bristol boy who’s dreams, despite circumstances came true.  That he did good and so can you.

Dream BIG Bristolians.

Cary Grant fan? What’s your favourite film of his? Which other Bristolians have inspired you to pursue your dream? Let us know @rifemag

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