May 08, 1989 12:00 PM

by Charles Higham and Roy Moseley

What is it about Cary Grant biographies that seems to require two authors? Here’s a better question. What is it about Grant that he should be subjected to smarmy treatment? Those who love Grant would be advised to skip this book too. It is that rare work that is at once tedious and offensive.

The debonair, born-to-wear-a-tuxedo-and-cut-women-down-to-sighs Grant was but one side of the man, say Higham and Moseley. His private life was ashes, ashes, ashes. The authors dutifully detail Grant’s early years in Bristol, England, his stint in vaudeville, his metamorphosis from Archie Leach to Cary Grant. They devote considerable space to Grant’s World War II work for British Intelligence. This part of the book should be riveting; Higham’s and Moseley’s lugubrious style militates against that possibility. But then it is clear the authors are most eager to spill the beans about what they refer to as Grant’s “sexual ambiguity,” his supposed affairs with Randolph Scott and other men (there is even a hint that at one point Grant made an overture to Higham), his experiments with LSD, his misogynistic streak, his unconsummated marriages and unconsummated romances with, among others, Sophia Loren. The authors are particularly eager to show the parallels between Grant’s private life and his movies.” Notorious also illuminated an aspect of Cary’s sexual character. At the beginning he [the character Devlin] says, I’ve always been scared of women.’… His possessiveness, sexual ambiguity and deep-seated guilt and fear are from beginning to end Cary Grant,” proclaim the authors.

The writing is on a par with the psychological insights. Of Grant they write that “the fairy godmothers who had bestowed upon him many gifts exacted the familiar price of depriving him of the very things he wanted most [including] the ability to love and be loved which of course starts with loving yourself.” In this lurid book, the authors cruelly defame a man who can’t defend himself and show disdain for his admirers’ ability to distinguish honest biography from innuendo. Even if what they write is true—and the evidence they offer is hardly convincing—the question remains: Why would Grant’s admirers want to subject themselves to this kind of disillusionment? (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, $18.95)

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