Cary Grant said “I do” to four different women before he settled down with wife Barbara Harris in the early 1980s. Though the late actor endured plenty of heartbreak throughout his life, he experienced “great love” when he became a dad and later married his fifth spouse, Barbara exclusively tells Closer.
His only daughter, Jennifer Grant, whom he welcomed with ex Dyan Cannon, recalls her dad as being a dedicated parent. One Halloween, a young Jennifer rang the doorbell of an unfamiliar house and her father answered the door. The retired film star had rented a home in the neighborhood where his little girl would be trick-or-treating so that he would be able to see her. “I just sort of ran up and got the candy and gave him a hug and left,” Jennifer, 55, shares in the magazine’s latest issue, on newsstands now. “I was embarrassed, I think, by the extent of his love and devotion to me.”
Many would crave this kind of adoration from Cary. In the 1940s and ’50s, he reigned as Hollywood’s most desired and popular leading man in films like Bringing Up Baby, The Philadelphia Story and North by Northwest. Still, the actor struggled with personal demons that proved disastrous to his relationships. It was only in his 60s, when he’d started coming to terms with his past, that he was able to give his heart fully to his daughter and his last wife, Barbara, 70,
The Bristol, England-born son of a tailor’s presser, Cary, who grew up as Archibald Leach, believed that he had been abandoned by his mother, Elise, when he was 9. He wouldn’t learn that his father had actually committed her to an asylum until he was in his 30s — but by then, the damage was done. “I think the disappearance of his mother at such a young age resulted in him not trusting women,” Cary’s widow, whom he married in 1981, tells Closer. “He initially believed that she had just left to go to the seaside.”
By the time Cary married his first wife, actress Virginia Cherrill in 1934, he had already fallen into a toxic pattern. He would meet someone and fall obsessively in love, but his possessiveness, need for control and self-absorption would always doom the relationship. In his unions with Virginia and his second wife, heiress Barbara Hutton, whom he wed in 1943, there were several splits and passionate reconciliations before the marriages ended. “Cary is a dear,” purred Barbara in 1945. “But he isn’t interested in anything but his career and after all, when you are married to a man you must have something to talk about.”
Cary fared no better in his marriages to actresses Betsy Drake and Dyan Cannon, but he made attempts in the 1960s to break this unhealthy cycle with analysis. “He was going through LSD [therapy], which was perfectly legal [at that time],” Barbara tells Closer. “He thought it was extremely helpful. It brought up a lot of parts of his life that he had buried, either consciously or not. They were not always attractive things to face. But he used to say it removed an awful lot of his barnacles.”
It would prove too little, too late, to save his marriage to Dyan, which lasted only three years, but Cary rejoiced at becoming a father to their daughter, Jennifer, at age 62 in 1966. “He said that he would have been too selfish before. He was too involved with his work, his films and his life,” recalls Barbara. Jennifer’s birth changed everything for the star, who retired from movies to help raise her. “Jennifer is my greatest production,” Cary bragged. “She’s the most winsome, captivating girl I’ve ever known, and I’ve known quite a few. We have an honest relationship. We level with each other.”
As a father, Cary could not be more devoted. He documented his little girl’s life with photographs and home movies and kept every note they ever wrote to each other. “I lived with my mother, [but] she’d be away making a film for three months, say, and I’d be at my father’s house,” says Jennifer, who wrote Good Stuff, a memoir of her childhood in 2011. “I saw him so much more than the child of divorced parents might expect.” As a dad, Cary could also be quite strict. “He once found some eyeshadow in my drawer. I got into big trouble,” she confesses, adding that Cary also insisted she always use proper English and good manners.
Cary met his final bride Barbara, an Englishwoman, at a hotel in London where she worked in public relations in 1976. Despite a 47-year age gap, the connection was immediate. “His mind always remained young because he was so alive and interested in everything,” she confides. “And he was even funnier than he was in films. He had a twinkle in his eyes.”
But old habits are hard to break, and Cary questioned Barbara’s motives for wanting to be with him. “I felt that I had to sort of prove that I was not there for the wrong reasons,” she explains. “Once he realized how much I loved him, I could not have ever wished for a more loving husband.”
Barbara tended to Cary’s needs until his death from a sudden stroke in 1986. In his will, he split his fortune — thought to be between $40 and $60 million — to the two women who changed his life: Jennifer and Barbara. “I think the birth of Jennifer brought him great love, and I think that the relationship we had brought him peace,” Barbara says to Closer. “Most of the people who truly knew him commented that he was much more at ease and a much happier person in the later part of his life.”