5 Things You Didn't Know About Cary Grant

Evening Standard / Stringer / Hulton Archive via Getty Images
Evening Standard / Stringer / Hulton Archive via Getty Images

This week's installment of our "5 Things You Didn't Know About..." series focuses on one of the finest comic actors of all time. Whether in comedies like The Philadelphia Story and Bringing Up Baby or Hitchcock thrillers like North by Northwest, Cary Grant could make even throwaway bits of dialogue screamingly funny with his superb sense of timing and brilliant facial expressions. Here are a few things you might not have known about him.

1. He Was Almost Cary Lockwood

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The man we know as Cary Grant was actually born Alec Archibald Leach in 1904 in Bristol, England. When Archie Leach finally made it to Hollywood in 1931, studio execs at Paramount didn't think that "Archie Leach" sounded sturdy enough for a leading man. As Grant later told it, someone at the studio said, "'Archie' just doesn't sound right in America," to which he grudgingly admitted, "It doesn't sound particularly right in Britain, either."

When he was faced with the task of literally making a name for himself, Leach enlisted the help of his friends Fay Wray and John Monk Saunders, who suggested "Cary Lockwood." When Leach took the "Cary Lockwood" moniker back to Paramount, the studio honchos liked the "Cary" part but felt that "Lockwood" was too long and too similar to other actors' names, particularly silent film star Harold Lockwood. Grant would later tell The New Yorker that at this point, someone in the meeting just started reading down a list of potential last names and eventually stopped at "Grant." Archie Leach liked the sound of it and nodded, and Cary Grant was born. In 1941, the actor legally changed his name to Cary Grant.

2. Archie Leach Had Some Adventures of His Own, Though

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The name Cary Grant may not have emerged until 1931, but long before that Archie Leach was already showing the inimitable charm and comedic gifts that would later light up the screen. He left home at age 13 to join the Bob Pender Troupe, a group of traveling boy comedians, and from that point on he focused on learning acrobatics, tumbling, and vaudeville techniques, where he excelled as a straight man. In 1920, Bob Pender brought his troupe to the U.S., where they successfully toured for two years. At the end of the engagement, Archie Leach decided he'd rather just stay in the U.S. than return to England.

For the next nine years, Grant did a little bit of everything. He juggled on-stage, served as an audience plant for mind readers, worked as a barker at Coney Island, and walked on stilts to advertise Steeplechase Park. He also worked as an "escort" who could fill in empty seats at dinner parties; he once escorted the great soprano Lucrezia Bori for an evening. By 1927, he'd met legendary producer Arthur Hammerstein and was appearing on Broadway, which opened the door for his film career.

3. He Took Thriftiness To a New Level

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From just watching Grant's movies, you'd think that friends would describe him as witty, charming, and urbane. While his associates certainly give him credit for all of those qualities, he's just as legendary for being a cheapskate. Although Grant was the first star to break out of the studio system and negotiate a deal where he got a percentage of his films' box office takes, he was famously careful with his cash and obsessed over how much everything cost. (If Grant attended an expensive charity event, he was quick to point out that the entrance fee was deductible.)

Rumors circulated that Grant was so cheap that when he'd worn out a shirt, he'd cut all the buttons off and save them before throwing it away. Grant never denied this rumor; he simply explained in an interview that he liked to have some extra buttons around and that if his maid used his old shirts as dust rags he didn't want the buttons scratching his furniture. As he told the New York Times, "I think it's a very sensible procedure and should be adopted as a household tip."

4. He Did a Lot of LSD

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Although Grant was outwardly a clean-cut light-comic actor, he struggled with depression throughout his life. Part of this unhappiness stemmed from his uneasy relationship with the fairer sex, a problem that may have sprung from losing his mother when he was just nine years old. (Family members told Grant his mother had either died or gone on vacation, but she'd actually been committed to the Country Home for Mental Defectives in Fishpond.) While Grant was quite the ladies' man on screen, he didn't fare quite so well in his own life. He was married five times, and the first four wives all left him.

In an effort to confront these problems and restore his mental health, Grant underwent a hundred or so LSD sessions. He started taking LSD under the supervision of doctors in 1963 when his third wife, actress Betsy Drake, hit the road. According to Grant, when he took LSD and talked to a psychiatrist he "went through rebirth," and although he discouraged the recreational drug culture that emerged later in the 60s, he remained firmly convinced that LSD helped him come to terms with his issues. In fact, Grant felt so grateful for the breakthroughs he had with LSD that he left $10,000 in his will to the doctor who had overseen the treatments.

5. He Was No Fan of Chevy Chase

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It sounds ridiculous now, but when Chevy Chase was first starting to make his splash in show business, people compared him to Cary Grant. During a September 1980 interview on Tom Snyder's talk show Tomorrow, host Snyder favorably compared guest Chase to Grant. Chase responded, "I understand he was a homo. He was brilliant. What a gal!"

Chase's comments addressed the long-standing Hollywood rumor that Grant was bisexual, and Grant was less than amused. He sued Chase for $10 million for slander the following day, and the pair eventually settled out of court. (Grant allegedly received a $1 million payment from Chase for the ill-chosen comment.) Grant, who was 76 at the time, told the media, "True or untrue, I'm old enough not to care."

'5 Things You Didn't Know About...' appears every Friday. Read the previous installments here..

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5 Weird American Cemetery Legends

iStock/grandriver
iStock/grandriver

These strange, spooky cemetery tales of vampires, ghosts, and bloody headstones will keep you up at night. (If you're not too scared, add them to your next cemetery road trip, and keep this guide of common cemetery symbols handy for when you visit.)

1. The Vampire of Lafayette Cemetery

Perhaps it's not surprising that a grave with "born in Transylvania" etched on it would invite vampire comparisons. Local legends say that a tree growing over this grave in Lafayette, Colorado, sprung from the stake that killed the vampire inside, and that the red rosebushes nearby are his bloody fingernails. There are also reports of a tall, slender man in a dark coat with black hair and long nails who sometimes sits on the tombstone. It's not clear what the man who bought the plot—Fodor Glava, a miner who died in 1918—would have thought of all these stories, especially since he might not have actually been buried there.

2. The Green Glow of Forest Park Cemetery

The abandoned Forest Park Cemetery (also known as Pinewoods Cemetery) near Troy, New York, is known for several urban legends. One of the strangest concerns local taxi drivers, who say they pick up fares nearby asking to go home, only to have the passenger mysteriously vanish when they drive by the cemetery. Others tell of a decapitated angel statue that bleeds from its neck—although the effect may be attributed to a certain kind of moss. But one of the eeriest parts of the grounds is a dilapidated mausoleum said to be home to a green, glowing light often seen right where the coffins used to be located.

3. The New Orleans Tomb That Grants Wishes

Famed "Voodoo Queen" Marie Laveau is buried in arguably the oldest and most famous cemetery in New Orleans, St. Louis Cemetery No. 1. (Or said to be, anyway—some dispute surrounds her actual burial spot.) For years, visitors hoping to earn Marie's supernatural assistance would mark three large Xs on her mausoleum; some also knocked three times on her crypt. However, a 2014 restoration of her tomb removed the Xs, and there's a substantial fine now in place for anyone who dares write on her tomb.

4. Pennsylvania's Bleeding Headstone

The Union Cemetery in Millheim has one of the nation's weirder headstones: It's said to bleed. The grave belongs to 19th-century local William (or Daniel) Musser, whose descendants tried to replace the tombstone repeatedly, but the blood (or something that looked like blood) just kept coming back—until they added an iron plate on top.

5. Smiley's Ghost in Garland, Texas

A single plot in the Mills Cemetery is home to five members of the Smiley family, who all died on the same day. Rumor has it that if you lie down on the grave at midnight (especially on Halloween), you'll find it very difficult to rise back up, as the ghost of old man Smiley tries to pull you down, hoping to add one more member to the family's eternal resting place.

8 Fun Facts About Muppet Babies

The Jim Henson Company
The Jim Henson Company

Before prequels were a thing, Jim Henson’s Muppet Babies imagined a world in which the felt-covered characters of Henson’s Muppets franchise—Kermit, Miss Piggy, Animal, and Fozzie Bear among them—met up as children in a nursery. Left to their own devices, the animated cast led a rich fantasy life while in diapers. For more on this 1984-1991 show, including why it’s so hard to find anywhere except YouTube, keep reading.

1. Frank Oz didn’t really want Muppet Babies.

The idea to infantilize the Muppets came from Michael Frith, a longtime collaborator of Jim Henson’s, in the early 1980s. Frith believed that regressing the characters could allow them to impart moral or educational messages to children already familiar with them. But Frank Oz, a Muppets performer (Miss Piggy) and film director, argued that the Muppets needed to maintain their subversive edge. It was Henson who found a compromise, suggesting that younger versions of the characters appear in a dream sequence for 1984’s feature film The Muppets Take Manhattan. The response to the scene was overwhelmingly positive, and Henson soon teamed with Marvel Productions and CBS for an animated series that began airing in September 1984.

2. Skeeter was the result of a gender imbalance on Muppet Babies.

Most of the principal Muppet Babies cast was made up of recognizable characters, including Kermit, Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Rowlf, Gonzo, Animal, Bunsen, and Scooter. But Frith, Henson, and producers Bob Richardson and Hank Saroyan decided that the babies were skewing a little too male. Aside from Piggy and their caretaker, Nanny, there were no female characters. To balance the scales, they introduced Skeeter, Scooter’s twin sister, a brainy problem-solver.

Skeeter has made only fleeting and sporadic appearances in the Muppet franchise since, leading to speculation she might be caught up in rights issues between CBS and the Jim Henson Company, which was purchased by Disney in 2004. Fortunately, the somewhat murky situation appears to be at least partially resolved: It was recently reported Skeeter will resurface in the new computer-animated iteration of Muppet Babies, which is currently airing its second season on Disney Junior and has been renewed for a third season.

3. One of the major creative forces behind Muppet Babies was Moe Howard’s grandson.

In 1985, Muppet Babies writer Jeffrey Scott received a Humanitas Prize from the Human Family Educational and Cultural Institute for an episode of the series which the Institute declared did the best job of any kid’s show that year to “enrich the viewing public.” The episode centered on the group fearing one of them might be sent away. The prolific Scott actually wrote all 13 episodes of the first season. His father, Norman Maurer, worked at Hanna-Barbera Productions and got Scott’s foot in the door. His grandfather was Moe Howard, founder and head Stooge of The Three Stooges fame.

4. The Muppet Babies live-action segments were a result of budgetary constraints.

A hallmark of Muppet Babies is when the cast finds themselves thrust into scenes from famous films, a Walter Mitty-esque bit of fantasy fulfillment that blends live-action sequences with animation. According to Frith, devoting a portion of each episode to clips wasn’t entirely a creative choice. By inserting clips, producers could save money on animation. It was also easy for Henson to secure the rights to popular films like Star Wars or Raiders of the Lost Ark because he was friends with George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. While some believe those clips are the reason the show isn’t available to stream—sifting through the legal entanglement of reairing the segments might prove costly—that’s never been confirmed.

5. Muppet Babies never explained what the Muppets were doing in that nursery.

Given time to reflect, it seems odd that the Muppet cast would find themselves in a nursery without being supervised by their own parents. Speaking with the Detroit Free Press in 1987, Michael Frith said that the situation was purposely left vague. “I really appreciate the fact that they don’t [ask],” Frith said of his kid viewers. “Is this a day care center? Is this a foster child home? The more we talked about it, the more we felt it should just exist. The kids accept it.”

6. The voice recording sessions of Muppet Babies included copious farting.

Speaking with CNN in 2011, actor Dave Coulier (Full House) recalled that recording sessions for Muppet Babies sometimes involved flatulence. Coulier, who portrayed Animal and Bunsen, among others, said that “lots of fart humor” punctuated the recording studio. “In one scene, Fozzie [played by Greg Berg] and Animal had to climb a ladder,” he said. “As Animal was pushing Fozzie up the ladder, they were making [grunting] sounds. In mid-scene, Greg Berg farted. I looked at [actor] Frank Welker and we couldn’t contain ourselves. Uncontrollable laughter ensued. I was literally on the floor of the studio laughing.”

7. There was an offshoot of Muppet Babies called Muppet Monsters—and it never aired in full.

Following the success of Muppet Babies, CBS and Jim Henson decided to expand on the Muppets' potential as Saturday morning stars by creating a 90-minute block in 1985 titled Muppets, Babies, and Monsters. (Muppet Babies often aired consecutive half-hour installments for an hour total.) In addition to regular Muppet Babies episodes, the program featured another half-hour of Little Muppet Monsters, which featured puppets of new Muppet monster characters named Tug, Molly, and Boo. The three appeared in a framing device that introduced animated segments of adult Muppets. Only three episodes aired out of 15 produced, reportedly due to both Henson and CBS being unhappy with the finished product and Muppet Babies standing strongly on its own. The remaining episodes have yet to see the light of day.

8. Muppet Babies was turned into a live stage show.

To further incite their juvenile audience and monetize their popularity, the Muppet Babies franchise eventually wound up live and on stage. Muppet Babies Live! debuted in 1986 and featured performers in oversized costumes dancing and acting to a prerecorded track. In one skit, the cast appeared in a Snow White homage. In another, Rowlf became Rowlfgang Amagodus Mozart and played the piano. The arena show toured the country. Hank Saroyan, one of the animated show’s producers, wrote the stage show. The performer for Baby Piggy, Elizabeth Figols, also appeared in a live production of Dirty Dancing. The show ran through 1990.

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