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Cary Grant Biography (1904–1986)

Actor Cary Grant performed in films from the 1930s through the 1960s. He starred in several Hitchcock films, including the 1959 hit North by Northwest.


Cary Grant was born January 18, 1904, in Bristol, England. He ran away from home at 13 to perform as a juggler with a comedy troupe. They later toured the U.S., where he honed his acting skills. In the 1930s he signed with Paramount Pictures. He made films well into the 1960s, establishing a debonair persona that made him a screen icon. He died in 1986, having received an honorary Oscar in 1970.

Early Life

Sometimes referred to as the “epitome of elegence,” Cary Grant exuded style, charm and sophistication. But that on-screen persona was a carefully crafted image, one that hid a very difficult personal life. He grew up in Bristol, England, as Archie Leach, the son of a clothing presser and a homemaker. His father, Elias, left the family for a job in Southampton, and there he took up with another woman. The couple soon had a child of their own.

When he was 10 years old, Grant was told that his mother was dead while, in fact, she had been committed to an institution by his father. Devastated by the loss, Grant was basically on his own, with little support from his father. At 13, he started hanging around a local theater, where he performed a few odd jobs. Grant then took up with Bob Pender’s group of traveling performers, but his first attempt at a theatrical career was cut short by his father, who demanded that he return to school.

Grant got himself expelled the following year and, this time with his father’s permission, rejoined Pender’s troupe. He traveled with the group for two years, performing in all types of acts from juggling to comedy bits to acrobatics. In 1920, Grant branched out on his own, leaving the troupe during its visit to New York City. There he struggled to make it into show business, even working as a stilt walker for a time.

Career Breakthrough

By the late 1920s, Grant had made several appearances on Broadway. He got the lead part in the 1931 musical Nikki with Fay Wray, playing a soldier named Cary who fights for Wray’s affections. While the production proved to be short-lived, Grant’s role garnered him enough praise to land a role in a short film, Singapore Sue. Finally experiencing some studio interest, Grant decided to move out to Los Angeles.

Grant landed a contract with Paramount Studios, and took on a new identity. Archie Leach became Cary Grant at the studio’s request. According to Hollywood legend, his first name came from his earlier stage role, and his last name from a list given to him by the studio. He made his first feature film, This Is The Night, in 1932, and more roles on the big screen soon followed. Grant starred opposite such famed leading ladies as Marlene Dietrich and Mae West.

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