A-Z of Famous Bristolians - A: Archibald LeachPosted on: 27 Nov 2023
We're kicking off our A - Z of famous (and infamous) Bristolians with Archibald Leach - better known as the legendary film star Cary Grant.
It's a fairly well-known fact around these parts that Cary Grant is a Bristolian, real name Archibald (or Archie) Leach - but how much do you really know about the Hollywood megastar? Read on to find out more about Archie's tough childhood in North Bristol, his journey to the US, his actor daughter and, of course, his iconic film roles.
If, after reading this article, you want to take a deeper dive into the world of Cary Grant then you're in luck. A new four-part drama, titled Archie, is hitting the small screen is now available to stream on ITVX; starring Jason Isaacs in the titular role, it explores both the private and public life of Hollywood's greatest leading man. See the trailer below...
Born January 18, 1904, on Hughenden Road, Cary Grant (born Archibald Leach) is a Horfield native. Raised in extreme poverty by his parents, Elias and Elsie, both of whom worked in the clothing industry, Cary’s early life was one characterised by tragedy. His older brother, John, died before he was born, and Elias reacted to his wife’s grief by having her committed to Bristol Lunatic Asylum in Fishponds.
Elias then left to start a new family, leaving the boy in the care of his grandmother – Elias’ mother. Just 11, Archie (as he was known) was first told that his mother had gone to stay at a seaside resort, however, when it became clear that she wouldn’t be coming back, he was told she was dead. Cary would not find out what became of Elsie until he was an adult and when he did, he organised her discharge and visited her in Bristol each year until her death in 1973 – she is buried in Westbury-on-Trym.
Whilst Grant’s love affair with showbusiness began in his hometown thanks to a weekend job at The Bristol Hippodrome, it was the Bob Pender Comedy Troupe that truly catapulted him into the industry. After joining as an acrobat aged 14, the troupe journeyed to the US on a two-year tour in 1920 and, when this ended, Archie decided to stick around and pursue a career in Hollywood.
The original Fry's Picnic bar was Cary Grant's favourite and he had them imported to Los Angeles. Fry's Chocolate in Bristol was the first company in the world to manufacture chocolate bars, Cadburys' Took over Fry's in 1919, Fry's was on the wrapper till around 1969. pic.twitter.com/nR598uCW7g— Cary Grant Festival (@carycomeshome) November 27, 2023
After cutting his teeth as a touring actor, Grant landed a contract with Paramount Studios following a successful Broadway show, changing his name at the studio’s request. With this change of identity, the aspiring actor shook away his humble beginnings, adopting his famous transatlantic accent and taking on the name Cary Grant.
He made his feature film debut in 1932 with This Is The Night and a range of high-profile movie roles followed, from romantic leads, to war dramas and everything in between. However, it was comedy that originally led to more widespread critical acclaim with significant roles in 1937’s Topper and The Awful Truth (1937) alongside Irene Dunne. Grant’s dramatic career was truly launched in 1941 opposite Joan Fontaine in Alfred Hitchcock’s Suspicion – the beginning of a great relationship between actor and director.
Grant’s demand was so high by the early 1940s that he made the brave decision to pick his own roles, rejecting a contract with a movie studio. In 1946, he teamed up with Hitchcock once again for Notorious starring Ingrid Bergman, however, a relative fallow period (other than a handful of comedies) followed that was not rekindled until the mid-1950s.
It was Hitchcock who put Grant back into the big time with 1955 crime caper To Catch a Thief, co-starring Grace Kelly, and the pair met one more time for arguably the actor’s greatest triumph, North By Northwest. The iconic suspense-filled thriller proved Grant’s most commercially successful and also birthed his iconic blue/grey suit.
In 1966, Grant retired from acting and his daughter Jennifer – an actor herself, now 57, who has appeared in such films as Babylon and TV shows including Friends – was born that same year. Remaining in the spotlight throughout his later years, Grant passed away in 1986, aged 82 – he is immortalised through a statue in Millennium Square.
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Stan is a born and bred Bristolian, recently graduated from studying English Literature in Sheffield. His passions are music and literature and he spends the majority of his time in venues all over the city, immersing himself in Bristol’s alternative music scene. A lifelong Bristol City fan, Stan’s Saturdays are spent watching his team both home and away.