Cary Grant was an idol of his generation: debonair, handsome, and mysterious. Few people knew that his birth name was not Cary Grant, but Archie Leach, or that he was English, not American, and that he’d been brought up solidly working class.
His personal life was mysterious, too. Grant married five times and had his first child at 62. Rumors and gossip columns connected him to various women, and often attributed bizarre habits and compulsions to him, some of which were true.
But one of the most persistent rumors about Grant was that he was secretly gay, or at least bisexual. The usual proof, as Vulture reports, are the photos of Grant in his early 30s with his roommate, the cowboy actor Randolph Scott.
The photos show the two young men tanning side by side at the pool, or working out together in their briefs, or hiding behind shower curtains.
A man misunderstood
As Vulture points out, it’s a bad idea to read too much into these photos. For one thing, both friends dated and married women; there’s no evidence that either had relationships or encounters with men. But more importantly, the supposedly incriminating snapshots were staged — not as blackmail, but as publicity.
Paramount Pictures hired photographer Jeremy Zerbe to take a series of faux-casual shots of the two stars for fan magazines, aimed primarily at young women. Zerbe himself was gay, and his work had a homoerotic tinge even when created for a female, heterosexual audience.
Captions played with puns on “most eligible bachelors;” another, of Scott flexing his abs in the shower, says that he “displays a physique that should answer maidens’ prayers.”
Then why are the rumors about Grant so persistent? It’s hard to say, but part of it is likely people’s discomfort with Grant’s mysterious, uncanny appeal.
There was always something vaguely uneasy about him: his overbrushed teeth (per The New York Review of Books), his outrageous tan, his accent that belonged to no country in particular, the sense he gave that he spent his life playing the part of Cary Grant.
He wasn’t like other people; and a century obsessed with categorizing and speculating about sex had no other vocabulary to describe him.