The Cary Grant We Knew Was a Carefully Crafted Façade

Cary Grant played the part of a sophisticated, charming, and super cool leading man. But in real life, Cary Grant was just another character he played. Even the movie star’s name was part of his well-crafted and carefully maintained persona. He was actually born with the name Archibald Alexander Leach.

Cary Grant, Grace Kelly / Cary Grant / Jennifer Grant / Cary Grant.
Source: Getty Images

As we know, movies aren’t real, and Hollywood is mostly fake. Before social media and internet sleuths, people didn’t realize just how fake the entertainment industry is. If you take a look at Cary Grant’s life, you’ll discover a troubled and conflicted guy underneath that polished exterior.

Now, let’s get into the juicy details.

The Dashing Actor

Grant was actually born in England in 1904 and became an American citizen in 1942. Grant launched himself into stardom with his comedic skills and eventually transformed himself into a romantic leading man who starred opposite on-screen beauties like Grace Kelly and Ingrid Berman.

A portrait of Cary Grant.
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Cary Grant’s movies tend to be remembered for the actor’s laidback charm and tendency to allow the woman to be the sexually dominant one. This unique quality made Cary Grant appealing to all audiences. However, the star often found himself lost between his public persona and his real identity, saying, “I’ve often been accused by the critics of being myself on screen. But being oneself is more difficult than you’d suppose.”

Without further ado, this is the private life of a Hollywood Golden Age icon, Cary Grant.

A Star Is Born

Archibald Alexander Leach was welcomed into the world on January 18, 1904. Life growing up wasn’t ideal. Archie wasn’t raised with siblings as he was the only surviving child of an alcoholic father and an overbearing mother.

Cary Grant and Grace Kelly are in a promotional shot for a film.
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It was a really hard time in a very different world. The family lived in abject poverty but managed to stay afloat, thanks to his father’s job at a clothing factory… at least until Archibald turned 11. Then, everything changed. The little stability the future actor had disappeared.

Mommy Dearest

When he was just 11 years old, Grant’s mother disappeared, which would ultimately become one of the most defining moments of his life. Initially, the youngster was told that she had gone for a little vacation to a seaside resort so that she could rest and relax, but he was later told that she had died.

Cary Grant is on his way to visit his mother.
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It wasn’t until Grant was 30 years old when his father passed away that Grant learned the truth. He found out that his mother had actually been living in a mental asylum this entire time, being treated for “mania.” That’s when he arranged her release and took care of her money-wise for the rest of her life.

He Dropped Out of School to Become a Mime

After his mother suddenly vanished from his life, Grant became a self-proclaimed “street kid” and even got kicked out of school. Without the pressure of going to class or studying, Grant joined a troupe of acrobats called the Loomis Troupe. He performed acts on stilts with them before becoming a vaudeville star. He was basically a mime.

A portrait of Cary Grant at home.
Photo by Maureen Donaldson/Getty Images

This line of stage work was what brought Grant to America at the tender age of 16. When the rest of the troupe packed up and headed home, Grant decided he wanted to stay in New York. He loved performing and wanted to pursue a career on stage.

Early Career Struggles

Cary Grant is a legendary Hollywood star and acclaimed actor. He truly knew how to use his talent to capture an audience and keep them intrigued. That’s why it may be surprising to find out that one of his earliest roles, in the stage play A Wonderful Night, was largely criticized.

A portrait of Cary Grant.
Photo by Maureen Donaldson/Getty Images

Even Variety reported that the show was “remarkably dull… the outlook for this one is dreary.” Unfortunately, his luck in front of the camera wasn’t much better, with casting directors passing him up because of his pigeon-toed feet and thick neck.

Perseverance Is Key

But this guy didn’t give up; he knew he was born to be on screen. Four short years later, Grant was cast alongside starlet Mae West in “She Done Him Wrong,” and Hollywood changed its tune about the handsome leading man. Critics even said that he’d reached “the top flight of [box office] names.” It wasn’t just a big break; the film made him a famous movie star.

Cary Grant is leaning over towards Mae West in a scene from the film.
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The movie is about a nightclub owner and singer (Mae West) who has various suitors, including the handsome temperance league member portrayed by the one and only Cary Grant.

Who Was Cary Grant Married To?

Not long after his big break, Cary Grant walked down the aisle for the first time. He eloped with actress Virginia Cherrill in 1934 after meeting her at a party. Unfortunately, the short-lived marriage only lasted seven months before it crumbled. Here is how Grant explained the split:

A studio portrait of Virginia Cherrill.
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“I doubt if either of us was capable of relaxing sufficiently to trust the happiness we might have had. My possessiveness and fear of losing Virginia brought about the very condition I feared: the loss of her.”

Hollywood’s Leading Man

In the second half of the 1930s, Cary Grant established himself as Hollywood’s favorite leading man. Audiences couldn’t get enough of his good looks and amazing talent. He usually starred in lighthearted comedies such as Topper, Bringing Up Baby, and His Girl Friday, where he showed off his comedic chops.

Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn are in a scene of Bringing Up Baby.
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While he was hilarious, Grant was never fully typecast as “the funny guy.” He had a wide range of acting talent and occasionally worked on serious films like Only Angels Have Wings, where he brilliantly portrayed a complex hero. Think Robin Williams: someone who was clearly hilarious but still able to play diverse characters because of his talent.

Leaving the Studio System

In 1935, Cary Grant’s initial contract with Paramount expired. The star made the decision not to renew his contract with Paramount or any other big studio, making him one of the first actors in Hollywood to leave the studio system.

Cary Grant walks on a roof in the film To Catch a Thief.
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Untied to a specific studio, Grant was able to negotiate deals where he would earn a portion of the box office fortune instead of receiving a flat fee upfront. This ultimately made Grant one of the richest actors in Hollywood; he made up to 75% of a film’s profits while maintaining full control on the projects he appeared in.

Old Hollywood

Just to clarify for those who may not know, Old Hollywood was not what it is today. Back then, actors were signed to specific studios, meaning you could only appear in movies that are under your studio – and couldn’t audition for films produced by another studio. A famous example is Shirley Temple and The Wizard of Oz.

A portrait of Shirley Temple.
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The reason why Temple signed with Warner Bros was because they were supposed to have the rights to the Wizard of Oz, and her mom loved the book and wanted her daughter to play Dorothy.

Changing the Game

However, MGM ended up with the rights, and although they tried to negotiate contracts to cast Shirley Temple, it didn’t end up working out. Apparently, the head of MGM, Louis B. Mayer, made Temple feel uncomfortable… but that’s another story. Either way, they had to cast one of their own actors.

Judy Garland in a publicity still for the film.
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They ended up going with Judy Garland, who was already signed with MGM, and she played the role beautifully. This was how it worked back then. Cary Grant was one of the very first actors to go against this system, and it certainly paid off.

What Are the Chances?!

In 1939, Grant’s life came full circle when he began production on Gunga Din, an American war film based on a poem by Rudyard Kipling. He acted alongside Douglas Fairbanks Jr. Fairbank’s father was Grant’s first Hollywood friend, whom he met on the ocean liner that brought him to New York from England as a teenager.

Cary Grant is in the character of Sergeant Archibald Cutter in a still from the film.
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Fairbanks Sr., his wife Mary Pickford, and Grant spent much of the voyage together. The two men even became workout partners toward the end of the journey. What a small world!

Bachelor Hall

For most of the 1930s and 1940s, Cary Grant lived on and off with fellow actor Randolph Scott in a waterfront home they called Bachelor Hall. It was public knowledge that the two were roommates, but the living arrangement naturally led many to question Grant’s sexual orientation.

A portrait of Cary Grant and Randolph Scott at home.
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Many fans came to his defense, arguing that they shared a house to save money. But other people were left wondering if the two actors had an intimate relationship. It wasn’t the only time Grant’s roommates drew questions: when he first arrived in N.Y., Grant lived with an openly gay costume designer, Orry-Kelly, until they had a falling out.

Teaming Up With Hitchcock

Despite all the rumors and speculations, 1940 was an amazing year for Grant, with the release of his first Alfred Hitchcock film, Suspicion. The romantic thriller stars Grant as a lying gambler who dupes a quiet young heiress, played by Joan Fontaine, into marriage. His new wife becomes convinced he is trying to murder her.

Cary Grant is on the set of North by Northwest.
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By the end of his career, Cary Grant had starred in four films directed by the legendary Alfred Hitchcock: Suspicion (1941), Notorious (1946), To Catch a Thief (1955), and North by Northwest.

Marriage Number Two

The following year, in 1941, Grant walked down the aisle for the second time. He married a woman named Barbara Hutton, who also happened to be the heiress to the Woolworth fortune. She was a multi-millionaire. Given his own fame and fortune, he didn’t marry her for the money.

A wedding portrait of Cary Grant and Barbara Hutton.
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The couple stayed together for about four years. Although they were on-and-off for a while, it was by all accounts a fairly happy relationship. Ultimately, it was Hutton’s hatred for the Hollywood scene and Grant’s refusal to leave the industry that drove them apart.

Doing His Part

Many men went to war during this time, famous or not. While Cary Grant never physically served in combat during WWII, he certainly helped out financially. The famous movie star donated his paychecks from The Philadelphia Story and Arsenic and Old Lace to the British War Relief Effort and the U.S. War Relief Effort.

A portrait of Cary Grant at home.
Photo by John Springer Collection/Corbis/Getty Images

In 1947, King George VI awarded Cary Grant the King’s Medal for Service in the Cause of Freedom to thank him for his monetary contributions to the Allied cause. When a king presents you with an award, you know you’ve made it.

His Longest Marriage

In 1949, Grant tied the knot for the third time with starlet Betsy Drake, a fellow actress whose career took off with a little help from Grant. The love birds were together for 14 years, in his longest marriage, but unfortunately, it wasn’t meant to last forever.

A picture of Grant and Betsy Drake during an event.
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In his memoirs, Grant described his third wife: “Betsy was good for me. Without imposition or demand, she patiently led me toward an appreciation for better books, better literature… I never clearly resolved why Betsy and I parted.”

His Early Retirement

With younger, grittier actors on the rise, like Marlon Brando and James Dean, Cary Grant started to worry that his time on the big screen might be coming to an end. In a defensive move, the actor announced that he would be retiring from the industry. I guess he wanted to leave by his own will before a new actor swooped in and stole the spotlight.

A picture of Cary Grant reading a book.
Photo by Maureen Donaldson/Getty Images

However, this self-imposed dismissal didn’t last very long. In 1955, Grant returned to the big screen in Alfred Hitchcock’s film To Catch a Thief.

He Loved LSD therapy

In order to deal with his childhood trauma, Cary Grant experimented with legal LSD therapy in the late 1960s. Grant revealed to a reporter that, by his own estimate, he probably used the drug “100 or 150 times” in order to “get pure again” and to “drop off all the barnacles and misconceptions [he’d] built up.”

A headshot of Cary Grant.
Photo by William Lovelace/Express/Getty Images

Grant quit the practice once the drug became illegal, but the actor always bragged about how helpful he thought it could be. When he died in 1986, Grant left behind $10,000 for the doctor who facilitated this form of therapy. Clearly, the psychedelics had a positive impact on the star.

Wife Number Four

In 1965, 28-year-old Dyan Cannon became the fourth Mrs. Grant when she married the then-61-year-old movie star at Howard Hughes Desert Inn in Las Vegas. You know, just your ordinary wedding celebration.

A picture of Grant with Dyan and their daughter Jennifer.
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Grant saw Cannon for the very first time when she made a guest appearance on the television show Malibu Run. He thought she was stunning – despite their decades-long age gap. Grant got her phone number from mutual friends and asked her out. The two met in person, and the rest is history.

Who Is Cary Grant’s Daughter?

One year after marrying Dyan Cannon, Grant welcomed his first and only bundle of joy, the couple’s daughter, Jennifer. In her book Good Stuff, Jennifer remembers her father’s doting and attentive nature. He documented everything on film and saved artifacts from her childhood in a fireproof vault.

Jennifer Grant attends an event.
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According to Jennifer, her dad’s dedication to memorializing her younger years stemmed from the sentimental loss Grant experienced in his own life: “because his own records were burned in the bombings of Bristol in World War II.”

His Second Retirement

Grant completed his final movie, Walk, Don’t Run, in 1966. The romantic comedy was set in Tokyo against the backdrop of the Olympic-induced housing crisis. After the film was met with mediocre reviews upon its release, Grant turned down every other project that came his way.

Cary Grant is on the movie set.
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He chose to focus on his family and be a more present father instead of acting. He also wanted to be remembered as the iconic actor that he was. He didn’t want some mediocre movies to overshadow his reputation as Hollywood’s Golden Age leading man.

From Movie Sets to Cosmetic Sets

Of the many impressive things Cary Grant was known for, he had a reputation for being one of the savviest businessmen in Hollywood. He was constantly working to make smart investments and diversify his income.

A picture of Cary Grant and Margaux Hemingway.
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His practicality when it came to money became extremely clear in 1968 when he became a director of Fabergé, a cosmetics company. The position guaranteed Grant a steady income but it also afforded him a private plane that the actor frequently used to make trips to see his daughter.

Cary Grant’s Honorary Academy Award

Cary Grant made over 70 movies, many of which were huge box office successes and modern-day classics. However, Grant never won an Oscar. Apparently, back in 1935, when he quit the studio system and became a freelance actor, Grant also quit the Academy.

Cary Grant and Frank Sinatra applaud on stage.
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Although the move wasn’t the career suicide many thought it would be, it seems to be the main reason he never earned one of cinema’s top honors until 1970, once he finally rejoined the Academy. He was presented with an honorary Oscar by his close friend Frank Sinatra.

The Infamous Paternity Scandal

After his fourth marriage to Cannon dissolved, Cary Grant publicly dated several Hollywood starlets, including showgirl Cynthia Bouron. Just after winning his Academy Award in 1970, stories and allegations surfaced that Cary Grant had fathered a child out of wedlock… allegedly.

A picture of Grant and his daughter Jennifer.
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Bouron, who listed Grant’s name on her baby’s birth certificate, sued him for child support. But since Bouron refused to provide a blood sample to confirm her daughter’s paternity, the case was dropped. The court ordered Grant’s name to be taken off the child’s birth documents.

He Was on the Board of MGM

Grant Joined the board of MGM/UA in 1975, where he had made five movies early in his career, including The Philadelphia Story and North by Northwest. Although he was far from being in an honorary position, Grant was involved in the day-to-day operations of the company, specifically its hotel holdings in Las Vegas.

A headshot of Cary Grant.
Photo by Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection/Getty Images

He wasn’t supposed to do much, but he did a lot more to help the company on a regular basis. In gratitude for his years of service, MGM renamed its studio lot theater the Cary Grant Theater in 1984 to thank the legendary movie star.

His Fifth and Last Wife

77-year-old Cary Grant tied the knot for the fifth and final time in 1981. The lucky woman was Barbara Harris, a former public relations agent at the Royal Lancaster Hotel in London. Barbara was only 33 when the couple made their romance public.

A picture of Grant and Barbara Harris on a night out.
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While discussing the actor, Harris confessed that she was “impressed by the person. Not so impressed with the legend,” which is apparently how they made their relationship work despite their huge age gap. Cary Grant seems to have had a type: young.

How Old Was Cary Grant When He Died?

November 29, 1986 started off as a normal day. The aging actor was getting ready for an appearance at a fundraising event in Iowa when he suffered a stroke. The 86-year-old icon died as a result.

A picture of Cary Grant at the swimming pool.
Photo by Maureen Donaldson/Getty Images

At the request of his wife, in honoring Grant’s own wishes, there was no funeral held. His body was cremated, and his ashes were scattered in the Pacific Ocean. Despite his troubled childhood, Grant rose to the top of Hollywood, becoming a cinematic legend remembered for his remarkable talent.

A Huge LSD Supporter

At the height of his career, Cary Grant was introduced to LSD for the first time by his third wife. He claimed the substance saved him. Perhaps the psychedelics gave the actor a little more insight into his conflicted sense of self, or maybe he just liked the feeling of tripping.

A portrait of Cary Grant at home.
Photo by Maureen Donaldson/Getty Images

Either way, he once said, “During my LSD sessions, I would learn a great deal, and the result was a rebirth. I finally got where I wanted to go.” Between 1958 and 1961, Grant took an estimated 100 acid trips. That sounds like a lot. He was so dedicated to the drug that he apparently contacted Good Housekeeping magazine to discuss the benefits of LSD.

He Enjoyed Telling Dirty Jokes

According to Prince Albert of Monaco – Grace Kelly’s son and Grant’s costar and close friend – Grant liked telling dirty jokes, “but he was always a gentleman.” Actor Gregory Peck exclaimed, “Cary told the funniest stories, with southern accents, ethnic accents, any kind of accent. Dirty ones, too. You’d never think those things would come out of him.”

A picture of Cary Grant laughing.
Photo by Laurent SOLA/Gamma-Rapho/Getty Images

Apparently, Grant’s favorite poem went like this: “They bought me a box of tin soldiers/ I threw all the Generals away/I smashed up the Sergeants and Majors/ now I play with my Privates all day.” That definitely qualifies as “dirty.”

Almost James Bond!

Believe it or not, Ian Fleming, the author of the James Bond series, revealed that he partially modeled his character on the suave and sophisticated Cary Grant. So naturally, when Bond was coming to the big screen in Dr. No, there was one man he had in mind for the role.

A portrait of Ian Fleming.
Photo by Harry Benson/Express/Getty Images

Cary Grant was offered the part. Producer Albert Broccoli begged him to take it, but Grant ultimately decided to turn it down. It would have been a fun character to play, but Grant simply considered himself too old at 58 years old. Sean Connery ended up landing the role!

He Wasn’t Allowed to Play the Villain

Movie studios were highly protective of Grant’s image as an actor. Therefore, he was not allowed to play the villain in any of his movies. Of course, actors want to play all types of characters, but the purpose of limiting his “bad guy” roles was to ensure audiences didn’t change their view of the dashing actor.

A still of Grant in To Catch a Thief.
Source: Copyright: Paramount Pictures

The only time he came close to portraying an evil character was in Alfred Hitchcock’s Suspicion. Grant played a husband whose wife thinks he is trying to kill her. According to Hitchcock himself, the studio forced him to change the movie’s ending to protect Cary Grant’s public image.

Sophia Loren Said No!

While filming The Pride and the Passion, Cary Grant and Sophia Loren started a love affair, although he was married and 30 decades older than his costar. Plus, Loren was dating producer Carlo Ponti at the time.

Grant and Loren pose behind the scenes.
Source: Copyright: United Artists

Despite their respective relationships, Grant fell head over heels for the starlet and proposed. Loren turned him down and ended up marrying Ponti. Years later, Loren replaced Grant’s then-wife Betsy Drake in the movie Houseboat. However, the lingering tension between the actors made production very difficult.

He Was Known as a Cheapskate

Although he was a wealthy movie star and spent three years married to Barbara Hutton, heir to the Woolworth fortune and one of the richest women of her day, Cary Grant was reportedly a cheapskate. Allegedly, he would charge fans for autographs, mark milk bottles to make sure his workers weren’t taking any, and bill his house guests for their expenses.

A portrait of Cary Grant.
Source: Copyright: Warner Bros.

Can you imagine going to someone’s home and getting billed for the water they gave you and the air you breathed? However, Grant’s stinginess was likely exaggerated: the movie star donated his salaries from two movies to war charities.

Behind His Dashing Good Looks

The Fox Film Corporation gave Grant a screen test in 1928 to appear in one of their movies. Grant was told he was bowlegged, and his neck was too thick, so they passed him over. He was turned down for not being handsome enough; little did they know he would become Hollywood’s leading man.

Grant poses for a studio portrait.
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If you look closely at Grant’s smile, you may notice that his pearly white teeth look a bit off. After a childhood accident, he had to get the entire tooth pulled out. Eventually, they covered over the gap. Nevertheless, the Hollywood heartthrob had his flaws, just like the rest of us.

He Retired Twice

As we mentioned, Grant retired for the first time in 1952, when he felt like he was being replaced by gritty young actors like Marlton Brando and James Dean. He also wasn’t thrilled about Hollywood blacklisting Charlie Chaplin for his liberal beliefs.

A picture of an elder Grant at home.
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It was the legendary Alfred Hitchcock who managed to convince the actor to come out of retirement to star in To Catch a Thief. Grant continued to work until 1966 when the 62-year-old actor became a father. At that point, he retired for good.

He Always Had a Piece of Twine in His Pocket

Grant’s father worked a suit presser in a clothing factory, a job that didn’t provide the family with much money. His parents didn’t get along, and as we mentioned, his mother was later put in a mental institution; with his father busy focusing on himself, little Grant was left to fend for himself.

A photo of Grant at home sitting for breakfast.
Photo by Maureen Donaldson/Getty Images

As an adult, Cary Grant became obsessed with dressing well. That trait likely stemmed from the poverty he experienced in childhood. It was rumored that the actor always carried a piece of twine in his pocket – to remind him of his humble upbringing and to never take things for granted.

He Sued Chevy Chase for Slander

Back in 1980, Chevy Chase showed up on The Tom Snyder Show. When he asked about how he felt about being compared to Cary Grant, this was Chase’s response: “I understand he was a homo. He was brilliant. What a gal!”

A picture of Chevy Chase attending an event.
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This wasn’t the first-time rumors and speculations swirled about Grant’s sexual orientation, and Chase’s comment certainly didn’t help his case. Needless to say, Grant didn’t find the joke funny and sued Chase for $10 million for slander. They ended up settling out of court.

He Could Have Been Cary Lockwood

When Archibald Leach was first offered a Hollywood contract, the studio wanted him to change his name – which is extremely common. The first name suggested was Cary Lockwood, the name of the character he played on Broadway.

A portrait of Grant.
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However, the studio wanted something shorter, and they settled on Cary Grant. His stage name became part of his carefully-crafted public image, and he famously noted, “Everyone wants to be Cary Grant. Even I wanted to be Cary Grant.” Fun fact: In A Fish Called Wanda, John Cleese’s character was named Archie Leach in honor of Cary Grant.

His Special Male Friends

It’s no secret that throughout his life and career, Grant’s sexuality was often questioned. He lived with two men: Orry Kelly on-and-off for nine years and with his friend Randolph Scott for 12. A manuscript written by Orry Kelly hinted at the fact that he and Grant were actually lovers. But after Grant’s Hollywood fame increased, the actor became more guarded about his personal life.

A photo of Randolf Scott outside the home he shared with Cary Grant.
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In a book about her father, Grant’s daughter Jennifer wrote, “Dad somewhat enjoyed being called gay. He said it made women want to prove the assertion wrong.”