Born in a working-class area of Bristol, in the west of England, in 1904, Mr Archibald Leach legally changed his name to Cary Grant, his professional name as an actor, in 1942. His mother suffered from depression when he was young and was committed to a mental institution. He never saw her at all during his childhood and adolescence. In fact, he thought she was dead and did not discover the truth until he had lived in the US for many years. He hated school, managed to get expelled and started his long theatrical career on the "halls" doing all the undignified things that were part of an actor's practical training in those days.
Mr Grant arrived in the US in 1920 having travelled on the same liner - but certainly not in the same class - as Mr Douglas Fairbanks and Ms Mary Pickford. Catching glimpses of them changed his life. The elegant and timeless dress sense of Mr Fairbanks had such an effect on him that many years later he was able to describe the Fairbanks look to Mr Ralph Lauren in almost photographic detail, even down to the width of the lapels on the actor's suits. He had found his archetype. Always attracted to men dressed impeccably in the English upper-class style, the Cary Grant manner of dress was suave and confident. In his own words, he favoured the clothes of a "well-dressed, sophisticated chap".
The Cary Grant manner of dress was suave and confident. In his own words, he favoured the clothes of a 'well-dressed, sophisticated chap'
The people he admired in 1920s and 1930s America were the Hollywood actors who were émigrés from the UK, or Americans who wished to be seen as British. As he once said, "I tried to copy men I thought were sophisticated - like Douglas Fairbanks or Cole Porter... I cultivated raising one eyebrow and tried to imitate those who put their hands in their pockets with a certain amount of ease and nonchalance... I guess to a certain extent I did eventually become the characters I was playing. I played at being someone I wanted to be until I became that person. Or he became me." His interest in clothes undiminished, even though his film work was booming and he was playing against actresses of the global stature of Ms Marlene Dietrich, Mr Grant took time off to invest in a smart men's shop on Wilshire Boulevard, but his partners were crooks and the business was liquidated after a short while, leaving him with considerable debts.
By the mid-1930s Mr Grant was one of Hollywood's top male stars and he married the first of his five wives. There were inevitably many affairs over the years but the great question that stayed with him despite the high profile liaisons with the opposite sex would not go away. Was he bisexual - or even gay? Certainly the rumour mill made much of the fact that he and Mr Randolph Scott, one of the more macho movie stars of the time, shared a house together for many years and were inseparable. Of course, as such rumours were the province of Hollywood insiders and even the gossip columnists treated them with caution, they did nothing to jeopardise Mr Grant's image to his legions of fans as an elegant, confident lady-killer - on screen, at least.
Because of his perfect figure - which he kept well into old age - Mr Grant occasionally bought his clothes off the peg, being a regular customer of Abercrombie & Fitch and Aquascutum, which was owned by his friend Sir Charles Abrahams. According to Ms Nancy Reagan, Mr Grant "always looked smashing. Ronnie thought the turtleneck sweaters he wore in To Catch a Thief were so good-looking and when I mentioned it to Cary, he sent Ronnie two of his own sweaters." But although he occasionally bought off the peg, Mr Grant's clothes were usually tailor-made, often from Schiaparelli in Rome - one of the great tailors in the 1950s - or Dunhill in London. Then he had them copied in Hong Kong.
On one occasion the copy was too good. Mr Grant had a favourite shirt that he had worn many times. He sent it to his copyist in Hong Kong with strict instructions to make a dozen and copy the original exactly. And that was done, right down to the little fray in the identical place on the collar.
He once told an interviewer that the crop-spraying scene in North by Northwest had required him to change suits six times and have "dozens of ties" - which seems perfectly right for Mr Grant, a man who believed that clothes maketh the man. It was a lesson he had learnt many years before from his father, who taught him the art of understatement by telling him, when he was inclined to wear "loud" socks when he was young, "Remember, that's you walking down the street, not the socks." Mr Grant never forgot it.