A Memory of Cary Grant

Cary Grant was born 115 years ago today. My memory of seeing him in person:

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Starting in the mid-1980s, Cary Grant toured in a one-man question-and-answer show, A Conversation with Cary Grant, in which he spent ninety minutes or so answering questions from audience members. Several other movie stars and celebrities have since taken on similar productions in which they and their fans bask in an accepted and reflected adoration— Gregory Peck, for one—but Grant was the first. The show was an extended, and deserved, curtain call from beginning to end.

One cool feature to Grant’s tour was that it brought him to theaters in which he had performed during his vaudeville years in the 1920s. Thus it was that in April 1985 I found myself sitting in the balcony of the small (1500 seat) Ulster Performing Arts Center (UPAC) in Kingston, New York, a stage on which he had performed decades earlier. I was 16 and a movie nerd and Cary Grant was my idol.
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He Knew a Guy

He knew people. Had connections. A Brushes-With-Hollywood™ Tale.

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There is a big difference between living a life story about which people say, “That ought to be a movie,” and possessing a life story about which those same people will pay real money to buy the book or sit in a theater to view that movie.
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Daily Prompt: Casting Call

The WordPress Daily Prompt for September 4 asks, “You’ve just been named the casting director of your favorite television show (or movie franchise). The catch: you must replace the entire cast—with your friends and family. Who gets which role?”
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Molly Bloom in “Ulysses” is James Joyce’s beloved wife, Nora Barnacle. This bit of casting was no secret, even while Joyce was at work on his masterpiece. Several voices in T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land” are said to be quotes of some of his wife Viv’s statements, and some women’s lines in the poem were written to meet her editorial suggestions. Thus she knew till her dying day that she was in a great work of art.

These are two of the exceptions in literature. Many characters in famous books, plays, films, and poems are “based on” people from their creators’ lives; imagine the havoc that would be visited on those creators’ lives if the real people knew which creations they may have been the inspiration for …

What if Gollum was based on a schoolmate chum of J.R.R. Tolkien’s? Upon learning of this, that person would never have let Tolkien leave the house without forcing him to rewrite every scene Gollum appeared in.

Say that “The Matrix” franchise is your favorite set of films and your family and friends learned that you were hired to “imagineer” a re-boot, at least for a writing assignment like this one. Every one of your nephews and brothers-in-law would be texting and instant messaging you, auditioning via annoyance for the part of Neo. No work on the reboot would even get started as you handled all the messages, and you would be fired.

An even more difficult conversation: How do you, a happily married and suddenly important casting director in your imagination, explain to your wife that she is not your Trinity?

Everyone who hears you are a writer/casting director/stagehand imagines himself the hero of your forthcoming Hollywood epic. Today’s question from the Daily Prompt prompters presupposes that being something important like the casting director is what matters to family and friends who learn you are going to Hollywood, even only in your mind. I once worked with someone whose best college friend wound up as a personal assistant to a famous, Oscar-winning director. It was a strong enough connection (read: college friendship) that my co-worker actually attended the Oscars a couple times and met some famous famous people. It was not a strong enough connection to get movie ideas sent to this busy Hollywood director, or auditions booked with him or his people, no matter how many attempts I watched people make. (We were clerks in a college bookstore, and when this matter became known every so often, impromptu auditions would happen at the checkout line. I did not audition, as I was too busy trying to unimpressively impress the writers who would come through.)

Everyone thinks of himself as a star in movies they are not making.

I have experienced this in reverse, too. A couple of years ago, a friend of mine and I were introduced to a film actor. My friend has a life story about which everyone says, “That sounds like a movie.” Upon hearing it, the film actor said, “That sounds like a movie.”

“How soon can you come out to Los Angeles?” he actually asked, out loud, with words. “I will be there next week, shooting” (insert name of television show) “and I’ll talk with” (insert name of famous famous actor whom he knew very well) “before you come out here. Of course,” (famous famous actor whom he knew very well) “will want to play YOUR part, but I will let him believe this, so it will get fast-tracked.” We exchanged phone numbers and handshakes and hugs and my friend and I got to work. “I will be back here in New York the week after next and let you know how it went,” our friend told us. “Be ready to fly out at a moment’s notice.”

I was sure that I was going to be in Los Angeles for the first time ever in a matter of weeks. I wrote an outline and emailed it to our important but close personal actor friend Captain Hollywood. No reply came. I expanded it into the bare-bones start of a film treatment, probably a very unprofessional one, but does the look of a PDF matter when the story “sounds like it ought to be a Hollywood movie?” Captain Hollywood was going to handle the formatting, anyway, and also serve as our personal key to unlock the Golden Door. No reply came to that work, either, and the promised return from our friend “a week or so from now” came instead six months later. (His television show had been picked up for a full season, so he had been busy.)

When we saw him again, he did not mention our shared project. I half-heartedly brought it up, and he replied, “You’re still working on that? I remember that one. That’s a good story. It sounds just like a movie. If you get anyone’s attention in Hollywood, maybe I can help you find a place to stay.”