HOLLYWOOD—No more dashing and didactic figure has haunted
Cary Grant wasn’t always Cary Grant, suave and debonair: he was Archibald Leach till heading for
The Grant fixed in the constellation of stars oozes an aura of health and tanned vitality. When asked about how he kept in shape, Grant consistently answered nothing. When really pressed about exercise and asked if he worked out, he replied, “The only exercise is walking uphill with my wife’s hand on my back pushing me along.”
It was all magic, a bit of luck to have his looks and physique. True, his leanness was once abetted by a biological cause: in 1949 he was stricken by infectious hepatitis, while filming “I Was A Male War Bride” with Howard Hawks, and dropped 37 pounds.
The fact is, at the start of his movie career, when he resolved to be the epitome of sartorial and physical perfection, he would work out in the morning and for an hour or two of barbells and calisthenics after a day in the studio. By the third decade of his career, for a few seconds traipsing across the beach in a swimsuit in “To Catch a Thief” he contracted a trainer. And during this time he adopted hour-long morning swims and speed walking—which are vigorously denied in his ghostwritten autobiography.
Grant certainly had his pleasures: he smoked and drank and clearly enjoyed eating. In his maturity, the hard stuff yielded to wine, the cigs he gave up thanks to hypnotism, and he decidedly had a sweet tooth.
While cakes and cookies were kept in the pantry, he dedicated a special drawer for sweets, described in his daughter’s reminiscence, Good Stuff. He especially liked Cadbury chocolate, in particular Cadbury Flake bars, “thousands of chocolate flakes stuck together, which melt in your mouth the moment they’re consumed.”
“Everything in moderation, darling,” sums up the dietary philosophy he conveyed to his daughter. ”If you eat less, you’ll live longer. My mother ate like a bird and lived to ninety-two.”
He had a fatty diet and largely shunned fruits. Jennifer reveals that he loved the fish and chips at H. Salt (a revelation that inspired one of my greasier dining encounters) and bought cases of bangers (fatty English sausage) at holiday time. On a tape quoted in her book, he asks expressly for a pork chop with fat on it.
The Cary Grant diet leaves one blessedly free to indulge proscribed meats and sweets, but the essence is not what he ate but how. “Dining meant time, effortlessness and freedom from ”˜doing,’” writes Jennifer Grant. “Whether Dodger Dogs or the extravagant elegance of Chasen’s restaurant. Meals lasted an hour or so; nevertheless, Dad admonished himself for rushing.”
Due to his sensational aura of fitness, Grant was a perennial victim of probes about diet and training. He told interviewers he like a big breakfast, which is corroborated by his daughter who fondly recalls hotcakes and horseback rides in
At night it would be something lighter. For the evening meal, coming back from the studio, the housekeeper would be instructed to make a sandwich, roast beef and peanut butter and jelly.
It’s a refreshing example in this age of actors who demonize sweets and have their own private hothouse to grow organic vegetables; Cary Grant was a somewhat undiscriminating eater. From his example, we can partake the immense value of moderation, coupled with athletic activity, as well as the undeniable pleasure of occasional feast and the ability to skip a meal afterward.
Grady Miller is the author of “Lighten Up Now: The Grady Diet.” He can be reached at email@example.com.
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