This blog is part of the CelebrEighty series by Judy Katz. I was 28 the day I met Cary Grant. He was 68. It was 1972. I was in charge of Madison Square Garden’s public relations. The Garden, under its President Irving Mitchell Felt, had just bought O’Hare International Hotel, located within the airport. The immediate project was to hold a gala launch party for travel agents from all over the country. Many celebrities and VIPs had accepted our invitation, including Mayor Daley. I arrived the day before the event to go over last-minute arrangements.
That night, when I stopped at the front desk to get my room key, the manager, whose name was Bob, told me that Cary Grant was having dinner in the hotel restaurant. “Why don’t you invite him to your party,” he suggested.
“I don’t want to bother Mr. Grant while he’s having dinner,” I protested.
Bob smiled, “I know he would be happy to meet you.”
I let Bob, the manager, lead me to Cary. There was Cary Grant, looking exactly as he does in his movies: patrician features, beautifully if casually dressed, but with a shock of snow-white hair that you don’t see in his many starring roles. He was seated at a small round table with another man, who turned out also to be named Bob. They shared a real estate project in Ireland and had met at the airport hotel to discuss business. I knew I found Cary attractive—who wouldn’t!—but I was not star-struck. I had worked with many celebrities, even that early in my career. To me, they were just people—even Cary Grant.
Cary was ordering soup. I heard him ask for “Vichyssoise.” I had no idea what that was. Finishing his order, he looked up. “Well, hello,” he said in his wonderfully unique voice. I felt terrible interrupting his dinner and noticed people staring at us. I wanted to get this over with. “Mr. Grant, I’m running a gala press party in the ballroom tomorrow. I would love to invite you to join us. Of course, your friend too.” I looked at his dinner companion. “Please, call me Bob,” he said. “And what’s your name, lovely?”
“I’m Judy. Great to meet you. It’s going to be a fun event,” I said. “You would be most welcome.”
Cary chimed in, “Oh my dear, I would love to join you, but there’s a birthday party for a close friend in Las Vegas tomorrow, and I promised I would be there.”
“I understand. You gentlemen finish your dinner. Bye.” I turned to leave. Cary reached out for my hand. “Please, my dear, do join us for dinner.”
“Oh, no. I couldn’t interrupt.”
“You won’t be interrupting. Will she Bob?”
“Absolutely not. Please grace us with your company.”
“Okay, but nothing for me. I’ve already eaten.”
For the next 30 minutes, as Cary enjoyed his thick creamy soup and the rest of his meal, Bob and I chatted. I could feel Cary’s bewilderment. Who was this person who found his friend more fascinating than him?
When they were finished eating, I said I had to go. Cary asked me if he could walk me to my room. I laughed. “I think I can find it by myself,” I said. This seemed to intrigue him further, as I knew it might. As a young woman building a career in New York and meeting many powerful men, I learned a great deal about the male ego. Why should Cary Grant be any different? This is not to disparage him in any way. It’s just that famous or influential people expect to be responded to in specific ways. I was not following the usual script.
“Please let me see you safely to your hotel door,” he asked sweetly. So I did. At the door, he asked if he could come in. Nope. “Okay, but you must eat breakfast. Can I invite you for breakfast? I will order from room service in my suite if you join me, Bob, and a couple of other people. I promise to get you out on time.” As I put my key in the door, I agreed to join him for breakfast before both of our days began.
Bright and early, my bedside phone rang. “Breakfast is here,” Cary said. I was already showered and dressed. I went up to his suite. This is an odd memory, but I recall never seeing three halves of an English muffin, which was on a rolling cart filled with delicious pastries, eggs, cereal and cappuccinos. Cary was as warm and charismatic as you’d expect. Had our meeting ended there it would’ve been fine. But it didn’t.
In the afternoon Cary had someone in a limo find me on my one-hour break and drive me out to the airport section where the Faberge was parked. I stepped inside. Cary stood in the middle of the elegant ten-seater. “Thanks for coming,” he said. “I’d love to give you these….” He held out all kinds of Faberge cosmetics, watches, and I don’t know what else. I told him I didn’t want or need anything. “Why don’t we sit down and talk?” I suggested since he seemed nervous. So we did. He asked me if I would meet him in Las Vegas after my event if he sent the private jet back for me. I told him, “I have to work, but thank you.”
He asked for all my numbers, and I gave them to him. Since I visited my mother often in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, for some reason, I gave him that number too. This was way before cellphones.
I was with my mom a few days later when her phone rang. “It’s for you,” she said. “One of your crazy friends says he is Cary Grant. He’s doing a darn good imitation.”
“Well, Mom, believe it or not, you just said hello to the real Cary Grant.” I thought she’d fall on the floor.
Throughout our several months of being together, my matter-of-factness in the face of his fame intrigued him. Nonetheless, our times together were blissful. We had terrific meals brought up to this suite on the top floor of the Warwick Hotel. Even if we had a good forty years between us, he was a handsome devil. I loved his snow-white mop of hair, his well-muscled, fit physique, his one-of-a-kind voice, and most of all—his sweetness. There was a sadness about him too, that came out in unguarded moments. He had a great need to be loved by women. I’ll leave that to others to interpret. Cary certainly wasn’t unique in that regard. Men need women to admire them. Hold up a mirror to a man, where he can see the greatness he suspects (hopes) he has, and he will love you forever.
Back then, the people who knew I was seeing him asked me, “But wasn’t he gay?” No, Cary was straight. In 1932 Cary and Randolph Scott were roommates. A gay photographer, Jerome Zerbe, took candid shots of them made to look intimate. They were shown cooking together, sunbathing, running along the shore near the large beach house they shared in Santa Monica. The publicity departments at Paramount Studios played up their closeness—yes, even as both dated women and got married. Although other male stars of the 1930s shared homes, including James Stewart and Henry Fonda, Errol Flynn and David Niven, among others, none had entire publicity campaigns built around their relationship. This is why even modern commentators still assume Grant and Scott were lovers rather than what they were—friends and roommates.
At some point, I also began to feel uncomfortable around his coterie of older men friends, most of them with 18 or 20-year-old “arm candy” dates, but this was his regular “posse.” Going out to eat, or doing anything publicly, was difficult, verging on impossible. People invariably came to the table or where we were seated or standing at an event, asking for an autograph or a photo (with real cameras—again, this was before cell phones and selfies). Some were quite rude: they would not be put off even when they saw we were eating, and he asked them to come back after the meal. Nonetheless, Cary was always polite and accommodating. “They made me who I am today,” he said. Still, I felt terrible for him. Being a celebrity—especially, in his case, a superstar—is not without a steep price.
Cary and I did not love each other forever. Our time together had an expiration date, and it fizzled out—slowly and painlessly. For one thing, he lived in California, and I lived in New York, so there were significant gaps in between. Though he urged me to visit him, for some reason I never did, so our dates were always in Manhattan. I was busy building a New York-centric career, and Cary required more time and attention than I was willing to muster.
In her book, Dear Cary: My Life with Cary Grant, Dyan Canon said she did not write the book to exploit Cary but rather “to humanize him, make people understand him and love him more, not less. I am not writing a kiss and tell,” she told an interviewer.
Neither am I. Those “intimate” details will die with me. Suffice to say again that Cary was not gay. We had a good time while it lasted and stayed in touch for a while. In 1976, when I had my daughter Heather, Cary wrote me a lovely note, which I still have, in which he said he had fond memories of our time together, knew how special it was having a daughter, since Jennifer was the light of his life, and wished me and my little one the best of everything. That was our final communication.
Had my now 81-year-old brain been in that 28-year-old body, I might have been better at “managing” Cary’s world and seeing the things that went along with it and perhaps been wife number five. In 1981, at age 77, Cary married Barbara Harris, then 33. I was very happy for both of them. From all indications, she made him very happy, up to his last day on earth.
If I can offer some life lessons from this experience, the biggest one is what I tell you, dear reader, in all my CelebrEighty stories: don’t let age be a factor in whom you let into your life—as a friend or as a love interest. The second life lesson is: if you have an opportunity to meet a movie star, don’t hesitate. I almost did and would have missed a fantastic episode in my life that I can look back on with joy. Today I have no regrets. Looking back, the sweetness lingers. I am grateful for all the people I have loved in my life, including the iconic Cary Grant, with whom the candle burned bright and warm, and for a brief period in both our lives. But oh, what a bright light while it burned!