Dyan Cannon shoots from hip about Cary Grant

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Dyan Cannon will appear in Malibu Saturday at a screening of North by Northwest.

The actress opens up about her marriage to the screen legend in her “Dear Cary” memoir, which she will sign at a Malibu Film Society screening of “North by Northwest.”

By Michael Aushenker / Special to The Malibu Times

When Dyan Cannon talked to The Malibu Times last Friday afternoon, her new memoir, “Dear Cary: My Life With Cary Grant,” had risen to No. 17 in its second week on the New York Times Bestsellers list.

“It’s very exciting and I’m enjoying every second of it,” Cannon said. “It’s a joy that people really got what I’m trying to say.”

What she is not trying to say with “Dear Cary” is one should look for dirty laundry here about Grant, one of Hollywood’s greatest icons, to whom Cannon was briefly married in 1965-67 before things fell apart.

“The book is a journey of the heart,” she said. “This is not a bashing Cary Grant book.”

As Yom Kippur approached, the spiritual-minded actress discussed her book, which is chock full of Hollywood anecdotes, in advance of her signing appearance this Saturday at the Malibu Jewish Center and Synagogue, where Alfred Hitchcock’s classic film, “North by Northwest,” starring Grant, Eva Marie Saint and James Mason will screen.

Cannon is no stranger to Malibu, having resided here for decades.

“I lived in the Malibu Colony and the Cove Colony for many, many years,” Cannon said. “I’ve spent at least 20 years in Malibu. I went through the floods and the fires and all of it, but a big part of my heart is still in Malibu.”

Today, the West Hollywood resident is 72, but Cannon was just 26 and Grant was 61 when they eloped to Las Vegas on July 22, 1965.

In 1961, Grant had spotted Cannon on a short-lived program called, ‘’Malibu Run.” He reached her through her agents.

“I went in for an interview,” Cannon recalled, “presumably for a movie we were supposed to do together. Four hours later, he still didn’t mention the movie. My agent said, ‘I think he’s interested in you.’ I said, ‘I think you’re wrong,’ but my agent was right.”

Their engagement resembled one of the screwball comedies on which Grant made his name. With that spirited, dashing-yet-bumbling charm he exhibited in films such as “The Awful Truth,” Grant was so nervous about proposing to Cannon he crashed his car in her garage.

Both Cannon, who enjoyed a rollicking Jewish-Christian upbringing, and Grant, who famously experimented with LSD, were spiritual seekers of the universe’s greater truths.

“That was the biggest connection, which meant there was integrity aboard,” Cannon said. “I was talking to a friend who does not like it when things are unpredictable. I loved the unpredictable. I loved the adventure … upsetting the apple cart, and seeing how we dealt with it was so important.”

When writing the book, Cannon had to find the fine line between exposing the real man, Archibald Leach, and preserving his iconic Cary Grant persona in the eyes of his fans.

“That was the biggest challenge,” Cannon said. “But I think people will love him more [after learning about his foibles].”

Among Grant’s quirks: “He liked to eat off my plate, but he wouldn’t let me eat off of his,” Cannon recalled. “With food, he was, ‘It’s mine.’”

Grant’s advanced age was never an issue in their relationship.

“I never thought about that,” Cannon said. “Although he was older than my father, he was still very young in spirit.”

The couple intersected at a time when Cannon’s star was just breaking into the business and Grant’s storied career was wrapping up. (Cannon made her screen debut in 1960 in “The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond,” but the role of conservative Alice in the 1969 controversial, wife-swapping comedy “Bob & Ted & Carol & Alice” launched Cannon’s career.)

“When I met him, he was doing a film with Doris Day [“That Touch of Mink”] and then ‘Charade” [with Audrey Hepburn],” Cannon said. While married, Grant made his final movie, 1966’s “Walk, Don’t Run,” in Tokyo. “I was pregnant and he thought it was best if I stayed in L.A.,” Cannon said.

At 62, Grant had his first child with Cannon: Jennifer Grant, now 45.

“He was a wonderful father and they had a great relationship,” Cannon said.

But by 1967, the marriage had dissolved into a custody battle, which is not included in Cannon’s book.

“After a certain length of time, I couldn’t take the control factor anymore,” Cannon said on why it ended. “It was kind of a Pygmalion relationship. At the beginning, I liked it with the dress, the hair, the style of writing thank you notes. And then it became too much and I couldn’t breathe.”

Today, Cannon possesses the wisdom she wished she had back then.

“The issues that Cary had to deal with in his childhood, he never made peace with,” she said. “He found those demons very conflicting with women after that. He was told his mom was dead and found out years later that she wasn’t. It was very, very difficult.

“He was a man with things to work through like every other man. Everyone tends to make gods out of screen idols and he was no exception.”

In “Dear Cary,” Cannon writes, “It was easy to fall in love, but it was hard to stay in love.”

Her book’s message: Even after a romance fails, one can take and apply those experiences and life lessons toward the next relationship. Yes, there’s love even after Cary Grant.

“He was an amazing man,” she said. “We shared humor, laughing, dancing, singing. It was truly amazing. The first half of the book is one of the greatest romances that I’ve ever known.”

Cannon will speak about and sign copies of her book, “Dear Cary: My Life With Cary Grant,” Saturday, Oct. 15 at 7 p.m., followed by the screening of “North by Northwest,” starring Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint and James Mason at 7:30 p.m.; Malibu Screening Room, 24855 Pacific Coast Hwy (in the Malibu Jewish Center complex located 1/4 mile up the coast from Pepperdine University). Tickets are $10 if purchased in advance for adults, $5 for faculty and students. www.malibufilmsociety.org