Hollywood Legend Cary Grant’s Bisexuality and Love of LSD Revealed
In this exclusive excerpt from Scott Eyman’s new biography “Cary Grant: A Brilliant Disguise,” out Oct. 20, the author explores the screen icon’s sexuality and more.
Cary Grant’s most prized possession was either his father’s pocket watch, or a gold chain that he wore around his neck that held one of Jennifer’s baby teeth in Lucite, and three charms that represented the three religions of his four ex-wives: a St. Christopher medal from the Catholic Virginia Cherrill, a small cross representing the Protestant religions of Barbara Hutton and Betsy Drake, and a Star of David for the Jewish Dyan Cannon.
He continued to expound on the benefits of LSD to anyone who would listen, as well as anyone who was disinclined. He became known as the go-to man for people who were thinking of experimenting with the drug. At one point, the screenwriter Ivan Moffat and Caroline Blackwood had lunch with Grant. (Blackwood was married to Lucian Freud but having an affair with Moffat.) Grant strongly recommended that Blackwood try a course of LSD treatment and recommended a doctor. Blackwood undertook twelve sessions, and Moffat believed that “it certainly had a tremendous effect on Caroline. She suddenly became much clearer in thought, clearer of purpose—and she started to write.”
The interesting thing about Grant’s attitude toward LSD was that he remained resolutely antidrug. When this blaring contradiction would be pointed out, he would explain that it wasn’t a contradiction at all: “LSD is a chemical, not a drug. People who take drugs are trying to escape from their lives. LSD is a hallucinogen, and people who take it are trying to look within their lives.”
When somebody would call him on one of the convenient dispositions that supported his prejudices, he would say, “I’m now 70 years old and I have lived a lot longer than you have.” And that would be that. Age and experience, however subjective, trumped logic or facts. In short, he was what he self-diagnosed as a “series of contradictions”—intensely human, often maddeningly so.
He knew the stories that had been floating around Hollywood for forty years, and they bothered him . . . but not too much. “That I’m a homosexual and that I’m a miserable tightwad. And I care because it hurts. You can’t just wave away blithely what people say or don’t say.”
He began going out with Maureen Donaldson in 1973. She was a young English writer who worked for Rona Barrett and was precisely forty-three years younger than Grant. They were together for four years, and it was Grant’s urging that converted her into a photographer. Donaldson found him an ardent, tender lover, at first shy about sex with the lights on. He explained that it was his “chicken skin. You don’t want to see that while we’re making love. But in the dark you can imagine I’m one of those young men your age.” He continually returned to the age disparity—insecurity tinged with suspicion. What was she doing with an old man? There must be other, younger men in her life. Donaldson worked on opening him up. The lights came on, and they even showered together.
He always had a tripwire where children or intentional cruelty were concerned. Then, he would allow all his prejudices about animals to be quickly filed away. He didn’t have any particular interest in animals, but he drew the line at hurting them—the infliction of pain was the red line. One day he was going to a Polynesian restaurant with Donaldson when they saw a drunk abusing a dog. Grant promptly walked up to the man and offered him a hundred dollars for the dog. The drunk upped the price to two hundred dollars, which Grant promptly handed over, grabbing the leash as the money changed hands.
“What are we going to do with this mutt?” he asked Donaldson as they walked away.
“I don’t know, but I love you,” she said. “Good. Then you find a home for this animal.”
Similarly, a woodpecker took up residence on the roof of his house, and drove everybody mad with the incessant hammering. Grant’s secretary offered to get a gun and kill the bird, but Grant wouldn’t hear of it. Instead, he ordered the secretary to tap back in the hope that the woodpecker would be startled and leave. There was much back-and-forth tapping, until the bird magically flew away to harass someone else.
One of Donaldson’s friends was Bill Royce, who was slowly brought into Grant’s circle by house-sitting when Grant and Donald- son were out on the town—Grant was always worried about thieves, but refused to install a security system.
“He was a much more complex man than he seemed on-screen,” said Royce.
And much more contradictory. I’m an adult child of alcoholics, and that teaches you to be hyper-vigilant. Most days, he would be super-cheerful, everything positive. If I called him and I’d say do you need anything? or want me to drop by with food? I could tell within three words if he was in another emotional state. Usually he would get severely depressed about his relationship with Dyan or his access to his child. Jennifer was the absolute center, the priority of his life. If that wasn’t going well, or if he thought it might not go well, he would be in a blue funk. His mood would be one or the other. I could be with him for hours, but I never saw a good mood turn dark.
I don’t think Jennifer ever experienced the darkness with him. He always presented a happy picture with her. He wanted his limited visits with her to be up, up, up, so she would always want to come back. As far as his relationship with his mother, I think he felt abandoned by her till the day he died. He tried desperately to have a good relationship with her and she always resisted his attempts at affection. If he brought her gifts, she would cast them aside.
Donaldson and Royce were given increased access to the house and Grant, and their marching orders came, not from Grant, but from Stanley Fox. Maureen Donaldson had playfully planted marijuana in Grant’s garden, and Fox pointed out that besides damaging Grant’s reputation, a bust could affect his already limited visitation rights with Jennifer. “He made it clear to Maureen and I that there was to be no funny stuff. No friends, no weed, no drinking unless Cary invited us. He said all this point blank. Fox reminded me of [Elvis Presley’s manager] Colonel Tom Parker.”
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Royce served as a go-between with Grant and Donaldson as well as an emissary to life on the Sunset Strip—Grant developed an understandable fascination with Pam Grier and Royce accompanied him to several of her movies. Royce gradually developed a relationship with Grant that was somewhere between filial and paternal, with a single embarrassing exception. The two men were in the swimming pool, when Grant got out and was toweling himself off. Watching Grant, Royce realized he was having an involuntary pelvic response to Grant’s unselfconscious beauty. Grant noticed and said, “Well, you take care of that, and I’m going up to get some wine and you can come up when you’re dried off.”
“It didn’t anger or embarrass him in the slightest,” remembered Royce. “His reaction was so elegant.”
Grant’s cook and housekeeper was an African-American woman named Willie Watson. “He adored Willie,” said Royce. “He stole her from Dyan. She was charming and she was smart; there was something mysterious about her—you always felt she had secrets. Cary spoiled her. Not in terms of salary, but in trips he would pay for, or tickets to Dodger games. Willie mastered the turkey sandwiches he loved. He had gotten the recipe from Doris Day, and they became his go-to food. The crust was sliced off, and there was a thin slice of watercress in with the turkey.” Royce shared with Grant a childhood that could be termed unconventional—he had been adopted by a married couple who were both alcoholics, and he had been in relationships with both men and women. “As I peeled off one layer of my onion, he would do the same.”
Like most adoptees, Royce was curious about his birth parents. Grant went behind Royce’s back, hired a private detective to find Royce’s mother, and had her brought to the house on Beverly Grove. The expected mother and child reunion was hampered by Royce’s feeling of abandonment and a resulting emotional confusion. “Cary saw my ambivalence and took me aside. He told me she was only going to be around a short time—she had pancreatic cancer. He told me that if I didn’t make it right, I would regret it to my dying day. And then he flew her to Johns Hopkins to see if they could do anything for her.
“People always said Cary was cheap. He wasn’t cheap, he was frugal. He respected the value of money. Cary was never cheap when it counted.”
Royce was working for a Hollywood fan magazine, and Grant urged him to travel, to get out of town. “It’s too insular,” he said. “Your value system gets skewed.” He insisted Royce read Nathanael West’s Day of the Locust. “I told him I had seen the movie, but he said, ‘No, you have to read the book.’” Grant didn’t read that much at this point, although he had a hard time with insomnia and occasionally took Seconal to get some sleep. “He still read John O’Hara; one time I saw him rereading A Rage to Live, and he said that O’Hara ‘had nymphomaniacs on the brain.’”
Grant’s playful spirit came out regularly. He and Royce would play the piano together—Grant could play in a bouncy vaudeville style, while Royce was limited to two fingers. When they were finished, they would traipse out to the patio and pretend to take bows in front of a Hollywood Bowl audience. Grant would bow in Royce’s direction and say “You first,” pointing to the imaginary throng. “Oh, no,” Royce would reply. “I insist.” And so on, back and forth, until one of them broke out laughing. “It was just as silly as it sounds, but it gave us both great pleasure,” said Royce.
The lighthearted fun would always be put aside whenever the subject of fractured family relationships and their victims came up. Royce remembered one time when William Inge came to the house and Grant asked him to leave the room so Grant could talk to Inge privately.
Royce and Grant even had a conversation about sex. After Royce unburdened himself about his affairs with both men and women, Grant responded by implying he had been basically gay as a young man, later bisexual, still later straight. Randy Scott, he said, had seen their relationship as “locker-room playing around.” It had nothing to do with how a man should lead his life. Besides that, at one point Darryl Zanuck had taken Randy aside and told him that enough was enough.
Grant explained sexuality in terms of performance, of acting. He told Royce that to not completely explore one’s sexuality would be like an actor playing only one character for life. Everybody, he said, had more than one character inside them. He didn’t think homosexual acts were anything to be ashamed of, or, for that matter, proud of. They simply were—part of the journey, not necessarily the final destination.
I think Cary saw the searching I was doing and trusted me. He had been influenced by the Kinsey report and saw sex as a spectrum. Most people think it’s either/or. And there are men like that, but there are also men who are occasionally gay and occasionally straight. I remember one thing Cary said: “England is Victorian, but America is more Victorian than England.”
My sense of it was that he found homosexual life unrewarding. As he got older, he wanted children, and he didn’t think he had any chance at a child as long as he was living that life.
His conversation with Grant made Royce curious about Randy Scott. He was at the Beverly Hills post office one day when Scott came in to pick up some mail. He was dressed in tweeds, an ascot, had steel gray hair and sported a deep tan, just like Grant. Royce walked over and introduced himself. “Mr. Scott, my name is Bill Royce. I help Cary Grant with his place off Benedict and just wanted to thank you for your movies.”
Scott smiled and said “Well, I haven’t seen him in a while. Tell Cary I said hello.” Royce thought Scott was stunning; he went back to the house and told Grant about how Scott had looked. “Yeah, he was really something,” Grant said, in a tone that combined esteem, fondness, and sadness.
Grant’s house at 9966 Beverly Grove was beautifully situated, with a view of the entire shining city of Los Angeles. Beyond the front door was the living room. Off to the left was the kitchen, while the bedrooms and bathrooms were off to the right. Grant’s own bedroom was modest, although the bed featured monogrammed white sheets beneath an electric blanket. On both sides of the bed were bookshelves, with pictures of Jennifer as well as pictures of young Archie with his mother. There was his Oscar, as well as the di Donatello Award he’d received in Italy.
The bedroom led to his office, and beyond the office was the terrace where he liked to eat. Just inside the front door was a fireproof vault, which was full of memorabilia of his and Jennifer’s life. There were his old passports, an old jacket from his grade school days, Elias Leach’s monogrammed watch, his movies on 16mm. Transcending all this were the hundreds of tape recordings and thousands of photographs with which he had documented Jennifer’s life since her birth. It also contained autographed gifts he had requested from other famous people he met in his travels—a signed baseball from Hank Aaron, a signature from Neil Armstrong, a signed picture from The Beatles. Jennifer had no particular interest in the home movies Grant had taken of her, but he loved to watch them.
The vault was his way of documenting their lives, and in a round- about way he seems to have felt it was proof of his love for her. Bill Royce thought it went deeper than that. “Next to Jennifer, the vault seemed to be the most important thing in Cary’s life,” said Royce. “He was terrified that he would die and Jennifer would not remember him.”
“I’m just an old, old man,” he said one day when he was seventy. “My life is really devoted to Jennifer. She is going to have the kind of childhood I never had. She’s going to know at all times where her mother and father are, and she will be totally secure in our love for her, even if we are divorced.”
Left unanswered were the questions provoked by this obsessive documentation of his daughter’s life. Who tapes and preserves the meandering speeches of their small child? How can any child live up to such admiration? All the love and passion that had been stored up for a lifetime, that he had been unable to freely bestow on parents or wives was released in a continuing deluge upon his daughter.
The problem with the Beverly Grove house was that Grant had used it as a rental off and on for years, and it was in sad shape. The roof leaked, the ceiling was full of water stains, and patches of plaster sagged down. The French doors leading onto the terrace had become warped by rain and cracks had opened up large enough to allow streams of water onto the flagstone floor. Grant discovered some cardboard boxes he had long forgotten containing a Boudin painting and two Tiepolo sketches that had been a gift from Barbara Hutton. After positioning a number of pots and pans under the leaks, Grant realized he would have to spend some money on the house whether he liked it or not. And so began years of self-parody that made Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House look like a model of construction efficiency. Grant’s secretary reported that two electricians, each earning $20 an hour, spent an entire day changing the position of a single light plug while Grant pondered the perfect location. The light plugs weren’t the only things that got switched—so did designers and contractors.
It undoubtedly seemed odd to the contractors, but it wasn’t really. Grant relentlessly second-guessed most of his creative choices, so dithering endlessly over decorating a house was very much in character. This oversensitivity to options was why the idea of an autobiography was impossible, despite the size of the advances that were offered—he would never have stopped rewriting. And there was another reason—or another fear: He believed that if he carried his story to the day of writing it would mean his own end was near. “The drowning man sees his life go by as he goes down, and so does the man who goes back over his memories to write about them.”
As he aged, he naturally thought about death and made preparations. When Lord Mountbatten was murdered by the IRA in August 1979, he was visibly devastated. After the funeral, he called a friend and announced, “I’m absolutely pooped, and I’m so goddamned old . . . I’m going to lie in bed . . . I shall just close all doors, turn off the telephone and enjoy my life.” He made Maureen Donaldson promise that if he should die during the night, she was not to call the police or even an ambulance, but rather Stanley Fox. “I’ve gone over this with him many times. He knows what to do. I can trust him to follow my instructions to the letter.”
Mostly, however, he exhibited a blithe grace that retirement had helped create. Peter Bogdanovich witnessed an amusing scene in 1973, when he and Grant both attended the American Film Institute’s Life Achievement Award for John Ford. Grant had forgotten his ticket and asked the lady at the reception for some help. Name? she asked, looking down at her list. “Cary Grant,” he said. She looked up and wasn’t sure about what she saw. “You don’t look like Cary Grant.”
“I know,” he said with a smile. “Nobody does.”
Occasionally there would be a tacit moment of rue. At a party, gazing at the stunning women clustered around Warren Beatty, he nodded and said, “See that guy? That used to be me.” Beatty had been observing Grant at close range since visiting Leslie Caron during the shoot of Father Goose, and it is probable that Beatty’s general aura of a megastar floating above the seedy mishegoss of the movie business derived from the older actor’s attitude.
Paul Sylbert worked with Beatty and said, “He learned from Grant . . . picking up these do’s and don’ts from hanging around these people and seeing how they operate.” For a time, Beatty insisted on using mascara to accent his eyes, and he would adopt a trick often used by aging actresses, as well as actors—put the camera fifteen feet away and shoot close-ups with a long lens, which slightly softens the focus without being obvious about it.
In the fall of 1968, Grant wrote an exuberant self-analysis redolent of Scrooge after his enlightenment:
I am a sixty-five year old professional man, recently divorced for the fourth time, and father of a two-and-a-half year old daughter. I am happier than I have ever been, yet not as happy as I intend to be.
I am often pessimistic, yet mainly optimistic. I no longer resist, or inhibit, the penetration of knowledge which I trust will eventually result in wisdom!
I enjoy the boundless feeling of love and intend to let it grow forever in me. I intend to try to set a good example to, and live with consideration of, others.
Looking back on my life, I occasionally wish I had known enough to choose a profession that could have been more directly beneficial to others. But, since I didn’t, I must take that into consideration in all future endeavors. . . .
It’s a good day and a good life!
Grant’s friendship with Harold Lloyd remained strong. “Harold had a private den upstairs, with a phone that only rang in that room,” remembered Lloyd’s granddaughter Sue.
I hung around up there a lot. One day the phone rings, and it was that distinctive voice: “Oh, hel-lo. This is Cary Grant. Is Harold there?”
And I said, “Oh yeah. Dad’s here, but he’s on the throne.” And then I couldn’t talk to him anymore. I’d seen An Affair to Remember and was just incoherent about it. I threw the phone down and ran down the hall.
“Dad, it’s Cary Grant.”
“Okay, calm down. Just tell him I’m on the throne and I’ll call him back in a minute.”
So after that, I begged him to let me go to lunch with the two of them, and Harold said, “If you can compose yourself, we’re going to go to the Polo Lounge.” But at that point he didn’t think I would be able to pull myself together.
The first time that I really had a conversation with Cary was when we were in London. I was seventeen or eighteen, and we were staying at the Inn at the Park. We went to dinner with Cary at the White Elephant. Harold and Cary were very interesting together. You would never have known they were comedians. Serious. No joking around. They looked like businessmen, and they acted like businessmen. Suits and glasses.
And yes, Cary was charming. He asked about what I did with Dad. I told him about the Shriner hospitals, and that I went to Westlake, I read Dad’s light meter for him when he was taking pictures and so forth. Cary had a kind of a warmth when he talked to you. He really looked at you. He wasn’t grand at all. He was comfortable in his skin and interested in you. In thinking about it, he was a lot like Harold.
Sue Lloyd’s experiences with Grant were almost entirely with the professional aspect of his personality, but there was one time when she got a glimpse of his more informal side.
The bisexual thing. I’ve thought about it. I can tell you that people didn’t make a big deal about it. I can see it, kind of. My friend Richard Correll and I went to a party once. My uncle was there with his boyfriend, and Cary was there as well, swirling around in a caftan. And I was blown back. Oh, it had an effect on me. He was swishing around the party. I saw that side of him, and I saw the businessman side as well. Let me tell you, there was a real contrast.