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Dyan Cannon Tells All, With Love  


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By Michael Aushenker

October 10, 2011 -- It was an age-old question that a veteran actress asked the audience at Santa Monica Library’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Auditorium last Tuesday night.

Dyan Cannon reminisces about her life with Cary Grant.
Photo courtesy of Santa Monica Public Library

“Do you need a man to be happy in life?” actress Dyan Cannon inquired of the full house. “I say, ‘Absolutely not!’”

The audience relished Cannon’s feistiness and the Hollywood anecdotes spun by the “Heaven Can Wait” star. She was there to promote her new memoir, “Dear Cary,” which had already charted on the New York Times Bestsellers List on its first week out.

Decked out in blue jeans and high heel platforms, Cannon offered a candid interview, conducted by Mekeisha Madden Toby, a television critic for The Detroit News.

“I don’t want to ruin the ride for them,” Cannon told the packed room of eager listeners. “The book is a journey of the heart. This is not a bashing Cary Grant book.”

Cannon was Cary Grant’s fourth wife. (He married five times in all.) She married Grant, one of Hollywood’s greatest movie stars, in 1965, when the actor was 61 and she was only 28.

Grant was a complex character in real life, said Cannon.

“I was young and I was not wise enough to know how to help him,” she admitted.

In her book, Cannon describes how she and her international movie star husband were “seekers” in spirit.

Grant famously wrote about taking LSD for Ladies Home Journal. “He had many problems,” she said. “He thought it was his gateway to God.”

Growing up in Washington State, religious debates were big in Cannon’s family home. Her mother was among the Jews who had escaped the Cossacks in Russia while her father embraced the Christian faith.

Cannon remembered how as a child her dad would sing “Jesus Loves Me” in the car on the way to synagogue. She also has fond memories of the congregation’s religious leader.

“Rabbi Levine was the most amazing man I’ve ever known then or since,” said Cannon, recalling how he accepted her brother David's conversion to Christianity at a family counseling session. He asked her parents if their son was kind and caring and then concluded “what did it matter what he called himself.”

In Hollywood, Cannon said she often found that “the bigger they are, the nicer they are and the more generous they are, the more real they are.” She lumped Grant, Clifford Odets and Howard Hughes in this category of outsized celebrities.

With “Dear Cary,” Cannon fought to preserve Grant’s image as the icon of effortless physical comedy and charm.

“One of the challenges of writing this book was not to take the stars out of people’s eyes for Cary,” Cannon said. “We make gods out of people and then we realize everyone has feet of clay.”

Moderator Toby inquired, “You were the student, he was the teacher. Looking back, that was hard.”

“I was a silly girl and I was so in love,” Cannon said, smiling.

In “Dear Cary,” Cannon writes, “I was in Rome right when Fellini’s ‘La Dolce Vita’ had cast Rome as the most glamorous place on earth. I was living a fairy tale, and Cary Grant was just another knight of the realm who could take a number and wait his turn.”

Coming off of a recent heartbreak while in Italy, she was introduced to the Grant.

“You just had to meet him,” she told those gathered at the Santa Monica Library auditorium. “When he walked into a room, he changed it.”

Cannon was asked by a mutual friend, “Would you like to go out with him to Palm Springs?” I said, ‘My girlfriend and I would love to.” They told me, ‘Cary Grant wants to take you.’ I said, ‘What time?’”

Cannon’s parents disapproved of Grant. They thought he was too old, and he had already married three times.

“He wasn’t perfect,” said Cannon. “I wasn’t perfect and we had those issues to work through like any marriage.”

Her story with Grant sums up “what happens when there’s this great love and it goes south,” she said. “He was so sweet and kind and generous and wonderful.”

But she indicated that Grant hid big issues behind his pristine, dashing, suave and charming persona. “Archie Leach was hurting big time,” she said.

Cannon wrote that she never saw any evidence to support rumors of Grant’s alleged homosexuality. Behind closed doors, he was quite the opposite, according to Cannon.

“Writing this book was the hardest thing I had ever done,” Cannon said in her author’s note. “…It hurts to hurt and I don’t hurt anymore.”

“Finally,” she told last week's audience, “I’m comfortable with life…Now I can help people in the way that I never could before.”


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