Dyan Cannon and Cary Grant adored their daughter, Jennifer. | Philippe Halsman~Magnum Photos
Updated: November 15, 2011 9:59AM
A little more than a decade ago, Dyan Cannon decided to write her autobiography. Then the actress came to a daunting realization: “I would have to reveal things about other people, and I didn’t feel right about that.”
The project was scrapped, and Cannon — whose noted films include “Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice” (1969), “Heaven Can Wait” (1978) and “Deathtrap” (1982) — returned her advance money to the publisher, HarperCollins. But now, that same company has released her first book — a revealing look at Cannon’s relationship with her first husband, who happened to be a Hollywood legend.
Dear Cary: My Life With Cary Grant (It Books, $25.99) chronicles the couple’s courtship and stormy three-year marriage, which produced daughter Jennifer Grant, now 45.
So what changed over the past 10 years to make this book possible? A lot, as Cannon tells it. First, she decided to concentrate on one facet of her life, which has also included stints as a producer, screenwriter and director. “I wanted to focus on the biggest, most life-changing thing.”
More significantly, Cannon says, “I arrived at a place of forgiveness and of peace.”
Peaceful is not the first adjective that comes to mind upon meeting Cannon, who at 74 still has the giddy energy (not to mention the figure) of a high school cheerleader. Greeting a visitor in her hotel room, she chats effusively about everything from her daughter’s pregnancy — Jennifer already has a 3-year-old son, Cary Benjamin Grant — to her work with Get Your Luv On, a non-profit group that meets to discuss relationships and promote Cannon’s philosophy “that there’s a spirit inside all of us that’s really good.”
But Cannon speaks more slowly and carefully when the subject turns to Dear Cary and the challenges it posed. “There was the question of how I could keep a lot of things I didn’t want to discuss about Cary out of the book and still help people understand the things that shaped him.”
She had been offered money before — “monumental amounts” — to write about Grant, whom she married in 1965, when she was 28 and he was 61. “But they wanted a different kind of book. I didn’t want to take the stars out of people’s eyes. I mean, he’s Cary Grant. I still look at his movies and my heart fills up.”
The subject of whether Grant was bisexual, for instance, is addressed only briefly and delicately in Dear Cary — via a meeting with the openly gay Noel Coward, who offers the young Cannon a subtle quip “dismissing the rumors that had circulated about Cary,” she writes.
If Grant can come across in the book as uptight and controlling, Cannon also documents his painful family background and the lingering emotional scars it left. She describes how he pressed her to experiment with LSD, a drug Grant believed had proven beneficial in his personal use.
“He coaxed me — but it was still my choice,” Cannon stresses. “I was bright and willful, but I wanted to please him. And I pleased him to the extent of letting his thoughts become more important than mine. That’s death — and how many of us do that, especially women? We’re taught to serve, to be caretakers. And that’s OK, until we go against our gut.”
Conveying that message was, Cannon says, her aim in writing the book. “I wanted to suggest to everyone out there, male or female, that you have to make decisions based on your own moral structure. That was my motive. Why else take my clothes off like this?”
Cannon’s daughter released her own memoir, Good Stuff: A Reminiscence of My Father, Cary Grant, earlier this year; it was dedicated to Cannon.
“I thought her book was beautiful,” Cannon says. “She’s reading mine right now. She knows everything that’s in it already, though, and when I spoke with her yesterday, she said she was really enjoying it.”
Though Cannon remarried once, to lawyer Stan Fimberg — “he was a lovely man, but it just didn’t work” — her sole living partners in West Hollywood at the moment are a pair of 4-pound Chihuahuas. And that’s not a sore point, she insists.
“I love men, and I love acting, but I don’t need either to keep me happy anymore. I’d like a companion again, but it’s got to be the real deal. I feel like I’m fine alone. Isn’t that something?”
Gannett News Service