Friday, February 19, 2016


     Some years ago, more years than I remember exactly from moment to moment, when I was in the graduate writing school at Stanford, like many other women in the world I was in love with Cary Grant.  Besides being the handsomest man alive, he also appeared to be the funniest and most charming.  And he had been in a number of witty movies with Katharine Hepburn, who had gone to Bryn Mawr, my college.  So I felt some mystical sense of connection, the way you did with movie stars you truly admired, when movies were infused with their own unreal sense of reality.
     I used to come down  to Hollywood from Palo Alto for weekends to continue, begin, sustain-- whichever word applied-- a career writing for films, which I suppose in memory must have been my aspiration and intention.  I had friends I stayed with in Hollywood, one particularly kind and funny one being a press agent named Jack Martin.  One weekend when I was in Hollywood visiting him, he came into my room one morning saying "Cary Grant's on the phone for you."
     "Yeah, sure," I said, taking the phone.  "Who is it, really?" I asked into the phone.
     "Hello, Gwen," said that unmistakeable voice.  "This is  Cary Grant.  I hear you have a comedy for me.  Tell me about it."
     It really was Cary Grant.  Once I could speak again, I tried to recount the plot of the movie I wanted to write for him.  But I was so flummoxed, the words would hardly come together.  The movie he heard about, with me all tongue-tied, was not very funny.  I was mortified. 
     Over the following years I loved him no less, though I troubled him no more.  But when I published the novel that became the big bestseller, THE PRETENDERS, I sent him a copy.
      I'd been home from my book promotion tour for some days, when, as Fate and Luck would have it, I was on the phone with Rona Barrett, a good friend, and the era's most powerful gossip columnist.  Don, my husband, came in from the kitchen and said "Cary Grant's on the other phone."
     "Excuse me, Rona," I said, sardonically.  "Cary Grant's on the other phone."  Certain it was a joke, I said, rather edgily, into the receiver, "All right, who is it, really?"
      "Hello, Gwen," said that unmistakable voice. "I've had a devil of a time trying to track you through your publisher.  I just wanted to thank you for sending me this copy of The Pretenders." 
       "Oh, my God," I said.  "You're really Cary Grant.  Nobody else would have gone to the trouble."  I lay down on the kitchen floor, trying to compose myself.  I stayed there for the next hour and a half, cooling my face against the linoleum while we talked. 
     He asked me about my life, told me about his own.  His daughter, Jennifer, was exactly the same age as our daughter Madeleine.  So we had a lot of the same kind of adventures to compare. Except, of course, he was Cary Grant.  
     As soon as I hung up, the phone rang.  It was my press agent.     "What's this Rona tells me, that Cary Grant was calling you?"
     "Can you believe the grace and charm of the man," I said.  "That he'd go to the trouble of trying to find me, to thank me for sending him a copy of The Pretenders?"
     The next day it was in Mike Connolly's column in the Hollywood Reporter: "Gwen Davis couldn't believe it was Cary Grant who called to tell her how much he liked The Pretenders."
      I was mortified, and sent Cary Grant a note, apologizing.
      The next day Don came in, holding out the phone, saying: "Cary's on the line again."
     "Listen," said Cary Grant to me.  "I've been in this business a million years.  I know how these people are.  I was just glad to be mentioned in the same sentence as The Pretenders."
     "Oh, my God," I said, and lay back down on the floor. "You're really Cary Grant." 
      After that, in the years to come, every time I published a novel I  would send a copy to Cary Grant, and he would call to thank me.  Once he actually called at seven-forty-five on a Sunday morning.
"I hope I'm not disturbing you," he said.  "I just want to read you this great review of your book of poems in the Los Angeles Times."
     Like it would be disturbing, to get a call from Cary Grant. 
     Every time he called, Don would say "Cary's on the phone again."
      By then I'd published a number of books, and sent them to him.  But we'd never actually met.  
      Then my friend Sheila Rabb Weidenfeld, whom I'd known when she produced a TV talk show I would appear on from time to time when I went to Washington,  became Betty Ford's press secretary.   I'd heard there was to be a party for Betty Ford at the Bistro, the most elegant and exclusive celeb restaurant of the day in Beverly Hills, and Cary Grant was to be her escort.  I called Sheila and asked to be invited. 
     I didn't eat anything for three days, bought a new blouse, and got early to the Bistro, the elegant restaurant where the party was being held. When the reception started, I went upstairs.  Cary Grant was standing by the bar, elegantly, unmistakably Cary Grant.  He was talking to Harvey Korman, the comedian from the Carol Burnett show where my husband was on staff, and a friend of ours.  I went over and asked Harvey to introduce me. 
     He did.  Cary Grant took my hand, clasped it gently between both his in a Brother handshake and said: "I tried to call you today, but your line was busy."
     He was really Cary Grant.  
    We talked for a while, and he asked if I would like to meet the First Lady.  With that, he ushered me into the other room to introduce me.   Taking me around the waist as though I were Ingrid Bergman in Indiscreet,  he waltzed me up to her.  "Mrs. Ford," he said.  "I'd like you to meet Gwen Davis. She's a very good friend of mine."
     He would send flowers to my daughter Madeleine, the same age as his daughter Jennifer, on her birthday.  When I gave a surprise birthday party for my husband in San Francisco and invited him, he called Don at dessert time, to wish him well.  He would stand by his mailbox in Malibu waiting for Jennifer's school bus, reading my latest novel, holding it so all could see.  Friends would call and tell me they'd seen him standing there in the road with the book.  He would phone me often, and we would talk, sometimes for hours.  
      Then I wrote a romantic comedy that I was sure would be perfect for him and David Niven, whose son was a friend of ours: two men who had long ago had an affair with the same woman, who'd had a baby, and she hadn't been sure which of them had been the father.  Now the eight-year-old grand-daughter, an heiress, had turned up looking to make one of them her grandfather, and they all went on a yachting trip together so the little girl could decide which of them she chose.
   I  sent it to Cary.   He called and asked "Why are you sending this to me?"
    "I wrote it for you," I said.
    "Nobody wants to see an old man on the screen."
    "Everybody wants to see you," I said.  "And you'll never be old." 
    Disappointingly, he declined.  Next thing I knew they were making the movie with David Niven and Art Carney.  Art Carney!!   In a part that had been created for Cary Grant!!  You can imagine, or, probably better, you can't.
     But part of the deal I made for the movie was I got to go to the south of France where it was being filmed, with Don and our children while they filmed.  And, unexpectedly, in my free time,  I discovered a secluded and beautiful hideout off a quiet country road in the unpublicized environs.  That began a wonderful, nearly life-long habit of  disappearing every summer to my secret place in the south of France.
       The movie that they made was not very funny.  As a matter of fact, it was terrible.  Directed by Brian Forbes, a British director, a most difficult and not very clever man, he was not interested in any of my thoughts. "You can't tell me anything," he said to me.  "You're a woman." 
     Luckily sometime afterwards, back in California, I got to talk to Larry Gelbart, the cleverest writer ever involved in movies, in y opinion, creator of MASH, and any number of brilliant screen comedies, including TOOTSIE.  He'd had exactly the same experience with Forbes, and a movie he wrote. 
      But I had discovered a little known part of the south of France,  unchic but glorious.  And, not incidentally, I'd gotten to be actual friends with Cary Grant! 
     Then I published a book called HOW TO SURVIVE IN SUBURBIA WHEN YOUR HEART'S IN THE HIMALAYAS,  a collection of funny meditations.  One of them was 'What has Cary Granted?'
      He called and asked why I'd included that.  "This book could last a hundred years," he said.  "People will forget about me in ten."
     "They'll never forget about you," I said.  
     And if they're smart, have eyes, and ears and hearts, they won't.