British-born actor Cary Grant (born Archibald Leach) escaped his humble Bristol environs and unstable home life by joining an acrobatic troupe, where he became a stilt-walker. Numerous odd jobs kept him going until he tried acting, and, after moving to the United States, he managed to lose his accent, developing a clipped mid-Atlantic speaking style uniquely his own. After acting in Broadway musicals, Grant was signed in 1932 by Paramount Pictures to be built into leading-man material. His real name would never do for marquees, so the studio took the first initials of their top star Gary Cooper, reversed them, then filled in the "C" and "G" to come up with Cary Grant. After a year of nondescript roles, Grant was selected by Mae West to be her leading man in She Done Him Wrong (1933) and I'm No Angel(1934). A bit stiff-necked but undeniably sexy, Grant vaulted to stardom, though Paramount continued wasting his potential in second rate films.
Free at last from his Paramount obligations in 1935, Grant vowed never to be strictly bound to any one studio again, so he signed a dual contract with Columbia and RKO that allowed him to choose any "outside" roles he pleased. Sylvia Scarlett (1936) was the first film to fully demonstrate Grant's inspired comic flair, which would be utilized to the utmost in such knee-slappers as The Awful Truth (1937), Bringing Up Baby (1938), His Girl Friday (1939), and The Bachelor and the Bobby Soxer (1947). (Only in Arsenic and Old Lace  did he overplay his hand and lapse into mugging.) The actor was also accomplished at straight drama, as evidenced in Only Angels Have Wings (1939), Destination Tokyo (1942), Crisis (1950), and in his favorite role as an irresponsible cockney in None But the Lonely Heart (1942), for which Grant was nominated for an Oscar -- he didn't win, although he was awarded a special Oscar for career achievement in 1970.
Off-stage, most of Grant's co-workers had nothing but praise for his craftsmanship and willingness to work with co-stars rather than at them. Among Grant's yea-sayers was director Alfred Hitchcock, who cast the actor in three of his best films, most notably the quintessential Hitchcock thriller North by Northwest (1959). Seemingly growing handsomer and more charming as he got older, Grant retained his stardom into the 1960s, enriching himself with lucrative percentage-of-profits deals on such box-office hits as Operation Petticoat (1959) and Charade (1964). Upon completing Walk, Don't Run in 1966, Grant decided he was through with filmmaking -- and he meant it. Devoting his remaining years to an executive position at a major cosmetics firm, Grant never appeared on a TV talk show and seldom granted newspaper interviews. In the 1980s, however, he became restless, and decided to embark on a nationwide lecture tour, confining himself exclusively to small towns in which the residents might otherwise never have the chance to see a Hollywood superstar in person. It was while preparing to lecture in Davenport, IA, that the 82-year-old Cary Grant suffered a sudden and fatal stroke in 1986.