Blandings Waves: Cary Grant’s “Dream House” Annex

Well, glamorous it ain’t! Chasing a runaway trash can down the lane and harvesting stray garbage bags from the hedges—before dawn, no less, with little more than a tiny flashlight to guide me. The storm that has been wreaking havoc across Europe swept over Wales this morning, however accustomed folks here may be to such violent weather conditions. Barring outages of power, as experienced by thousand of households in the wild west of Britain, I am going to get my dose of glamour and sophistication yet, by celebrating the career of Cary Grant, born on this day, 18 January, in 1904.

I regret not to have spotted the statue erected in his honor down in Bristol, England, where Grant (or Archibald Alexander Leach) came into this world. He left it in 1986, which prompted me, a sour-faced and romance-starved youth, to compose a eulogistic piece of poetry (not to be dug up for this or any other occasion). This year, I have already revisited two of Grant’s performances—the one truly Grant (George Cukor’s charming adaptation of Holiday), the other cash-and-Cary (Leo McCarey’s World War II oddity Once Upon a Honeymoon). I very nearly caught a third—Destination Tokyo—which is frequently showing on the very poor cousin of Turner Classic Movies here in Britain. Tonight, I might pair him with Mae West, Katharine Hepburn, or Rosalind Russell.

Like so many Hollywood actors of his generation, Grant was frequently heard on US radio; here, for instance, you may listen to Grant singing in a 1936 broadcast trailer for Suzy. On his very birthday, back in 1955, he was once again heard in a Lux Radio Theater adaptation of his screwball hit The Awful Truth. After having been cast opposite Claudette Colbert (in 1939), he was reuniting with his original screen co-star, Irene Dunne.

Yet Grant was also among a number of leading men—including Alan Ladd, Glenn Ford, Humphrey Bogart, and James Stewart—to seize the opportunity of starring in a radio program of his own. Together with wife Betsy Drake, who also wrote some of the scripts, he was heard in Mr. and Mrs. Blandings (1951), a situation comedy based on the novel Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House, filmed in 1948 with Grant and Myrna Loy. By the late-1940s, radio shows were no longer performed live, which made the medium attractive to busy film actors interested in making a few thousand bucks on the side, for the comparatively easy assignment of spending a few hours in a recording studio reading (rather than memorizing) a short script.

Radio, in turn, had its influence on Grant’s career in motion pictures. In 1944, he starred in Once Upon a Time, a film based on Norman Corwin’s radio fantasy “My Client Curley.” Yes, once upon a time, radio played a significant role in the lives of actors and audiences who, like ambitious Mr. Blandings, managed to evaporate the humdrum of the everyday by building castles in the air.

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