many books have been written about Cary Grant, none had
been written by Cary Grant, except for a short biography
he wrote for a magazine in the late sixties. The
first problem I had as I started to research
"Archie" was that each time I took home a book
from the library, it would tell a slightly different
story from the one before. One would say for instance that Elsie Leach was not his
real mother, or, that his father had "sold"
him to a traveling circus!
much time, and many books would a consistent story
Cary Grant was born Archibald Alexander Leach in the
seaport town of Bristol England on January 18 1904. He
was the second child of Elsie and Elias Leach.
I had been interested in using the whole of Cary's life
for the show, introducing people like Hitchcock and
Monroe into it, but finally settled on basing
"Archie" on the period before he became the
big star we know today. Three people in his early life,
who I felt were crucial to the story, Elsie and Elias
Leach, and Bob Pender, had fascinated me.
Elsie had come from a very wealthy family with shipping
interests. She was the youngest of five children, and
had remained at home caring for her parents, when her
siblings had flown the nest. That was until she met and
fell in love with a young Tailor, Elias James Leach.
Elsie and Elias were married in May 1898. In February of
the following year, they had their first child, John
William Elias Leach. John Leach was to die one day
short of his first birthday. This would in reality be
the beginning of the end for Elsie and Elias.
Elsie in my opinion would always blame herself for
John's death, feeling that she could have done something
to prevent it. When John became ill, Elsie watched
over him night and day. In the end her doctor ordered
her to get some rest. On that night as she slept, John
Four years later, their second child, Archibald
Alexander Leach was born. After the losing baby John,
Elsie was determined that nothing would happen to young
Archie. In those early years Elsie dedicated
herself to Archie. She became overly protective, and
slowly started to exclude Elias from her life.
Husband and wife began to argue, mostly over money, and
slowly drifted apart. Archie would become Elsie's whole
world. Over time Elsie's mental state
deteriorated, causing her to become erratic.
Finally, in 1911 Elias had Elsie committed to Fishponds
mental asylum, where she remained for the next twenty
Archie had been at school the day Elsie was committed.
Returning home, he found his father waiting for
him. When Archie enquired where his mother was,
Elias told the young boy she had gone away for a rest,
and would return shortly. That is all he was ever
told. Archie would be a fully-grown man, and a famous
film star by the time he discovered the truth. As
far as I could make out, Elias had either no, or very
little contact with Elsie from that point on, and it
appears she was rarely mentioned in conversation.
Archie became a bit of a loner, his father was rarely at
home, so he often spent the evenings walking the
streets, or down by the docks. A few years later a
chemistry teacher at school introduced him to the world
of the theatre. From that moment Archie knew where his
future lay. Archie would run away from home to
join his favourite comedy/acrobatic group called,
"Bob Pender and his knock about
comediennes". Elias would find the runaway
and take him back to Bristol, but it wasn't long before
Archie had got himself expelled from school, and, this
time with his fatherís permission, rejoined The
For me, Bob Pender is perhaps the biggest influence on
Archieís film success, having once been a famous Dury
lane clown; Pender was a master of physical comedy, a
skill passed on from his father, and grandfather.
After his years of success as a clown, he formed
"Bob Pender and his knockabout comediennes."
They would travel around the country throughout the
year, performing their mixture of acrobatics and
comedy. During the First World War, Pender found
his troop of performers regularly depleted, as those old
enough went off to join the fighting. Pender was
now recruiting younger lads to perform in the troop. The
young Archie Leach grabbed his opportunity, and quickly
found himself performing all over England.
Pender was an excellent tutor, not only in passing on
his acrobatic skills, but more importantly in Archieís
case, he taught his entire troop the skill of
communicating with an audience, without having to say a
single word. The facial expressions that Archie
would later use to great effect in his films began here.
Two very clear examples of this can be seen in two of
his films. The first is in "Arsenic and old
lace". There is a scene where Archie discovers a
dead body in a chest under a window. After his initial
shock, he realises that the unlikely culprits of this
crime are his two elderly aunts. Within the space of
thirty seconds, and only using his face, the twenty or
so minutes proceeding that point are brilliantly summed
up, without using one single word. Whilst this is
a brilliant piece of acting, one must not forget all
those years spent with Bob Pender. Another Example
is in "An Affair to remember". Near to the end
of the film, Archieís character (Nickie Ferrante) goes
to see Terry McKay. (Played by Deborah Kerr) He goes
into a room and sees a bed, the realisation of the
events in the previous 30 minutes are all summed up in a
single movement. There are those who think that
Cary Grant could not act, but you only have to look at
these two examples (and there are many others I could
point out) to begin to realise he was a fine actor, an
actor who made everything look effortless, a skill that
very few actors master.
As each day passed the exact story I wanted to tell was
taking shape. I had a strong feeling this was not only a
good story, but also one that was important to
relate. Then, totally out of the blue, something
happened that would hold up writing for much of the
late 1996 Robert Barham began work on a musical about
the early life of Cary Grant. The musical was entitled
"Archie". During the course of his research,
Robert came across a number of extraordinary
coincidences between his own life, and that of Cary
Grant. In "The Journey", Robert tells the
fascinating story of his three years writing and
researching the musical, from page to stage. A tale
which would take him from London, to Cary's birth town
of Bristol, and finally on to Hollywood.
To order The Journey, go to
You will then have the ability to download this e-book for
Four | Chapter
Eight | Chapter
11 | Epilogue
the Musical | The
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