Movie fans liked their stars to share their personal lives with them. And what could be more personal than the car you drove. While most people in the 1930s couldn’t afford to own a car, they could dream that one day, like their favorite star, they could.
Hello, everybody. Joe Morella and Frank Segers, your classic movie guys, guessing that you already know who our star of the day is. The car appears to be a Buick Century, probably a 1941 model. (Note to period auto fans: please correct us if we are off base here.)
Cary Grant was always a star who was careful with a buck. No Dusenberg’s for him. (In any case, those great looking classic cars ceased being manufactured in 1937). Cary seemed thrilled with his Buick if only because it didn’t by any stretch upstage him in classiness in this publicity photo, nor did it upend his personal budget.
Cary’s message scribbled on the above photo is directed to “Phil,” whomever he was, and enthuses about this “marvelous” car. “Might even get another one next year.” A conditional endorsement but an endorsement nonetheless.
Grant was in his late 30s at the time this photo was taken, well into his historic career encompassing more that 70 features that continued almost through the 1960’s. By 1939, Cary was a full-fledged leading man, and costarred in two romantic dramas — RKO’s In Name Only opposite Carole Lombard, and Columbia’s Only Angels Have Wings, opposite Jean Arthur assisted by our gal Rita Hayworth.
One of his most memorable movies was RKO’s Gunga Din, in which Cary showed off his supreme athleticism in director George Steven’s screen adaptation of the Rudyard Kipling poem about a handful of British troops battling an uprising in colonial India. (The movie was actually filmed in Lone Pine, California.)
In her autobiography, costar Joan Fontaine — who developed a big crush on her director — noted that Grant “was involved” back then with actress Phyllis Brooks, “who was with him on location.” Costar Douglas Fairbanks Jr. was seeing Marlene Dietrich at the same time.
Cary’s affectionate nickname for Phyllis was “Brooksie.” And, there were rumors that the pair would get married. Never happened. Grant was married five times, and “Brooksie” did not make the final cut. (Editorial note: Brooks also dated Howard Hughes.)
Somehow, we can’t picture Doug and Marlene gadding about Hollywood in a Buick. But we can well imagine how Cary and Phyllis would happily do so.