Saturday, December 25, 2010

Cary Grant- lost and found

Over the years I’ve gotten to meet many famous people in the course of my work, some memorable, some not so much. But one in particular really stands out and came back to mind this afternoon as I was cleaning out my garage.

Back in the mid 80’s I was working at a community college in CA and Cary Grant came to perform his "A Conversation with Cary Grant" series, where they would show some movie clips, then he would give a nice talk about his life in film.

He was one of my favorite actors, and I really wanted to shoot the show. I contacted his promo people, who politely informed me that no, Mr. Grant would not allow cameras at the show.

I explained that I was a member of the student media and wanted to publish only in our weekly newspaper, but was told that Mr. Grant did not wish to be photographed.

After several more attempts and pleadings, I was politely told that Mr. Grant did not want the public to concentrate on his appearance as an 80 year old man, but as the dashing actor that would be celebrated in the film clips shown at the lecture.

One final plea was made by way of a phone call to his manager’s room at a local hotel. I explained that I worked for a small community college newspaper that no one read anyway, so he wouldn’t have to worry about the photos getting too much distribution.

After a slight pause, he asked me to wait, and a moment later a very recognizable voice came across the line. “You’re sure this is just for the school paper?” Yes Mr. Grant, it is. “Well, alright then, but get there early, and we’ll see what we can do.”

I showed up a couple of hours before the doors opened, during the sound and video check for the show and sat on the isle seat a few rows from the stage that contained a mike stand and a couple of chairs.

The large screen above the stage was showing a series of clips from many of Grants films, and that same, distinct voice that I heard by phone only hours before was booming larger than life through the sound system of the performance hall. As I watched and listened to the clips, seeing the images so huge compared to the TV Cary Grant I was used to seeing, I sort of lost track of time.

That is until I heard his voice addressing me directly- see, I hadn’t noticed that while I was watching the 25 foot Cary Grant on screen, the six foot or so Grant had walked on stage, taken a seat, and was waiting for me to take his picture.

“Are we ready?” he was asking. I was a little surprised and confused that the guy on screen was sitting in front of me, talking to me, but that was why I was there wasn’t it?

Of course sir, give me just a minute, I said as I fumbled for my camera and approached the stage.

 I fired off two or three shots, and as I adjusted my gear to change lenses and add a flash, he stood up, walked to the edge of the stage, extended his hand down to me, smiled and said “well, I hope you got as good one” and disappeared into the wings.

I stood for a moment with my jaw hanging open, amazed that I just “met” Cary Grant, and hoped I had film in my camera.

We ran a small photo with the press release story of the night, and sure enough, nobody read it.

A little over a year later, Cary Grant died. I wasn’t surprised that all the images that accompanied his obits were fairly old, and even the recent ones were several years old.

Years later, I did an online image search and couldn’t find any that were shot within the last year or so of his life. I realized I may be one of the last people to take the man’s picture.

As the years past, I couldn’t find any prints of that shot and the negs were long gone. Now that all my images are stored digitally, I have often thought of that simple image and wished I had it to preserve on disk.

Today we were clearing out the garage and my wife found an old coffee table photo book of the Maltese Falcon that I forgot I had.

As she was thumbing through it, between two pages she found an old 5x7 print.

Of Cary Grant.

It is now scanned and preserved on my computer.

And it just might be one of the last pictures taken of Cary Grant.


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