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The Real Secret of Cary Grant’s Style


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Wednesday, August 08, 2007

The Real Secret of Cary Grant’s Style

The Real Secret of Cary Grant’s Style
By Richard Torregrossa

Cary Grant was 6’1” and 180 lbs, a tall and at times a muscular man, especially in the early part of his career when he was an acrobat tumbling across vaudeville stages or stilt walking for pin money in Coney Island, all of which required extraordinary physical skill.
These experiences gave him a superior edge over most other movie actors—athletic grace, a feature that has been overlooked by some fans, many critics, and every biographer.
When Cary Grant walked into a room it was taken for granted that “men wanted to be him and women wanted to be with him” because he was handsome and impeccably dressed.
To be sure, this was a large part of his appeal; he looked so crisp you could practically smell his after shave lotion, but it was the way he moved that was really the key to Cary Grant’s style.
He performed comic stunts without losing one iota of style. In “The Awful Truth” he falls backwards off a chair in full evening attire and in “Holiday” he launches into a cartwheel, a back flip, and a forward roll with Katherine Hepburn standing on his shoulders—all in the clothes of his character, whether it was a bumpkin’s three-piece suit in “Holiday” or full evening attire in ‘The Awful Truth.”
He didn’t cheat like Fred Astaire who created all kinds of innovations in his legendary collaboration with his Savile Row tailors Anderson & Sheppard or Kilgour, French & Stanbury to facilitate his incomparable movements on the dance floor.
Some of Astaire’s innovations were ridiculously pretentious like the time he tied a scarf instead of a belt around his pants, a substitution that was supposed to make his clothes less constricting. Cary Grant just wore clothes that fit.
Fred Astaire was a one-dimensional talent, a dandy dancer, a leggy technician with a lot of skill, and even more discipline. His girlishly lithe figure made it easier for him to defy gravity than a man of Grant’s more manly size.
You can see Astaire straining for precision and a kind of choreographed perfection. We appreciate his hard work, but with Grant he gives us a calming joy, lightly uplifts us, all without effort—or rather with an effort that appears effortless, the epitome of genuine and not arduous grace.
And Grant made better movies. Nothing Astaire did can compare to “North by Northwest,” Notorious,” or “To Catch a Thief.”
Astaire made corny musicals in which he danced brilliantly. Grant made iconic movies in which he acted brilliantly and at the same time created the gold standard for style.

—Richard Torregrossa is the author of Cary Grant: A Celebration of Style, Foreword by Giorgio Armani.

Comments on "The Real Secret of Cary Grant’s Style"


Anonymous Lisa said ... (8:49 AM) : 

Cary Grant is so handsome!


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (8:53 AM) : 

Cary Grant is so handsome, yet Fred Astaire lacks that melting charisma that makes you ache for Cary!


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (9:03 AM) : 

Converting the US height and weight to metric:

6' 1" inch = 1.85 m

180 lbs = 81.6 kg


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (9:06 AM) : 

ouch! why he gotta be hatin' on Fred?

I don't think it's question of one or the other, Grant or Astaire, they're both different and great in their own world of style. I thought that article was a bit harsh, it isn't like Fred's a talentless hack, he's effing Fred Astaire! This isn't someone who appreciates Fred's style... calling the scarf pretentious reveals the lack of creativity on the authors part.


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (9:11 AM) : 

Why did the author feel the need to be so disparaging? Attention?

Both men had their own style: fini.



Blogger Alice Olive said ... (9:32 AM) : 

Oh I love this! Although describing Fred Astaire as one-dimensional seems a tad harsh. Fred left an important mark on history as well.

I like that quote - "He performed comic stunts without losing one iota of style." Cary Grant also handled precarious situations with grace. What about when he escapes out of the hospital to go rescue Eva Marie Saint in North by NorthWest?


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (9:59 AM) : 

...And that's that...


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (10:08 AM) : 

Well put. The Cary Grant vs Fred Astaire match does seem contrived, but I was suprised to see Cary Grant trounced in the comments. And so misunderstood.

Many seemed to think of him as a handsome, boring leading man who wore clothes well. No, no. He was full of contradictions: first there was beauty, but then also wit, self-deprecation, and substance. And then his very powerful, convincing and even desperate love for his leading ladies onscreen. (Yes, I know about the rumors of his gay life, which just makes his acting more impressive.)

To me he was anything but the tall, manly and well-dressed cipher. Today, we're lucky if we get any one of his qualities in an actor. Maybe Clive Owen has more than a few....


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (10:18 AM) : 

coooool gotsta love cary grant :)


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (10:30 AM) : 

So many potshots at Astaire!


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (10:32 AM) : 

Is that supposed to be an ode to Grant or a lament to Astaire. The Astaire bashing ruined the piece for me.


Blogger whyioughtta said ... (10:58 AM) : 

Grrrr, baby.

(I hope the reference to a tie-belt as a "ridiculously pretentious innovation" was tongue-in-cheek. I mean, come on.)


Anonymous Mark said ... (10:58 AM) : 

And then there was Grant's wonderful accent, affectionately mocked by Tony Curtis in Some Like It Hot. By the way, I read somewhere that Grant once stumbled across a telegram in his agent's office. It was from a reporter, who wanted to know: "How old Cary Grant?" Grant fired off a reply: "Old Cary Grant fine. How you?"
Style is about wit as well as wardrobe.


Blogger Butch said ... (11:00 AM) : 



Anonymous Anonymous said ... (11:01 AM) : 

Fred Astaire a cheat? How ridiculous. How petty. Both Grant and Astaire were shining examples of style and elegance. They just happen to be at opposite ends of the style spectrum. Astaire perhaps more creative, more individual in style; Grant more minimalist, more modern, at least in relation to what we would consider modern style in 2007. To demean Astaire in this manner, to call him a cheat, is insulting and absurd. What an ass.
PJ O'Connor


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (11:16 AM) : 

Brilliantly stated. I agree totally especially with the comment that much of Astaire's "innovations" were pretentious. Grant is the more stylish of the two. I received Torregrossa's book as a gift and it's definitely well done.


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (11:19 AM) : 

The gauntlet has been laid down.

One point that several posters made yesterday and Richard didn't respond to was that of Grant's clothes being provided by wardrobe departments. That is incorrect. Certainly once he became a bonafide star all of his clothes were his own. Hitchcock, in particular, trusted Grant's instincts regarding wardrobe. Edith Head took far more credit than she was entitled to, but it was never Grant's style to make a fellow professional look bad so he wouldn't have commented on it.


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (11:28 AM) : 



Anonymous Anonymous said ... (11:38 AM) : 

This post is right on. Astaire is nothing compared to Grant.


Blogger cflorax said ... (11:50 AM) : 

While both Astaire and Grant had style and easy panache, my money is on Gary Cooper. He worked the details more deftly, in my opinion, than either of these gentlemen.
I also like the fact that he mixed high and low, if you know what I mean.


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (12:06 PM) : 

I think this author is a little unfair to Fred Astaire. I would hardly view him as one dimensional. He could dance like no other, that's for sure. But he was a snappy dresser--whether or not his tailors accomodated his dancing with their needle and thread--and also had a beautiful singing voice, I think. His movies were light musicals, but there is nothing wrong with that. I go back to them as frequently as I do Cary Grant's goofball comedies like Bringing Up Baby.



Anonymous Anonymous said ... (12:08 PM) : 

I guess one man's "gold standard for style" is another man's "hidebound." :)

They were both stylish, but, quite honestly, I'll take Marcello Mastroianni anyday.


Blogger MacGuffin said ... (12:35 PM) : 

I'm quite surprised Mr. Torregrossa would base his arguement largely on athletic grace as opposed to the timeless quality of Cary Grant's style. I'm a huge Cary Grant fan, I love his movies much more than anything Astaire has ever done, but Astaire's physical grace compared to Grant's is like the brightness of the sun compared to the moon, there's no comparison at all. Now if we consider who's the more charming of the two, better actor, made better movies, ect.., I'd have to easily say Cary Grant. But those qualities aren't really what's being debated here, overall clothing style is. After really thinking it over, I'd have to say Cary Grant as I'd much rather dress like him. It's as simple as that.


Blogger editor said ... (12:40 PM) : 

all too true. i liked the point about grant in better movies. boy, we saw "the band wagon" a few weeks ago and it was a stinker (entertaining, but very unfinished).


Blogger Erin said ... (12:47 PM) : 

The graceless slam on Astaire takes away from the praise that is due to Grant.


Anonymous bess said ... (1:23 PM) : 

hear, hear! I'm with Mr. Torregrossa. Cary Grant was perfection.


Blogger Candid Cool said ... (1:24 PM) : 

My favorite quote of Cary Grant's is: "I wish I was Cary Grant too."


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (1:28 PM) : 

I am glad someone finally pointed out how pretentious the "scarf as belt" bit was. I think Sart needed to hear that.


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (1:35 PM) : 

I think the key is Fred Astaire was snappy dresser but Cary Grant had a true sense of style. True both had the advantage of a movie studio wardrobe help but you can't deny the fact that Astaire still kind of always looked gangly. Grant had that self-assuredness that we see in the the favorite posts on this site - it is the root of true style.

I really think the photos from yesterday really prove the point. Astaire is performing - dancing in a suit and Grant is sitting there (a pose most men in my yoga class have trouble with) and in timeless classics that most men would look great wearing today.


Anonymous foodie415 said ... (1:36 PM) : 

Brilliant rebuttal -- but rather harsh on Astaire who made fashion work for him. As I commented yesterday, for me it's like comparing apples to oranges. I'm just glad Astaire and Grant's respective styles are enjoying such lively debate! Scott, there are so many other style icons, both male and female, you can bring up for discussion in future posts!


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (1:45 PM) : 

Nicely written piece, but why bash Astaire like that? It seems a bit tasteless, and I don't think Cary Grant would have thanked you for the compliment, were he still alive to read this.


Blogger goosefairy said ... (1:49 PM) : 

Another marvelous Cary Grant movie was 'Arsenic and Old Lace'. He was a subtle comic genius who understood timing.


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (2:01 PM) : 

I thought Cary Grant employed some 'tricks', too. For example, I read that he had a very thick neck and always wore ascots and specially-made high shirt collars to disguise it.

Not saying this to bash Cary, only to make the point that it's a false dichotomy to bash Fred for employing 'tricks' and claiming that Cary doesn't.


Anonymous ChristopheB said ... (2:05 PM) : 

I should hate you, shallow & smart man, but you are perfectly disarming. This Astaire Vs Grant issue is just perfect. I still don't know what to conclude - who is the smartest? - and I love that feeling.
PS. Thanks to you, I start trusting my own taste.


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (2:11 PM) : 

are we supposed to ignore gene kelly?


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (2:14 PM) : 

Katharine Hepburn's name was spelled incorrectly. Her name had an "a," not an "e," after the "h." I hope this mistake was not made in the actual book.


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (2:34 PM) : 

I'm not impressed by the implied inferiority of Astaire's style because his movement was facilitated by his "girlishly lithe figure" compared to the manly one of Grant' men's style attached to machismo? No. It's not.


Anonymous cordelia said ... (2:34 PM) : 

What Torregrossa says about CG is true. But the man is blind with devotion for CG. ASTAIRE is such a master of grace, elegance and SUCH A DANCER. And I've always loved CARY GRANT.


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (2:38 PM) : 

i think the problem is to compare them as if they were inthe same field,they were both great performers and both carried personality into their wardrobes.


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (2:49 PM) : 

"You can see Astaire straining for precision and a kind of choreographed perfection."

At no point in his entire career did Astaire ever appear to be straining. Have you ever actually seen Fred Astaire?


Anonymous Brenda said ... (2:52 PM) : 

Wait, Fred Astaire was "lithe" and "girlish," but Cary Grant was "manly." Dude. Unfair.

Astaire was a small man -- he couldn't have worn classics tailored like Grant did. He had to dress big. His signature styleh would have looked ridiculous on a guy like Cary Grant. And Grant's simple, classic suits would have made Astaire look really ordinary.


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (3:01 PM) : 

Grant started with a much easier canvas than Astaire. Tall and slim is easier to work with than small and oddly-propotioned.


Anonymous Richard Torregrossa said ... (3:29 PM) : 

The anonymous 11:19 am poster said that I said CG got his clothes from the wardrobe dept.

He didn't. He got them on his own. I don't know where he or she thought I thought otherwise. In fact, I've devoted a lot of space in my biography, Cary Grant: A Celebration of Style, detailing where CG purchased the clothes he wore onscreen and off--at the best tailors around the world. He never relied on costumers, although he did take advice from them, which is also in the book.

So I'm a bit puzzled by this post. Some confusion somehwere.

No hard feelings, I hope. At least not from me.



Anonymous Anonymous said ... (3:40 PM) : 

Am I wrong in saying that there's a latent homophobia running through many of these anti-Astaire arguments? Because dancing isn't for real men, and only people who look like American football players qualify as athletes. Instead of trying to set up some ludicrous distinction between Grant's 'true' athleticism Astaire's fake one (achieved through trick tailoring and a slim body?), just go ahead and say what you're thinking: Astaire was too faggy.


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (3:55 PM) : 

too harsh on Fred -- the guy clearly had skills that transcended his looks, otherwise he never would have made it in a time when hollywood was even more based on appearance, if that is possible...

his touch(when dancing)was very subtle and that is why he will always be remembered -- he was never feminine either, all of it was very masculine.

Grant had his comic talents which are difficult to pull off particularly when you look like he did. He did not have the greatest acting range so he could be slammed for that I guess.

Their individual style is subjective. Points are taken away from Grant in 'Philadelphia Story' when he wore a collarless sport coat! Fred at times looked like he was wearing a bit too much foundation...


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (4:03 PM) : 

Couldn't agree more, but what about Gene Kelly?


Blogger Laguna Beach Trad said ... (4:15 PM) : 

I agree with Mr. Torregrossa. His talents as a dancer aside, Astaire comes across as a clown. A likeable one, to be sure, but a clown nonetheless. Grant had an apparently effortless style. But he worked hard at it. Like a duck swimming across a pond, Grant appeared smooth and unruffled on top, but below the surface he was paddling like hell. There's no comparison. Cary Grant all the way.


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (4:23 PM) : 

Cary Grant was a wonderful and handsome actor and I agree with Mr. Torregrossa about his grace. But why put down Fred Astaire like that? He also was very talented, so talented that even Baryshnikov praised him. He loved to watch his dancing in his movies. And I agree with another blogger who said Mr. Grant would not be pleased with this article. They are two different people with different talents; and I think both are superb.


Blogger Jingoist said ... (4:25 PM) : 

Here's the way I look at this comparison... Cary Grant is the way every guy wants to look (i.e., the "men want to be him" ideal). But because most of us are not 6'1"/1.85m and 180lbs./81.6kg, we can't pull off his wardrobe.

Fred Astaire, is more the reality for men- the look most men can achieve; Which is to say, improvise to meet your style and fit.

Are either wrong? Heck no. I'm 5'9"/1.8m, 195lbs./88.45kg, and built like a brick wall, but I try to live up to Mr. Grant's cool and at the same time know I veer towards what works for me, a la Mr. Astaire.

I guess what I am suggesting here is you can learn from both men and make yourself a better dresser as a result.

Why does there need to be a winner?


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (4:36 PM) : 

Cary Grant was cool, but I still love Fred Astaire. Maybe this is wrong, I'm not a film expert, but I think of them as epitomizing 30's style vs. 50's style, rather than as a competition.


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (5:22 PM) : 



Anonymous Anonymous said ... (5:23 PM) : 

Bravo. There is no other man with more poise, timing or style than Cary. His presence was untouchable. And when paired with Katherine Hepburn...Wow.


Blogger The Boot said ... (5:26 PM) : 

Sadly, the key thought one takes away from this piece is not a rethinking of Cary Grant's strengths (well-taken, if somewhat obvious) but instead, the author's disdain for Fred Astaire.

Unlike Sart's earlier piece praising both men, Torregrossa's judgement of this dancer/style icon is rather mean-spirited and way off base.


Anonymous Fabian said ... (5:52 PM) : 

This is exactly why I have a love/hate relationship with this site...
There was no need to diminish the style of either man.

Scott, I was surprised to see you ask the puerile question of Astaire VS Grant because it hints at the fact that you don't truly understand what style is about.

Style is an expression of your personality, understanding yourself. Style is complete FREEDOM from the need to be competitive or fashionable.

Both men in this discussion have reached the upper echelon of style, rather than a VERSUS this should have been a WHY.

I guess I am grumpy because I have studied the style of both men and what make them special. BOTH Astaire and Grant have been inspirations to me. To see them be pitted against each other, and then be called names made me upset.

This site is at its best when it is a CELEBRATION of style, and I do appreciate it for that.

"We are free when our actions emanate from our total personality, when they express it, when they resemble it in the indefinable way a work of art sometimes does the artist."
-Henri Bergson


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (5:52 PM) : 

What a Treasure and surprise, one of my icons discussed! I have always loved Cary Grant and it became a full blown infatuation by the time I was 17. Once I grew out of my teenage years I developed a new respect of his easy style and effortless grace. His wide range of film roles is a testament to his talent and thank you, Sart, for highlighting this piece from a recent homage to Mr. Archibald Leach.
Long live glamour and grace and manners.


Blogger The Sartorialist said ... (6:36 PM) : 

For Fabian
Because I do know what style is about I'm not afraid to ask the question.

If you remembered in my post i asked if i was crazy - I want to see both sides. I want to know if I am missing a great scene in a CG movie or what scenes have moved other people

To me this is the same kind of discussion as
Ruth vs Mantle or Beatles vs Rolling Stones

there really is no right or wrong but i love to hear the passion everyone has for their favorite

that to me makes this a win/win



Anonymous Debbie Dunlap said ... (6:58 PM) : 

The whole argument hinges on this statement by the Sartorialist:

"Cary Grant was a perfect hanger for his clothes but he made sure that his clothes did not overshadow his natural beauty.

Fred Astaire, on the other hand, was more the 'everyman' he really needed his clothes to work for him if he was going to compete ..."

What you're saying is that Fred Astaire, for all his talent, athleticism and style, was missing something.

Cary Grant wasn't.

Cary Grant wasn't: just a handsome face, just the epitome of style, just possessed of a compelling voice, just a talented acrobat or just a Hollywood leading man.

Cary Grant had every single one of these attributes!

Not forgetting that while Cary Grant may have been born with his looks, the rest of his talents were as hard-won and quite as intentional as Astaire's quintessential dance routines. "I played at being someone I wanted to be until I became that person. Or he became me." (Evenings with Cary Grant by Nancy Nelson)

So let's compare them side by side:

As Leading Men:
Cary Grant - #2 on AFI's list of favorite stars
Fred Astaire - #5 on AFI's list of favorite stars

As Talented Athletes:
Cary Grant - lithe, talented acrobat
Fred Astaire - incomparable dancer

Cary Grant - Unique, compelling voice
Fred Astaire - Ordinary voice

Cary Grant - considered the epitome of men's style; it was difficult to see where the clothes ended and the man began, he seemed at ease in his clothes
Fred Astaire - I've always been aware of Fred Astaire's clothes. They seem more of a prop than attire on him.
I'll be generous and call this one

Cary Grant: Tall and handsome
Fred Astaire: Not too tall and not too handsome.

Fred Astaire, by the Sartorialist's own admission, fails before he's even begun. Astaire's everyman looks, no matter how dressed up or how light on his feet, is too big a handicap. Cary Grant tried just as hard, but had more raw material to work with.

Debbie Dunlap


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (7:47 PM) : 

This post redeems your previous one with the less than great photo of Grant. You could have picked several other photos of Cary Grant in "To Catch a Thief" with

a) Grant's eyes open
b) no crappy watermark in the back
c) a better outfit (plenty in that movie)

Sorry, but my man crush insists on insisting.


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (7:59 PM) : 

I love them both, but the belittling of Fred Astaire's talents and work comes across as a bit petty and mean. No, Fred was not dashing and handsome.... to be fair most men look less like Grant, more like Astaire.

Neither could do what the other could, regardless of athleticism.. which is partly why they are icons - no one can be them....they can only emulate.

Very disparraging towards Mr. Astaire. Is it really nesc to tear one down to build the other up?


Blogger toshi said ... (8:20 PM) : 

Astaire was a funny-looking man - cartoonish, even - but one of the greatest talents of the 20th century. Not the best actor, maybe, but the ne plus ultra of dancers. Properly, his style and dress was always at the service of his dancing and was designed to highlight the lines of his body and his dance, as well as that of his best partner, the incomparable Ginger Rogers (who did the same thing as Astaire, except backwards and in heels!) He also got to sing some of the most sophisticated, cosmopolitan and witty songwriting in the history of pop music on some of the most fabulously deco soundstages in the history of film. There is no one like him.

Nor is there anyone like Cary Grant, the most charming, handsome and off-handedly sophisticated actor of the Golden Age of Hollywood. Not to mention funny.

Both were at the height of their style and power in the 30s, particularly in screwball comedies, which they were both masters of: Astaire in The Gay Divorcee, Roberta, Top Hat, Swing Time and Shall We Dance; Grant in The Awful Truth, Bringing Up Baby, The Philadelphia Story, Holiday and My Favorite Wife. Both were pretty much playing themselves in the 50s (Astaire in The Bandwagon and Grant had his Hitchcock movies, usually a bit too tanned IMO), and both were cliches by the 60s, even as they continued to look great doing fine work.

But those 30s movies! The compare-and-contrast method is perfect here - both were regularly dressed in an amazing array of tuxedos (not to mention smoking jackets, silk bed wear, golf and tennis outfits, etc), in a time when there weren't only tuxes - there were dinner jackets and wedding jackets, white ties and black ties with square- and triangular-tips, tails, top hats, gloves, canes - amd all these things MATTERED, and were commented upon in the films themselves. And even though the dress code was rather rigidly beautiful, both Astaire and Grant did manage to play within it and create their own Look, Astaire with flair, Grant a bit more subtle.

Wishlist for a couple more movie posts:

1. the more populist, rakish newspaperman style of Clark Gable in It Happened One Night and Gable's macho style in general.

2. the drunk Manhattan socialite style of William Powell in the Thin Man movies and My Man Godfrey.

3. Katharine Hepburn, Myrna Loy, Claudette Colbert, Barbara Stanwyck Ginger Rogers - the ladies, please!

4. European New Wave - Mastroianni, Belmondo, Alain Delon (esp. Purple Noon), Jeanne Moreau, Jean Seberg, Anna Karina, etc.

I guess that's a lot to request. Maybe I should start my own blog...

Anyway, great post, great thread! Thanks!


Blogger Maria said ... (8:40 PM) : 

the unique Kim Gordon


Blogger The Sartorialist said ... (8:47 PM) : 

for debbie dunlap
very nice rebuttal!!

i challenge you on Voice

I bet if we researched it we would find Astaire sold millions or records with that "ordinary voice" _ i hear some fact like he had more songs written for him by Gershwin and Berlin than Crosby and someone else big combined.....cant anyone help me out with this?

I don't know music history but I bet during his day Astaire owned a lot of recording records.

ps you're right Cary Grant had it all and I think that kind of perfection is less inspiring because you cannot achieve/duplicate it. It is the difference between being born rich or being a self-made man.
Astaire in the style department was self-made.

ok debbie, this is wear you challenge me a say that Archie was born poor and was equally a self-made man/personna/god!

Debbie, do you have a favorite style moment in a CG movie?



Blogger positively the same dame said ... (8:53 PM) : 

okay...i'm gonna go ahead and take the bait...

first, i would like to agree with all those posters who felt that the graceless and unwarranted slam on astaire detracts from the praise that cary grant deserves.

i was under the impression that we were comparing the personal style of the two men, but since mr. torregrossa felt need to postulate about fred astaire's contribution to the art of filmmaking as well, i have a few points i would like to make.

while he would have been the first one to tell you that he was only and song and dance man, astaire made two significant contributions to musical filmmaking, the first being that he insisted that his dance numbers be filmed by a stationary camera in a single take, and that the dancers be shot in full length. he is famously quoted as having said "either the camera will dance, or i will".

he is also credited with insisting that the transitions into his dance numbers be seamless, however it really wasn't until "swing time" with the director george stevens that this was done terribly successfully. stevens is actually probably the first director ever to use the dance numbers to advance the plot of the film which was a significant innovation as well.

i must add that i find it laughable that anyone could compare the films of the two artists, much less the body of work. cary grant made a number of bad films, and fred astaire made a couple of excellent ones. to say that, for example, "funny face" is inferior to "arabesque" is like saying that chocolate is somehow inferior to cheese, or that "la boheme" isn't art, but "romeo and juliet" is.

it is equally ridiculous to compare acting to dancing (or singing and dancing) because, well, do i really have to go there?

fred astaire was restricted by the studios to performing in a certain kind of film and, for a long period, with a certain partner. he chafed under these limitations and eventually retired because of them, only to return to film to fill in for an injured gene kelly in "easter parade" -- as a favor to judy garland, i might add. he went on to make more films with parters other than ginger (thank the lord) but it wasn't until he was able to make his television specials, over which he had complete artistic control, that he was able to fully express himself as a dancer and choreographer. his collaboration with the 20-year-old barrie chase in that series of specials is legendary, the first of which won a record-breaking nine emmy awards. the fact that she was in love with him, a man some 45 years her senior, ain't too shabby either.

george balanchine, rudolph nureyev, bob fosse, and mikhail baryshnikov have all called fred astaire the greatest dancer of the twentieth century. he was jerome kern's favorite singer for whom to write, as well as irving berlin's who rated him as fine an interpreter of his music as sinatra or crosby. he was tony bennett's favorite singer, period. He was the first recipient of the kennedy center award for the performing arts, among many others he received over the course of his 70-plus years in the entertainment business.

finally i would like to say that, talent and artistic merit aside, having had the extreme good fortune to have personally met both cary grant and fred astaire, my first-hand impression of their personal style was this: cary grant had beautiful clothes, great (unbelievably great) looks, impeccable taste, and more charm than should be legal without a license, but fred astaire was the one who had that little something more, that special extra something something known as style.


Blogger Ace said ... (9:30 PM) : 

As a fan of both Cary Grant and Fred Astaire I find it extremely difficult to determine the more sartorially stylish of the two. However, I was once married to a man who worked for Fred Astaire and I can certainly write about the manner in which Mr. Astaire dressed when he was away from cameras, crews and adoring fans. The dancer dressed with every bit as much style, elegance and flair in his "off hours" as he did in his wonderful movies. I heard stories about how he'd show up in his office on weekends wearing high waisted wool slacks, silk sweaters, and yes, sometimes even scarfs. Never tied around the waist, however. He may not have been as handsome as Cary Grant but he was no slouch when it came to dressing. In fact, he quite often insisted that those who worked for him stop wearing sloppy sneakers, denim jeans and faded shirts and start wearing starched shirts and crisp ties. Fred Astaire saw dressing as an art and he wanted those around him to share in that vision.

Again, though Astaire may have lacked the physical attributes that made Cary Grant such a heart-throb, the man whose legs entered a room before he did was every bit as stylish as Cary Grant both on and off screen.


Blogger positively the same dame said ... (9:56 PM) : 

er, there are one too many "somethings" in that final sentence, but you all understand what i'm saying.


Blogger momo said ... (10:32 PM) : 

Eloquent rebuttal, Positively the Same Dame. Cary Grant doesn't need any put-downs of someone else for us to appreciate his unique style


Blogger positively the same dame said ... (10:57 PM) : 

Anonymous said...

Am I wrong in saying that there's a latent homophobia running through many of these anti-Astaire arguments? Because dancing isn't for real men, and only people who look like American football players qualify as athletes. Instead of trying to set up some ludicrous distinction between Grant's 'true' athleticism Astaire's fake one (achieved through trick tailoring and a slim body?), just go ahead and say what you're thinking: Astaire was too faggy.

yes, anonymous, you are wrong. just because the author and others who have posted comments in a similar vein haven't come right out and said the "f" word, doesn't make the homophobia latent, only slightly less obvious.


Anonymous Debbie Dunlap said ... (11:01 PM) : 

For Sartorial

You challenge me on voice, huh?

I watch "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" every Christmas, and there's no mistaking Fred Astaire's voice as the narrator. I'll give you points on uniqueness and pleasantness.

However, those points are of no significant consequence. Cary Grant's voice is more unique. How often do you hear impersonations of Fred Astaire? Cary Grant?

I find it interesting that Cary Grant's voice is as much an intentional creation as Cary Grant himself was. Archie's original Bristonian accent was a far cry from the singular, regionless speech he adopted.

If we're scoring points on effort, Cary wins again. It takes a considerable amount of effort to change one's speech patterns.

My turn to challenge you, though you've already stolen my thunder.

First, "I think that kind of perfection is less inspiring because you cannot achieve/duplicate it."

Why not? We have a multitude of beautiful, beautiful people in Hollywood. The only raw material Archie Leach had to work with was his face. That isn't enough today, and it wasn't enough in the early 1900's. Why is it not possible for one, or several, of the beautiful Hollywood hopefuls to emulate Cary Grant?

But you're thinking of the common man, aren't you? Is lack of socially-defined 'beauty' sufficient reason to shy away from being as beautiful as one can be? Or from looking to a master of style and beauty for inspiration and guidance?

If painters thought that way, we'd have museums filled only with DiVinci's.

Obviously Fred Astaire didn't think that way. Astaire's star shines as bright today as it did in his heyday, because he made the effort and made himself the very best he could be.

And then you said, "It is the difference between being born rich or being a self-made man. Astaire in the style department was self-made."

And so was Cary Grant. Have you not read Richard's book?! :-)

Cary Grant's greatest talent, and his least understood or appreciated, was making nearly everything he did look effortless.

One incorrectly assumes Cary Grant did it with ease, while Fred Astaire toiled at it.

Cary Grant wins the sartorial argument on this point, if on no other. Cary Grant achieved sartorial excellence with just as much effort as Astaire, but spared us the pain of watching him struggle through the process. That's called grace.

Which brings me back to something I said earlier. Fred Astaire's clothing always seemed like a prop to me.

"ok debbie, this is wear you challenge me a say that Archie was born poor and was equally a self-made man/personna/god!"

It's not a challenge, but simple truth. As early as his first trip across the Atlantic, young Archie made a concious decision to imitate what he admired about Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. and continued watching and emulating others who provoked his interest. Were you thinking sartorial thoughts at 16?!

By the way, I in no way think of Cary Grant as a god. He was a very real man with very real foibles. Which just makes him all the more inspiring!

Debbie Dunlap


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (11:06 PM) : 

wow i love that everyone's getting so into this.

i'm going to reserve judgement until i read the astaire piece...but in either case, i do love that torregrossa mentioned "holiday." it's a wonderful movie, and i think katherine hepburn and grant's chemistry in it is even better than the philadelphia story or bringing up baby. go see it!


Anonymous Debbie Dunlap said ... (11:14 PM) : 

For Sartorialist
Favorite Style Moment in a Cary Grant movie?

If you knew me, you'd know what a broken record I'm about to be.

"Holiday" is my very favorite movie for many reasons. Foremost is because I can still see Archie Leach in Cary Grant. They seem to be on equal footing in this movie. Afterward, Cary Grant will reign supreme, and we'll seldom see Archie again.

The scene in the playroom where Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant do the somersault in full evening attire is one of my very favorite of all of his movies.

Only Archie Leach could pull off such acrobatics. Only Cary Grant could do it in a tuxedo. And then there's that bit of hair that flops down over his forehead. Wistful, wishful sigh ...

Debbie Dunlap


Blogger danielle said ... (11:50 PM) : 

I just want to say: lay off Mr. Torregrossa! After all, Cary Grant's biographer is supposed to have some partiality toward the man, one would think! i read the parts about Fred Astaire w/ a grain of salt myself, as I am a fan of both.

Also, Mr. Schuman asked someone about their favorite CG scenesor movies...My two cents is: Indiscretion. Not my favorite CG film by a long shot, but oh-so well dressed!


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (2:20 AM) : 

It appears that Cary Grant had far more grace than some of his supporters. I think he'd be horrified by some of the comments here.

I'm an Astaire man of course, but it doesn't mean I have to diminish Grant.

And as for "His girlishly lithe figure made it easier for him to defy gravity than a man of Grant’s more manly size," it isn't often that one reads something from a person still living in the 1950s.

I shall now spend some time looking in the mirror wondering whether I am a 'girly' or 'manly' man. You know, unless you are an expert like Mr Torregrossa, it's so hard to tell.


Anonymous m- said ... (3:39 AM) : 

i really do love CG

but i still don't think it's fair to compare


Blogger editor said ... (4:47 AM) : 

candid cool - yes, i remember that quote. it's from an interview i think. something about how "everyone wants to be carry grant. even i want to be cary grant" which i think makes a nice point about it being most certainly an effortful production to create this mr. grant who looks so appealing.


Blogger fad tony said ... (5:35 AM) : 

"Everyone wants to be Cary Grant. Even I want to be Cary Grant."

- Cary Grant


Blogger Lucy said ... (6:06 AM) : 

BOOOO! So negative! And what is this zero sum thinking - one must lose for the other to win - surely both are just wonderful?

And by the by, I thought this was about style not physicality e.g. "CG was a big hunk" and "FA was a little weedy fellow". If this blog proves anything, it shows that people of ALL sizes can have style


Anonymous Irena Pasvinter said ... (10:03 AM) : 

I admire both Cary Grant and Fred Astaire. And I was very much disappointed with the tone and content of Richard Toregrossa's article on Sartorial site. Cary Grant does not need to be advocated versus Fred Astaire and especially when in that process you just diminish Fred Astaire and show that as much as you know about Cary Grant your knowledge and understanding of Fred Astaire is close to zero.

For example this paragraph:
"We appreciate his (Astaire's) hard work, but with Grant he gives us a calming joy, lightly uplifts us, all without effort—or rather with an effort that appears effortless, the epitome of genuine and not arduous grace."

We know Astaire worked hard when we read his biographies but what he gives us on screen is an effortless performance! When was the last time that you watched Astaire's movie if you ever did?

So everything you told about Grant's acting perfectly represents Astaire's dancing - genuine and not arduous grace! For that reason Graham McCann in Cary Grant's biography "Cary Grant : A class Apart" compares Astaire's dancing to Grant's acting, the same seeming effortless being the most characteristic trace of them.

To call Astaire "a one-dimensional talent" is the same as to call Grant an actor of one role who played himself all the time. That is what you can hear from somebody who never actually seen more than a couple of Cary Grant's movies and never really thought more than one second about his performance.

Besides being an outstanding dancer "a one-dimensional talent" Astaire was a fine singer and not a bad actor and he wrote songs as well. Gershwin and Berlin admitted that they prefer Astaire's performances of their songs.

Another citing from the article:
"He didn't cheat like Fred Astaire who created all kinds of innovations in his legendary collaboration with his Savile Row tailors Anderson & Sheppard or Kilgour, French & Stanbury to facilitate his incomparable movements on the dance floor."
Don't you agree that there is some kind of difference between falling backward off a chair and even a back flip to performing a 5 minute long dance routine? So why did Astaire "cheat"? Is Cary Grant's style and appearance not gorgeous enough that he needs making a cheater of Fred Astaire?

One more thing I can't stay silent about, Fred Astaire is not a "leggy technician" - he is an ARTIST, a genius just like a Cary Grant was!

And the last thing - "Grant made better movies". This is an absurd statement. How can you compare musicals tand dramas and say that one is better than the other? It's the same as to say that Faulkner is a better writer than O'Henry because he wrote better books. Astaire and Grant made tens of movies that will enter to the eternity and even their most mediocre movie is worth watching for their talent.

So please don't diminish Cary Grant by diminishing Fred Astaire, neither of them deserves that.

Best regards,
Irena Pasvinter


Anonymous Craig said ... (11:47 AM) : 

anon @ 3:40:
word up. I couldn't agree more.


Blogger Janvangogh said ... (10:43 PM) : 

I love Cary Grant!


Blogger sandman_gr said ... (9:50 AM) : 

Correction-he had Audrey Hepburn as co-star in Holiday, not Katharine.


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (4:50 PM) : 

I adore Cary Grant in every aspect while I enjoy Fred Astaire's courtliness and grace. When I watch a typical CG film I watch the whole thing. When I watch any FA film, I fast-forward to the dance sequences. The plots are irritating.

How is preferring CG to FA a sign of homophobia? There have been rumors that he was bisexual. If true (and I'm not saying they are), the wouldn't affect my appreciation of him in the least.

My favorite Hollywood actor-dancer is Gene Kelly, anyway. He had style, too.


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (3:36 PM) : 

Oh my. It is impossible to assess the merits of Mr. Torregrossa's essay as I am unable to overlook the utter lack of class and decency.

Very disappointing. A pathetic display.


Blogger Amanda Whatsername said ... (5:41 PM) : 

Not sure that I buy that Mr. Torregrossa is completely tongue-in-cheek in his criticisms of Mr. Astaire, and would like to add my voice to the commenters who don’t see the necessity of bashing Fred. I adore Cary Grant and Fred Astaire both, for incredible talent, for stylishness, for terrific comedic timing, for portrayals of sweet and modest men, for athletic skill.

As a person who studies and teaches about Astaire, I sometimes run into these flip remarks to the effect that he was somehow fey or effete.

But here’s something I haven’t quite seen anyone else post in response here: Fred Astaire is one of the LEAST girlish men in the movies; if you have really watched his work you can see how very masculine and sexually powerful he was. Why would you have nearly every woman in the world wanting to dance with him, otherwise?

Hey, I can plainly see that Cary Grant is a very handsome guy (Gene Kelly, too, for that matter). But, because of his dramatic and effortlessly competent dancing and his modest persona, Astaire to me is incredibly attractive! Somehow he even becomes handsome to me. And believe me, I am not unusual in this regard. I should hope that this, along with FA’s innate sartorial elegance, would be encouraging to the guys out there who are not as conventionally gorgeous.

Oh--and Positively the Same Dame (love your moniker!), Barrie Chase was actually 25 when she made the first TV special with Astaire, and was only 34 years younger than he (but, still... right?!).


Anonymous woody3691 said ... (12:31 AM) : 

CG and FA were completely different and it's unfair to compare the two. CG was a comic genius but his later movies revealed his limitations as an actor and his relative stiffness and unease. Yes of course, he was great to look at, moves, dress, bearing, etc. But just watch his ease in THE AWFUL TRUTH and compare that with a stilted performance in CHARADE and even NORTH BY NORTHWEST. Actually, FATHER GOOSE also revealed a comfortable, natural performance. I think he knew when he played the suave, debonair leading man, he was leaving his comfort zone. The quote that even he wanted to be CG shows that he was in on the joke.


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