Was Cary Grant Jewish?From: Lynn Haney, Gregory Peck: A Charmed Life, Carroll & Graf Publishers: New York, NY (2003), pages 147-148:
This question pops up from time to time. The source of this rumor is two-fold. The most detailed exploration of this question was in Higham and Moseley's biography "The Lonely Heart" which contends that his mother Elsie Leech, wasn't his birth mother. They theorize that his real mother was a seamstress in the same factory where his father worked. This supposed real mother, whose name remains unknown, was Jewish according to local rumors. Frankly I have a tendency to take most of what was written in "The Lonely Heart" with a huge grain of salt. Since there is little evidence to support this entire theory, except for an off-hand remark Cary made, which was reported second-hand, and the fact that his birth was not recorded until several days after it occurred (a fairly common practice in days when people still delivered babies at home).
If the question of his ethnicity is a bit vague, his religious beliefs are fairly well-documented. Apart from attending church as part of his early education (as is quite common in English schools), Cary did not practice any religion in any formal or traditional sense. In his own writings, his ideas on spirituality and God are fairly generic and agnostic. Cary did believe strongly in personal-introspection and reflection, but these he practiced in the context of modern psychology and in the spirit of self-improvement.
Seen in the light of all that has happened since, Gentlemen's Agreement seems a mild assault on snobbism as practiced against Jews at suburban white-collar clubs. But when it first appeared in 1947, it was hailed as a brave and outspoken denunciation of bigotry in the enclaves of establishment America.From: Roger Ebert, "The Secrets Behind the Charm", essay written soon after Grant's death in 1986:
It posed the question: what happens when a successful member of the middle-class community of a fashionable town applies to join a local club that has an unwritten ban against blacks and Jews? Everyone thinks he is a WASP (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant), but he turns out to be Jewish. The title of the film was taken from the concept of the unwritten 'gentleman's agreement' that keep religious prejudices alive in every area of life.
Cary Grant refused the role because he contended he was Jewish and thought he looked Jewish. He maintained: 'The public won't believe my portrayal of a gentile trying to pass himself off as a Jew.
Born Archibald Leach in 1904 in Bristol, England, he was the only child of a possessive mother and a withdrawn father. His parents were unhappily married, and the key psychological event in his life occurred when he was 9, and came home from school one day to find that his mother was no longer there. At first he was told she had gone on holiday, and then that she had gone somewhere on a long visit. Only 20 years later did he learn that she had been committed to a mental institution... He was born into an English society which was much more class-conscious than it is now, and he was not born a "gentleman." His father was part Jewish, a pants-presser for a garment manufacturer, and his mother came from modest origins as well.From "Appendix: Family" in "Cary Grant - An Internet Biography", written August 1996, last revised August 2002 (URL: http://www.zoe73.net/cg/app_family.htm; viewed 3 May 2005):
Higham and Moseley [Higham, Charles and Roy Moseley, Cary Grant: The Lonely Heart (London: New English Library)] believe that Elsie was not Archie's biological mother and that his true mother, Lillian, worked as a seamstress in Todd's Clothing Factory - where Elias Leach also worked. She was of Jewish parentage, which might help to explain why Cary sometimes claimed he was Jewish.From "Chapter 1: Archie Leach" in "Cary Grant - An Internet Biography", written August 1996, last revised August 2002 (URL: http://www.zoe73.net/cg/cgch_1.htm, viewed 3 May 2005):
There seems to be little evidence for this assumption, however throughout his life Cary Grant told some people he was Jewish and others that he wasn't. When he said he was Jewish, he claimed it was from his father's side of the family - which wouldn't match with Lillian being his mother. Again, there is no evidence to support this claim, but Cary Grant was known to donate money to Jewish causes.
In "Who's Who in America" Cary's mother's name is listed as Lillian Leach (not Elsie) up to 1962. In 1943, he donated money to Israel in the name of his "dead Jewish mother". If Cary's natural mother was Lillian, it is probable that Cary did not know of Lillian's existence until 1938, when Elsie Leach was released from Fishponds.
Archibald Leach - who later became Cary Grant - was born on January 18th, 1904, at 15 Hughenden Road, Horfield, Bristol. He was the son of Elias Leach and his wife Elsie. He was baptised as Archibald Alec Leach on February 9th, but his birth was not registered until 29th February - on his birth certificate his middle name is Alexander. The couple had baby Archie circumcised. This was not (and still is not) a common operation in Britain except on the grounds of religion, and has led some researchers to believe that Elsie was not his biological mother but rather a woman of Jewish parentage, Lillian. There is little evidence for this.From "Appendix: Wives" in "Cary Grant - An Internet Biography", written August 1996, last revised August 2002 (URL: http://www.zoe73.net/cg/app_wives.htm, viewed 3 May 2005):
Dyan Cannon was Cary's fourth wife. Born Samille Dyan Friesen in Tacoma, Washington in 1939, she was half-Jewish... She filed for divorce in August 1967, and after a long, bitter second hearing - which was delayed until March 1968, it was granted.From: Stefan Kanfer, Ball of Fire: The Tumultuous Life and Comic Art of Lucille Ball, Alfred A. Knopf: New York (2003), page 202:
...the lectures of Carroll Righter. The man who called himself "the Gregarious Aquarius" had risen to the status of Astrologer to the Stars. Among his clients were Cary Grant, Marlene Dietrich, Susan Hayward, and Charlie Chaplin. Dahl was especially impressed; she attended many of "Righter's "zodiac parties," given for his favorites. The fete he gave for her had a Leo theme, complete with lion. The big cat was so drugged he fell into the swimming pool and had to be hauled out, but no one saw this as an embarrassment. Righter was much too important to be mocked. It was common knowledge that he had told Hayward the best time to sign a film contract was exactly 2:47 a.m. She set her alarm for 2:45 so that she could obey his instructions. Like the others, she agreed with the astrologer's self-appraisal: "They need me here. Just like they need a doctor."