There was never anybody quite like Cary Grant.
And honestly, there never will be. Today's "hottest" actors don't hold a candle to Grant, the screen legend who stood 6'2" and had the kind of face that was both handsome and innocent. His bearing could be aristocratic, exaggerated for comedic effect in films like "The Philadelphia Story," as the wry playboy CK Dexter Haven. (And who else could get away with pushing Katherine Hepburn to the ground?) He could be the wide-eyed innocent, like the professor driven to slight madness in the screwball comedy "Bringing Up Baby" or the bumbling writer in "Arsenic and Old Lace." But those same brown eyes could read cold, in thrillers like "Suspicion." (It seems unfair to limit this retrospective to a handful of Grant's many great contributions to film during his 40-year career, but there you go.)
But no matter what the role was, Grant's style was effortless. He always looked smooth, never a hair out of place, never a wrinkle, throughout his entire life. His clothes always perfectly fit, even when he favored the "sack suit," a relatively loose-fitting style popular in the 30s and 40s, before adopting the tailored slim-lapeled suit as his signature. And despite the inherent formality of a suit, it looked as comfortable as his skin. His wise advice: "My father used to say, 'Let them see you and not the suit. That should be secondary.'"
Whether on- or off-camera, Grant looked like the leading man straight from central casting. And maybe that was his intention. Cary Grant was a creation, not his birthright. Born Archibald Leach in 1904, in Bristol, England, Grant had an unhappy upbringing. His mother would eventually be committed to an institution, and his father would abandon him after remarrying--all by the age of 10. Grant would be expelled from boarding school a few years later, retreating into the vaudeville circuit and then, America. Perhaps the nascent idea of "Cary Grant" was formed during those difficult years, a fantasy of a decidedly more debonair life.
So maybe the appeal of Cary Grant -- beyond the screen legacy -- is one of the transformative power of style. With the right look, you could do anything, or just become someone else. His evolution started with a suit and ended with him being a superstar.
"Everyone wants to be Cary Grant. Even I want to be Cary Grant," he once told an interviewer.
Grant died in 1986. Today, in honor of his birthday, we take a look below to see how Grant's style evolved over the years. What's your favorite look?