Fiction: The Acrobat by Edward J. Delaney

Who doesn’t love Cary Grant? In comedies with Katharine Hepburn and thrillers directed by Alfred Hitchcock, Cary Grant was the man every woman wanted to sleep with and the man every man wanted to be. Handsome. Mannered. Glamorous. Even when his movies were in color, he was the epitome of classy black-and-white.

But who was the Archie Leach behind Cary Grant? Who was the man behind the icon? The new book The Acrobat, by Edward J. Delaney, tries to show us. I’m not sure what The Acrobat is. Biography? Novel? Fact? Fiction? I’m also not sure it matters.

What does matter is that The Acrobat is a great read. Jumping through time, it gives us Grant in 1959, around the time of the release of North by Northwest, and it gives us Leach decades earlier, when he first arrived in New York as a poor teenager itching to make his dreams come true. The two extremes, Leach and Grant. One craves stardom in Hollywood, the other has it. One is fueled by dreams, the other with the realities of stardom. More than anything, Leach wants to act, to bring something to any role he’s allowed to play.

Delaney writes about Grant with love and real appreciation. At least it feels that way. In dialogue, he somehow gives us enough room to hear Grant delivering lines even when they’re not from any movie. In conversation, he always has the quick quip, the easy turn of phrase, the verbal wink, the talent for sparring, the peppered term of endearment. He sounds like Roger O. Thornhill, the hero of North by Northwest. But he could also sound like John Robie from To Catch a Thief. And that’s the point. Delaney isn’t asking how far Leach was from Grant, and he isn’t saying that Grant was Leach’s role of a lifetime. What he’s saying is that playing the role of Cary Grant was Archie Leach’s life.

In The Acrobat, Leach does a lot of early work on stilts, towering above the people he entertains. It’s an easy metaphorical leap from there to Grant, towering above Hollywood and ever the entertainer. But, leaving aside the facts, I wonder if a better metaphor is to picture Grant walking a high-wire. Step by careful step, controlling the wobbles, far from anyone who might bump into him but not immune to losing his balance, falling, and shattering the persona to pieces. ◊

 

You can buy the book here.

About Tony Buchsbaum 19 Articles
Tony Buchsbaum lives in Lawrenceville, NJ. He's been a writer almost as long as he's been alive, and he's at work on several new projects, among them creating two wonderful people out of two extraordinary sons.

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