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Of many leading ladies, Cary Grant called Grace Kelly his favorite

Perhaps because several Cary Grant movies -- "My Favorite Wife," "Night and Day," "Destination Tokyo," "Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House" and "The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer" -- will make their DVD debuts Tuesday, old Cary Grant stories are swirling in trade papers.

In one, Grant (1904-86) identifies Grace Kelly, who co-starred with him in Alfred Hitchcock's "To Catch a Thief," as his favorite leading lady.

When he announced his selection many years ago, it was a surprising choice considering his eminently suitable co-stars included Katharine Hepburn (four films), Audrey Hepburn (one), Sophia Loren (two), Irene Dunne (three), Deborah Kerr (three), Eva Marie Saint (one), Myrna Loy (three) and his great friend Ingrid Bergman (two).

"I've worked with many fine actresses," Variety quotes Grant as telling Interview magazine, "but in my opinion the best actress I ever worked with was Grace Kelly. Ingrid, Audrey, Deborah Kerr were splendid, splendid actresses, but Grace was utterly relaxed -- the most extraordinary actress ever.

"Her mind was razor-keen, but she was relaxed while she was doing it. I appreciated that."

I remember Grant identifying Kelly as his favorite at least 20 years ago -- he must have been responding to the question nightly in his "Evening With Cary Grant" presentation -- but on that occasion he explained that it was because she had managed to make so appealing a character in "To Catch a Thief" who was an unregenerate snob.

Every actress may have wanted to be one of Grant's leading ladies, but not all enjoyed the experience.

He and Joan Fontaine reportedly did not get along well on "Suspicion."

He and Doris Day, teaming in "That Touch of Mink," both believed they looked better from the same side, which created problems photographing them together in most of the romantic comedy's scenes.

Day spent much of one day in tears when they could not come to an agreement over who would sit on which side during a vehicle-backseat scene. Grant finally acquiesced.

Hitchcock, whom even Grant believed wanted to be Grant, used him in four pictures ("Suspicion," "Notorious," "To Catch a Thief," "North by Northwest") but reportedly resented his high salaries, which finally included even a percentage of the gross.

Paradoxically, Hitchcock wanted Grant for at least six pictures that were among the countless dozens on which Grant passed: "Spellbound" and "The Paradine Case" (both finally played by Gregory Peck), "Rope" (the first of four Hitchcocks for Jimmy Stewart), "I Confess" (Montgomery Clift), "The Birds" (Rod Taylor) and "Torn Curtain" (Paul Newman and Hitchcock became notoriously unhappy collaborators).

Conversely, Grant very much wanted to play the murder-planning husband in "Dial M for Murder" for Hitchcock, but Warner Bros. balked at the actor's salary demands, and Ray Milland got the part.

At least one biography of Grant asserts that he refused to let his co-stars wear bright red lest their outfits pull the eye.

Second-guessing Nicholson

Until I bought recently, and out of season, the deluxe DVD of "A Christmas Story" and played the audio commentary, I had no idea that the role of the father, probably the part for which Darren McGavin will be most remembered, was offered first to Jack Nicholson, whose salary demands were too high. A lot of actors pass on a lot of parts. And bear in mind that 20-some years ago, Nicholson was being offered everything but Scarlett O'Hara.

Still, I have to think that when the picture came out, Nicholson came closer to having misgivings about backing away from it than he did on anything before or since.

A few of the most famous turndowns in history:

  • Alan Ladd, who needed a good part, refused the image-blemishing role of underdog-turned-heel Jett Rink (eventually played by James Dean) in "Giant" for George Stevens, who had given Ladd his definitive heroic part in "Shane."

  • Doris Day was offered Mrs. Robinson (the Anne Bancroft part) in "The Graduate" by Mike Nichols, who saw it as the supreme chance for Day to play against her virginal image.

  • Robert Redford was one of several who turned down the part of Oliver Barrett IV (Ryan O'Neal) in "Love Story."

    Monkeying around

    A double feature of two comedies, "Monkey Business" (1931) with the Marx Brothers and "This Is Spinal Tap" (1984), will run at 7:30 p.m. today only at Regent Square Theater.

    Screwball bargain

    The screwball comedy "Twentieth Century" (1934), with Carole Lombard and John Barrymore, will be the Silver Screen Classic of the month at local Showcase cinemas.

    It will run at 1 p.m. Tuesday at Showcase East, 1 p.m. Wednesday at Showcase North and 1 p.m. Thursday at Showcase West. All sites will charge $1, which includes popcorn and a soft drink.

    A Broadway revival with Alec Baldwin and Anne Heche ends its limited engagement next Sunday.

    'Rent' is due

    Warner Bros. will make the film of the Broadway musical "Rent," which draws its central situation from Puccini's "La Boheme," but with raunchy contemporary twists.

    It's hardly a surprise that "Rent" will get a screen adaptation as few Broadway shows do today. Its content and music are more attractive than normal to the most targeted movie audience - teens and young adults.

    At one time, former Pittsburgher Rob Marshall was a contender to direct the "Rent" movie. He went to Miramax with a proposal for making it but successfully diverted the conversation to a project he was even more enthusiastic about, "Chicago."

    "Rent" will be written and directed instead by Chris Columbus, whose movies include "Mrs. Doubtfire" and the first two "Harry Potter" episodes.

    Prices keep rising

    Movie admissions in New York didn't pause at $10 long before moving on to $10.25.

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