“Beware of snobbery; it is the unwelcome recognition of one’s own past failings.” Cary Grant
Well Archibald Leach few of us will ever know your fame or fortune, but we all know someone who is a snob, and in truth there may even be a little bit if a snob inside each of us. Snobs tend to think of themselves as better than others but not quite as good as those they deem ‘above’ them, judgments based usually on money. ‘I have more than you ergo I am better than you, but I don’t have as much as them ergo they must be better than me.’ Snobs admire rather indiscriminately those above them and do their level best to copy them -imitation being the sincerest form of flattery. People can be snobs about things other than money, music, art or wine to name but a few, but it is the financial aspect, the ‘cos I have more money than you naturally I must be better than you’, that causes the most problems.
But few of us go around with a copy of our bank statement stapled to our forehead, so how do we know how much a person has or earns? In the past it was easier as career, or lack of one, was a fair indicator of wealth. But alas that is no longer true so we must look elsewhere for the telltale signs. Now while postal address, car make and model, club membership are all glaring gauges of prosperity, and serve their purpose as we box people into the have or have-nots, there is a more subtle, more discerning mark and it was one Grant symbolized.
Grant may have been born Archibald Leach, his childhood far from ideal or privileged but thanks to his early life as a stilt walker, an acrobat, a juggler and a mime he transformed himself into the second greatest male star of all time, (Bogart nabbed the number 1 spot) Hollywood’s leading man , the object of affection and admiration for both men and women, an inspiration for both James Bond and Superman, (Christopher Reeves modeled his Kent Clarke on Grant). In short he was the consummate gentleman who represented entitlement, money, class. Grant oozed sophistication and was, (is?) the poster boy for snobs. Always immaculately dressed, he was a master conversationalist, had perfect manners, spoke beautifully with a transatlantic accent, was debonair, charming. In short he was the kind of man everyone wanted to be, hell even Grant was quoted as saying “I’d like to be Cary Grant.”
However it was all a masquerade. It was affected, the result of his years as a vaudevillian and his obsessive attention to detail. He was fastidious about his clothes and in many ways it is his clothes that so define him; his suits which he wore so well but which place him so very firmly in a certain class. And this placement allowed him to say and do things without consequence and it granted him, pardon the pun,an immediate and automatic elevated status. The truth of his background, his mother’s institutionalization, his father’s abandonment, his leaving school at 14 ( read expulsion) were conveniently forgotten or overlooked as he came to epitomize all that is the suave, mannerly and respectable.Attributes associated, rightly or wrongly, with wealth and class.
So what does this teach us? In High Society Grace Kelly’s character Tracy Lord dismisses snobs as “people with small brains” and I must say this dismissal provides me with a lot of comfort when I personally confront snobbery. But what about my own? What I like most about Grant, apart from his suits and I say that as someone who isn’t a big fan of suits on men and much prefers the Jimmy Deans jeans and t-shirt look, is his presence. And yes it was taught and learned but that is good as it means we can all acquire such pose, such countenance regardless of our bank balance. the problem is if it can be acquired we must wary of attributing it to a certain class and thereby imbuing them with a superiority that isn’t warranted or deserved. That what makes them better than us is less about them and more about what we don’t see in ourselves, what are our failings. And it works both ways, whether looking up or down, criticisms of others invariably says run closer to home than most people can, or want to, admit.