In early 1904, Mrs Elsie Leach of Horfield, Bristol requested the advice of her doctor over a seemingly innocuous, yet irritating, problem connected with her pregnancy. Throughout the length of it her every movement had been accompanied by a musician playing a piano. Upon hearing this, Doctor Thomas Vardy immediately stood up. This was because the pianist started to play the National Anthem.
Doctor Vardy submitted Elsie to a vigorous examination and then delivered his devastating diagnosis. Mrs Leach was carrying a child that exhibited signs of an extremely rare and debilitating condition; a malady so dreadful that it had a Latin name: Stella Membranarum (The Star of Films). There was little hope for sufferers who were doomed to become progressively worse until they reached the final stage of the condition Praeclarus Stella Membranarum (Famous Star of Films). In this state the victim was likely to increasingly lose touch with reality and fall over where there was cement drying on pavements.
Doctor Vardy told Elsie that she was fortunate to be informed of some of the likely effects of her soon to be born child’s illness; as the families of victims were usually kept in the dark. Mrs Leach was so gobsmacked that she asked to see it in black and white, and Vardy assured her that it would likely be the case because the colour process wouldn’t be widely available for another half-century plus. Mrs Leach then realised her unborn child’s condition had something to do with a new shop that had opened in her street which sold popcorn at exorbitant prices.
To confirm Vardy’s initial diagnosis, Elsie was sent to the Bristol General Hospital for an Ultra Silent Scan (it was in the days before sound). After applying this technique Mrs Leach was given the news that the child would be a boy. But it was how medical staff had discovered this that confirmed Stella Membranarum; for the child could be seen holding up a title card – prevalent in silent movies at the time to convey text – saying ‘It’s A Boy!’ As these cards were usually about 20 ft by 20ft when they appeared on-screen it was thought wise to book Elsie in for a Caesarian. Further tests on the expectant mother using a stethoscope revealed that her son was developing a mock-cockney accent which was likely to affect his grammar – but if she was brought in they could provide her with medication.
Mrs Leach went through a harrowing time giving birth to her son Archibald and almost lost her life. However, little Archie himself emerged from the traumatic ordeal unscathed….this was because he used a stunt double. However, this was only the commencement of further troubles for Elsie, which eventually impacted upon her mental health. For instance, there were extra expenses involved in bringing up a child with Stella Membranarum, such as the need to employ usherettes to enable the householder to find their seats, and having to change nappies of victims in the dark because they tend to disappear whenever the lights are switched on.
Elsie’s husband Elias also copped it. Archie would have a temper tantrum whenever his father took him to the barber’s because he didn’t want to end up on the cutting room floor. Also to instil their son with a good Christian values they had to take him to visit a church in South Wales every Sunday, because the only person he would listen to was a Dai Rector.
Archie Leach’s schooldays provided troubles aplenty for the staff and fellow pupils at Fairfield Grammar School. Prior to him starting there, the girls had a proud reputation for excelling at cross-country races. However, within months of his enrolment, cross-country races were banned at the school on Health and Safety grounds, because whenever there was a leading lady she kept falling for him. Also when the Mayor of Melbourne visited Fairfield in 1917, Archie Leach stole his automobile while the dignitary from down-under was giving a speech to fellow pupils. Apparently Archie told friends that he would do anything to get his hand on an Aus Car. The headmaster had no alternative – because Leach lacked a third dimension so was impossible to target with the willow – than to expell him permanently.
It was becoming increasingly evident that Bristol couldn’t cope with a sufferer of Stella Membranarum. But because Archie loved the place so much he persisted and endeavoured to secure employment. However, the peculiarities of his condition again manifested and served to scupper his good intentions. For instance, in his first job as a caravan salesman on a lot in Southville, he was sacked within a week as he would only make an appearance after the customers had viewed several trailers first.
Next, Leach acquired a job with the City Council Highways Department, compiling charts to show the flow of cars into and away from the City Centre. However, when colleagues asked him for his auto graph he replied that he would only do so if they paid ten shillings to join his fan club first. Archie was swiftly transferred to the Environment Department, however when a ratepayer called Doris Manners made nineteen separate complaints about a fox marking a tree in her garden, Leach suddenly left his desk when she lodged a further complaint about the same issue and camped on her lawn, as he was desperate to make contact with 20th scent-tree fox.
This sort of behaviour could not be allowed to continue; so in 1920 Leach reluctantly left Bristol for the USA where there were greater facilities available for sufferers with his condition. There a leading film producer told him that he would never make it in the movie industry with the name Archie Leach as it wasn’t big or exciting enough to encourage people to occupy cinema seats. So Leach changed his name to Clifton Ashton Redland Yate (St.) George Redfield Almondsbury Netham Totterdown. But the same producer reckoned that name was more likely to encourage people to sit upon the seats of the Bristol Omnibus Company instead. So Leach used the acronym of that, Cary Grant and never looked back – except on three occasions when it was in the script.
Cary Grant swiftly became one of the biggest stars of the silver screen. However he never forgot his home city and frequently visited Bristol on Honeymoon. Also due to homesickness, film moguls in Hollywood, California often gave the films he starred in different working titles from what they became famously known as post-production to make him feel more at home. Here are some examples, with the released title it is more commonly known by in brackets:
- Bemmy Parade (Penny Serenade)
- The Filwood MP’s A Tory (The Philadelphia Story)
- Knowle by Knowle-West (North by Northwest)
- The Horsefair in November (An Affair to Remember)
- Ringing Up Henbury (Bringing Up Baby)
- A Walk on the Downs (The Talk of the Town)
- It Was So Hot Warmley Fried (I Was A Male War Bride)