Christmas Poem: Archie Leach
23 December 2018 10:13
As his fame was growing in Hollywood in the Thirties, Cary Grant bought a Sealyham Terrier. Spoken by the dog…
Look, I’m don’t shoot my mouth off, but if no-one can hear…
I’ll admit, you’re right… It was me that found him,
trained him up: a rescue clown, turned Broadway gigolo.
Off his Coney Island stilts, the best looking human billboard
the crowds have ever squinted up to see, down into
theatre foyers, and Upper East Side drawing rooms, on the arm
of a giggling widow or ex-wife of someone he had never met,
but claimed to know, still blinking at the diamonds. A wobbly accent
and one bad suit – cheaply cut like his hair – walking money at play
for the tips and the clues on what to say and how to be… shipped
in from somewhere he called Brwishshtol. His parting
was on the wrong side. I could see that straight away. Flipped
to the right, you could suddenly see these eyes, two black brown
tourmalines, and a nose, like the vowels, that needed to be a little straighter.
We worked on that. And the teeth. And the tan. With a lamp
till this pale punk looked as full of health as an orange tree. California?
He fit right in. I haven’t got a neck! He took to it, religiously, a turn
this way and that every morning, a work out for his jawline
until there wasn’t anyone who didn’t want that face.
The cleft in his chin? I’ve jumped up, worked the cacti
of my tongue in there… No, that was for real, okay. When
in bathroom mirrors in any nowhere town with a cinema
young guys scratch at an itch they can
almost feel, and shaving let the razor cut a little groove
to make girls reach or want to reach and gently trace
the scar, my friend, he had it made. So. I’ve seen
his pay cheques and what not and I can tell you I resent
the peanut butter and jelly he terms a “feast”
and champagne and chicken sandwiches for one
with scraps for me. What is the point of his so-called chef?
And wives. He orders cars, then sends them away.
Says the walk will do us good… Out onto the freeway. Even I know,
no one does that here. The worse fight we ever had was over
a Brogue. The one piece of advice ‘my father gave me…
regarding shoes… Buy one expensive pair. Look after them.’
I didn’t mean to… With so little furniture down at the beach to chew
and a pool for his vain endless lengths, it got quiet, the two
of us rattling around Santa Monica with that pier
that makes him think of Weston-super-Mare. ‘Yes maam, it’s Cary.
Cary Grant!’ How many times can you laugh
at your own prank call? How many back flips out of an empty bed
can even raise a grin? So every few years or so –
‘Hello you beautiful girl!’ we took in a new lap. I’d wonder,
‘Is it me?’ Just as I would pack up my dirty pissing protest,
come back inside, learn their honey shade of blonde,
perfume, glassy laugh – some kind of smash
and they’d pack a few things. Cary’s lawyer sends a writ
while ‘Archie’ hangs around their door,
crying for his mother like some mutt just because they
won’t pick up the phone. No wife, imagine, an out of work
acrobat – a washed up juggler, bit part off the boat – in another life,
Minnie Chaplin, you know she thinks you ‘ain’t alf andsome’
squeezing her arm, fast talking your way to a screen test. Women!
Are they insane? After dinner on the shore
she insists, ‘the circus!’ Turns your chance into a hall
of mirrors – ‘Evening Archie!’ – as they start to shout –
you hold her hand and that beautiful head up high, desperate now,
pull out your best Invisible Man. It’s not that you don’t see
them, just you’re not there… but flinching because
the Bearded Lady was always kind and the Sword Swallower
look so confused. Years later, when people ask,
the same old question time and again, like it’s a compliment
a version, you know, of how some breadline tailor’s abandoned kid
got to fake all this, ‘what’s the secret of being so smooth?’
“Wear silk underpants” You never miss a beat, you shrug and grin –
tell them to try it – and only talk on the phone in bed, wearing
nothing save just the tops of pyjamas with your monogram. If you
could fast forward through the reels, see all this then,
you’d know there can never be a thread count or a fee high enough,
or gorgeous young thing, blown in from the beach
called up because you liked the way she looked on your TV,
her disbelieving arms wrapped around you, like she
found you under her tree… perfect enough to ever undo that scene.
This one time, I remember, Radio City
Music Hall he slipped in the back, the tallest shadow
just to check if, when they didn’t have to, people really found him funny.
Cigarette smoke, cheap scent, aftershave, hairspray,
popcorn. Row after row, fingers worrying a hem, hands easing
towards a thigh while she stares up, laughing, in a kind of rapture.
You know, for years, they’ll moan,
“For an autograph, he used to charge a quarter!” But any
shot you’ve got, with her, my friends, he’s given you.
His name – well, what you’ve heard is true.
He even gave me that too.