Family & Companions
During the late 1940s and into the 1950s, Betsy Drake played a unique role as a Hollywood leading lady. Unlike Marilyn Monroe or Jayne Mansfield (with whom she costarred in Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter (1957), she was not the blonde bombshell. Unlike Linda Darnell or Ava Gardner, hers was not a dark, sultry beauty. Betsy Drake had something more. She exuded intelligence, competence, and class.
She was born on September 11, 1923 in Paris, France, the daughter of Carlos Drake, whose family built the famous Drake and Blackstone Hotels in Chicago. At the age of six, just as The Great Depression was starting, the family moved back to the United States. The economic disaster saw the family?s fortune and her parents? marriage evaporate and young Betsy spent part of her childhood living with relatives. She would quit school at seventeen to become an actress. Her first job was as a model with the famous Conover agency, but for an intelligent woman, it was a boring job. Drake wanted something more and she got it when she landed a job on Broadway as an assistant stage manager and understudy in Only the Heart . This was followed by a role in The Moon and the Yellow River , and an understudy part for Eva Le Gallienne?s production of Therese , again on Broadway.
Like many young Broadway actors, Drake attracted the attention of Hollywood. In 1946, famed producer Hal Wallis brought her out to the Coast for a screen test, but did not offer her a contract. She returned to New York, where she got a part in the London run of a play about racial prejudice, Deep Are the Roots, directed by Elia Kazan, at Wyndham?s Theatre. When it was over, she sailed home to New York on the Queen Mary in September. Cary Grant was also aboard, and that voyage would change Betsy Drake?s life.
Grant had seen Drake performing in Deep Are the Roots and was surprised to find her on the ship. He asked Merle Oberon to introduce him and the two soon fell in love. Grant felt that Drake had talent and had her meet with agent Ray Stark, who was trying to get Grant as a client. Instead, he got Drake, who he called ?a lovely lady for whom I worked out a deal with [David O.] Selznick.? That deal led to Drake?s first film Every Girl Should Be Married (1948) costarring Grant, with whom she was now living in Beverly Hills.
On Christmas Day, 1949, Betsy Drake and Cary Grant were married. Despite the nineteen-year age difference, the couple seemed happy for a time. During her marriage to Grant, Drake often took time off to write, focus on her marriage, and work with homeless children in Los Angeles. She appeared sporadically in films like Dancing in the Dark (1949) with William Powell, The Second Woman (1950) with Robert Young, and Room for One More (1952), again with Grant. Drake?s interests extended well beyond acting; she was a voracious reader, deeply interested in psychology, yoga, and literature. She excelled as a writer, penning several episodes of the 1951 short-lived radio series Mr. and Mrs. Blandings , based on Grant?s film Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (1948).
Despite being married to Cary Grant, Betsy Drake?s life was far from a Hollywood fairytale. In the summer of 1956, she went to Spain to stay with her husband while he was filming The Pride and the Passion (1957), and learned that he had fallen in love with his 20-year-old costar, Sophia Loren. Drake returned home on the passenger liner, S.S. Andrea Doria , which was struck by another vessel en route and sank off the coast of Nantucket, killing 52 people. Drake survived, but lost $200,000 in jewelry and her latest manuscript.
It was Betsy Drake who wrote an early draft of the screenplay for Houseboat (1958), intending to star in the film with her husband, but Grant, now very much in love with Loren, arranged to have Loren replace Drake. The Drake-Grant marriage did not survive his infatuation with Loren; they separated in 1958 and divorced in 1962, yet remained friends. Grant would later say, ?I owe a lot to Betsy. [?] Without imposition or demand, she patiently led me toward an appreciation for better books, better literature. Her cautious but steadily penetrative seeking in the labyrinths of the subconscious gradually provoked my interest. Just as she no doubt intended. The seeking is, of course, endless, but, I thankfully acknowledge, of constantly growing benefit.?
Drake continued to act in film and on television until her retirement in 1965. She later became a director of psychodrama therapy at the UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute, before moving to London, where she continued to write under the name Betsy Drake Grant. Her novel Children, You Are Very Little was published in 1971 to excellent reviews. Drake?s last appearance on film was in a documentary, Cary Grant: A Class Apart (2005). Betsy Drake died on October 27, 2015 at her home in London, at the age of 92.
By Lorraine LoBianco
Bernstein, Adam ?Betsy Drake, Actress and Writer Who Married Cary Grant, Dies at 92 ? The Washington Post 11 Nov 15.
Goldstein, Richard Desperate Hours: The Epic Rescue of the Andrea Doria
Guglielmi, Jodi ?Actress Betsy Drake, Third Wife of Cary Grant, Dies at 92? People 11 Nov 15
The Internet Movie Database
McCann, Graham Cary Grant: A Class Apart
Nelson, Nancy Evenings With Cary Grant: Recollections In His Own Words And By Those Who Knew Him Best
Cast (Feature Film)
Made film debut in romantic comedy "Every Girl Should Be Married"; married co-star Cary Grant the following year.