“Cary swallowed my life,” she said in a PBS “American Masters” documentary about Grant
Betsy Drake, a film actress who starred alongside Cary Grant after bumping into him on the Queen Mary, eloping with him and remaining married to him longer than any of his other wives, died on Oct. 27 at her home in London. She was 92.
Grant, a debonair, 45-year-old leading man, was smitten with Ms. Drake, who was barely 24, when he saw her perform onstage in London in “Deep Are the Roots,” a searing drama about a black G.I. returning to the South. She had been cast by the director Elia Kazan.
The couple would appear in two films together, “Every Girl Should Be Married” in 1948 (they were, the next year) and “Room for One More” in 1952. They also co-starred in “Mr. and Mrs. Blandings,” an NBC radio series about a discombobulated advertising executive uprooted from the big city and transplanted with his family to the suburbs.
Grant and Ms. Drake were married on Christmas Day 1949 in a farmhouse in Scottsdale, Ariz., after being secretly flown there by Howard Hughes, who served as best man.
When the romantic comedy “Every Girl Should Be Married” was released as a holiday movie, Bosley Crowther wrote in The New York Times that Ms. Drake’s “phenomenal ascendance from obscurity to a leading role is itself a sort of Christmas story.”
He called her “disarmingly forthright yet frighteningly predatory” as a department store sales clerk who uses scientific research to snare a doctor (Grant) into marriage. Despite their two-decade difference in age — “When a man of 40 falls in love with a girl of 20, it isn’t her youth he is seeking but his own,” the gossip columnist Hedda Hopper wrote — they surprised Hollywood for remaining steadfast in marriage for almost a decade. When rumors circulated that Grant was gay, Ms. Drake memorably replied that they were too busy making love for her to ask. (Her wording was more earthy.)
But as Grant indulged his passion for romance in flings (finally in an affair with Sophia Loren), Ms. Drake, the French-born daughter of American expatriates, retreated into her hobbies, including writing and photography.
They lived together in or around Beverly Hills and Palm Springs for nearly a decade and remained friends, but the erotic fervor fizzled.
“Cary swallowed my life,” she said in a PBS “American Masters” documentary about Grant in 2004. “I lost myself in trying to please him.”
Betsy Gordon Drake was born in Neuilly-sur-Seine on Sept. 11, 1923, the daughter of Carlos Corey Drake, whose father developed the Drake and Blackstone hotels in Chicago, and the former Ann Gordon Keith. She is survived by her brother, Carlos Drake.
Her family’s fortunes declined during the Depression, and the family returned to Chicago when she was 7. She was raised in New York, Virginia, North Carolina, Washington D.C., and Westport, Conn.
Acting was an escape. A stutter she had vanished when she impersonated someone else on the telephone, and the applause after a school play offered unprecedented approval.
After attending the Madeira School in Virginia and studying acting at a junior college in Washington, she went to New York when she was 17. Tall and blonde, she was hired as a model and recruited as an understudy by the playwright Horton Foote for his drama “Only the Heart.”
Ms. Drake signed a contract with the movie producer Hal Wallis, but broke it because she hated Hollywood. Returning to New York, she was recruited by Kazan to the Actors Studio and cast opposite Gordon Heath in the play “Deep Are the Roots,” which opened in London in July 1947.
Returning home, she spotted Grant on the dock where the Queen Mary was moored. Then, as he was on his way to lunch with 15-year-old Elizabeth Taylor and her mother, they collided in a corridor on the ship as Grant was leaving the purser’s office.
He recognized her from the play and, so the story goes, demurely asked his shipmate, the actress Merle Oberon, to introduce him.
Ms. Drake, still embarrassed by the encounter and suffering from a toothache, dauntlessly joined Grant for dinner and accepted his invitation to California, where he persuaded David O. Selznick of RKO to cast her as his co-star in “Every Girl” (apparently displacing Barbara Bel Geddes). She became his third wife, between Barbara Hutton and Dyan Cannon. (His other wives were Virginia Cherrill and Barbara Harris.)
Ms. Drake hypnotized Grant to cure his heavy smoking and introduced him to a therapist who had prescribed LSD, the hallucinogenic drug, when it was still legal, for her depression. (Grant took the drug with her just to learn what she was revealing about him in her therapy sessions, she said in an interview with Vanity Fair.)
Grant cast Ms. Drake aside as a co-star to appear in “Houseboat” with Ms. Loren in 1958.
“If I had any self-respect I would have kicked him in the teeth and walked out,” Ms. Drake said.
With Grant in demand, she returned to filmmaking, winning a supporting role in the satirical “Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?” in 1957. She later wrote a novel titled
“Children, You Are Very Little,” earned a master’s degree in education from Harvard University and worked as a psychotherapist.