​​​​   James Smart's Philadelphia

​​​​​​​Of All Things

August 21, 2019
by James Smart

Confused information about Archie Leach
his peculiar story begins with Frankie Bradley. His restaurant’s name still exists, but the place is nothing like what it was when Frankie was alive.
          He founded it in 1930. It became popular with actors in the many big Philly theaters in those days. They could get a good meal late at night after their plays had ended.
          Frankie was getting old when I was an Evening Bulletin columnist 30 years later. A lot of the management was being done by his son, Harold Block. {Block was Frankie’s real last name.)
          Frankie would often sit in a booth near the entrance and chat with guys like me. One evening, he told me about a young actor working in a play in town in the Thirties, who informed Frankie that when his show closed, he was heading to Hollywood to try to get work in the movies. Talking pictures were a few years old, and seemed to be catching on.
          The guy had an odd name. Frankie suggested that he should change it for Hollywood. The actor said he would.
          Now, skip ahead to last week. Researching something else on line, and looking at 1930s newspapers. I came upon, in the Inquirer on March 9, 1930, an article about that young actor. His name was Archie Leach, and he was appearing in a play called “A Wonderful Night” at the Shubert Theater.
          The article said that he had started as a boxer.
          “Starting out as a preliminary fighter in Melbourne, Australia, where he was born,” said the story, “he soon became known in fistic circles as a dangerous heavyweight.”
          The account said that a woman reporter, not named, told him that he was too handsome to be a fighter, and should be an actor. She introduced him to a theatrical producer, who hired him for a play.
          I got interested, and looked for other mentions of Archie Leach. I found one immediately in the Inquirer on Oct. 12, 1930. It didn’t mention Australia or boxing. It said that he came from “an old English theatrical family,” and set out from his home in Bristol, England, as a young boy to join a troupe of acrobats.
          In 1920, said this version of Archie’s life, he came to the United States, toured the vaudeville circuit, returned to London, appeared in plays, and ultimately was signed by the Shuberts. This brought him to “A Wonderful Night” in 1930.
          It’s easy for a newspaper entertainment writer to get fooled by information supplied to him, but I can imagine somebody in the Inquirer office in October saying, “Hey, isn’t this the Australian guy we had a piece about last spring?” and causing mild consternation.
          So, I looked up the actor on Wikipedia, that computerized font of knowledge. Archibald Leach did change his name in Hollywood. To Cary Grant.
          Wikipedia says that Cary Grant was born Jan. 18, 1904, in Horfield, Bristol, England. He began performing with an acrobatic troupe at age six.  He attended school in Bristol. At age 16, he went with the troupe to the United States. He decided to stay, and became known in vaudeville in the 1920s, before moving to Hollywood in the early 1930s.
          The October, 1930, Inquirer item claimed that he went back to England for a while and acted on the stage before signing with the Shuberts.
          I quit searching at that point. Nobody explains where the name Cary Grant came from. And nobody mentions Frankie Bradley.