“How Old Cary Grant?” “Old Cary Grant Fine, How You?”

Cary Grant? Gar Wood? Mark Clark? Tom Ferris?

Dear Quote Investigator: I love the movies from the golden age of Hollywood. I think the stars were more glamorous in the past, and the stories about the stars were wittier. The quotation I would like you to investigate was reportedly written by Cary Grant for a telegram that he sent.

Telegram delivery was halted in the 1980s, so some of your blog readers may not know much about them. They were text messages that were sent long-distance via radio or wire and then delivered using messengers. They were expensive in the 1930s and 1940s, and to save money telegram messages were often very short. Words such as “is” and “are” were often deleted from messages to obtain greater brevity.

A classic anecdote begins with a journalist who is working on a story about Cary Grant with a tight deadline. He needs to gather some background information, so he sends a telegram to the publicist of Cary Grant asking about the age of the star:

HOW OLD CARY GRANT?

But Cary Grant intercepts the message and decides to send his own reply:

OLD CARY GRANT FINE. HOW YOU?

I love this story, but I know that Hollywood studios during the golden age sometimes concocted fun stories about stars and planted them in newspapers. Could you investigate whether this quotation is genuine?

Quote Investigator: Cary Grant directly denied the story in a newspaper interview in 1978. This humorous yarn has been told with at least three different people in the leading role. Cary Grant was the third, and the tale with him was probably apocryphal. The first anecdote was about a speedboat racer named Gar Wood, and it was probably genuine. The second tale was about General Mark Clark, and it was questionable.

The earliest known citation for this tale appeared on September 22, 1957 in the “Minneapolis Sunday Tribune”. A perfectionist managing editor sent a telegram to his reporter requesting a relatively trivial piece of information. The reporter was covering a speedboat regatta. The acronym F.C.O.N corresponded to Favorite Crusty Old Newspaperman. Boldface added to excepts by QI: 1

Some years ago, our F.C.O.N. was covering a Florida speedboat race in which the famous Gar Wood was participating. Our boy had already filed his story, but late at night, he got a telegram from his editor that read: “How old Gar Wood?”
The reporter wired back: “Old Gar Wood fine. How you?”

Although the topic of the telegram was Gar Wood he was neither the recipient nor the sender of the telegram. The journalist who crafted the comical response was named Tom Ferris as indicated further below.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading “How Old Cary Grant?” “Old Cary Grant Fine, How You?”

Notes:

  1. 1957 September 22, Minneapolis Sunday Tribune (Minneapolis Tribune), Section: Upper Midwest and Peach Sports, Almanac: Wire You So Anxious to Know?, Quote Page 1, Column 1, Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Newspapers_com)