Betsy Drake dies at 92; gave up acting career to marry Cary Grant

When actress Betsy Drake gave up her career to become a housewife, the role never really took.

The husband she sought so desperately to please was Cary Grant. And though he was deemed one of the world's most desirable men, he often fell asleep after dinner and preferred television to talking with me," she said in a filing for her 1962 divorce.

His infatuation with Sophia Loren didn't help, but Drake's hopes for a conventional life with him might have been a stretch in the first place.

She had a tormented childhood, at one point living in a Chicago hotel suite with a nanny while her wealthy parents lived in another hotel. Seeking answers through psychotherapy, she was an early devotee of LSD and introduced Grant to the hallucinogenic drug. She ultimately turned her back on Hollywood, studying to become a children's therapist specializing in psychodrama.

"I divorced the whole town as well as Cary — and they divorced me," she told the Los Angeles Times in 1978.

Drake died Oct. 27 at her home in London. She was 92.

Her death was confirmed by Michael Schreiber, curator for the estate of artist Bernard Perlin, a close friend of Drake's who died last year.

She never remarried and had no children. She is survived by a brother, Carlos Drake.

Drake appeared in about 10 films. Her first was "Every Girl Should Be Married" (1948), a comedy in which her character devises outlandish schemes to hook Grant as a husband. Her last was "Clarence, the Cross-Eyed Lion" (1965).

Others include "Dancing in the Dark" (1949), "Pretty Baby" (1950), and "Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?" (1957). She also worked with Grant in "Room for One More" (1952).

For years during her marriage, she chose not to work.

"I couldn't be an actress and a housewife too," she told gossip columnist Hedda Hopper in 1965, three years after her divorce. "Because of Cary I became a good cook, and I think I'll be a marvelous wife for someone else."

Born in Paris on Sept. 11, 1923, Drake was the daughter of American expatriates. Her father, Carlos Drake, wrote short stories and ran an exclusive travel agency.

Hit hard by the 1929 stock market crash, the Drakes returned to the family businesses, the Drake and Blackstone hotels in Chicago. Betsy attended 12 schools around the U.S. before becoming an actress and model in her late teens.

In 1947, she drew Grant's attention when she performed onstage in London as the lead in director Elia Kazan's "Deep Are The Roots." Their rapport grew when they returned to the U.S. as fellow passengers on the Queen Mary.

Their 1949 marriage in Arizona was front-page news, with Howard Hughes, a close friend of Grant's, serving as best man. It would be the most durable of Grant's five marriages.

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FOR THE RECORD

Nov. 19, 10:51 a.m.: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said that Betsy Drake and and Cary Grant were married in Palm Springs. They were married in Arizona.

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After they separated in 1958, Drake started seeing a Beverly Hills psychotherapist, who prescribed therapy with LSD, which was legal at the time.

In her first session, she experienced the pain of her own birth.

"Enthused by what she considered an incredible experience, Betsy went home and called her mother, with whom she hadn't spoken in a decade," Vanity Fair magazine reported in 2010.

"'I told her, 'I love you,' and after all that time, she just said, 'Of course you do, darling,' and hung up."

Drake talked Grant into similar sessions and he came away a true believer, using the drug more than 100 times.

After her marriage, Drake studied at the UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute and at Harvard. She worked with families at a community mental health center, taught psychodrama techniques, and wrote a novel, "Children, You Are Very Little," about an 8-year-old girl growing up in a shattered family.

The manuscript for another semi-autobiographical novel was lost at sea.

Drake was a passenger on the Andrea Doria, a liner that sank in an infamous 1956 Atlantic collision. Her novel, as well as jewelry worth more than $200,000, were stored in a vault and went down with the ship.

Looking back on her marriage, Drake acknowledged that she had "swallowed all the myths."

"All the women in my generation were brought up to believe that husbands' careers and desires came first in every sense," she told The Times. "I drank white wine because Cary liked white wine. And I ate well-done roast beef, even though I hated well-done meat.

"The freedom to eat rare meat, drink red wine and not watch television made up for the agony of divorce."

For decades, Drake lived alone in London, wrote poetry, painted, and, well into her 80s, rode her bicycle.

steve.chawkins@latimes.com

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