Betsy Drake, the former wife of Cary Grant who starred in films including “Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?” (1957), “Room for One More” (1952) with Grant and the 1950 film noir “The Second Woman” with Robert Young, died in London on October 27. She was 92.
Grant married Drake in 1949 (his best man was Howard Hughes) after seeing her onstage in London, and they separated in 1958 and divorced in 1962. She made out extraordinarily well in the divorce settlement, receiving more than $1 million in cash in addition to a percentage of the earnings from the 13 films he made during their marriage.
Drake and Grant met while traveling on the Queen Mary, but Drake was also aboard the Andrea Doria when that ship famously sank in 1956; the actress lost jewelry valued at more than $200,000 as well as a book manuscript on which she was working.
In “Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?,” adapted from the comic stage play, Tony Randall played an ad man who gets involved in shenanigans to land an endorsement for a brand of lipstick from a Marilyn Monroe-type played by Jayne Mansfield; Drake played his secretary fiancee, who’s not happy when the ad man and the bombshell plan to announce their engagement on television as a publicity stunt.
Drake made her big-screen debut in 1948’s holiday romantic comedy “Every Girl Should Be Married” with Grant — The New York Times declared that the actress’s “phenomenal ascendance from obscurity to a leading role is itself a sort of Christmas story.” Comedy “Room for One More” (1952), the other film in which she appeared with her husband, was also well reviewed. Variety said: “Cary Grant and Betsy Drake make a smart star team to head up this story of a real-life couple who open hearts and home to unfortunate children.” The pair also starred together in the NBC radio drama “Mr. and Mrs. Blandings.”
The actress made only nine films, the last of which was 1965’s “Clarence, the Cross-Eyed Lion” with Marshall Thompson.
Drake was also a writer who contributed, without credit, to the screenplay of the 1958 film “Houseboat,” which starred Grant and Sophia Loren.
Drake famously defended her husband when a gossip columnist charged that he was gay, but when the actor began to have affairs with women, Loren included, the marriage began to crumble.
Betsy Gordon Drake was born in Neuilly-sur-Seine, Hauts-de-Seine, France, to a couple of American expatriates.
She studied acting at a junior college in Washington, then, at age 17, headed off to New York. The young blonde worked as a model, and Horton Foote hired her as an understudy for his play “Only the Heart.”
Drake signed a contract with film producer Hal Wallis, but hated Hollywood and broke the contract, returning to New York. Kazan recruited her for the Actors Studio and cast her in the play “Deep Are the Roots,” which opened in July 1947 in London — where Grant got a glimpse of her.
She never remarried after her divorce from Grant.
According to The New York Times, “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.”