Vintage Hunk: Stewart Granger

By: Mike McCrann

Stewart Granger was a popular matinee idol in American films during the 1950s. The British born star made a series of popular hits - King Solomon's Mines, Scaramouche etc - and co-starred with most of the great beauties of the day including Deborah Kerr, Elizabeth Taylor and Ava Gardner. Granger was also married to one of the most enchanting stars of the era - fellow Brit Jean Simmons.

Stewart Granger was born James Stewart in London in 1913. Born to a military family, Granger made his film debut as an extra in British films during the early 1930s. He met fellow actor Michael Wilding (Husband #2 to Elizabeth Taylor) during this period and they became lifelong friends.

Stewart Granger left his military service in 1942 and became a major movie star with the title role in The Man in Grey. A series of lurid melodramas followed with such titles as Madonna of the Seven Moons and Saraband for Dead Lovers. 1949 was the year that dramatically changed Granger's life. As his ten marriage was ending, the 36-year-old Granger fell wildly in love with his the teenage co-star in Adam and Evelyne, Jean Simmons.

MGM came calling that year as well with an offer to star in the adventure film King Solomon's Mines. Both Granger and Simmons -fresh from her Oscar nominated Ophelia in the Olivier Hamlet - came to Hollywood and married. King Solomon's Mines was a huge success and Granger suddenly inherited all the swashbuckling roles of the decade. Most of them were hits.

The best of the lot was Young Bess where Granger played a highly fictionalized Thomas Seymour who is the love of Queen Elizabeth's life. Jean Simmons played the queen and what liberties with history were also matched by the gorgeous actress playing a rather homely queen. Nevertheless, the film was totally mesmerizing. Jean Simmons was on the way to top Hollywood stardom and Granger was perfect as the romantic hero in her life.

Stewart Granger made some top notch films late in the decade including George Cukor's Bhowani Junction with Ava Gardner sensational as the Anglo/Indian heroine. Granger's last Hollywood film was 1960's North to Alaska with John Wayne. But that year also brought the collapse of both Granger's career and his marriage to Jean Simmons. (She left him for director Richard Brooks whom she met filming Elmer Gantry.)

Granger had started his American career late and by 1960 the hero movies of the previous decade were going out of style. Stewart Granger went to Germany and made some films with other fallen stars like Lex Barker. A third marriage and a return to American television pretty much summed up Granger's third act. He died of prostate cancer in 1993 at age 80.

Stewart Granger was not a gorgeous hunk like some of those previously profiled. Maybe a bit too British, too refined, but he had a gorgeous voice and a certain presence that made his 50s heroes fun to watch. From his autobiography he also seemed to have quite the ego as well. One of his claims was an affair years earlier with cinema legend Deborah Kerr. Kerr's rejoinder was priceless: "He should be so lucky." But Stewart Granger was also very self-deprecating stating: "I've never made a film I'm proud of." and humorously stating: "I haven't aged into a character actor. I'm still an old leading man."