Was there a way to sign a contract with a studio but still be able to do the films you wanted to and be properly paid for it? Well, Cary Grant pulled a coup and found that middle ground. First, that meant not locking yourself into a studio where your presence could be taken for granted. There were different tiers of studios at the time. The “Big Five” of the era were MGM, Paramount, Warner Bros., 20th Century Fox, and RKO. Then there were the “Little Three,” which included Universal, United Artists, and Columbia.
Columbia courted Grant with an extremely appealing offer, according to a biography by Geoffrey Wansell. He would get a four-picture deal with the studio and have script approval on every project. For the first two films, he’d get $50,000 a piece and $75,000 for the last two. Importantly, this contract would also allow him to work at other studios too. Pretty good deal, right? It gets better. He essentially got the same offer from RKO.
This meant that Cary Grant would do one for Columbia, one for RKO, and then one for whoever he pleased. And in every case, he got to choose the project. Not only did this pay off for Grant in a business sense, but the run that he went on is what turned him into the bonafide A+++ lister. For Columbia, he made “The Awful Truth,” “Holiday,” “Only Angels Have Wings,” and “His Girl Friday.” For RKO, he had “Bringing Up Baby,” “Gunga Din,” “My Favorite Wife,” and “In Name Only.” Plus, he got to go off and make “Topper” and “The Philadelphia Story.” All of this is between 1937 and 1940. A true triumph.