Have you ever dreamt about meeting your favorite actors and being swept off to join them on the set of their latest film? This dream comes true for Pete, Pam, Ricky, Holly, and Sue Hollister in The Happy Hollisters and the Old Clipper Ship, when handsome actor Gregory Grant and his wife, glamorous Lisa Sarno, visit Shoreham on their way to a movie set in Massachusetts. They immediately strike up a friendship with the Hollisters, captivate the entire town, and of course, lead the Hollister kids into another exciting mystery. While they are fictional characters, author Andrew E. Svenson, writing under the pseudonym Jerry West, could have based them on some very real actors from the 1950s and 1960s. He was also fond of playing with character names and leaving subtle clues in his books. Can you guess which popular Hollywood stars he might have been hinting to with “Gregory Grant” and “Lisa Sarno”?
Gregory Grant could be an amalgam of two classic Hollywood names: Gregory Peck and Cary Grant. Peck is perhaps best known for his powerful performance in the 1962 film adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird. Peck won an Academy Award for his portrayal of Atticus Finch, an honorable attorney and the wisdom-dispensing father of the film’s main character. Peck is also known for starring in Roman Holiday and in Alfred Hitchcock’s Spellbound.
Like Peck, Cary Grant was also known for his good looks, charm, and timeless portrayals of a wide variety of characters. Born in England, Grant was particularly popular for his suave and dapper style, and he charmed audiences in dozens of films from the 1930s through the 1960s. He was a versatile actor, starring in everything from Hitchcock thrillers like Suspicion and Notorious to comedies like I Was a Male War Bride.
In 1956, when The Happy Hollisters and the Old Clipper Ship was first published, some other popular actors included Marlon Brando, John Wayne, Clark Gable, and Humphrey Bogart. While it’s possible that some of these actors also influenced the character of Gregory Grant, his name seems to suggest that Cary Grant and Gregory Peck were among the biggest inspirations.
Plenty of female stars also graced screens across America in the 1950s and 1960s. Some of the most iconic actresses of this time period were Marilyn Monroe, Grace Kelly, Brigitte Bardo, Audrey Hepburn, and Ingrid Bergman. Sophia Loren, one of Andrew Svenson’s favorite female stars, could easily have inspired the fictional character of Lisa Sarno. Born in Italy and dubbed “the Italian Marilyn Monroe,” Loren starred in films such as 1959’s Black Orchid and Arabesque in 1966. She costarred with both Grant and Peck throughout her career and was romantically involved with Grant, further evidence that she may have influenced the character of Lisa Sarno. Given Svenson’s love of wordplay and riddles, it’s possible that he selected a few letters from Sophia Loren’s name and rearranged them to form Lisa Sarno.
Lisa Sarno also rhymes loosely with and has the same number of syllables as Greta Garbo, another popular actress of the era. Like Sophia Loren, Garbo was a foreign-born actress who starred in many American films, including Two-Faced Woman, Camille, and an adaptation of Anna Karenina. Like Loren and many other actresses of the time, Swedish-born Garbo was also celebrated for her glamourous appearance. Since Lisa Sarno is described in the book as beautiful and graceful, she would fit right in with the actual leading ladies of the 1950s and 1960s, no matter who she is based on!
While the famous stars in The Happy Hollisters and the Old Clipper Ship could be based on any number of old Hollywood stars, Gregory Peck, Cary Grant, Sophia Loren, and Greta Garbo seem like the top contenders. Want to do your own sleuthing? Read The Happy Hollisters and the Old Clipper Ship and let us know who you think inspired Gregory Grant and Lisa Sarno!
by Libby Svenson Kennedy
Research notes, Andrew Svenson Archives of The Hollister Family Properties Trust