Born with the proverbial silver spoon in her mouth into a wealthy Philadelphia family, Grace Kelly led a life that seemed charmed until its sudden, tragic end. Her aristocratic beauty and regal demeanor gave her an aura of rigidly controlled sex appeal that helped her to achieve Hollywood stardom and win an Academy Award. Yet at the very height of her stardom, she left America to wed a Prince and rule the tiny, almost Ruritanian principality of Monaco on the French Riviera.
John “Jack” Kelly was already a triple Olympic gold medal winner and a self-made millionaire by the time his third child, Grace Patricia, was born in 1929. She had two uncles with show business connections, one a vaudevillian; the other, a playwright. Nevertheless, her family was not thrilled with her career choice when she managed to wrangle a place in the American Academy of Dramatic Arts even though the student quota was full. She worked as a model to support her studies and prophetically, her graduation performance was in “The Philadelphia Story,” a play that became her final film in 1956, renamed “High Society.”
Although she loved the stage and made her Broadway debut at age 19, it was television that paved the way for Grace Kelly’s stardom. She was seen in more than 60 live TV dramas, popular in the 1950s. She left the stage briefly to appear opposite Gary Cooper in “High Noon” and then returned again to Hollywood to audition for “Mogambo,” in which she was billed after Clark Gable and Ava Gardner. She later claimed to have made the movie because it meant a trip to Africa.
“Dial M for Murder” is the 1954 film that solidified her stardom and helped to create her image as an icy goddess who concealed fiery passion within. It was directed by Alfred Hitchcock who was to become her mentor, showcasing the blonde beauty in “Rear Window,” 1953 and “To Catch a Thief,” co-starring Cary Grant, 1954.
Although her screen image echoed Grace Kelly’s high class elegance, it was the unglamorous role of Bing Crosby’s wife in “The Country Girl” that won her the Academy Award as Best Actress of 1954. A year later the star headed a U.S. delegation to the Cannes Film Festival and as part of the festivities, she visited the nearby principality of Monaco where she met the reigning ruler, Prince Rainier III. That was the beginning of romance that would lead to one of the 20th Century’s most fabled weddings.
Meanwhile, the actress returned to Hollywood where she played a princess in a romantic comedy, “The Swan,” her penultimate film. Rainier came to America, proposed to Grace who accepted him, and in doing so, ended her movie career forever in order to play the role of Her Serene Highness, The Princess of Monaco.
World attention was centered on the fairy tale wedding that took place in Monte Carlo on April 19, 1956. The weeks leading up to the elaborate 2-day ceremony were detailed meticulously in the media. Grace Kelly sailed from America’s shores on the SS Constitution accompanied by her family, bridesmaids, her poodle, eighty pieces of luggage and as many reporters that could book passage or smuggle their way on board. 20,000 people lined the streets of Monaco to greet the future princess.
A civil ceremony took place in the Palace Throne Room. The next day, 600 guests including several Hollywood stars, jammed the storybook St. Nicolas Cathedral to behold one of history’s loveliest brides. Her gown, by Helen Rose, had been worked on by 36 seamstresses for six weeks and was a gift from M-G-M. It is estimated that 30 million people witnessed the ceremony on TV.
The Prince and Princess lived happily ever after, at least in public. Later years have unearthed tales of Grace’s early romances with The Shah of Iran, William Holden, Ray Milland, Oleg Cassini and Bing Crosby. The princess herself dismissed the stories as “scandalmongering.”
Three children were born to the royal couple. Princesses Caroline (born in 1957) and Stephanie, (1958) and Prince Albert (1965) who is now the current sovereign
Princess Grace reigned with the serenity her title bespoke, graciously making appearances and working for charities. Her life ended dramatically in 1982 when, at age 52, she suffered a stroke while driving along the same sort of Riviera cliffside road that had been a thrilling scene in “To Catch a Thief” years earlier. Her car plunged 100 feet down the mountainside. She was buried in the family vault after a requiem mass that was seen by 100 million television viewers around the world.
Grace Kelly...the regal blonde beauty who reigned supreme in Hollywood and serenely in Monaco.