Birth: September 12, 1929
Philadelphia, United States
Death: September 14, 1982
Grace Patricia Kelly was born in 1929 in Philadelphia into an already extraordinary family. Her father John Kelly was a triple Olympic gold medal winner in sculling and had built a very successful construction company. Her mother Margaret had been a model and the first woman to head the physical education department at the University of Pennsylvania.
Grace had two sisters and one brother and was an outsider in her athletic, energetic family. She was shy and creative and neither her siblings or her parents understood her. In high school, where she was very popular, she decided she wanted to pursue dancing or acting. The decision was made for her, when she was rejected by Bennington College which she had chosen for its excellent dance course. Instead she got admitted to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and moved to New York. She studied hard and had a prim and proper image at the Academy, but according to reports she was secretly having an affair with her acting teacher Don Richardson. To support herself she modeled for magazines like Redbook and Ladies’ Home Journal. Following her graduation, Grace got a lot of small roles in television programmes, although she craved to be on stage. Her success in television led to her first movie role, a small part in the film Fourteen Hours. Although her part was not noticed by critics and Grace did not have her eyes on Hollywood, an offer for a starring role next to movie-icon Gary Cooper soon followed. The director thought Grace would be perfect for the part of the innocent and refined Quaker bride Amy in his film High Noon. The film did very well and revived Gary Coopers career. Although she did not expect it, Grace soon received another offer. This time it was from successful director John Ford, who wanted her to play one of the leads in his film Mogambo, saying she had ‘breeding, quality and class’. She would be starring next to Clark Gable and Ava Gardner. Grace was over the moon and signed a long-term contract with MGM, the studio that was making Mogambo. She won a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress and was nominated for an Academy Award for her role in Mogambo. Safe to say, that Grace was becoming a star.
In 1953 Alfred Hitchcock saw a screen test Grace had done a couple of years before and he became fascinated with her. He wanted her to star in his next film: Dial M for Murder. Although the famous director made her nervous at first, they became good friends. Hitchcock did his best to make her feel comfortable and helped her improve her acting skills. During filming Grace is believed to have had an affair with her co-star Ray Milland. Rumors of affairs between Grace and her male co-stars, such as Cary Cooper and Clark Gable, had been swirling for a long time. Grace fled to New York to avoid all the gossip, but returned to L.A when Hitchcock offered her another leading role. This time in his film Rear Window opposite James Stewart, who became a life-long friend.
Following Rear Window, Grace filmed one of her most important films: Country Girl. Grace really wanted this part, which, according to her, required her to ‘really act’. But although Grace loved to act, she had become disappointed in Hollywood over the years. She said about this time: ‘I hated Hollywood. It’s a town without pity. Only success counts. I know of no other place in the world where so many people suffer from nervous breakdowns, where there are so many alcoholics, neurotics and so much unhappiness’. Even so, Life magazine was impressed enough to put Grace on their cover and declare 1954 as ‘a year of Grace’.
After the filming of Country Girl, she was forced to do some projects MGM wanted her to do, like the film Green Fire. But soon enough Alfred Hitchcock needed her services again, this time for the lead in his film To Catch a Thief. Grace was exhausted, but agreed to go to the French Riviera to shoot the film. It was a happy time for Grace, who loved the French Riviera, had a great time working with Hitchcock and developed a lifelong friendship with her co-star Cary Grant. She also had a new man in her life: designer Oleg Cassini. They planned to get married, but their relationship ended when her parents refused to accept a divorced non-Catholic as their future son-in-law. Grace was exhausted after shooting six films back to back and she was disappointed in Hollywood. So she settled into an apartment in New York and didn’t make any movies for six months.
In 1955 Grace didn’t just win the Oscar for Best Actress for her role in Country Girl, but she was also persuaded into going to the Cannes Film Festival as a representative for America. The French magazine Paris Match arranged a meeting between Grace Kelly and Monaco’s prince Rainier. Cannes was just a few miles from the little principality and Paris Match would take pictures of Hollywood’s reigning Queen meeting Monaco’s Prince. The fact that they were both single and that the Prince was looking for a wife who could produce an heir, was not lost on anybody involved. When they first met, Rainier gave Grace a tour of the palace gardens and his private zoo while the camera shutters clicked. When asked what she thought of the Prince after they met, Grace replied: ‘he is very charming’.
When she returned to America she ironically accepted the lead role in a movie, called The Swan, about a princess. While filming, Grace kept in touch with Rainier through letters and telephone calls. As their correspondence became more and more intimate they both understood that a marriage proposal was on its way. On Christmas day Rainier flew to Philadelphia to meet her family and after Christmas the couple spent a few days in New York where Grace lived. During this time Grace took an obligated fertility test to make sure she could produce an heir and Grace’s father was asked to pay a dowry, a tradition amongst some of Europe’s royalty. Then the engagement was announced.
Soon Grace started production on her last film: High society co-starring Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby. After filming Grace moved to Monaco. Meanwhile the press went crazy for the royal couple, wherever they appeared mob scenes usually broke out and their wedding turned into a media circus. Both Grace and Rainier were under a lot of strain and later admitted that they had hated their wedding.
After their honeymoon Grace’s new life as a princess began. But the first couple of years were not the fairytale everyone thought it was. Grace had no friends in Monaco and had trouble speaking French. Rainier was busy with the responsibilities of running a country, but Grace had little to do. She was homesick and was still getting to know Rainier, since she had only known him for a few months. Six weeks after the wedding Grace found out she was pregnant and on January 23, 1957 Caroline Louise Marguerite was born. Grace was a proud mother and did not waste any time expanding her family: five months later she was pregnant again. On march 14, 1958 Monaco’s male heir was born: Albert Alexandre Louis Pierre. After the birth of her first two children, Grace tried to keep busy. She became president of Monaco’s Red Cross and established the annual Red Cross charity ball. She redecorated the local hospital and created an Assistance Center for Monaco’s home for the aged.
But her marriage was not all smooth sailing, in an interview a couple of years later Grace confessed that it was their religion that helped them form a bond because ‘there weren’t too many other mutual bonds’. These were not easy times for Grace anyway: between 1958 and 1965 she had two miscarriages and her father died of cancer in 1960. In that same year Grace got an offer to play in MGM’s biblical epic King of Kings and although she was aching to act again, her status as a princess made it impossible for her to accept it. In 1962 she got another offer, this time from Alfred Hitchcock who wanted her to play the lead in Marnie. Surprisingly, Rainier gave Grace his permission and an announcement was made. But the uproar in Monaco was immediate and Grace was forced to back out of the project.
On February 1, 1965 Grace was overjoyed by the birth of her third child Stephanie Marie Elisabeth.
Besides being a devoted mother, Grace made sure she had a full schedule. She founded the Princess Grace Foundation, to encourage local artisans, and a Garden Club, to share her passion for flowers. Meanwhile Caroline was becoming a teenager and started to rebel. Grace was so worried about her daughter, that when Caroline decided to study in Paris, Grace took Stephanie and went there with her. The paparazzi followed the three princesses vigorously in Paris and Grace still was not able to control her eldest. Grace dragged Caroline back to Monaco, but another problem presented itself: Caroline had fallen in love with Playboy Philippe Junot. Soon they got engaged and in 1978 they got married, followed by a divorce in 1980. In the meantime Grace tried her best to find new creative outlets: she made pressed flower collages and did poetry readings in Europe and the United States. In the early eighties Grace’s life was overshadowed by the same trouble that she had with Caroline, but this time with her youngest, Stephanie.
On the morning of September 13 1982 Grace and Stephanie left for an appointment with her couturier. The driver in a truck behind Grace’s Range Rover saw the car zigzag and sounded his horn. The Rover righted itself, but it was not slowing down in anticipation of a dangerous turn ahead. The Rover did not turn and drove straight ahead, flew off the hillside and crashed. Grace is said to have suffered a stroke and therefore lost control of the vehicle. Stephanie survived, Grace was in a coma. On September 14 the hospital ceased life support and Grace passed away.
For the Grace Kelly Gallery go here.
High Society (1956)