She was the beautiful movie star loved by millions who gave up her career to become a Princess in the Wedding of the Century (until Lady Diana Spencer’s wedding to Prince Charles twenty-five years later) only to die a tragic death too young.
Today marks what would have been the 79th birthday of HSH Princess Grace of Monaco. She was born Grace Patricia Kelly on November 12th, 1929 in Philadelphia, PA. She was named after her father’s sister, an aspiring actress who had died young at the age of 23. Her father, Jack Kelly was a self-made millionaire, the son of Irish immigrants. His older brother Patrick had started his own brickworks business, where Jack learned the ropes. Charming and charismatic, his dream was to win the Diamond Skulls at Henley. Unfortunately due to a problem with his sponsor, Jack was unable to compete. He spun the story for years that he was denied entrance because he worked with his hands. In revenge, Jack won the gold medal at the 1920 Olympics. Returning to the States, he borrowed money to open his own business, Brickworks by Kelly, competing with his own brother. His favorite brother Charles came to work for him, managing the books, causing a family rift that lasted for years.
Her mother, Margaret Majer’s family by contrast was German, and aristocratic. After the family lost all their money, they immigrated to the United States. Margaret went to Temple University, and became the first woman to teach athletics at the University of Pennsylvania. Grace’s parents met when her mother was 14 and Jack was 24. After he returned to the States, he pursued Margaret, who led him a merry chase before she consented to marry him in 1924. In nine years, Margaret gave birth to four children, oldest child Peggy, only son Jack known as Kell, Grace, and Lizanne.
Unlike her more boisterous siblings, Grace was quiet and shy. She suffered constantly from colds, was myopic, and lacked a killer instinct. Although she later excelled at swimming and tennis, Grace was never as athletic as her parents wanted her to be. From an early age, it was clear that Peggy was the preferred child in the family, while Kell was groomed from childhood to win the Diamond Skulls at Henley, despite his lack of interest in rowing. Nothing much was expected of Grace, she was the forgotten child in the family. As her father once remarked, “What is Grace sniveling about now?”
While her father was gregarious and social (he once ran for mayor of Philadelphia), Margaret Kelly was controlled. Although she knew that her husband was unfaithful to her, she never let her emotions show. She never let on how her husband’s infidelities hurt her. While she loved her children, she was less than demonstrative. Not one for hugging and kissing, she showed her love through discipline. It wasn’t until Grace was an adult, that she and her mother forged a deeper relationship. Despite the fact that her siblings teased and bullied her during her childhood, all four siblings were extremely close, closing ranks against any outsider, who dared to criticize one of them.
From childhood, Grace was determined on a career in the theater. She came by her talent naturally; her paternal Uncles were in the theater. George Kelly was a noted playwright who won the Pulitzer Prize for his play Craig’s Wife (his plays are still revived by theater companies today), and her uncle Walter was a noted vaudevillian. She made her stage debut with an amateur theater company at the age of 12 in her Uncle George’s play The Torchbearers.
By the time she reached high school Grace had developed into a beauty. Five foot seven with porcelain skin, and clear blue eyes, she had a willowy figure. She started to date, and had several beau including a friend of her brother’s who later died after suffering from multiple sclerosis.
On the surface, Grace seemed like the perfect girl, polite to a fault, the kind of girl that you would take home to mother. But she was also headstrong and determined. Her first choice of college was Bennington in Vermont, but her application got in late because most of the focus in the family was on Kell and Henley. Also, there were so many men going to college on the G.I. Bill that colleges were full. Instead Grace enrolled at the prestigious American Academy of Dramatic Art to study acting. To appease her parents, she moved into the Barbizon Hotel for Women, which had a strict policy of no men allowed anywhere in the hotel. Grace’s parents believed that she’d give up the nonsense idea of being an actress and return home in a few weeks, but Grace was determined to prove them wrong. She threw herself into her studies. To make money since her father kept her on a tight leash in terms of her allowance, Grace pursued modeling and commercial work, soon earning over $400 a week. She was now able to pay her own way. Despite her achievements, neither of her parents ever praised her.
It was Grace was at the Academy that she had the first serious relationship of her adult life. Don Richardson was her parent’s nightmare. Not only was he one of her instructors, but he was also older, married although separated and Jewish. When Grace brought him home to meet the folks, not only did her father and brother treat him disgracefully but her mother went through his things, where she found not only his divorce papers but also condoms! Which just goes to show you, when you snoop you never find out anything good.
Grace’s parents forbid her to have anything to do with Don Richardson. To add insult to injury, Grace was forced to return home until graduation and to commute from Philly to New York for auditions. Unbeknownst to her parents, Grace continued to see Richardson along with a host of other men including the Shah of Iran and Aly Kahn. Her next choice of boyfriend didn’t please her parents either. While working in summer stock, Grace met actor Gene Lyons. Like Don Richardson, Gene was older and married although he was in the process of getting an annulment. However he was Irish Catholic, which was a point in his favor. Grace ultimately ended the relationship when she realized his love of the bottle was stronger than his love for her.
Grace finally made her Broadway debut, starring with noted actor Raymond Massey in a revival of Strindberg’s The Father. When her father went backstage, Massey was surprised to see him there (they had become acquainted through their interesting in rowing). Grace hadn’t mentioned to Massey that her father was Jack Kelly. The revival only lasted 67 performances, and soon Grace was back auditioning. Like many New York actors, Grace appeared in many television dramas that were filmed live. She had signed with MCA to represent her, and soon the movies came knocking on her door. She made her film debut in a small movie filmed on location in New York called Fourteen Hours. Although she enjoyed the experience, Grace was determined to be a great stage actress. However, fate had other plans for Grace. A screen test for another film role that didn’t pan out was seen by director Fred Zinnemann who hired Grace to play the young Quaker wife of Gary Cooper in the now classic film High Noon.
Grace fell hard for Coop on the film, despite the huge age difference. Although Cooper was married, he was separated from his wife Rocky and in the middle of a tempestuous relationship with actress Patricia Neal (he also had a brief fling with Prince Rainier’s girlfriend Gisele Pascal!). Coop was the start of a string of romances with much older men, many of whom were co-stars. An occupational hazard since the dawn of the cinema, in Grace’s case, her passionate nature went against the 1950’s notion that good girls didn’t until they got married. Grace, however, did and often. It was this contrast that fascinated filmmakers including Alfred Hitchcock.
A psychiatrist would have told Grace that these relationships were a way of her seeking the approval and love that her father withheld from her. It also made her parents pay attention to her as they worried about these clearly unsuitable relationships that Grace continued to involve herself in. Rumors flew through Hollywood about Grace and Clark Gable on the set of Mogambo, a remake of one of Gable’s earlier pictures Red Dust. Grace reminded Gable of his wife Carole Lombard, who died tragically in a plane crash during World War II on a war bonds mission. Grace, on her part, called Gable ‘Ba’ which sounded like Pa; the nickname Lombard had given him. Although Grace was infatuated with him, Gable knew that the relationship would never work.
The next relationship that Grace embarked upon almost ruined her career. She met Ray Milland while working on her first film with Hitchcock Dial M for Murder. Milland fell head over heels in love with Grace and her with him. When Milland’s wife Mal found out, she threw him out of the house. Grace found herself written up in the tabloids as a home wrecker. Gossip columnist Hedda Hopper spread rumors that she was a nymphomaniac. The relationship finally ended when Milland realized how much it would cost him in a divorce.
In the meantime, Grace’s parents continued to fix her up with a steady stream of ‘appropriate’ suitors meaning non actors. It appears that Grace didn’t learn her lesson from the relationship with Milland. She next embarked on a torrid affair with William Holden who played her husband in The Bridges of Tokyo-Ri. Holden had fallen in love with Audrey Hepburn while making Sabrina and was willing to divorce his wife, actress Brenda Marshall, but the relationship ended when Holden admitted he’d had a vasectomy after the birth of his second son. Hepburn, desiring children, broke up with him and married Mel Ferrer. Grace and Holden enjoyed each other’s company, but Grace was still on the rebound from Milland.
Grace next had a brief fling with Bing Crosby, her co-star in The Country Wife who was recently
widowed and wasted no time getting back on the horse as it were. Ironically Bing Crosby hadn’t wanted Grace for the role of his wife, Georgie Elgin. He thought she was too beautiful, and he doubted she had the acting chops to play the role. Soon Grace had him eating crow. The role earned Grace her second Academy Award nomination, this time as Best Actress. Her father’s comment when her name was announced was typical Jack Kelly. He expressed his shock that Grace would be the one to take care of him in his old age. It was yet another hurtful comment from her father, who couldn’t understand why Grace took his remarks so seriously. Perhaps it was his tendency to go and on about her older sister Peggy whenever a reporter asked him about his famous daughter.
Grace’s next relationship was sure to continue to send her parents blood pressure shooting through the roof. Designer Oleg Cassini, had been smitten with Grace ever sent he had seen Mogambo. After being introduced in a Manhattan restaurant, Cassini pursued Grace relentlessly. He was suave and continental, and better yet, he was single! When she flew to the South of France to film To Catch a Thief, she sent Cassini a postcard inviting him to follow her. While Grace wanted to marry Cassini and was unofficially engaged to him, she still wanted and craved her parents’ approval. Her mother was the first to meet Cassini and was not impressed. Although the designer came from an aristocratic Russian family and had grown up in Florence, not only was the designer sixteen years Grace’s senior but he was also twice divorced with two children, one of whom was born mentally handicapped.
When Grace invited Cassini to spend the weekend with her family in Ocean City, NJ, both her brother and her father refused to acknowledge his existence. Cassini was hurt by Grace’s silence, expecting her to defend the man she loved. Still they continued to see each other. Years later, it was rumored that Grace fell pregnant with Cassini’s child and had an abortion. Given Grace’s desire for a family, it seems pretty improbable. A child would have given her the impetus to marry Cassini despite the disapproval of her family. Cassini was not the only man she was seeing; she also spent time with French actor, Jean-Pierre Aumont. When intimate pictures of the two dining together appeared in the tabloids of the two in France, Grace suspected that Aumont had tipped off photographers.
By 1955, Grace was dissatisfied with her life. Her Academy Award had not led to better parts with MGM. She had only made one film for the studio since Mogambo, a clunker called Green Fire with Stewart Granger. Rather than make movies she considered second rate, Grace continued to turn down film after film including Quentin Durward with Robert Taylor. Both of her sisters were married with children, as were several of her friends. Grace began to realize the problem that all successful women face eventually. She realized that she needed a man who wouldn’t be overshadowed by her fame. The last thing she wanted was the possibility of her husband being called “Mr. Kelly.”
On a visit to the Cannes Film Festival in May of 1955, Grace was persuaded to visit Monaco by Olivia de Haviland’s husband Pierre Galante. An audience was arranged with Prince Rainier to be photographed by Paris Match. The meeting turned into a comedy of errors. Everything that could go wrong did, from an electricity strike at Grace’s hotel which meant that she could neither dry her hair nor press her clothes. Instead she was forced to wear a hideous dress with big cabbage roses and a flowered headband. At the palace, the group was kept waiting by the Prince who was running late. After more than an hour, the Prince appeared just as Grace was about to give up and leave.
The Prince escorted Grace through the formal gardens and showed off his personal zoo, impressing her by petting a baby tiger. He expressed his intentions to visit the US in the future. Reluctantly she took her leave to return to Cannes were she was scheduled to host a reception. It was clear that she was intrigued by the Prince who she found utterly charming. The prince was also intrigued by Grace, who found beautiful and poised, unlike the characters such as the dowdy Georgie Elgin in The Country Girl. It appeared that the Prince had found his potential Princess.
At the time of their meeting, Prince Rainier had been on the throne of Monaco for six years, having succeeded to the throne on his 26th birthday. He was born on May 31st, 1923 to Princess Charlotte, daughter of Louis II, and Prince Pierre de Polignac. His parents were divorced when he was small, and Rainier and his sister Antoinette were raised by his grandfather. Like Grace, he had suffered a lonely childhood, his parents who hated each other, used him and his sister as pawns. He was sent to boarding school in England at an early age where he was teased for being overweight. After running away from school, he was finally set to Le Rosey in Switzerland where he was more comfortable among the children of the International jet set. He served in the French army during WWII, before assuming the throne after his grandfather’s death. Rainier was now 32 and anxious to get married. He had huge plans for Monaco to turn it from a backwater principality, dependent on the revenues from the Casino, to an international destination. For six years he had been involved with an actress, Gisele Pascal. While he admired her independence, he was not happy with her career which took her away for periods of time. Tired of waiting for him to make up his mind, Gisele broke up with him; although the rumor was that she had failed a fertility test. She soon married another actor and had a daughter.
It was Rainier’s spiritual advisor, Father Tucker, who took matters into his own hands, to play matchmaker. On paper, Grace seemed to have all the qualifications necessary for a princess. She was beautiful, poised, wealthy and most important, a devout Catholic. Father Tucker inquired discreetly into her background and was pleased with what he heard. During this time, Grace and the Prince kept up a running correspondence of letters and phone calls, getting to know each other the old fashioned way. Grace was a huge believer not only in astrology, tarot cards and psychics but also in signs. Her next movie for MGM was The Swan based on a Ferenc Molnar play where she a princess named Alexandra. It was a role she loved having played it in summer stock and in an earlier TV production.
Prince Rainer arrived in the States in time for the Christmas holidays of 1955, making his way to Philadelphia to meet the Kelly family. When Grace’s mother first heard about his interest in her daughter, she thought that Rainier was the prince of Morocco! Monaco was a totally unknown country in the US, smaller in acreage than Central Park. Grace’s marriage to Rainier would put it on the map. After meeting her family and friends, Rainier finally popped the question, on a traffic island, in the middle of New York City. Her friends were a little shocked and amazed that Grace was willing to get engaged to man that she barely knew. But for the first time in her life, Grace had brought home someone her parents approved of, more important than that, her father was now impressed. Although the Kelly’s were moderately wealthy, they had never been accepted by Main Line society in Philadelphia, Jack Kelly was only one generation from the bogs of Ireland. Grace marrying Rainier was a way for Margaret and Jack Kelly to stick to the snobs who had looked down at them all those years.
Before the wedding could take place, the future bride not only had to be examined to see if she was capable of bearing kids (which sent Grace into a panic of what to do about the fact that she was no longer a virgin), but there was also a financial arrangement to take care of, and the question of whether or not Grace would be able to continue her career. Rainier was adamant that it would be unseemly for a Princess to be seen making love to another man on screen, but Grace was sure that she could eventually make him see reason.
After finishing her last film playing Tracy Lord in High Society for MGM, Grace and her family set sail for Monaco where the wedding was to be held. Margaret Kelly had hoped to have the wedding in Philadelphia, so much easier to lord it over Philadelphia society that way. Not able to show off her daughter, Margaret instead consented to a series of embarrassing articles that were published; detailing her daughter’s various romances. Grace was livid with her mother, causing hurt feelings between both women that weren’t resolved for several months.
As part of her deal with MGM, they received exclusive rights to film the wedding, and costume designer Helen Rose created Grace’s wedding dress to the tune of $8,000. She was also given a bonus of $70,000 and the wardrobe from her last film High Society for her trousseau. Grace had expected the studio to play hardball since she had to pull out of her next film, Designing Women, which was to reteam her with Jimmy Stewart. Instead, for once, MGM was amenable. The only thing they asked was that if she ever made another film that it be with MGM.
It was a weeklong extravaganza in Monaco when Grace arrived with her family and friends for the wedding. It was also the first time that she was meeting the rest of Rainier’s family. She had already met his father, Prince Pierre, who took to Grace immediately. The rest of Rainier’s family never warmed to her, in particular his mother Princess Charlotte, and his sister Princess Antoinette. Grace got off on the wrong foot with Antoinette by asking her to be a bridesmaid, even bringing along a dress for her. Antoinette considered her always to be a vulgar American, who wasn’t worthy to replace her as Monaco’s First Lady. The Grimaldi’s also looked down on the Kelly family, who weren’t used to royal protocol and found it daunting.
On April 19, 1956, Grace officially became Princess Grace of Monaco after both civil and religious ceremonies. Grace wasn't the first American princess of Monaco. That honor went to Alice Heine of New Orleans, who married Rainier's great grandfather, after her first husband the Duc de Richelieu died. Like Grace, Alice found life in Monaco difficult and left after eleven years of marriage.
The wedding was filmed and shown in theaters around the world. The profits that Grace and Rainier received went to charity. Grace settled down to her most difficult role, Princess of Monaco, made more stressful by not only living in a foreign country that she had only ever visited once, but also having to speak a foreign language. Grace’s French was passable, but it was difficult at times for her to understand or to make herself understood. Even the birth of her first two children, Caroline in 1957 and Albert a year later in 1958 didn’t help. Grace spiraled into a deep depression, complicated by the death of her father in 1960 after a short illness. Despite all her efforts, her marriage to Rainier, didn’t mean that much to Jack Kelly after all. He was never comfortable at the Palace where he wasn’t top dog, nor did he like being replaced in his daughter’s affections. It appeared that Grace had married Rainier for nothing.
However, unlike Prince Charles, Rainier was actually somewhat sensitive to his wife’s needs. Although he would have preferred that she just get on with it, he made an effort to try and understand why she was so depressed. Grace’s depression was also compounded by the two miscarriages after Albert’s birth. Finally, Rainier called Alfred Hitchcock to see if he had a role for Grace. It turned out that Hitchcock was developing a film based on a novel by Winston Graham (of Poldark fame) called Marnie, about a young woman with sexual problems who was also a kleptomaniac. It would have been a huge acting challenge for Grace and totally different from any character she had ever portrayed. Unfortunately when the citizens of Monaco got wind of Grace’s plans, they protested loudly and vehemently at the prospect. Grace had no choice but to turn the role down. Tippi Hedren played the part instead. Grace realized that her film career was definitely over. The only way that she could resume her career was to divorce Rainier, and that was not an option. It would mean leaving her children in Monaco, and Grace would never do that.
So she threw herself headlong into her role as Princess of Monaco. Like any good actress, she did her research, modeling her behavior after that of the British Monarchy (more Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth than other royals). She became more Royal than Rainier in a way. In the process, the fun loving, spontaneous Grace was replaced by a woman who was similar to her mother in many ways. The independent Grace, who left home and made her own money, took on the studios and had relationships with inappropriate men, was the past. In her place, Grace frequently railed against women’s liberation, decried sex and violence in films, and searched the Almanach de Gotha for a suitable husband for Caroline.
Ironically for Grace, she became even stricter as a mother than her own had been. She excused her behavior by pointing out that the times were less innocent than when she was growing up and she was raising Princesses. While Caroline studied for her exams, Grace moved into an apartment in Paris with Stephanie, in order to keep an eye on her. It was a huge mistake. Paparazzi staked out the apartment, Caroline felt constrained by her mother, and Stephanie was hitting puberty. Grace found herself fighting a losing battle, the girls had heard about their mother’s somewhat racy past, and felt that she was being hypocritical.
When Caroline announced that she wanted to marry Philippe Junot, a much older playboy with no visible means of support, Grace was at her wits end. Caroline had threatened to move in with Junot if she couldn’t marry him. Grace and Rainier finally agreed, although as Grace put it, “at least she’ll have a successful second marriage.”
As Grace grew older, she found an outlet for her creativity by performing in poetry readings across Europe and the United States, and serving on the board of Twentieth Century Fox. She narrated the documentary, The Children of Theater Street. She and Rainier were set to settle into a comfortable old age. Although it turned out they had nothing really in common besides their children and their religion, they had come to a workable solution in their marriage. In 1981, they celebrated twenty-five years of marriage.
How Princess Grace would have handled the third half of her life, we’ll never know. While returning from their country home Roc Agel, Grace lost control of her car and plunged off the side of the road. She was brought to the hospital that bore her name, along with Princess Stephanie who suffered a serious cervical fracture. Unfortunately the hospital didn’t possess a CAT scan; the only one in Monaco belonged to a doctor in private practice. By the time the machine was fetched, it was too late. Grace was brain dead. The family reluctantly decided to take her off life support. On September 14, 1982 and the young age of 52, Princess Grace died peacefully. Rumors immediately flew that Stephanie had been the one driving the car; that they were arguing when the car went off the road. Instead, it appeared that Grace had a minor stroke while driving, and the accident caused a second massive stroke.
The country was plunged into deep mourning. Grace’s mother Margaret had suffered a stroke several years earlier, and never knew of the deaths of her children (Grace’s older brother Kell died a few years later of a heart attack while jogging). At her funeral, four hundred guests attended including Princess Diana, who had bonded with Princess Grace just before her marriage. When Diana had asked Grace if it ever got easier, Grace assured her with a smile, “Oh no, dear, it will get much worse.” Several months after her death, ABC aired a TV movie starring Cheryl Ladd as Princess Grace. In the years since her death, book after book as come out about Grace that seem to emphasize her early romances over her years as an actress or her life as a Princess. Despite the revelations that Grace was not the usual good girl that she seemed to be, they haven't tarnished her reputation. It only seems to make her appear more modern to contemporary readers.
A hole was left in the Grimaldi family. Rainier was never the same after his wife’s death. He continued to reign until his own death in 2005. Caroline remarried to Stefano Casiraghi by whom she had three children before his untimely death in 1990. In a twist of fate, her third husband is the man that her mother had always wanted her to marry, Prince Ernst of Hanover. Albert, now fifty, is still unmarried. He has always said that finding a Princess to replace his mother is almost impossible. Stephanie is the child who seems to have suffered the most since her mother’s death. The rumor that it was somehow her fault has never died. She has plunged from one career to another, from one disastrous relationship to another.
Grace’s legacy lives on in her children but also in the eleven films that she did, some of them classics like To Catch a Thief and Rear Window. There is also the Princess Grace foundation, which was created in 1964. The American Film Institute ranked Grace Kelly #13 on their list of Greatest Female Stars of All Time. And in 2003, the Henley Royal Regetta renamed the Women’s Quadruple Skulls the Princess Grace Challenge Cup. In 2006, the Philadelphia Museum of Art hosted an exhibition called Fit for a Princess: Grace Kelly's Wedding Dress in honor of the fiftieth anniversary of Princess Grace and Prince Rainier’s wedding. But to many, she was living proof that fairy-tales do come true, at least for a little while.
True Grace – Wendy Leigh
Grace Kelly’s Men – Jane Ellen Wayne
Grace: The Secret Lives of a Princess – James Spada
One Upon a Time: Behind the Fairy Tale of Princess Grace and Prince Rainer – J. Randy Taraborelli
The Royal House of Monaco: Dynasty of Glamour, Tardey and Scandal -John Glatt