Kelly, Grace (1928-1982)
Kelly, Grace (1928-1982)
Her icy beauty and regal poise made Grace Kelly one of the most popular movie stars of the 1950s. But when she married into one of Europe's oldest royal families, becoming Her Serene Highness Princess Grace of Monaco, she became the star of a real-life fairytale romance that captured the global imagination.
Born into a wealthy Philadelphia family, Grace Kelly was raised in a household that valued achievement. Her father, Jack, had been a champion Olympic rower who became a successful businessman, so Grace and her siblings were encouraged to excel in both athletics and academics. Well-educated at parochial and private schools, Grace made her debut in Philadelphia society at sixteen, but after graduating from high school in 1947, the young blond beauty left Philadelphia for New York City, where she attended the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. After finding work as a model and in small roles on television, Kelly made her Broadway debut in 1949. With her strikingly perfect features and exquisite blond beauty, it was not long before she was brought out to Hollywood, where she made her first film appearance in 1951.
A year later, Grace Kelly starred as Gary Cooper's wife in High Noon, and overnight she became one of Hollywood's most sought-after leading ladies—the quintessential cool blonde. Signed by MGM in 1953, Kelly starred opposite Clark Gable in Mogambo, for which she garnered her first Oscar nomination. A year later, she would win the Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance in The Country Girl.
Kelly's next three films, all directed by Alfred Hitchcock, would become instant classics. As noted in Baseline's Encyclopedia of Film, Hitchcock "made brilliant use of her signature combination of cool, elegant charm and smoldering sensuality in Dial M for Murder, Rear Window and To Catch a Thief. "
By the mid-1950s, Kelly was Hollywood's most popular movie star—an aristocratic beauty whose poise was no on-screen act. Her charm captivated one of the world's most eligible bachelors. While attending the Cannes Film Festival in 1955, Kelly had been introduced to Prince Rainier, the monarch of the tiny Mediterranean principality of Monaco. Afterward, Kelly returned to the States to film High Society with Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra, but it would be her last film. In April 1957, Grace Kelly wed Prince Rainier in a ceremony which her biographer, Robert Lacey, wrote, was "the first modern event to generate media overkill." Guests included Ava Gardner and Aristotle Onassis.
Following her marriage, Kelly retired from acting. However, because she was under contract to MGM, the wedding was filmed as a movie and shown in the United States, which only increased her fame at home and around the world. Although her film career had lasted only six years, images of Princess Grace entertaining Hollywood celebrities at Monaco charity events and appearing around the world with other European royalty continued to command an audience in the United States, and she remained one of America's most popular public figures.
After the birth of three children—Princess Caroline, Prince Albert, and Princess Stephanie—rumors circulated that Grace was unhappy and lonely in her marriage. She had hoped to return to acting in 1964, when Hitchcock offered her the lead in Marnie, but negative public opinion in Monaco had forced Prince Rainier to decline on her behalf. Even as she grew older and gained weight, the fairy-tale appeal of Grace's marriage continued to intrigue and delight American audiences, who followed her life and that of her children. And when those children, particularly her daughters, turned out to lead wild and sometimes problematic lives, Americans ate up the European soap opera with glee. And so the United States joined Monaco in mourning upon Princess Grace's death in a car accident on the windy roads above Monaco.
Because she stopped acting in her twenties, Grace Kelly remains locked in the public imagination at the height of her beauty. Although her status as a cultural icon is certainly enhanced by her marriage into royalty, her image as one of the most beautiful women ever to grace the silver screen can never be tarnished, even by rumors of her unhappiness or the knowledge that she did not remain the unsullied beauty she once was. Grace Kelly—beauty incarnate and an American Princess—still remains one of America's most intriguing stars.
Bradford, Sarah. Princess Grace. London, Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 1984.
Conant, Howell. Grace. New York, Random House, 1992.
Lacey, Robert. Grace. New York, G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1994.
Monaco, James, and the Editors of Baseline. Encyclopedia of Film. New York, Perigee, 1991.