As a talented young film star, Grace Kelly (1929-1982) captured the imagination of the American public when she married Prince Ranier III of Monaco, to become Grace, Princess of Monaco. Her tragic and untimely death in 1982 touched the entire world.
Grace, Princess of Monaco was born Grace Patricia Kelly on November 12, 1929 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She aspired to an acting career in her teens, and was a major motion picture star by the age of 25. Kelly became acquainted with Prince Ranier Grimaldi III of the principality of Monaco during a photo session arranged by Paris Match in 1955. The couple was married in the spring of 1956, and they raised three children. Princess Grace brought a special aura of excitement and sophistication to Monaco that contributed to the growth of the principality into a major tourist haven and a playground for the rich and famous. She was noted for the manner in which she adapted her American ways to her lifestyle as a royal mother. It wasn't long before she won the love and respect of the entire world.
The fairy tale romance came to a tragic conclusion in 1982 when the princess suffered a debilitating stroke while driving her car on a twisting mountain road. The car, along with Princess Grace and her daughter, Stephanie, plunged 150 feet, causing fatal injuries to Princess Grace. Her daughter survived the ordeal, but the Grimaldi family, along with Monaco and the entire world, were left with only memories of the beloved Grace, Princess of Monaco.
The woman who would become the princess of Monaco was the granddaughter of the Kelly family patriarch, John Henry Kelly, who immigrated to America from Ireland in 1867. He fathered six sons, including George Kelly, a Pulitzer Prize winner; Walter C. Kelly, a vaudevillian personality; and John B. "Jack" Kelly, Sr., father of Grace Patricia Kelly. Jack Kelly was an Olympic sculler and a self-made millionaire. Her mother was Margaret Majer Kelly, a former model. Jack and Margaret Kelly had four children: Margaret "Peggy" (Baba) Kelly Conlan, born in 1925; John B. (Kell) Kelly, Jr., born in 1927; Grace Kelly, born in 1929; and Lizanne LeVine, born in 1933. All of the Kelly children were born and raised in Philadelphia.
The issue of religion was critical to the Irish-Catholic Kelly clan. Margaret Kelly converted from her Lutheran faith after her marriage, and the Kellys maintained a strict Catholic household. Jack Kelly held a reputation as an uncultured man who placed great emphasis on athletic prowess. Grace Kelly's brother took after his father and was an accomplished world class oarsman. Grace Kelly enjoyed playing hockey and swimming, but was not a passionate athlete. She preferred instead to practice ballet, to read, and to study theatrical arts.
Kelly attended the Catholic Ravenhill Academy in East Falls, Pennsylvania and eventually transferred to Stevens School, a secular academy. She was extremely reserved and quiet as a youngster, but was popular among her high school friends.
Kelly was always a stunning beauty, even as an infant. After graduating from high school in 1947, she attended the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City. During her years at the Academy she lived at a hotel for women called the Barbizon. She supported herself through modeling and was in great demand as a cover girl.
After graduating in 1949, it was Kelly's desire to act on the live stage-not to make movies and television appearances. She worked in theaters in New York and Colorado, and, most notably, she performed with Raymond Massey in The Father before signing with agent Edith Van Cleve. To experts, including the great actress Helen Hayes, Kelly was unsuited to live stage acting because of her shallow voice. At Van Cleve's urging, Kelly studied privately under Sanford Meisner at the Neighborhood Playhouse in New York, and worked summer stock until Van Cleve-fully aware of Kelly's film potential-moved the young actress into television work. Kelly acted in 60 teleplays in New York, mostly between 1950 and 1951. Over the course of the next five years she made 11 movies. Some critics, including gossip columnist Hedda Hopper, accused Kelly of employing adulterous liaisons to further her film career. Others presumed that Jack Kelly's prominent position and political connections were in part responsible for his daughter's show business success. Jack Kelly, a Democratic Party boss in his native Philadelphia, was well acquainted with some of the most prominent figures of the times, including President Franklin Roosevelt. Powerful personalities such as Isaac Levy, founder of the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS), were also counted among the Kelly associates. Regardless, Grace Kelly was determined to succeed without special considerations and did little if anything to "pull strings" of any nature in order to further her career.
In 1950, Grace Kelly made her feature film debut in a movie called Fourteen Hours. Her next film, High Noon, with Gary Cooper in 1952, marked the beginning of a string of motion pictures over the course of the next four years. To Kelly's displeasure, each of her films generated rumors of a love affair between Kelly and her co-star. Friends of the actress maintain that, in actuality, it was an actor named Gene Lyons who attracted Kelly's attention during those years. The two enjoyed a romance that matured during the filming of High Noon and later disintegrated while Kelly was on location in Africa for the filming of Mogambo, a 1953 release with Clark Gable. In 1954, Kelly starred in Alfred Hitchcock's Dial M for Murder, with Ray Milland. This was followed by a second Hitchcock thriller, Rear Window with Jimmy Stewart. The Bridges at Toko-Ri, with William Holden was completed in 1954. That same year, Kelly appeared with Bing Crosby in Country Girl, the film that earned her an Academy Award for Best Actress.
In 1955, Kelly starred in Green Fire with Stewart Granger, followed by To Catch a Thief with Cary Grant. In 1956, she starred in a musical adaptation of Philadelphia Story called High Society, with Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra. The final film of her brief but intense career, The Swan, was released in 1956. She co-starred with Alec Guinness and received top billing for the first and only time in her career. During the years when Kelly was under contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, she shared her time between the incessant demands of Hollywood and her chosen home in New York City, where she aspired to find work on the Broadway stage.
A Meeting in Monaco
In 1955, Kelly was in Monaco for the filming of Hitchcock's To Catch a Thief with Cary Grant. An introduction was arranged between the young American actress and the bachelor prince of Monaco as part of a publicity stunt by Paris Match. The pair met initially at the Cannes Film Festival in order to be photographed together for the magazine. The event was well publicized, down to the shimmering black cotton dress worn by Kelly. Later in 1955, the prince and the movie star spent Christmas together in Philadelphia with Kelly's family. Less than one week after the holidays, on January 5, 1956, Kelly and the prince announced their engagement from her parent's home. Kelly and the prince were wed in Monaco, where the ceremonies and festivities lasted for two days-April 18 and 19, 1956. A Catholic nuptial ceremony was celebrated at the Cathedral of St. Nicholas in Monaco. The prince and princess honeymooned aboard a royal yacht.
The royal couple's eldest child, Princess Caroline Louise Marguerite, was born in January of 1957. Their next child, Crown Prince Albert Alexandre Louis Pierre, was born in March of the following year. Their youngest child, Princess Stephanie Marie Elisabeth, was born in February of 1965. Princess Grace lived with her husband and children in a 200-room palace and maintained a private retreat in France at Roc Agel. Even as princess of Monaco, Kelly never shunned her American roots. She commuted regularly between Europe and Philadelphia, if for no other reason than to see her doctor, dentist, and bankers.
At home in Monaco, Princess Grace ran the palace to the best of her ability as a normal home. She expended great effort to stay intrinsically involved with her children and to personally tend to their needs. She cooked meals for her family, especially breakfast for her children. Despite her great wealth, she never succumbed to needless or excess extravagance. The populace of Monaco loved Princess Grace dearly, as did her film audiences in the United States. After she married, Princess Grace became involved in charitable pursuits and public service organizations. She served as president of the Garden Club of Monaco, president of the Red Cross of Monaco, and president of the organizing committee of the International Arts Foundation. Her fondest benevolent association was The Princess Grace Foundation, established to foster involvement among young people in the creative arts, especially to provide scholarships for eligible young students.
Princess Grace brought positive and long overdue changes to the social climate of Monaco. Her presence revitalized the mood of the principality, encouraged tourism, and endowed a dogged state with renewed hope and energy.
Not long after the birth of her youngest daughter, it was rumored that Princess Grace had grown increasingly unhappy and become homesick for the more casual atmosphere of the United States. She moved to an apartment in Paris, joined the board of directors of 20th Century Fox productions, and traveled frequently to the U.S. During the final years of her life, she involved herself in dramatic readings and pressing flower designs for linens, in addition to her royal responsibilities and her many charitable pursuits.
Princess Grace died unexpectedly from injuries incurred at the wheel of her own car, a Rover 3500, when it careened from a cliff and crashed 150 feet down the mountainside. The accident occurred at the Grimaldi's private retreat at Roc Agel. Princess Grace remained unconscious for two days before she died in Monte Carlo on September 14, 1982, following the removal of life-support apparatus. Later reports confirmed that she suffered a stroke at the time of the crash and would have been paralyzed on one side had she survived. Funeral services were held at the Cathedral of St. Nicholas in Monaco, the same church where she had been married in 1956.
The death of Princess Grace was felt around the world. The family of the princess acknowledged the receipt of tens of thousands of letters and cards of condolence. Mourners continued to leave flowers at the site of the auto crash for months afterward. Prince Ranier III admitted to "a heaviness of heart that I don't think will change in my lifetime," as quoted by writer Roger Bianchini in Ladies Home Journal. Ranier went forward with his wife's intended plan to build a house on Kelly ancestral lands in Ireland.
Collier's Encyclopedia, 1997.
Englund, Steven, Grace of Monaco: an interpretive biography, Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1984.
Cosmopolitan, April 1991, p. 212.
Entertainment Weekly, September 11, 1992.
Good Housekeeping, September 1992.
Ladies Home Journal, April 1983.
Life, March 1983.
People Weekly, September 5, 1983; September 12, 1983. □
Pseudonym: Princess Grace of Monaco. Nationality: American/Monégasque. Born: Grace Patricia Kelly in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 12 November 1929; became citizen of Monaco, 1956. Education: Attended Ravenhill Academy of the Assumption, Philadelphia; Stevens School, Chestnut Hill, Pennsylvania, graduated 1947; American Academy of Dramatic Art, New York, 1947–49. Family: Married Prince Rainier III of Monaco, 1956, children: Caroline, Albert, and Stephanie. Career: 1947–49—supported acting studies by modeling and appearing in TV commercials; 1949—stage debut in The Torch Bearers, written by uncle George Kelly, at Bucks County Playhouse; Broadway debut in Strindberg's The Father; 1951—film debut in Fourteen Hours; 1952—studied with Sanford Meisner at Neighborhood Playhouse; seven-year contract with MGM; 1954—borrowed from MGM by Hitchcock for Dial M for Murder, first of three films with Hitchcock; 1965—founded Princess Grace Foundation; 1976—joined board of 20th Century-Fox. Awards: Oscar for Best Actress, for The Country Girl, 1954; Best Actress, New York Film Critics, for The Country Girl, Rear Window, and Dial M for Murder, 1954. Died: Following automobile accident in Monte Carlo, 14 September 1982.
Films as Actress:
Fourteen Hours (Hathaway) (as Mrs. Fuller)
High Noon (Zinnemann) (as Amy Kane)
Mogambo (John Ford) (as Linda Nordley)
Dial M for Murder (Hitchcock) (as Margot Wendice); Rear Window (Hitchcock) (as Lisa Fremont); The Country Girl (Seaton) (as Georgie Elgin); The Bridges at Toko-Ri (Robson) (as Nancy Brubaker); Green Fire (Marton) (as Catherine Knowland)
To Catch a Thief (Hitchcock) (as Frances Stevens)
The Swan (Charles Vidor) (as Princess Alexandra); High Society (Walters) (as Tracy Lord); The Wedding in Monaco (documentary short)
Mediterranean Holiday (Leitner and Nussgruber—doc)
The Children of Theatre Street (Dornhelm and Mack) (as narrator)
Rearranged (Dornhelm) (as herself)
By KELLY: book—
My Book of Flowers, with Gwen Robyns, New York, 1980.
On KELLY: books—
Gaither, Gant, Princess of Monaco: The Story of Grace Kelly, New York, 1957.
Robyns, Gwen, Princess Grace: A Biography, 1976.
Parish, James, and Don Stanke, The Hollywood Beauties, New Rochelle, New York, 1978.
Hall, Trevor, Her Serene Highness, Princess Grace of Monaco, 1982.
Hart-Davis, Phyllidia, Grace: The Story of a Princess, New York, 1982.
Bradford, Sarah, Princess Grace, London, 1984.
England, Steven, Princess Grace, London, 1984.
Spada, James, Grace: The Secret Lives of a Princess, London, 1987.
Cohen, George, Grace Kelly, Paris, 1989.
Quine, Judith Balaban, The Bridesmaids: Grace Kelly, Princess of Monaco, and Six Intimate Friends, London, 1989.
Robinson, Jeffrey, Rainier and Grace, New York, 1989.
Wayne, Jane Ellen, Grace Kelly's Men, New York, 1991.
Conant, Howell, Grace, New York, 1992.
Edwards, Anne, The Grimaldis of Monaco, New York, 1992.
Surcouf, Elizabeth Gillen, Grace Kelly, American Princess, Minneapolis, 1992.
Sakol, Jeannie, About Grace: An Intimate Notebook, Chicago, 1993.
Lacey, Robert, Grace, New York, 1994.
Curtis, Jenny, Grace Kelly: A Life in Pictures, New York, 1998.
On KELLY: articles—
Current Biography 1977, New York, 1977.
Bowers, Ron, "Grace Kelly," in Films in Review (New York), November 1978.
Cook, P., "The Sound Track," in Films in Review (New York), November 1982.
Obituary, in Films and Filming (London), November 1982.
Jomy, A., obituary, in Cinéma (Paris), November 1982.
Corliss, Richard, "Green Fire: Grace Kelly," in Film Comment (New York), November/December 1982.
The Annual Obituary 1982, New York, 1983.
Ciné Revue (Paris), 19 July 1984.
Stars (Mariembourg), no. 7, March 1990.
Architectural Digest (Los Angeles), April 1992.
"Remembering Grace," in Good Housekeeping, vol. 215, no. 3, September 1992.
Iskusstvo Kino (Moscow), July 1993.
Lacey, R., "Divine Grace," in Vanity Fair (New York), vol. 57, October 1994.
Mooney, J., "Grace Kelly in Rear Window," in Movieline (Escondido), vol. 7, January/February 1996.
"Grace Kelly & Prince Rainier III," in People Weekly, 12 February 1996.
Library Journal, 1 April 1999.
"The 100 Greatest Movie Stars of All Time," in Entertainment Weekly, Special Issue, Fall 1996.
On KELLY: film—
Grace Kelly, television movie, directed by Anthony Page, 1983.
* * *
Grace Kelly's career as a film actress was brief (1951–56), her rise meteoric, her end abrupt. At the height of her career, she married Prince Rainier of Monaco and never again acted in a film—although Alfred Hitchcock attempted to draw her out of retirement to make a comeback as the star of his film Marnie. Some sources say the former actress-turned-royalty was tempted, but that her prince scotched the idea. Tippi Hedren got the role.
Despite the brief five-year span of her career, and only 11 films, she captured the imagination of the moviegoing audience with her beauty, intelligence, and what Alfred Hitchcock referred to as her "sexual elegance." She is still capturing it, years after her death, as one of the most-biographied stars Hollywood has ever produced.
After a small role as the wife of a man (Richard Basehart) who threatens to commit suicide by jumping from a skyscraper in Henry Hathaway's taut Fourteen Hours, Kelly leaped into the big leagues opposite Gary Cooper in High Noon. Here, and thereafter, her roles often centered on the emergence of concealed passion after a thawing of her icy or principled front. Before she became a princess in real life, she exuded in her films an aloof and aristocratic if not royal manner that, within the films' cliché-ridden plots, broke down into a touching and warm sexual feeling for a man socially beneath her, and a search for self-respect. This change, as manifested in Mogambo, Rear Window, The Country Girl, To Catch a Thief, The Swan, and High Society, seemed a response to the public being fascinated with elegant upper-class manners, dress, and speech, while desiring a classless equality underneath it all.
Her screen metamorphosis often resulted in a moving love scene containing a surprisingly torrid kiss that, in its dramatic and sensual flavor, gave vent to the undercurrents her performance to that point had implied. A supreme example is Mogambo, her third film; in it she plays a naive, recently married English woman who falls for the charms of worldly safari guide Clark Gable. Her long-repressed surrender to his embrace and kiss generates a tremendous, almost explosive sexual heat. In The Swan, her last film before becoming a princess—in which she ironically prepared for her soon-to-be-real-life-role by playing a princess—the Variety reviewer found a similar scene "that must be figured as belonging to the ranks of the best love scenes ever filmed." In To Catch a Thief, when she kisses Gary Grant, the screen literally erupts with fireworks in the Riviera sky. This thawing kiss releases her passion which, though resulting sometimes in just a dalliance, reveals the superficiality of her airs and the honesty of her feelings.
Hitchcock cast Kelly in his films as his quintessential heroine—a beautiful blond victim subject to brutal violence, or the threat of violence, or as the partner of a man in dangerous pursuit of something. It was the perfect pairing of director and actress. Delmore Schwartz, reviewing To Catch a Thief, suggested that Hitchcock and Kelly in their three films together succeeded in supplying the public's need for "vividness and vitality of personality, genuineness of experience, a renewal of the excitement of curiosity and wonder." In Rear Window, perhaps Kelly's best film with Hitchcock, a basic Hitchcockian situation—a callous male protagonist discovers love for his girlfriend when she is in danger and he is nearly helpless to protect her—is made all the more compelling by the presence of Kelly's wit, charm, and attractiveness.
Kelly's most accomplished performance was in the film version of Clifford Odets's The Country Girl as she became more than a director's tool or a vessel for audience excitement. In this role she was cast against type as the cynical, old-before-her-time, combative wife of a washed-up actor (Bing Crosby) who gets a last chance when a director (William Holden) puts faith in him. Her appearance contrasts with the clotheshorse elegance of her previous role in Rear Window. Here she dresses dowdily, in cardigan, glasses, and skirt, slouches, looks worn and haggard, and has a glazed look to her eyes. But she is a fighter, first for her husband, later for herself. The childlike happiness and gaiety present in previous roles only appears in a flashback which serves to point out all the more forcefully her frustrated condition. The range she covered in this role showed her potential for giving complex performances in roles not of her normal type. Unfortunately her studio, MGM, subsequently gave her no comparable role; they suspended her for turning down two of their choices. But Kelly got the last laugh and went on to become the most famous princess in the world until Di came on the scene.
—Alan Gevinson, updated by John McCarty