Who was Grace Kelly?

Grace Kelly

“I would like to be remembered as someone who accomplished useful deeds, and who was a kind and loving person. I would like to leave the memory of a human being with a correct attitude and who did her best to help others.”

~ Grace Kelly

She was a real-life fairytale princess who captivated the world’s audiences with her regal beauty and undeniable screen presence. But her life was to end tragically at the age of 52.

Born in Philadelphia in 1929, Grace Kelly became a popular actress in the 1950s, starring in movies such as ‘Dial M for Murder’ (1954), ‘To Catch a Thief’ (1955) and ‘The Swan’ (1956). She gained even greater fame after having starred in the film ‘The Country Girl’ (1954), for which she won an Academy Award for Best Actress. She married Prince Rainier III of Monaco, with whom she had three children, in 1956. She died after being involved in a car accident on September 14, 1982. Nicole Kidman won the role of Kelly in the 2014 biopic ‘Grace of Monaco’.

Grace Patricia Kelly was born on November 12, 1929, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Her father, John Brendan ‘Jack’ Kelly, was a champion sculler who won three Olympic gold medals as part of the US rowing team. A self-made millionaire, he owned one of the most successful brick businesses on the East Coast. Her German-American mother, Margaret Katherine Majer, was the first coach of women’s athletic teams at the University of Pennsylvania. Kelly was the third of four children and was named after her father’s sister, who died young. Grace had two sisters: Margaret (Peggy) and Elizabeth, and a brother named John. Athletic like his father, John competed in the 1948, 1952 and 1956 Olympics. The creative arts also held a prominent place in the Kelly household and Grace was influenced by her two uncles. Walter C. Kelly was a vaudevillian performer, George Kelly was a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright.

Grace attended Ravenhill Academy – a Catholic girl’s school – and later Stevens School – a small private high school in Philadelphia. According to a teacher, “she really wasn’t interested in scholastic achievement – she gave priority to drama and boys.” (www.franksreelreviews.com) When Grace left high school, she enrolled at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York in 1947. According to her close friend Judith Balaban Quine, Grace’s father regarded acting as “a slim cut above streetwalker”. (www.townandcountrymag.com) Yet Grace described her parents as being broad-minded people: “There was no such thing as a bad profession for them. As I was their daughter, they knew that, whatever profession I chose, I would do it well. That was enough for them.” (www.biographyonline.net) She supplemented her studies by modelling with the John Robert Powers modelling agency, and was reported to be one of the highest-paid models in New York at the time.

After graduating at 19, Grace sought a Broadway career, but found film more agreeable. Gary Cooper discovered 22-year-old Kelly on the set of her first picture ‘Fourteen Hours’ (1951) and arranged for her to play his wife in ‘High Noon’ (1952). “This dame has breeding, quality, class,” John Ford said of Grace, adding, “I’ll bet she’ll knock us on our ass!” (www.newyorker.com) In 1953, Kelly starred opposite Clark Gable and Ava Gardner in ‘Mogambo’, for which she was nominated for her first Academy Award and won a Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress. MGM offered Kelly a seven-year contract, which she accepted, although she turned down the role of Edie Doyle in ‘On the Waterfront’ so she could work with Alfred Hitchcock. “Mr. Hitchcock taught me everything about cinema. It was thanks to him that I understood that murder scenes should be shot like love scenes and love scenes like murder scenes.” (www.johnstamos.com) Grace made three films with Hitchcock in the 50’s: ‘Rear Window’ (1954),Dial M for Murder’ (1954) and ‘To Catch a Thief’ (1955.

Grace Kelly was exceptionally beautiful, with aristocratic features. She had blonde hair and clear blue eyes which personified purity. “She’s too perfect …She’s too talented. She’s too beautiful. She’s too sophisticated. She’s too everything but what I want,” Jimmy Stewart once said (www.theguardian.com) Grace was naturally shy and reserved, but beneath the inscrutability beat the heart of a passionate woman. Vogue may have described Grace “as remote as a Snow Queen” (www.thewomensroomblog.com) but her friend and mentor Alfred Hitchcock regarded Grace as the epitome of the femme fatale. For Hitchcock, she conveyed “sexual elegance.” (www.greatestmovies.org) The real Grace Kelly was far from glacial. Her lovers were legion. Among them were William Holden, Ray Milland, Marlon Brando, Clark Gable, Gary Cooper, Bing Crosby and James Cagney.

Frank Sinatra once commented, “Grace was a princess from the moment she was born.” (www.123helpme.com) Her inscrutability inspired Vogue to dub her “as remote as a Snow Queen”. (www.thewomensroomblog.com) But the real Grace was far from glacial. Her lovers were legion. Among them were William Holden, Ray Milland, Clark Gable, Gary Cooper, Bing Crosby and James Cagney. “She’s too perfect …She’s too talented. She’s too beautiful. She’s too sophisticated. She’s too everything but what I want,” said Jimmy Stewart. (www.theguardian.com) Alfred Hitchcock regarded Grace as the epitome of the femme fatale and conveyed “sexual elegance”.

In 1954, Kelly won an Oscar for Best Actress for the role of Georgie Elgin in ‘The Country Girl’ opposite Bing Crosby and William Holden. Grace attended the Cannes Film Festival in May 1955, and during a photoshoot she met the 31-year-old debonair Prince Rainier III (Rainier Louis Henri Maxence Bertrand Grimaldi) of Monaco. He was looking for a bride and she had become tired of the Hollywood system. “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.” (www.azquotes.com) In 1956, Kelly was given the World Film Favorites female actor award at the 13th Golden Globes.

Rainier accepted a $2 million dowry from the Kelly family and proposed to Grace on January 5, 1956. The couple were married four months later on April 18. It was attended by 600 guests and watched by an estimated 30 million on television. Biographer Robert Lacey described the wedding as, “the first modern event to generate media overkill”. (www.wikipedia.org) Kelly’s wedding dress was designed by MGM’s Academy Award–winning Helen Rose, and worked on for six weeks by three dozen seamstresses. Grace was now Her Serene Highness The Princess of Monaco. “When I married Prince Rainier, I married the man and not what he represented or what he was. “I fell in love with him without giving a thought to anything else,” Grace was to say. (www.azquotes.com) She had abandoned her film career and was also required to give up her American citizenship. Prince Rainier banned her films in Monaco.

Grace settled into life in Monaco, reviving the principality as a cultural centre and opening the palace for guided tours during the summer when she and Rainier were away at their summer home – Roc-Agel in France. She transformed a decaying medical facility into a first-class hospital, and in 1964 she founded the Princess Grace Foundation to help those with special needs. The couple had three children: Princess Caroline Louise Marguerite, born in 1957; Prince Albert Alexandre Louis Pierre Grimaldi, born in 1958; and Princess Stéphanie, born in 1965.

She resisted the lure of film-makers, but some believe she deeply missed her acting career. Grace accepted the lead in Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘Marnie’, but was replaced by Tipi Hedren. In 1976, Grace joined the board of directors of Twentieth Century Fox, but Rainier was against her pursuing her acting career again.

Grace lived in the 200-room, pink-walled royal palace and remained a regal presence at hospital openings and charity galas, but rumours persisted that all was not well with her. As the children got older, she became increasingly more homesick, and her husband’s infidelity drove her to seek refuge in drink and in a string of extra-marital affairs. She had an affair with former lover Frank Sinatra for several years, and her other lovers included Tony Curtis, British producer Anthony Havelock-Allan, tennis champion Sidney Wood and musician Richard Boccelli. “She was basically a romantic,” says biographer Wendy Leigh. “She was attracted to high-energy, driven men. There was a string of them – from gangsters to princes and many in between.” (www.the.hitchcock.zone) “If I’d met the Prince two or three years earlier perhaps I wouldn’t have married him,” she later reflected. “But we came together at the right time… I knew that I was going to do it, even if there was a chance that I was making a mistake.”(www.express.co.uk)

The actress and director Lee Grant remembered an emotional encounter with Grace when she interviewed her for her book. Grant encouraged her to be more candid and asked her why she was so guarded: “She said, ‘You know, the women here in Monaco don’t like me, and so I have to watch everything I say and everything I do because they’re so critical’,” Grant said. “Who would have thought? The princess – she’s gotten everything, she’s Cinderella, and there she was, so lonely and so unhappy.” (www.huffingtonpost.com)

On the morning of September 13, 1982, Grace and her daughter Stéphanie were travelling back to Monaco from Roc Agel. The metallic green Rover P6 35OOV8 was packed with luggage on the back seat and the princess dismissed the chauffeur so that she could drive them herself. They set off at 9.30 am with Grace behind the wheel and Stephanie in the passenger seat. 10 minutes into the journey, and tragedy struck. A motorist driving behind the car reported it swerving erratically from side to side and he honked his horn several times. The car suddenly accelerated to well over 50mph as it approached a hairpin curve in the road known as Devil’s Curse. It crashed through a stone barrier and plunged down a 45-foot embankment and struck a tree where it rested near a pile of rocks. According to her daughter, Grace had complained of a headache and she seemed to black out for a fraction of a second. When she came to, she was disorientated and probably hit the accelerator by accident. Neither Grace nor her daughter were wearing seatbelts. According to Sesto Lequio in whose garden the car landed, Grace opened her eyes briefly and said:”Please tell them all I love them … my husband … Caroline… Stéphanie … Albert. Please take care of my baby Stephanie… she is badly hurt.” (www.findadeath.com)

The Princess and Stéphanie were taken to Monaco Hospital and surgery was performed on Grace’s lungs to stem the internal bleeding. She had also suffered multiple fractures of the collar bone, thigh and ribs, and sustained severe head injuries. Ultimately, Grace was to die from a second brain haemorrhage. A CAT scan revealed that the Princess had suffered a stroke shortly before the accident. Stéphanie had survived the accident with a fractured vertebra in her neck.

At 10.30 p.m on September 14, 1982, Princess Grace was taken off life-support and passed quietly away. She was 52-years-old. The hospital where she died was later renamed Centre Hospitalier Princess Grace. The body of the Princess lay in state in an open coffin until the funeral on Saturday September 18, 1982. Heads of state, celebrities, royals including Diana, Princess of Wales and nearly 100 million television viewers watched the ceremony. In his eulogy, James Stewart said: “You know, I just love Grace Kelly. Not because she was a Princess, not because she was an actress, not because she was my friend, but because she was just about the nicest lady I ever met.” (www.lifetimetv.co.uk) She was laid to rest in the Grimaldi family vault in St. Nicholas Cathedral. Her marble slab is inscribed with the words, ‘Grace Patricia, wife of Prince Rainier III, died the year of our Lord, 1982’ (www.franksreelreviews.com)

Following her death, the family received tens of thousands of letters and cards of sympathy from fans, and for months afterwards, people left flowers at the site of the crash. “(It) left a void”, Prince Albert said of losing his mother at the age of 24. “I wanted to talk to her about a lot more things than I had the chance to.” (www.dailymail.com)

Grace Kelly starred in 11 motion pictures in a Hollywood career that spanned just five years, yet she is immortalised and has left an indelible mark on the public consciousness. She was exquisitely beautiful and the epitome of class. “Grace was a princess from the moment she was born,” Frank Sinatra once remarked. (www.123helpme.com) The American Film Institute ranked Kelly number 13 in their list of the Greatest Female Stars of All Time.

Words: Alex Karas
Image: Harry Johnson

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