Born into a wealthy and influential family from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Grace Kelly became interested in acting at a very young age, appearing in a local play when she was 10 years old. After her education in elite private schools, she moved to New York and got accepted into the prestigious American Academy of Dramatic Arts, whose famous alumni included Spencer Tracy, William Powell and Rosalind Russell. In November 1949, Grace made her Broadway debut opposite Raymond Massey in a revival of August Strindberg's play The Father. The following year, director Delbert Mann cast Grace as the title character in a television adaptation of the novel Bethel Merriday by Sinclair Lewis, which led to further work on the small screen. Grace's success on television soon brought her her first two motion picture assignments: Henry Hathway's Fourteen Hours (1951) and Fred Zinnemann's High Noon (1952).
|LEFT: Grace with Raymond Massey in the play The Father. MIDDLE: Publicity still for Fourteen Hours. RIGHT: Publicity still for High Noon.|
Meanwhile, director John Ford noticed Grace in a screen test and was fascinated by her «breeding, quality and class.» When Gene Tierney proved unavailable, Ford hired Grace as one of Clark Gable's leading ladies in the African adventure Mogambo (1953), which earned the newcomer an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress. With her career on the rise, Grace caught the attention of Alfred Hitchcock, who cast her in Dial M For Murder (1954) and Rear Window (1954), both of which became massive hits.
Following a role in The Bridges at Toko-Ri (1954), Grace was chosen by director George Seaton to appear opposite Bing Crosby and her previous co-star William Holden in The Country Girl (1954), based on the Clifford Odets 1950 play of the same name. Her deglamorized performance as the wife of an alcoholic has-been actor, played by Crosby, brought Grace significant praise from critics. Bosley Crowther of The New York Times highlighted the «quality of strain and desperation she puts into the battered, patient wife.» For her role in The Country Girl, Grace won the Academy Award for Best Actress.
|LEFT: Grace as Lisa Carol Fremont in Rear Window. MIDDLE: Grace as George Elgin in The Country Girl. RIGHT: Grace holding her Academy Award.|
Soon after the 1955 Academy Awards ceremony, Grace was asked to attend the Cannes Film Festival, where The Country Girl was scheduled to be screened in early May. She initially declined the invitation, as she was looking forward to spending some time at home and help with the all the preparations for her sister Elizabeth's forthcoming wedding. However, when Jean-Pierre Aumont, the French actor whom she was dating at the time, informed her that he, too, had been invited to Cannes, Grace changed her mind and decided to go.
At the same time, Pierre Galante, the movie editor of the French magazine Paris Match, had been entrusted with the task of finding an angle for a photo story that would be newsworthy both at home and abroad. With the imminent arrival of Grace Kelly in Cannes, Galante had the idea of arranging a meeting between the actress and His Serene Highness Rainier III, Prince of Monaco — something along the lines of «Hollywood Movie Queen Meets Real-Life Prince.» Grace was not particularly enthusiastic about this. «I don't see why it's so important for me to meet the prince,» she said to Galante, «but if you think it's such a good idea, I'll do it.»
|Grace Kelly in Cannes for the international film festival (April-May 1955).|
Six years older than Grace, Rainier had inherited the Monegasque throne from his grandfather, Prince Louis II, after his death in 1949. Before that, he had served as an artillery officer in the Free French Army during World War II, displaying such courage in the battle for Alsace that he was awarded the Croix de Guerre with bronze star and was made a Chevalier in the Legion of Honour in 1947. Upon his ascension to the throne, Rainier worked hard to revitalize Monaco's economy, which had declined considerably in the post-war era.
The principality's main source of income and sustainability since the late 19th century had been the profits from the legendary Casino de Monte-Carlo. After the war, however, the traditional gambling clientele, largely European aristocrats, found themselves with reduced funds. Through a shrewd deal with Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis, Rainier was able to revive the casino's fortunes, thus returning Monaco to its former prosperity. He also brought in new industries and businesses, encouraged low-cost housing and made Monaco an international tourist attraction not only for the elite, but also for the middle classes.
On May 6, 1955, after a series of delays and complications, Grace, Galante and his soon-to-be wife, Olivia de Havilland, finally arrived at the Palace of Monaco to meet Prince Rainier. He warmly greeted his guests and then suggested a stroll through his world-famous gardens, which served as background for Galante's photo story. The leisurely walk found Grace and Rainier engrossed in conversation; owing to time he had spent at two British boarding schools, the prince spoke fluent, unaccented English. Thirty minutes later, polite thank-yous and goodbyes were exchanged and Grace and company raced back to Cannes, where she still had duties to fulfill. «Well, he's very charming,» Grace said to Galante and de Havilland as they exited the palace. Another contingent of the press followed up on the visit and asked the bachelor prince that he thought of Miss Kelly. Rainier responded: «I had not yet visited the United States, and this was one of the first occasions I had to meet an American girl. She spoke clear English and was very calm, very agreeable, but my feelings went no further than that. It was merely 'hello' and 'goodbye.' [...] Certainly no thoughts of marriage crossed my mind!»
Upon returning to the United States, Grace wrote a formal note of appreciation to Rainier, thanking him for the welcome he had extended to her during her trip to Monaco. At the same time, Rainier sent Grace a formal note of thanks for interrupting her busy professional schedule to visit him at the palace. Suddenly, a lively and frequent correspondence began between the two — a sort of «epistolary courtship» instead of one conducted in person. According to Rainier, he and Grace «revealed more and more with each letter.»
Over the next seven months, the couple gradually came to see the similarities in their different backgrounds. They were uncomfortable with their status as celebrities; they were both deeply committed to their Catholic faith; and they both had enough experience to distinguish mere infatuation from love. He found her «gentle, poised and unaffected,» while she thought him «warm and unpretentious,» with an European charm she found irresistible. By the end of 1955, lacking any meeting beyond that afternoon in May, they «had become sufficiently acquainted in writing to give more than whimsical consideration to the prospect of marriage.»
|Grace and Rainier during their first meeting at the Prince's Palace of Monaco.|
On December 15, Rainier arrived in New York accompanied by his chaplain and his personal physician. The press bombarded him with questions about a potential bride and possible wedding, but the prince insisted that he had come to the United States for an annual check-up at Johns Hopkins University Medical Center. After a three-day medical examination, Rainier proceeded to Philadelphia at the invitation of Jack and Margaret Kelly, who had suggested he spent the Christmas season with them. Grace, having just finished work on Charles Vidor's The Swan (1956) — in which she, coincidentally, played a princess — had raced home to join her family and was seated next to Rainier at the holiday table.
On December 28, at Grace's apartment in Manhattan, the prince finally put her to the question that had prompted his long journey two weeks before. According to Rainier, it was all very simple: he asked, «Will you marry me?» and she unhesitatingly replied, «Yes.» The official proclamation of their engagement was made on January 5, 1956, first in Monaco and then by Jack Kelly at a luncheon in Philadelphia. The following day, the forthcoming nuptials between Grace Kelly and Prince Rainier of Monaco headlined newspapers all over the United States.
As news of her engagement caused a media frenzy, Grace confided to a close friend that Rainier had everything she had ever loved in a man:
«He's enormously sweet and kind. He's very shy, but also very strong. He wants a close and loving family, just as I do. It's even more important to him than to most men, because he had a terribly lonely childhood. He's very bright, has a wonderful sense of humor, makes me giggle and is very, very handsome. I love his eyes. I could look into them for hours. He has a beautiful voice. He's a good person. And I love him.»
Years later, Rainier said of their decision to marry:
«Neither of us was a child. We both understood what marriage meant. Both of us had gone thought difficult times, but both of us had learned from those difficult times that what we were looking for was marriage. We discussed it and we thought about it, and after we saw each other again in Philadelphia, I think we both realized that what we wanted was to make our lives together.»
|Grace and Rainier at her parents' home, after announcing their engagement.|
On the evening of January 6, just hours after the engagement was announced, Grace and Rainier made their first public appearance together at the Imperial Ball at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York, where the ballroom had been quickly redecorated to suggest the prince's palace in Monaco. Following a fashion show and a ballet performance, the couple ascended to the stage to conduct a prize raffle — he was instructed to turn a drum containing ticket stubs, while she drew out the winners. The name Grace called out was none other than Senator John F. Kennedy, who gave the prize (a diamond and sapphire ring) to his wife.
Four days later, Grace and Rainier held another press conference, this time in New York. Grace was a week away from starting filming High Society (1956), with Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra, which prompted a brief discussion about the possible end of her acting career. To the question, «Will you continue your career after the wedding?» Grace answered, «The Prince will decide that.» When asked if his future wife would make other films, Rainier said, «I don't think so!»
Back in Hollywood before the end of January, Grace found herself amidst a tornado of activities, juggling her work in High Society with requests for interviews, intensive French lessons, meetings about palace protocol with consular representatives from Monaco, and appointments with a plethora of designers, artists, musicians, chefs and hair stylists. Rainier was with her in Los Angeles for almost the entire shooting time of High Society, which was completed in early March. The prince then departed for Monaco, leaving Grace in Hollywood to record radio ads for the film and present the Best Actor Oscar at the 28th Academy Awards.
With her professional duties fulfilled, Grace rushed back to New York to attend the wedding of one of her bridesmaids, actress Rita Gam, before travelling home to spend Easter with her family. On April 4, the Princess-to-be, along with her family, bridesmaids, pet poodle and over 80 pieces of luggage, boarded the ocean liner SS Constitution for the French Riviera. During the time they were briefly apart, Rainier sent his bride love letters nearly every day. Just before Grace sailed, he wrote, «My darling, this is to tell you in a very mild way how terribly much I love you, miss you, need you and want you near me always. Safe trip, my love. Rest, relax and think of me, burning myself out with this terrible longing of you, for you! I love you so. — Rainier.»
|Grace aboard the SS Constitution, on her way to Monaco.|
When the Constitution anchored off Monte Carlo eight days later, Grace was greeted not only by Rainier, but also by a crowd of 20,000 people, who lined the streets to welcome the future Princess Consort of Monaco. As the small European nation went into a frenzy to prepare for what was being described by the press as «The Wedding of the Century,» Grace and Rainier «were swept through garden parties, formal receptions, gala ballet performances, grand balls and fireworks staged with rococo splendor.»
The couple had to go through two weddings, separately required by the Napoleonic Code of Monaco and the laws of the Roman Catholic Church. The 16-minute civil ceremony took place in the baroque throne room of the palace on April 18, 1956 and was attended by only 100 select guests. Grace wore a pale pink taffeta suit with cream-colored Alençon lace, created by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer costume designer Helen Rose, paired with white kid gloves and a Juliet cap. Later in the day, the couple held a reception for the citizens of Monaco, allowing each one to greet the bride and groom, and shake hands with the new Princess.
|LEFT: Grace and Rainier during their private civil wedding ceremony. RIGHT: The couple outside the palace after the civil wedding ceremony.|
The following day, the religious wedding ceremony was celebrated by the Bishop of Monaco at the St. Nicholas Cathedral, which had been decorated with white lilacs, hydrangeas, lilies and snapdragons. Grace's iconic gown, designed by Rose as a special wedding gift from MGM, included «a high-necked bodice of antique Brussels lace with flower designs, embroidered with seed pearls, topping a bell-shaped skirt of ivory peau de soie.» She also wore a Juliet cap ornamented with seed pearls, orange blossoms and a tulle veil that measured over 80 meters. Among the 700 guests that packed the small cathedral were Aristotle Onassis, Grace's former co-stars Ava Gardner and Cary Grant, hotelier Conrad Hilton, and prominent socialites Daisy Fellowes and Lady Diana Cooper. The dazzling event also featured 1,600 reporters and photographers, more than the number who had covered all of World War II.
That evening, the newlyweds boarded the yacht Deo Juvante II, which Rainier had given to Grace as a wedding gift, for a seven-week honeymoon cruise around the Mediterranean. The light gray suit worn by Grace for the occasion was designed by Edith Head.
«so hectic and so quick and frantic, there was no time to think about it. Things just happened, and you reacted on the moment. It's hard to describe the frenzy of it all, it was really kind of nightmarish. I remember looking at those first weeks as if I was just a visitor, a guest at my own wedding, but unlike guests, I couldn't go home when all the fuss and furor became too much. [...] I didn't read a press clipping for over a year, because the whole thing was a nightmare, really. A few private moments, of course, were marvelous. But it was a difficult time to go through, for the prince and myself.»
Rainier agreed with his bride: «If it had been up to me, the wedding would have been held in the palace chapel, which seats twenty-one people.»
|Grace and Rainier after their religious wedding ceremony.|
Upon returning from their honeymoon, Grace struggled to adjust to her new life as the wife of a head of state. She missed her family, her friends, her former career, and the «easier American attitude toward things.» Then there was resentment from the traditionalists, the Court and even the palace employees, who were committed to a rigid protocol and did not take her seriously. «I had to separate myself from what had been Grace Kelly, and that was very difficult for me,» she later said about her early years in Monaco. «But I could not be two people, an American actress and the wife of the Prince of Monaco. So, during those first years, I lost my identity. My husband and my life absorbed me until the children came, and it helped when I began service work in Monaco. Then, gradually, I joined up with myself again.»
A decade into the marriage, Grace had skillfully managed to combine her free-spirited American ways with the strict palace lifestyle. She was loved and respected by her children — Caroline, Albert (the current Prince of Monaco) and Stéphanie — and her «subjects,» whom she always greeted warmly, as if they were old acquaintances.
This post is my contribution The 2nd Wonderful Grace Kelly Blogathon hosted by The Wonderful World of Cinema. To view all entries, click HERE.
Edith Head: The Fifty-Year Career of Hollywood's Greatest Costume Designer by Jay Jorgensen (Running Press, 2010)
Grace: A Biography by Thilo Wydra (Skyhorse Publishing, 2014)
High Society: The Life of Grace Kelly by Donald Spoto (Three Rivers Press, 2013)
«Movies' Pretty Princess Assumes a Real Life Title» by LIFE magazine (April 30, 1956)
«Unique Realm Will Be Lonely No More for the Prince» by Emmet John Hughes for LIFE magazine (January 16, 1956)