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.
Further Reading on Grace Kelly
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.