Friday, May 4, 2007

GRACE KELLY: Life of A Princess (Part One)

Magic in the Very Name
The Statuesque Princess with a Woman’s Heart

by Nick Zegarac

Grace Kelly: a name that immediately conjures to mind flashes of imperishable beauty, stately elegance and hushed reverence for the actress, princess, legend and woman. Both literally and metaphorically, Kelly was the cinema’s fairytale goddess; impossibly glamorous and transcendent of Hollywood’s manufactured aristocracy to a position of genuine power and glory. A figure of poised resplendence – often misconstrued by the outside world as posturing or cool aloofness – Grace Kelly was ever more the princess at heart than alluded by her title.

When, as Princess of Monaco, she began to receive large quantities of mail requesting aid and advice, Grace established the Princess Grace Foundation. When she noticed that Monaco’s artisans were struggling to earn a living, Grace set up Le Boutique du Rocher – a non-profit venture that proved so popular it has since established other locations in Monte Carlo. Generous, and with her time and commitment to the needy and downtrodden becoming a personal hallmark, Grace Kelly was indeed a legend in her own time. She has since become an iconic beacon of stately enrapture for all time.


“Hollywood amuses me; holier-than-thou for the public and un-holier-than-the-devil in reality.”
- Grace Kelly

She was born Grace Patricia Kelly in Philadelphia, PA on November 12, 1929, to a loving mother, who had once been a magazine ‘cover girl’ and doting father, on the cusp of becoming a successful industrialist. Though much has been ‘made’ of the Kelly family fortune, the truth is that Grace’s parents were only second generation money. Grace’s grandfather had in fact been an immigrant bricklayer with a keen sense of business savvy. Her uncle, George Kelly, was perhaps the only family member to be considered pop-royalty; the Pulitzer Prize-winning dramatist of The Show-Off and Craig’s Wife.

A precocious child with a penchant for polite mischief, there was no hint of pretense about the young Grace who, as she matured, preferred the relaxed comfort of jeans and sweatshirts to polished designer gowns and high heel shoes. Years later, Grace would fondly reminisce about her initial lack of fashion sense and her reluctance to give it up with “We live in a palace now. One is thus a little embarrassed to walk about it wearing blue jeans.”

Even from the start, at the heart of Grace’s upbringing was the understanding that personal wealth came, not only at a price but with its own set of responsibilities. Almost from birth, Grace wanted to be an actress – though it’s highly unlikely that she could have foreseen just how far that road would eventually take her. At age ten she made her debut in a Philadelphia stage production. By her late teens, she had solidified her commitment to that professional pursuit with a move to New York City where she worked as a fashion model while attending the American Academy of Dramatic Arts.

Grace’s good looks were immediately in demand. However, after receiving an offer for a screen test, Grace politely declined it instead, to dabble in the then fledgling medium of television and hone in her acting talents on the stage. In 1949, Grace made her Broadway debut in a revival of August Strindberg’s The Father. Her modest part garnered her critical praise and helped to build her confidence as a performer. Thus, when Hollywood beckoned once more, Grace accepted a bit part in 20th Century-Fox’s brooding film noir, Fourteen Hours (1951).

It was an inauspicious film debut, but it directly led to Grace being cast as Amy Fowler Kane, the Quaker wife of the town marshall (Gary Cooper) in Fred Zinnemann’s High Noon (1952), a role that provided Grace with her first opportunity to radiate that elusive blend of child-like innocence and womanly purity. Despite receiving glowing reviews, Grace did not benefit from the film’s success. No further filmic offers came and she reluctantly agreed to test for the role of Mary in Taxi (1953) but was rejected in favor of Constance Smith. However, luck and timing was both on Grace’s side.

Director John Ford had seen the Taxi screen test and had decided to cast Grace in Mogambo (1953) – a Technicolor remake of Clark Gable’s Red Dust (1932), starring Gable and Ava Gardner. Once again, Grace played an innocent; this time a devoted wife, who discovers to her own chagrin that her heart has begun to drift toward the rugged masculinity of a big game hunter while on safari in Africa.
It was during a hiatus from shooting in London 1952, that Look Magazine’s west coast editor Rupert Allan met Grace for the first time. Allan’s penning of a puff piece for the magazine so impressed both the magazine and Grace that a life-long friendship was forged over the course of the next few years and subsequent interviews were readily granted.

In the meantime, Mogambo’s premiere had made Grace Kelly Hollywood’s latest celebrity pin-up. The film earned Grace a seven year contract with MGM and her first Oscar nomination as Best Supporting Actress. However, it also created a mountain of headaches for all concerned.

MGM in the 1950s was not the same studio it had been a decade earlier. The studio’s first line of promotion was not in researching film vehicles for new protégée, but rather marketing them on loan outs for other studio projects that would build up a following they could later exploit to their own advantage. The ploy worked very well at first.
Director Alfred Hitchcock (left) tapped Grace as his latest in a long line of blonde heroines; this time as the passive fashion plate Margo Mary Wendice in Dial M for Murder (1954). Once again, Grace proved a winner – her stately elegance complimentary to that silky veneer of lost innocence. In the film, Margo has been having an off camera affair with writer, Mark Halliday (Robert Cummings), but has begun to regret her hasty decision, and instead has decided to work things out with her husband, Tony (Ray Milland). Mark is broken-hearted but remarkably understanding. The problem; Tony knows about Margo’s affair and has decided to hire an old school chum to murder her and make it look like an accident. The plan, however, goes awry and Margo kills her assassin instead.

The overwhelming success of Dial M for Murder and Grace’s overwhelming respect for Hitchcock ensured that actress and director would team again; this time in what many consider one of Hitchcock’s most brilliant masterpieces – Rear Window (1954). Cast as Lisa Carol Freemont, the long suffering fashion model whose would-be fiancée, L.B. Jeffries (James Stewart) cannot quite bring himself to marriage, Grace exhibited the hallmarks of a great actress; her innate ability to handle comedy and suspense a perfect compliment to Hitchcock’s overriding vision. In the years that were to follow, Hitchcock would regard Grace as his ultimate screen heroine, though the two only worked together on one more movie before the actress’s premature retirement.

In the meantime, Grace had suddenly become a ‘movie star’ – one of the most sought after and easily recognizable faces on the big screen; a popularity and prestige that led to her being considered by director George Seaton as first backup for Clifford Odet’s The Country Girl (1954) after Jennifer Jones unexpectedly became pregnant and had to bow out of the project. Initially, Paramount executives refused Seaton’s request, presumably blinded by Kelly’s stunning physical beauty, a stature that bode well only in the brief flashbacks for a character that otherwise had to appear dowdy and downtrodden.

Grace, however, refused to relinquish the part of Georgia Elgen. Auditioning for the role, she secured the respect of her cast and crew – transforming her screen persona into the embodiment of her character. In the final analysis, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) agreed with that transformation, awarding Grace her one and only Best Actress Oscar.

MGM was now in an enviable position. They had signed Kelly for a meager $750 a week and with only a few films to her credit she had skyrocketed to international stardom. Girls everywhere copied her style of dress and mannerisms. Every producer on the lot wanted her for a picture and MGM was in the position to pick and choose her filmic destiny to suit their own means. Unfortunately, MGM chose their next project unwisely.

Grace was at the pinnacle of her powers as an actress. But a misfire was on the horizon. In Green Fire, Grace was hopelessly miscast as the courtly Catherine Knowland; wife of a South American plantation owner whose heart is stirred to passion by emerald smuggler, Rian X. Mitchell (Stewart Granger). Enduring the relentless and often harsh backlash of critics, MGM decided to loan Grace out once again. She appeared opposite William Holden in the tragic romance, The Bridge to Toko-Ri (1954), a successful venture, but one beneath her talents as an actress.
However, Grace rebounded in Hitchcock’s most slick and stylish thriller to date, To Catch a Thief (1955), opposite Cary Grant. It would be the last time Hitchcock and Grace would work together. Partly shot on location in the south of France, Grace reportedly asked the film’s screenwriter John Michael Hayes if he was able to identify the owner of a lush rose garden they had passed while driving the Grande Corniche. Hayes replied, “The Prince Grimaldi’s.”

It was the first time Grace had ever heard that name. Fortuitously, it would not be the last. While filming on the French Riviera, Grace was introduced to Prince Rainier III in a polite and cordial first glance set up largely for publicity on the film, and, that instantly led to immediate rumors and wild speculations of a whirlwind romance between the two, though Grace was ostensibly engaged to designer Oleg Cassini at the time.

MGM recalled Grace to America, announcing to the press in advance that her next project would be opposite Robert Taylor in The Adventures of Quentin Durward (1955). Unfortunately for all concerned, the script was a shambles of sword-play and adventure that left Grace with precious little to do except swoon and be rescued. Upon reading a copy of the script, Grace emphatically refused to partake in the assignment. MGM played hardball – suspending her from all future projects. Their iron clad contract made it virtually impossible for Grace to accept filmic work at other studios.

It did not, however, preclude her from dabbling in artistic projects outside of film making. At the behest of festival organizers, Grace’s old friend, Rupert Allen suggested that she might attend the Cannes Film Festival as a minor diversion. Grace originally declined Allan’s invitation, but changed her mind after Paramount suggested she go to promote The Country Girl. Almost immediately, Allan set about preparing a photo-op with Paris Match magazine between Grace and Prince Rainier. But Grace refused to partake, citing a prearranged commitment to appear at an official reception for the festival instead.

Allan, an old hand at match making, quietly acquiesced but more steadily refused to give in. Instead, he moved the Paris Match photo-op to a tour of the palace. Grace reluctantly agreed to be photographed in several rooms, posing along side lush furnishings. At 4 o’clock that afternoon, Rainier suddenly appeared – perhaps even more nervous than Grace.
Ever the gentle gentleman, Rainier’s charm and restraint easily won Grace over and the two settled in to a more relaxed second meeting. By the end of their conversation, Rainier had become smitten with the actress and Grace had been left with the indelible first impression that the prince was indeed charming.



“I want to thank you for showing the prince what an American Catholic girl can be and for the very deep impression this has left on him.”
Father Francis Tucker (right)

The official story of how Grace and Rainier met was a matter of public record published in Look Magazine. However, between that meeting and Father Tucker’s note to Grace, there had been a privately written correspondence between Grace and the prince in which she humbly thanked him for the afternoon they had spent together and he reciprocated with a cordial reply. In the months leading up to their second arranged meeting, Grace and Rainier had become pen pals.

In truth, Tucker’s note to Grace was predicated on several factors – first; that like Grace, Tucker was a Philadelphian; second; that he currently was a priest in Monaco, and third; that he was a close personal friend of the Grimaldi family. During the interim between the festival and Christmas of 1955, Tucker did his best to keep mutual interests and rumors of a burgeoning romance between Grace and Rainier alive on both continents.

Tucker orchestrated a minor coup that began with the planting of a story of the prince’s serious intensions to ask Grace to be his bride. The Kellys hosted royalty for the first time when Rainier arrived in Delaware for the holidays. By all accounts, the Kellys liked Rainier at first glance, though off the record Grace’s father was frank enough to admit to the prince that “royalty doesn’t mean anything to us.” It was during this same Christmas visit that Grace accepted the prince’s proposal of marriage; a swift and decisive move that sent immediate shockwaves through most of Hollywood and even startled Rupert Allen.

However, MGM had had a change of heart too – or perhaps, a change of strategy is more like it. They offered Grace the lead in a filmic romance that seemed to mirror her real life circumstances. Reluctantly, Grace began work on The Swan (1956) a Ruritanian romance between a prince and princess that, in hindsight, was greatly influenced by the Paris Match article which speculated an intercontinental romance brewing between her and Rainier. Her commitment to the studio was rounded out with 1956’s remake of The Philadelphia Story, re-purposed as the musical High Society.

By all accounts, the transition from screen princess to real life royalty was problematic and exacerbated by the usual publicity machinery that transformed Grace’s pending nuptials into a three ring circus destined for the world news reel movie cameras. “The freedom of the press works in such a way that there is not much freedom from it,” Grace would later muse.

Despite becoming pregnant with Caroline almost from the moment she said ‘I do’, Princess Grace made it her immediate purpose to become a very public figure in Monaco. She embraced her new found title with all the vigor, prestige and dedication that had made her one of the world’s most adored cinema personalities and, in her transition from movie icon to popular personage, became more comfortable with finding her niche within palace life.

“I had so many problems when I first came here,” the Princess would later reflect, “…there was the language. I still spoke very poor French…I think my biggest single problem was becoming a normal person again, after having been an actress for so long…It was a very hard job that I had to take step by step. Luckily, I had the Prince, who was very helpful and very patient with me.”

Fiercely loyal, the Princess eventually came to be regarded by her citizens as the most immaculate, yet accessible and universally respected monarch of their generation. Many of Grace’s closest friends during this time have reflected since that there was a certain intangible quality that the Princess gave back to her constituents. She was ever more the woman than the Princess; so much more the fireside matriarch than the fashion plate, and quite capable of winning the hearts and minds of all who knew her.

The one minor glitch between Grace and the people of Monaco occurred in 1963 when the press leaked word that the Princess was seriously considering a brief return to films, to star in Alfred Hitchcock’s Marnie. Hitchcock had long since adopted Kelly as his favorite cool blonde. However, neither Hitch’ nor the Princess were quite prepared for the backlash of public scrutiny.

“She and I talked about it,” Rainier reflected years later, “We also talked to Hitchcock about it. I didn’t see anything wrong with it so I suggested we combine her work on the film with a family vacation.”

Sadly, Monaco did not share Rainier’s laissez faire attitude toward Hollywood. Their Princess could not also be a movie star. The former was an inherent responsibility Grace had accepted from God and country, the latter – a mere profession. A litany of public discouragements followed. The question of ‘billing’ incited a near public riot. Would Grace be billed as Grace Kelly or Princess Grace? MGM, still owning the option on Kelly’s contract, informed the Princess that they would boycott her from doing any project for any studio but their own. Finally, a letter from Pope John XXIII arrived at the palace, personally asking Grace not to do Marnie.

Reluctantly, Grace bowed out of the project. Hitchcock was first infuriated, then disappointed. He had already publicized the film in America as ‘the return of Grace Kelly.’ Though bitterly disappointed, and vowing to never again appear in films, the Princess had a change of heart two years later when she and Rainier both appeared in a charity documentary for UNICEF. However, as the years wore on, Grace was more realistic about her duties. “To me,” she once commented, “marriage has always been more important than my career.”

In 1976, Grace did four poetry readings at St. Cecilia’s Hall in Edinburgh for the American bicentennial. The program and reviews in the press were so widely acclaimed that in February 1978 the Princess received an invitation to repeat her performance in Pittsburgh, Minneapolis, Philadelphia and Washington. Instead, together with her close friend and organizer of the original event, John Carroll, Grace performed an entirely new monologue called ‘Birds, Beasts and Flowers’ to thunderous ovations. It was a minor coup for the woman who had once been universally adored as a movie queen.

Between 1979 and September of 1982, Grace tirelessly performed at these benefit venues. She seemed to derive strength from her public appearances, confiding to long time friend Mary Wells, “I’m so looking forward to this year. I’m coming into a whole new period in my life. The children are grown. Monte Carlo is great. Everything is terrific. My responsibilities have changed and I can finally do so many of the things I really want to do. I’m excited about the future. Now is my time.”
Tragically, on September 14th, 1982, Grace’s brief moment of personal contentment came to an end.

Only the day before had the Princess optimistically planned to do another poetry reading, and, in her green Rover along with daughter, Stephanie and a pile of dresses for the occasion, driven down a tight, steep and winding road. What occurred between those two destination points remains open for discussion. Grace missed her turn. Her car struck, and drove through, a retaining wall. The vehicle and its occupants somersaulted 120 feet through dense foliage and careened off the side of a slope.

In the intervening personal and public chaos that immediately followed, Grace quietly slipped into a coma. It was determined by a French neurosurgeon in Nice that the Princess had suffered two severe brain lesions – one immediately prior to her accident, the second during that fateful crash. No surgical intervention was possible. Grace was placed on life support with the grim diagnosis that if she survived, in all likelihood half her body would be permanently paralyzed. The next day, Princess Grace died. She was just 52 years old.


How does one remember a legend?

Well, if only by the body of work left behind, Grace Kelly was indeed a woman of the world destined for the historical annals. Her legacy on film is brief, but it shimmers to glorious effect as few of her contemporaries work has in the intervening decades. And, in reconsidering her life beyond film, one is suddenly struck by how much more there is to discover about the woman in front of the camera and behind the royal title.

As an actress she conveyed a refreshing frankness about both the art of motion pictures and her place in the cinema firmament; “I don’t want to dress up a picture with just my face,” Grace once said, adding, “When they start using me just for scenery, I’ll return to New York.”

As a doting wife and mother, Grace often found the time to reflect, perhaps in a moment of sadness, on the state of being a woman; “Emancipation of women has made them lose their mystery.”

In the final analysis, Grace Kelly, Princess of Monaco was ever more than a legend. She was genuine – a woman first, a wife and mother second.
Acting and her title – these were for show; the accoutrements necessary to fulfill both the dream and the expectation that her legions of adoring fans and subjects sought to project onto a girl with simple tastes, who thought little of either prestige or power in terms of advancements to one’s own social standing – as her character in To Catch a Thief adroitly summates for Cary Grant; “Palaces are for royalty. We’re just common people with a bank account.” Grace Kelly proved she was a Princess whereever she walked, and that is perhaps how she will be best remembered for many decades yet to come.

@ Nick Zegarac 2007 (all rights reserved).