Who Was Grace Kelly?
Born in Philadelphia in 1929, Grace Kelly rose to fame as a leading Hollywood actress following her prominent role in High Noon. Along with her Academy Award-winning performance in The Country Girl, she starred in the Alfred Hitchcock films Rear Window, Dial M for Murder and To Catch a Thief. Kelly left Hollywood behind after marrying Prince Rainier III of Monaco in 1956, thereby becoming known as Princess Grace. She died in her adopted home country in 1982, following a car accident.
Actress and Princess Consort 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 U.S. rowing team. A self-made millionaire, he owned one of the most successful brick businesses on the East Coast. Her 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 named after her father's sister, who died at a very young age.
Kelly expressed a deep love of performance as a child. In addition to participating in school plays and community productions, she occasionally modeled with her mother and sister. While attending Stevens School, a small private high school in Philadelphia, she continued to dream about acting. The arts held a prominent place in the Kelly family: Two uncles—Walter C. Kelly, a vaudevillian performer, and George Kelly, a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright—both heavily influenced her. It was George who later encouraged his niece to pursue a full-time acting career, mentoring her through her rise in Hollywood.
Seeking Fame in NYC
After high school, Kelly decided to pursue an acting career in New York City. Her parents were not pleased; according to Kelly's close friend Judith Balaban Quine, Jack Kelly thought that acting was "a slim cut above streetwalker." Despite this, Kelly enrolled at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. As a student, she modeled part time and appeared in ads for Old Gold cigarettes and on the covers of magazines like Cosmopolitan and Redbook. Her final performance at the Academy was in A Philadelphia Story, a role she would later reprise in the 1956 big screen adaptation, High Society (1956).
After graduating from the Academy at age 19, Kelly sought a career on Broadway, but found it tough going. Don Richardson, one of her directors and teachers, later said, "She would never have had a career in the theater," because she had "great looks and style, yes, but no vocal horsepower."
Regardless, Kelly soon found that film was more amenable to her talents. In the years just following World War II, the film and television industries were both booming, and Kelly soon moved to Hollywood. She would eventually feature in 11 films and star in over 60 television productions.
Gary Cooper discovered Grace Kelly on the set of her first film, Fourteen Hours (1951), when she was 22 years old. He arranged for her to play his very young wife in High Noon (1952), an acclaimed Western that put her on the path to stardom.
Kelly next appeared in Mogambo (1953), a film set in Kenya, starring Clark Gable and Ava Gardner. Kelly had an affair with Gable during filming, later saying, "What else is there to do if you're alone in a tent in Africa with Clark Gable?" Mogambo marked a turning point in Kelly's career: She was nominated for her first Academy Award and won a Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress. MGM offered her a seven-year contract, which she accepted on the condition that she get to live in Manhattan every other year so she could pursue stage work.
Kelly turned down the role of Edie Doyle in On the Waterfront (1954) so she could work with her soon-to-be friend and mentor Alfred Hitchcock In the 1950s, Kelly made three films with the legendary master of suspense: Rear Window (1954), Dial M for Murder (1954) and To Catch a Thief (1955). Hitchcock considered Kelly the epitome of the femme fatale, with her beauty, style and "sexual elegance."
In 1954, Kelly won the role of Georgie Elgin in The Country Girl, opposite Bing Crosby and William Holden. It was not a glamorous role for Kelly, who portrayed the dowdy and neglected wife of an alcoholic. She gave a raw and uncharacteristically stripped-down performance, which garnered an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress. This time she won, beating Judy Garland (A Star Is Born) to claim her Oscar.
Princess Grace of Monaco
At this point in her career, Kelly was one of the highest paid and most respected actresses in the world. In 1955, she was asked to join the United States Delegation Committee at the Cannes Film Festival in France. During a photo shoot, she met Prince Rainier III of Monaco, who happened to be seeking a bride. If he didn't produce an heir, Monaco would become part of France. The prince once described his ideal bride: "I see her with long hair floating in the wind, the color of autumn leaves. Her eyes are blue or violet, with flecks of gold." The press glamorized their courtship, depicting it as a fairy-tale romance.
After marrying Prince Rainier on April 19, 1956, in a very public and ornate ceremony, Kelly abandoned her acting career in order to become princess consort of Monaco. She was also required to give up her American citizenship, and Prince Rainier banned her films in Monaco.
The royal couple had three children: Princess Caroline, Prince Albert and Princess Stéphanie. Despite many attempts by filmmakers to lure Princess Grace back into the film industry, she resisted, embracing her role as a ceremonial leader of Monaco and becoming involved in many cultural and charitable organizations. Though some believe she deeply missed her acting career, she often spoke of the rampant problems afflicting the film industry: "Hollywood amuses me. Holier-than-thou for the public and unholier-than-the-devil in reality."
Tragedy struck on September 13, 1982, when Princess Grace and her younger daughter were driving along the steep cliffs of the Côte d'Azur region of southern France. She suffered a stroke and lost control of the vehicle, which spun off the cliff's edge and plunged down a 45-foot embankment. Mother and daughter were rushed to a hospital, where Princess Grace spent 24 hours in a coma before being taken off life support, at the age of 52. Princess Stéphanie suffered a hairline fracture of a vertebra but survived the crash.
Grace Kelly remained in the public eye for most of her life. Her on-screen beauty, self-confidence and mystery enchanted the world, and her serenity and poise as a princess piqued the media's attention. Of this attention, she remarked with typical humor and grace, "The freedom of the press works in such a way that there is not much freedom from it."
Shortly after her death, The Grace Kelly Story (1983) aired as a TV movie, starring Cheryl Ladd. Years later, Nicole Kidman took on the role of the Hollywood icon turned princess in the biopic Grace of Monaco (2014).
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