KELLY, GRACE (Princess Grace,Grace Patricia Kelly) (1929–1982) Actress
Although Grace Kelly’ s film career lasted only five years, she remains one of the most luminous stars in Hollywood history. On November 12, 1929, she was born Grace Patricia Kelly into a wealthy Philadelphia family. Her mother was a former model, and her banker father had been a champion oarsman in the 1920 Olympics. Although shy as a girl, she made her stage debut at the age of 10. A blue-eyed blond with aristocratic features, Kelly embarked on a successful modeling career while studying at New York’s American Academy of Dramatic Arts in the late 1940s. She longed to act on the stage, a goal aided by her uncle George, a Pulitzer prize–winning playwright. Kelly first appeared on Broadway in 1949 in August Strindberg’s The Father but, to her disappointment, had trouble landing other stage roles, perhaps because
of her weak voice. She had much more success in television. In 1949 and 1950, she appeared in some 60 television programs.
In 1950 Kelly set her sights on feature films. Moving to Los Angeles, she appeared in Fourteen Hours (1951) before being cast in her breakthrough role as Gary Cooper’s Quaker wife in the classic western High Noon (1952). Signed to a contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM), Kelly was nominated for an Academy Award for best supporting actress for Mogambo (1953), in which she acted opposite Clark Gable. The following year, she won the best actress Oscar for The Country Girl (1954), beating out the favorite, JUDY GARLAND. In the film, she played down her stunning beauty to portray the bitter wife of an alcoholic. More characteristic of her film roles were the three movies she subsequently made with director Alfred Hitchcock: Dial M for Murder (1954), Rear Window (1954), and To Catch a Thief (1955). In these films, Hitchcock made the most of her “ice queen” facade that always suggested a red-hot passion smoldering just beneath the surface. The director once characterized Kelly’s unique appeal as “sexual elegance.”
By 1955, Kelly was the most popular female star in American film. That spring, while attending the Cannes Film Festival in France, she met Prince Rainier III during a photo shoot for the French magazine Paris Match. Hailing from one of Europe’s oldest royal families, Rainier ruled over Monaco, a tiny country smaller than the MGM lot in Los Angeles. The two met again months later at the house of a friend of the Kelly family. Within a week, they announced their engagement. On April 19, 1956, Kelly married Rainier in a televised ceremony and thereafter became known to the world as Princess Grace. Her professional career effectively came to an end. Her final two films, High Society and The Swan, were both released in 1956.
As Princess Grace, Kelly devoted the rest of her life to raising her three children—Caroline, Stephanie, and Albert—and to performing charity work. She earned the affection of the people of Monaco and, through her glamour, helped revive the country’s tourist industry, particularly by making its casinos a favored destination of the rich. Although she was said to be living a fairy tale, she seemed to have missed acting. It is rumored that Hitchcock offered her the lead role in Marnie in 1964, but she hesitantly turned it down because her husband objected. (The role then went to Tippi Hedren, who bore a superficial resemblance to Kelly.) In her final years, Kelly took an apartment in Paris and began spending less and less time at her husband’ s palace.
On September 12, 1982, while driving home to Monaco with her daughter Stephanie, Kelly lost control of her car, which plunged off the twisting mountain road. Stephanie was largely unhurt, but Kelly sustained substantial injuries. Two days later, she died without regaining consciousness. Doctors later determined that she had probably suffered a mild stroke just before the crash. The sudden death of Grace Kelly stunned her fans around the world, who could scarcely believe that such a seemingly charmed life could end so tragically.
Bradford, Sarah. Princess Grace. New York: Stein and Day, 1984.
Lacey, Robert. Grace. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1994.
Spada, James. Grace: The Secret Life of a Princess. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1987.
Recommended Recorded and Videotaped Performances
The Country Girl (1955). Paramount, VHS, 1998.
High Noon (1952). Republic, DVD, 1999.
Rear Window: Collector’s Edition (1954). Universal, DVD/VHS, 2001/2000.