by Scott Mehl
Princess Grace of Monaco
Princess Grace of Monaco was the wife of Prince Rainier III of Monaco, and mother of the current Prince Albert II. She was born Grace Patricia Kelly in Philadelphia on November 12, 1929. She was the third of four children of John B. Kelly Sr. and Margaret Majer. Her siblings were Margaret (“Peggy”), John B. Jr, and Elizabeth (“Lizanne”). Two of her paternal uncles – Walter Kelly and George Kelly – had been vaudeville actors. George went on to become a prominent playwright, earning the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1926. He would also be instrumental in Grace’s future career.
Grace was raised in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and attended Ravenhill Academy. She later enrolled in the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City (thanks to a little help from her uncle George). During this time, Grace worked as a model, earning enough to pay her own tuition. She made her Broadway debut in 1949 in The Father and was later cast in a television version of Sinclair Lewis’ Bethel Merriday. Appearing in over 60 television productions, Grace was soon noticed and began her film career. Her first film was Fourteen Hours in 1951, in a very small role. However, while visiting the set, Gary Cooper took notice of Grace.
The following year, she was offered the role of Amy Fowler, co-starring with Cooper in High Noon. 1953 brought the film Mogambo which earned Kelly her first Academy Award nomination. 1954 saw Grace appearing in five major films – Dial M For Murder, Rear Window, The Country Girl, Green Fire, and The Bridges at Toko-Ri. Grace went on to win the Academy Award for Best Actress in 1954, for her role in The Country Girl. In 1955, she took the last of her roles with Alfred Hitchcock, starring in To Catch A Thief with Cary Grant, and her last two movies were released in 1956 – The Swan (released on Grace and Rainier’s wedding day), and High Society (released several months later).
In 1955, Grace attended the Cannes Film Festival and was introduced to Prince Rainier III of Monaco. A relationship soon developed, in and December of that year, Rainier visited Grace and her family in Philadelphia. The couple’s engagement was announced in January 1956. Grace and her family sailed to Monaco aboard the SS Constitution, arriving on April 12th. The couple was married in a civil ceremony held in the Throne Room at the Palace on April 18, 1956. The following day, a large religious ceremony was held at the Saint Nicholas Cathedral. As a condition to being released from her contract with MGM, Grace had allowed the studio to film the two ceremonies. The Wedding of Monaco was later screened around the world. Following the religious ceremony, the couple then drove to the Sainte-Dévote Chapel, where following tradition, Grace left her bridal bouquet in tribute to the patron saint of Monaco. After a seven-week honeymoon cruising the Mediterranean on Rainier’s yacht, the couple settled back into the Palace and soon began their family. Three children would be born:
- Princess Caroline, Princess of Hanover (1957) – married three times, four children
- Prince Albert II (1958) – married Charlene Wittstock, two children
- Princess Stéphanie (1965) – married twice, three children
Having given up her acting career, Princess Grace threw herself into her new role as Princess of Monaco. She learned the language in just a few months and quickly became much loved by the Monegasque people. A huge fan of AS Monaco, she designed a new logo for their uniforms, which was used until 2013. She also began her extensive philanthropic work. In 1963, she founded the World Association of Children’s Friends (AMADE Mondiale), and the following year established The Princess Grace Foundation. Her interest and support of the arts continued, with the establishment of the Princess Grace Ballet Academy. She also served as President of the Monaco Red Cross until her death.
In addition to her work with various organizations, Grace was instrumental in helping to bring about many of her husband’s advancements in the small principality. Her “star power” brought new attention to Monaco, and Rainier often credited his wife for helping to turn the once-small gambling resort into the thriving country it has become.
Through the years, Grace continued to miss acting and had several opportunities to return to the screen. In 1962, Hitchcock approached her to star in his new movie, Marnie. With Rainier’s full support, she agreed to take on the role. However, the Monegasque people were against the idea of their Princess acting in a film, and Grace decided to decline the offer. Another offer would come in 1970, but this time her husband was adamantly against the idea. Needing a creative outlet of her own, Princess Grace later began giving poetry readings and even narrated several documentaries. This allowed her to enjoy some of her former life, and also gave her an opportunity to raise funds for her foundation and other charities. She also established Monaco’s Garden Club, indulging in another of her lifetime interests.
Despite all of her other interests, Grace felt that her first and most important role was being a mother to her children. Fiercely protective of them, she oversaw their education and did everything possible to ensure they were raised as normally as possible. Perhaps a meddling mother at times, she also allowed them to make their own decisions… and mistakes. To this day, all three of the couple’s children work tirelessly to ensure that their mother’s legacy continues – through her charitable organizations as well as exhibits around the world about Grace’s life.
Sadly, that life would come to a tragic end. On September 13, 1982, while driving back to Monaco from their home in France, Princess Grace suffered a stroke. The car veered off the road, and both Grace and Princess Stephanie were severely injured. Flown back to the hospital in Monaco, Grace never regained consciousness, having suffered major internal injuries. The following day, on September 14th, at 10:55 pm, Princess Grace of Monaco passed away. Her funeral was held several days later at the Saint Nicholas Cathedral, attended by many royal representatives from around the world, as well as many of Grace’s old friends from Hollywood. Following the funeral, she was buried at the Cathedral.
After Grace’s tragic death, Prince Rainier named Princess Caroline as the new president of the Princess Grace Foundation. Caroline also saw that many of her mother’s projects were finished. This included the Spring Arts Festival which began in 1984 and the formal establishment of the Monte Carlo Ballet in 1985. Caroline continues to this day to spearhead many of her mother’s charities and organizations.