When Grace Kelly met Prince Rainier III

The fairy tale wedding of Prince Rainier III of Monaco and Hollywood actress Grace Kelly, in April 1956, made headline news around the world.

The beautiful young film star became Princess of Monaco after marrying the Sovereign Prince in a glittering ceremony.

It seemed like a romantic marriage made in heaven, but according to recent media reports, the relationship wasn’t quite what it seemed. It was later claimed that the Principality of Monaco was struggling financially in the early 1950s.

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This allegedly led to the prince marrying the wealthy actress in return for a large dowry, with the added bonus that their wedding would put Monaco back on the map, bolstering its flagging casinos – which were losing custom to rival gambling establishments in neighbouring France.

To the world at large, when Grace Kelly met Prince Rainer III, it was truly a fairy tale romance, culminating in nuptials labelled “The Wedding of the Century”.

Grace Kelly
Born in 1929, the American actress enjoyed a privileged upbringing, as her father, John, was a wealthy Pennsylvanian businessman, who became a multi-millionaire through building a business empire based on brick manufacture. He was also a former gold medal-winning Olympic rower, while her beautiful mother, Margaret, was a physical education instructor.

Starring in various school productions, Kelly was determined to be an actress, despite her father’s disapproval. She graduated from the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York at 19, made several Broadway appearances and starred in TV dramas, before landing her first film role in Fourteen Hours in 1951.

This was the start of her career as a Hollywood A-list actress, starring in the western, High Noon, alongside Gary Cooper, followed by appearances in the Alfred Hitchcock murder-mysteries, Rear Window and Dial M for Murder, both in 1954. The public loved the blue-eyed blonde, with her glamorous good looks and flawless acting skills.

Prince Rainier III
Born in 1923, the prince also enjoyed a privileged and wealthy upbringing. Rainier Louis Henri Maxence Bertrand Grimaldi, the son of Princess Charlotte and Prince Pierre, the Duke of Valentinois, was brought up
at the Palace of Monaco.

His schooldays weren’t happy, as he was bullied by the other boys at his English boarding school because he was from Monaco. He finished his
education in France and Switzerland, graduating with an Arts degree in 1943 from the University of Montpellier.

In 1944, he fought a guerrilla campaign with the Free French Army against Nazi Germany. As a result of his bravery, he was awarded the Croix de Guerre – the military cross of France.

In 1949, Rainier succeeded to the throne, but despite his glamorous lifestyle, the war had taken its toll on Monaco financially. Its famous casinos were losing customers to the rival French casinos, affecting the local economy.

Chance meeting?
As legend has it, Kelly was in the South of France, shooting her third Hitchcock film, To Catch a Thief, with Cary Grant, in 1955. She attended the Cannes Film Festival and also went to Monaco for a photoshoot, where she met the charismatic young Prince Rainier.

They began enjoying a spectacular year-long public courtship, in the glare of the international press, leading to their two-day wedding celebration on 18th and 19th April 1956. While it appeared a chance meeting had led to their relationship, it was later suggested that the whole thing had been engineered by Rainier.

It was alleged that his friend, the wealthy tycoon Aristotle Onassis, offered Rainier some advice to get out of his financial problems. He was said to have suggested that the prince should wed a high-profile Hollywood actress to attract the world’s press to Monaco. This would lure more visitors and provide investment opportunities.

It was also alleged that when Rainier proposed to Kelly, the bride-to-be was required to bring a massive dowry of $2 million into the marriage! In his obituary in the Daily Telegraph, Kelly’s father had reportedly said at the time, “My daughter doesn’t have to pay any man to marry her!”

Despite his reluctance, it was said that his daughter’s desire to marry Rainier overcame her father’s doubts and he was persuaded to pay the dowry. There were more than 3,000 guests at their wedding, which was watched by the eyes of the world. Everyone loved the idea of the real-life
fairy tale romance.

Happy marriage
Despite the suggestions it was more a marriage of money, this didn’t tarnish the lavish wedding celebrations and the subsequently happy marriage of the golden couple.

Kelly gave up her acting career and they went on to have three children – Princess Caroline in January 1957, Prince Albert II in March 1958 and Princess Stéphanie in February 1965. Kelly was said to be very happy
in the marriage. Many potential suitors had been threatened by her lofty status in Hollywood. There were no such fears for the prince, who had a higher status himself.

It was said that Hitchcock tried to tempt Kelly back into the film industry in 1962, when he was casting for Marnie. She was interested, but there was public outcry in Monaco that a member of their royal family was considering playing a troubled kleptomaniac, so she had to reject the project.

The couple’s marriage was cut tragically short when the princess died in a car accident on 14th September 1982, at the age of 52. After his wife’s death, Rainier refused to remarry and lived the remainder of his life a widower. He reigned for more than 55 years, before his death in 2005, at the age of 81.

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