They married after a whirlwind courtship – but ultimately, their captivating relationship was to end in tragedy.
The story of the beautiful actress and her beau (dubbed the “playboy prince”) resembled a movie script. Their photographs graced the cover of almost every newspaper and magazine in the world in the 1950s.
Almost 70 years after one of the most famous royal weddings of the 20th century, Kelly is still remembered as a talented actress and serene royal princess.
Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in November 1929, Kelly came from a wealthy family. Her father was three-times Olympic rowing gold medallist John Kelly Snr, who was later appointed National Director of Physical Fitness by President Franklin Roosevelt during World War II. Her mother, Margaret, a former model, was the first female coach of women’s athletics at the University of Pennsylvania.
The family also had a show business background: John’s brother, Walter, a vaudeville star, made films for Paramount Pictures and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Their other brother, George, a screenwriter, dramatist and film director, won the famous Pulitzer Prize.
Grace Kelly starred in her first stage play, Don’t Feed the Animals, at the age of 12 in 1942. After graduating from Stevens School in Chestnut Hill in 1947, she signed for the Walter Thornton Model Agency, appearing on many magazine covers, but her dream was to become an actress.
Successful acting career
Kelly made her debut on Broadway in Johan Strindberg’s The Father, starring with Raymond Massey. She also appeared as Tracy Lord in The Philadelphia Story at the age of 19.
Mentored by her uncle, George, she made her TV debut in the drama Bethel Merriday, based on the novel by Sinclair Lewis, while continuing to work mainly in the theatre.
Impressed by her talent, film director at Twentieth Century Fox, Henry Hathaway, offered Kelly a small role in the 1951 film Fourteen Hours, portraying a woman contemplating getting a divorce. This was the first step on the ladder to stardom.
Her first major success was the 1952 Academy Award-winning western, High Noon, starring opposite Gary Cooper. Kelly played young Quaker bride Amy Fowler Kane – a perfect foil for Cooper’s stoic Marshall Will Kane.
She starred in the 1953 romantic adventure, Mogambo, as Linda Nordley. A married woman, she was attracted to big game hunter Victor Marswell, played by Clark Gable, during a trip to a remote African outpost. She won a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress.
Kelly then played Manhattan socialite Lisa Fremont in the 1954 Alfred Hitchcock thriller, Rear Window, opposite James Stewart, and won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance as Georgie Elgin in the 1954 drama The Country Girl, in which she played the wife of Bing Crosby’s fading alcoholic star Frank Elgin.
Kelly enjoyed a succession of hit movies including Green Fire, with Stewart Granger, in 1954; the Hitchcock thriller, To Catch a Thief, opposite Cary Grant, in 1955; and the famous musical, Charles Walters’ High Society, with Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby, in 1956. This was to be her final film, as a momentous meeting spelled the end of her acting career.
Romancing a prince
Born in May 1923, Prince Rainier III became Prince of Monaco in 1949. He has been credited with transforming the principality’s economy from a casino gambling resort into a cultural destination and tax haven.
In the 1940s, Rainier was involved in a six-year relationship with Gisèle Pascal, a French film actress. However, their romance ended, and she later married fellow actor Raymond Pellegrin.
Now single and in his late 20s, Rainier was looking for romance. Kelly said in an interview she had experienced “several unhappy romances”. Despite the star continuing to rise as one of Hollywood’s most in-demand actresses, she admitted to feeling “lost and confused”.
While filming To Catch a Thief in the south of France, Kelly was persuaded by Paris Match magazine to travel to Monaco for a glamorous photo shoot with Prince Rainier III. Although purely for publicity purposes, the meeting led to the young prince becoming besotted with the actress.
At the time, she was dating the French actor Jean-Pierre Aumont and wasn’t interested romantically in Rainier. She was described as being “polite but stand-offish” towards the love-struck prince.
Undeterred, he began to woo her by writing romantic letters and sending hugely expensive gifts. Her initial coolness was overcome and eventually, she succumbed to the prince’s charms. They enjoyed a whirlwind romance and were soon engaged.
He travelled to the Kelly family’s Philadelphia home before whisking her off for an elaborate royal wedding in Monaco.
While Rainier was undeniably in love with Kelly, cruel rumours circulated that she had not been his first choice for a bride. It was claimed he had pursued fellow Hollywood superstar Marilyn Monroe on the advice of his friend, Aristotle Onassis, the millionaire Greek shipping magnate.
However, Monroe turned down his advances, as she was in a relationship with her future husband Arthur Miller and also wished to continue her acting career.
Kelly travelled to Monaco to prepare for the royal wedding on 18th April 1956. She had to give up not only her Hollywood career, but also her US citizenship.
The wedding was one of the most beautiful and opulent spectacles ever seen. A civil ceremony launched the proceedings, followed by the religious ceremony.
Kelly was dubbed the “fairy tale princess” in her luxurious wedding gown, which was designed by Helen Rose, the Academy Award-winning costume designer. Fashioned in antique Brussels lace, it featured hundreds of pearls and multiple petticoats. Thirty skilled seamstresses worked round the clock for six weeks to complete the project. The ceremony was broadcast live all over the world.
Their marriage lasted 26 years and the royal couple had three children: Stephanie, Albert and Caroline. Sadly, the union ended in tragedy in September 1982, when Grace, aged 52, was involved in a fatal car accident while driving along a steep mountain road.
The loss of his beautiful wife devastated Prince Rainier, who never remarried. He continued to rule Monaco until his death at the age of 81 in April 2005. This fairy tale romance between a dashing prince and a beautiful actress shows how one meeting really can change your life.
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