Friday, May 04, 2007

GRACE KELLY: Life of A Princess (Part One)

Magic in the Very Name
The Statuesque Princess with a Woman’s Heart

by Nick Zegarac

Grace Kelly: a name that immediately conjures to mind flashes of imperishable beauty, stately elegance and hushed reverence for the actress, princess, legend and woman. Both literally and metaphorically, Kelly was the cinema’s fairytale goddess; impossibly glamorous and transcendent of Hollywood’s manufactured aristocracy to a position of genuine power and glory. A figure of poised resplendence – often misconstrued by the outside world as posturing or cool aloofness – Grace Kelly was ever more the princess at heart than alluded by her title.

When, as Princess of Monaco, she began to receive large quantities of mail requesting aid and advice, Grace established the Princess Grace Foundation. When she noticed that Monaco’s artisans were struggling to earn a living, Grace set up Le Boutique du Rocher – a non-profit venture that proved so popular it has since established other locations in Monte Carlo. Generous, and with her time and commitment to the needy and downtrodden becoming a personal hallmark, Grace Kelly was indeed a legend in her own time. She has since become an iconic beacon of stately enrapture for all time.


“Hollywood amuses me; holier-than-thou for the public and un-holier-than-the-devil in reality.”
- Grace Kelly

She was born Grace Patricia Kelly in Philadelphia, PA on November 12, 1929, to a loving mother, who had once been a magazine ‘cover girl’ and doting father, on the cusp of becoming a successful industrialist. Though much has been ‘made’ of the Kelly family fortune, the truth is that Grace’s parents were only second generation money. Grace’s grandfather had in fact been an immigrant bricklayer with a keen sense of business savvy. Her uncle, George Kelly, was perhaps the only family member to be considered pop-royalty; the Pulitzer Prize-winning dramatist of The Show-Off and Craig’s Wife.

A precocious child with a penchant for polite mischief, there was no hint of pretense about the young Grace who, as she matured, preferred the relaxed comfort of jeans and sweatshirts to polished designer gowns and high heel shoes. Years later, Grace would fondly reminisce about her initial lack of fashion sense and her reluctance to give it up with “We live in a palace now. One is thus a little embarrassed to walk about it wearing blue jeans.”

Even from the start, at the heart of Grace’s upbringing was the understanding that personal wealth came, not only at a price but with its own set of responsibilities. Almost from birth, Grace wanted to be an actress – though it’s highly unlikely that she could have foreseen just how far that road would eventually take her. At age ten she made her debut in a Philadelphia stage production. By her late teens, she had solidified her commitment to that professional pursuit with a move to New York City where she worked as a fashion model while attending the American Academy of Dramatic Arts.

Grace’s good looks were immediately in demand. However, after receiving an offer for a screen test, Grace politely declined it instead, to dabble in the then fledgling medium of television and hone in her acting talents on the stage. In 1949, Grace made her Broadway debut in a revival of August Strindberg’s The Father. Her modest part garnered her critical praise and helped to build her confidence as a performer. Thus, when Hollywood beckoned once more, Grace accepted a bit part in 20th Century-Fox’s brooding film noir, Fourteen Hours (1951).

It was an inauspicious film debut, but it directly led to Grace being cast as Amy Fowler Kane, the Quaker wife of the town marshall (Gary Cooper) in Fred Zinnemann’s High Noon (1952), a role that provided Grace with her first opportunity to radiate that elusive blend of child-like innocence and womanly purity. Despite receiving glowing reviews, Grace did not benefit from the film’s success. No further filmic offers came and she reluctantly agreed to test for the role of Mary in Taxi (1953) but was rejected in favor of Constance Smith. However, luck and timing was both on Grace’s side.

Director John Ford had seen the Taxi screen test and had decided to cast Grace in Mogambo (1953) – a Technicolor remake of Clark Gable’s Red Dust (1932), starring Gable and Ava Gardner. Once again, Grace played an innocent; this time a devoted wife, who discovers to her own chagrin that her heart has begun to drift toward the rugged masculinity of a big game hunter while on safari in Africa.
It was during a hiatus from shooting in London 1952, that Look Magazine’s west coast editor Rupert Allan met Grace for the first time. Allan’s penning of a puff piece for the magazine so impressed both the magazine and Grace that a life-long friendship was forged over the course of the next few years and subsequent interviews were readily granted.

In the meantime, Mogambo’s premiere had made Grace Kelly Hollywood’s latest celebrity pin-up. The film earned Grace a seven year contract with MGM and her first Oscar nomination as Best Supporting Actress. However, it also created a mountain of headaches for all concerned.

MGM in the 1950s was not the same studio it had been a decade earlier. The studio’s first line of promotion was not in researching film vehicles for new protégée, but rather marketing them on loan outs for other studio projects that would build up a following they could later exploit to their own advantage. The ploy worked very well at first.
Director Alfred Hitchcock (left) tapped Grace as his latest in a long line of blonde heroines; this time as the passive fashion plate Margo Mary Wendice in Dial M for Murder (1954). Once again, Grace proved a winner – her stately elegance complimentary to that silky veneer of lost innocence. In the film, Margo has been having an off camera affair with writer, Mark Halliday (Robert Cummings), but has begun to regret her hasty decision, and instead has decided to work things out with her husband, Tony (Ray Milland). Mark is broken-hearted but remarkably understanding. The problem; Tony knows about Margo’s affair and has decided to hire an old school chum to murder her and make it look like an accident. The plan, however, goes awry and Margo kills her assassin instead.

The overwhelming success of Dial M for Murder and Grace’s overwhelming respect for Hitchcock ensured that actress and director would team again; this time in what many consider one of Hitchcock’s most brilliant masterpieces – Rear Window (1954). Cast as Lisa Carol Freemont, the long suffering fashion model whose would-be fiancée, L.B. Jeffries (James Stewart) cannot quite bring himself to marriage, Grace exhibited the hallmarks of a great actress; her innate ability to handle comedy and suspense a perfect compliment to Hitchcock’s overriding vision. In the years that were to follow, Hitchcock would regard Grace as his ultimate screen heroine, though the two only worked together on one more movie before the actress’s premature retirement.

In the meantime, Grace had suddenly become a ‘movie star’ – one of the most sought after and easily recognizable faces on the big screen; a popularity and prestige that led to her being considered by director George Seaton as first backup for Clifford Odet’s The Country Girl (1954) after Jennifer Jones unexpectedly became pregnant and had to bow out of the project. Initially, Paramount executives refused Seaton’s request, presumably blinded by Kelly’s stunning physical beauty, a stature that bode well only in the brief flashbacks for a character that otherwise had to appear dowdy and downtrodden.

Grace, however, refused to relinquish the part of Georgia Elgen. Auditioning for the role, she secured the respect of her cast and crew – transforming her screen persona into the embodiment of her character. In the final analysis, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) agreed with that transformation, awarding Grace her one and only Best Actress Oscar.

MGM was now in an enviable position. They had signed Kelly for a meager $750 a week and with only a few films to her credit she had skyrocketed to international stardom. Girls everywhere copied her style of dress and mannerisms. Every producer on the lot wanted her for a picture and MGM was in the position to pick and choose her filmic destiny to suit their own means. Unfortunately, MGM chose their next project unwisely.

Grace was at the pinnacle of her powers as an actress. But a misfire was on the horizon. In Green Fire, Grace was hopelessly miscast as the courtly Catherine Knowland; wife of a South American plantation owner whose heart is stirred to passion by emerald smuggler, Rian X. Mitchell (Stewart Granger). Enduring the relentless and often harsh backlash of critics, MGM decided to loan Grace out once again. She appeared opposite William Holden in the tragic romance, The Bridge to Toko-Ri (1954), a successful venture, but one beneath her talents as an actress.
However, Grace rebounded in Hitchcock’s most slick and stylish thriller to date, To Catch a Thief (1955), opposite Cary Grant. It would be the last time Hitchcock and Grace would work together. Partly shot on location in the south of France, Grace reportedly asked the film’s screenwriter John Michael Hayes if he was able to identify the owner of a lush rose garden they had passed while driving the Grande Corniche. Hayes replied, “The Prince Grimaldi’s.”

It was the first time Grace had ever heard that name. Fortuitously, it would not be the last. While filming on the French Riviera, Grace was introduced to Prince Rainier III in a polite and cordial first glance set up largely for publicity on the film, and, that instantly led to immediate rumors and wild speculations of a whirlwind romance between the two, though Grace was ostensibly engaged to designer Oleg Cassini at the time.

MGM recalled Grace to America, announcing to the press in advance that her next project would be opposite Robert Taylor in The Adventures of Quentin Durward (1955). Unfortunately for all concerned, the script was a shambles of sword-play and adventure that left Grace with precious little to do except swoon and be rescued. Upon reading a copy of the script, Grace emphatically refused to partake in the assignment. MGM played hardball – suspending her from all future projects. Their iron clad contract made it virtually impossible for Grace to accept filmic work at other studios.

It did not, however, preclude her from dabbling in artistic projects outside of film making. At the behest of festival organizers, Grace’s old friend, Rupert Allen suggested that she might attend the Cannes Film Festival as a minor diversion. Grace originally declined Allan’s invitation, but changed her mind after Paramount suggested she go to promote The Country Girl. Almost immediately, Allan set about preparing a photo-op with Paris Match magazine between Grace and Prince Rainier. But Grace refused to partake, citing a prearranged commitment to appear at an official reception for the festival instead.

Allan, an old hand at match making, quietly acquiesced but more steadily refused to give in. Instead, he moved the Paris Match photo-op to a tour of the palace. Grace reluctantly agreed to be photographed in several rooms, posing along side lush furnishings. At 4 o’clock that afternoon, Rainier suddenly appeared – perhaps even more nervous than Grace.
Ever the gentle gentleman, Rainier’s charm and restraint easily won Grace over and the two settled in to a more relaxed second meeting. By the end of their conversation, Rainier had become smitten with the actress and Grace had been left with the indelible first impression that the prince was indeed charming.