Friday, May 04, 2007



“I want to thank you for showing the prince what an American Catholic girl can be and for the very deep impression this has left on him.”
Father Francis Tucker (right)

The official story of how Grace and Rainier met was a matter of public record published in Look Magazine. However, between that meeting and Father Tucker’s note to Grace, there had been a privately written correspondence between Grace and the prince in which she humbly thanked him for the afternoon they had spent together and he reciprocated with a cordial reply. In the months leading up to their second arranged meeting, Grace and Rainier had become pen pals.

In truth, Tucker’s note to Grace was predicated on several factors – first; that like Grace, Tucker was a Philadelphian; second; that he currently was a priest in Monaco, and third; that he was a close personal friend of the Grimaldi family. During the interim between the festival and Christmas of 1955, Tucker did his best to keep mutual interests and rumors of a burgeoning romance between Grace and Rainier alive on both continents.

Tucker orchestrated a minor coup that began with the planting of a story of the prince’s serious intensions to ask Grace to be his bride. The Kellys hosted royalty for the first time when Rainier arrived in Delaware for the holidays. By all accounts, the Kellys liked Rainier at first glance, though off the record Grace’s father was frank enough to admit to the prince that “royalty doesn’t mean anything to us.” It was during this same Christmas visit that Grace accepted the prince’s proposal of marriage; a swift and decisive move that sent immediate shockwaves through most of Hollywood and even startled Rupert Allen.

However, MGM had had a change of heart too – or perhaps, a change of strategy is more like it. They offered Grace the lead in a filmic romance that seemed to mirror her real life circumstances. Reluctantly, Grace began work on The Swan (1956) a Ruritanian romance between a prince and princess that, in hindsight, was greatly influenced by the Paris Match article which speculated an intercontinental romance brewing between her and Rainier. Her commitment to the studio was rounded out with 1956’s remake of The Philadelphia Story, re-purposed as the musical High Society.

By all accounts, the transition from screen princess to real life royalty was problematic and exacerbated by the usual publicity machinery that transformed Grace’s pending nuptials into a three ring circus destined for the world news reel movie cameras. “The freedom of the press works in such a way that there is not much freedom from it,” Grace would later muse.

Despite becoming pregnant with Caroline almost from the moment she said ‘I do’, Princess Grace made it her immediate purpose to become a very public figure in Monaco. She embraced her new found title with all the vigor, prestige and dedication that had made her one of the world’s most adored cinema personalities and, in her transition from movie icon to popular personage, became more comfortable with finding her niche within palace life.

“I had so many problems when I first came here,” the Princess would later reflect, “…there was the language. I still spoke very poor French…I think my biggest single problem was becoming a normal person again, after having been an actress for so long…It was a very hard job that I had to take step by step. Luckily, I had the Prince, who was very helpful and very patient with me.”

Fiercely loyal, the Princess eventually came to be regarded by her citizens as the most immaculate, yet accessible and universally respected monarch of their generation. Many of Grace’s closest friends during this time have reflected since that there was a certain intangible quality that the Princess gave back to her constituents. She was ever more the woman than the Princess; so much more the fireside matriarch than the fashion plate, and quite capable of winning the hearts and minds of all who knew her.

The one minor glitch between Grace and the people of Monaco occurred in 1963 when the press leaked word that the Princess was seriously considering a brief return to films, to star in Alfred Hitchcock’s Marnie. Hitchcock had long since adopted Kelly as his favorite cool blonde. However, neither Hitch’ nor the Princess were quite prepared for the backlash of public scrutiny.

“She and I talked about it,” Rainier reflected years later, “We also talked to Hitchcock about it. I didn’t see anything wrong with it so I suggested we combine her work on the film with a family vacation.”

Sadly, Monaco did not share Rainier’s laissez faire attitude toward Hollywood. Their Princess could not also be a movie star. The former was an inherent responsibility Grace had accepted from God and country, the latter – a mere profession. A litany of public discouragements followed. The question of ‘billing’ incited a near public riot. Would Grace be billed as Grace Kelly or Princess Grace? MGM, still owning the option on Kelly’s contract, informed the Princess that they would boycott her from doing any project for any studio but their own. Finally, a letter from Pope John XXIII arrived at the palace, personally asking Grace not to do Marnie.

Reluctantly, Grace bowed out of the project. Hitchcock was first infuriated, then disappointed. He had already publicized the film in America as ‘the return of Grace Kelly.’ Though bitterly disappointed, and vowing to never again appear in films, the Princess had a change of heart two years later when she and Rainier both appeared in a charity documentary for UNICEF. However, as the years wore on, Grace was more realistic about her duties. “To me,” she once commented, “marriage has always been more important than my career.”

In 1976, Grace did four poetry readings at St. Cecilia’s Hall in Edinburgh for the American bicentennial. The program and reviews in the press were so widely acclaimed that in February 1978 the Princess received an invitation to repeat her performance in Pittsburgh, Minneapolis, Philadelphia and Washington. Instead, together with her close friend and organizer of the original event, John Carroll, Grace performed an entirely new monologue called ‘Birds, Beasts and Flowers’ to thunderous ovations. It was a minor coup for the woman who had once been universally adored as a movie queen.

Between 1979 and September of 1982, Grace tirelessly performed at these benefit venues. She seemed to derive strength from her public appearances, confiding to long time friend Mary Wells, “I’m so looking forward to this year. I’m coming into a whole new period in my life. The children are grown. Monte Carlo is great. Everything is terrific. My responsibilities have changed and I can finally do so many of the things I really want to do. I’m excited about the future. Now is my time.”
Tragically, on September 14th, 1982, Grace’s brief moment of personal contentment came to an end.

Only the day before had the Princess optimistically planned to do another poetry reading, and, in her green Rover along with daughter, Stephanie and a pile of dresses for the occasion, driven down a tight, steep and winding road. What occurred between those two destination points remains open for discussion. Grace missed her turn. Her car struck, and drove through, a retaining wall. The vehicle and its occupants somersaulted 120 feet through dense foliage and careened off the side of a slope.

In the intervening personal and public chaos that immediately followed, Grace quietly slipped into a coma. It was determined by a French neurosurgeon in Nice that the Princess had suffered two severe brain lesions – one immediately prior to her accident, the second during that fateful crash. No surgical intervention was possible. Grace was placed on life support with the grim diagnosis that if she survived, in all likelihood half her body would be permanently paralyzed. The next day, Princess Grace died. She was just 52 years old.


How does one remember a legend?

Well, if only by the body of work left behind, Grace Kelly was indeed a woman of the world destined for the historical annals. Her legacy on film is brief, but it shimmers to glorious effect as few of her contemporaries work has in the intervening decades. And, in reconsidering her life beyond film, one is suddenly struck by how much more there is to discover about the woman in front of the camera and behind the royal title.

As an actress she conveyed a refreshing frankness about both the art of motion pictures and her place in the cinema firmament; “I don’t want to dress up a picture with just my face,” Grace once said, adding, “When they start using me just for scenery, I’ll return to New York.”

As a doting wife and mother, Grace often found the time to reflect, perhaps in a moment of sadness, on the state of being a woman; “Emancipation of women has made them lose their mystery.”

In the final analysis, Grace Kelly, Princess of Monaco was ever more than a legend. She was genuine – a woman first, a wife and mother second.
Acting and her title – these were for show; the accoutrements necessary to fulfill both the dream and the expectation that her legions of adoring fans and subjects sought to project onto a girl with simple tastes, who thought little of either prestige or power in terms of advancements to one’s own social standing – as her character in To Catch a Thief adroitly summates for Cary Grant; “Palaces are for royalty. We’re just common people with a bank account.” Grace Kelly proved she was a Princess whereever she walked, and that is perhaps how she will be best remembered for many decades yet to come.

@ Nick Zegarac 2007 (all rights reserved).