Even 30 years after her death, Princess Grace of Monaco, otherwise known as the actress Grace Kelly, is as much admired and revered by many as she was in her lifetime. Her life was short (she was only 52 when she died) but it was an extraordinary one. Many biographies have been written about her, in her lifetime and since her death, and some even with Royal approval. We take a slightly briefer look at her life.
This time, the second half of Grace’s film career and her meeting with her future husband.
Grace had starred in a few films by now, but really wanted to act in something grittier. She was desperate to play the part of Georgie Elgin, opposite Bing Crosby in The Country Girl. MGM refused to loan her out to Paramount again. Being financially independent, Grace threatened to leave Hollywood and move back to New York. MGM relented and Grace played the downtrodden wife of an alcoholic singer to great acclaim. She won the Academy Award for Best Actress in 1955, proof that she was a truly talented actress. People were astounded to see her in a part with little make up and old clothes – a far cry from her earlier, more glamorous roles. Paramount even insisted on a scene at the end of the film where Grace is seen in an evening dress and with perfect hair and make up, so much did they want to make the most of her natural beauty. Slightly unnecessary perhaps.
MGM were more than a bit annoyed that Grace had made so few films for them. They continued sending her scripts to read, but Grace would not act in a part that she felt wasn’t right for her, and MGM did not seem to realise what a good actress she was. Every script they sent was for a role that did not make the most of her talent. The studio put her on suspension – no pay and no more loans to Paramount, until she made a film for them. Even when Grace was nominated for the Academy Award, they did not lift her suspension. At that time, MGM would get their costume designers to make ‘Oscar’ dresses for all their nominated actresses. There would not be a dress for Grace. In the end, she wore a dress she already had, and looked stunning in it. When it came close to the Awards and it seemed more and more like she might actually win, MGM finally lifted her suspension. After all, it would look very bad for the studio if that year’s Best Actress was on suspension. Grace had won yet again.
Grace did eventually agree, however, to act in MGM’s Green Fire, travelling to Colombia to film. She did not much like the film or her performance in it, and it is probably the weakest of all her films. But this was the price she had to pay for being allowed to film The Country Girl.
After the box office failure of Green Fire, Grace was yet again on loan to Paramount. They just seemed to have a better appreciation of her talent and offered her better roles. This time it was to be her final film with Hitchcock, To Catch A Thief. Filming in the south of France, Grace and her co-star Cary Grant formed a lasting friendship and their chemistry makes a brilliant film even better.
Grace returned to the south of France, to the Cannes Film Festival in 1955, as a US representative. Whilst there, she was asked to do a magazine photoshoot with Prince Rainier of Monaco – at that time one of the world’s most eligible bachelors. On the morning of the photoshoot, there was a power cut in France. Grace ended up wearing the only thing in her suitcase that was not creased and did not need ironing – a dated looking black dress with large flowers. It was not her usual style. She was then told that to meet the Prince, she needed a hat. She did not have one and all the shops were closed. She ended up putting flowers in her hair – hair that she could not dry with her hairdryer and so had to be hurriedly arranged in a chignon. Then, on arrival at the Prince’s Palace in Monaco, Grace and her entourage were told that the Prince was running late. He was so late that Grace considered returning to Cannes, as she had events to attend that evening. Eventually, Rainier arrived. He took her on a guided tour of the Palace and the magazine got their pictures. Grace and Rainier got more than that – they had enjoyed one another’s company very much and became friends.
On her return to America, Grace started working on The Swan for MGM. In desperation at the poor roles they were offering to her, Grace had herself suggested that they make this film. She played a princess who has to choose between duty and love. Meanwhile, she and Rainier had begun writing to each other, and in December, he and his entourage visited America. Officially, it was ‘a tour’ but the press assumed that he was seeking a wife. Under a 1918 treaty with France, Monaco would lose its autonomy and return to French rule if the Prince did not marry and have a child who could accede to the throne. Rainier and Grace had fallen in love while they corresponded with each other, and when they met again, he proposed and she accepted.
The press were beside themselves with excitement about what they called ‘the wedding of the century’ and Grace and Rainier were surrounded by a media circus. The wedding was set for April 1956 and would be held in Monaco, as was fitting for the wedding of the ruler of the principality. Meanwhile, Grace had what would be her last film to make, and it is arguably the best film she ever made with MGM. In a departure from her previous roles, she showed she could ‘do comedy’ as Tracy Lord in High Society alongside Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra. She and Crosby duetted on one of the musical’s most popular songs, ‘True Love’, and this song gave Grace a gold record for selling a million copies. In the film, Grace’s character is engaged and unknown to the producers, Grace wore her real engagement ring, a 12 carat diamond, in the film instead of the prop ring she should have used.
Grace left the USA on the liner ‘ SS Constitution’ in the first week of April, accompanied by her family and friends and a few pet dogs. Oh, and quite a few reporters on their way to Monaco. When she arrived in Monaco on 12th April, she was criticised for wearing a large hat which obscured her face from the thousands of people waiting to greet her. She would have much to learn about royal life, and it would take a while for her to be accepted by the Monegasques.
Next time, ‘The Wedding of the Century’ and Grace’s royal role.