Born in Philadelphia on 12th November 1929, the third of four children, Grace Patricia Kelly was named after her father John Kelly’s sister who had died at a young age. Thanks to her father, a successful business man and self-made millionaire, Grace wanted for nothing and attended a Catholic girls’ school before her enjoyment of acting in school plays turned into a desire to become a professional actress. She studied at New York City’s American Academy of Dramatic Art before working as a stage actress and moving to Hollywood.
She was cast as Amy Kane in High Noon (1952) and achieved an Academy Award Nomination for her compelling performance as Linda Nordley in Mogambo (1953), but it was working with director Alfred Hitchcock that cemented Kelly’s position in Hollywood as a leading lady. Five feet six inches tall, with sleek golden blonde hair and piercing blue eyes, Grace Kelly remains the ultimate ‘Hitchcock blonde’. Oozing sophistication and a classy kind of sex appeal, Hitchcock soon realised Kelly’s box office potential and cast her as the leading lady in Dial M for Murder (1954). Often faced with dangerous situations, the Hitchcock blonde was beautiful yet steely and never complied with the 1950s and 60s female stereotype.
Grace enjoyed learning from the great director; “Mr. Hitchcock taught me everything about cinema. It was thanks to him that I understood that murder scenes should be shot like love scenes and love scenes like murder scenes.” Renowned costume designer Edith Head once said of working with Grace ”I have never worked with anybody who had a more intelligent grasp of what we were doing.” Ladylike, with never a hair out of place, Grace made a simple pearl necklace and white cotton gloves look timelessly stylish and later the House of Hermes ‘Kelly’ handbag a must-have accessory for women on both sides of the Atlantic. Even with a price tag of £5,000 or more, 30 years after her death and the Hermes ‘Kelly’ still has the longest waiting list for any designer item in the world.
Grace is perhaps best remembered for her fifth motion picture and second collaboration with Hitchcock; playing socialite and fashion model Lisa Freemont in voyeuristic thriller Rear Window (1954). In love with injured photographer L.B ‘Jeff’ Jeffries (James Stewart) she smoulderingly announces her intention to spend the night at his apartment. Afraid of commitment, Jeffries explains to his nurse Stella ”She’s too perfect. She’s too talented. She’s too beautiful. She’s too sophisticated.”
Grace went on to star in To Catch A Thief (1955) opposite the suave Cary Grant who later said of her “She never distanced herself from others. Even so, as soon as she came on the set, everyone fell silent.” It was whilst filming To Catch A Thief that Grace fell in love with the stunning Cote d’Azur.
Just five years after starring in her first motion picture, she won a Best Actress Academy Award for Country Girl (1954). In May 1955 she was invited to meet Prince Rainier during the Cannes film festival. Struck with her overwhelming beauty and poise, he corresponded with Grace upon her return to America and wasted no time in securing his future bride. Rainier travelled to New York the following December and asked for her hand. Marilyn Monroe is believed to have sent a note of congratulations reading; ”So glad you’ve found a way out of this business.”
Although Grace was keen to portray her image as a young wholesome Catholic, rumours of promiscuity, including reported liaisons with co-stars William Holden and Ray Milland, had long circulated around Hollywood and she was widely believed to have had an affair with the married David Niven. Niven had a home in Cap Ferrat and remained a close friend of Grace throughout her life.
Grace’s wedding to Prince Rainier inspired worldwide press attention. Like a modern fairytale everyone looked on in awe as the princess of Hollywood married Prince Rainier at the Cathedral in Monaco. The bride glided down the aisle and devoutly uttered her vows. Grace had never looked more angelic – she wore a magnificent wedding gown designed by costume designer Helen Rose, comprising of one hundred yards of silk net, 125 year old lace and hand sewn pearls, a dress which continues to inspire brides today, including Catherine Middleton.
The couple honeymooned on Prince Rainier’s yacht, taking along Grace’s black poodle, Oliver. Grace, now formally known as Her Serene Highness Princess Grace of Monaco, later said “When I married Prince Rainier, I married the man and not what he represented or what he was. I fell in love with him without giving a thought to anything else.” The couple had three children, Caroline, Albert and Stephanie – Grace becoming a mother just nine months and four days after her wedding.
Her final film was High Society (1956) starring alongside Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra before becoming Princess. Her position as royalty, pressure from her husband Prince Rainier, who ordered a ban on her films being watched in Monaco, and public outcry when Hitchcock wanted to cast Grace as the title role in Marnie (a deeply troubled kleptomaniac) led to her decision to announce her retirement from the film industry. She wrote ”Dear Hitch, it was heart-breaking for me to have to leave the picture – I was so excited about doing it and particularly about working with you again. When we meet I would like to explain to you myself all of the reasons which is difficult to do by letter or through a third party. It is unfortunate that it had to happen this way and I am deeply sorry. Thank you – dear Hitch – for being so understanding and helpful – I hate disappointing you – I also hate the fact that there are probably many other cattle who could play the part equally as well. Despite that I hope to remain one of your ‘sacred cows’ – with deep affection – Grace.”
The Princess Grace Foundation was established in 1964 to organise her philanthropic duties better and assist her chosen charities including the Red Cross.“I hated Hollywood. It’s a town without pity. Only success counts. I know of no other place in the world where so many people suffer from nervous breakdowns, where there are so many alcoholics, neurotics and so much unhappiness.” But however rewarding her charity work was, or concentrating on being a good wife and mother, it did not prevent Grace from deeply missing acting.
On 13th September 1982 her life ended in tragedy when she lost control of her car and she crashed through the barriers on the Corniche road near La Turbie – in the same hills she had once driven so memorably alongside Cary Grant. Her daughter Caroline, who was in the car, survived the crash and suffered only minor injuries whilst Grace was found unconscious and later died after suffering a stroke, aged just 52. Nearly 100 million people watched her funeral, taking place at the same Cathedral in which she was married and attended by Princess Diana.
Get the look:
Wash your hair and when it is 90% dry add large Velcro rollers for volume. Leave in the rollers until completely dry or for as long as possible. Remove the rollers, brush out and set with hairspray. Make-up should be all about the skin so make you use a foundation primer to ensure a radiant finish. Blusher should be peachy. Grace defined her eyes without overdoing eyeliner or mascara. Subtlety is key.
Team a twinset with the classic single strand pearl necklace to add a touch of glamour. Wear a full circle skirt to enhance the waist – flat shoes for daytime and teamed with a 1950s style petticoat and high heels for an evening look. Grace enjoyed wearing casual clothing, partnering crisp shirts with the sleeves rolled up and slim fitting Capri trousers.
This article will be published in Vintage Life Magazine