Grace Kelly, the gracious princess was an American actress of grace, beauty, style, poise, regal elegance and a diplomat. She was Hollywood royalty before she became royal by marriage. She became Princess of Monaco when she married Prince Rainier III in April 1956, at age 26.
Littte girls dream of becoming a princess but the reality is far from a dream.
$2 Million Dowry
Kelly had to pay $1 million, $10 million today, as a dowry to the royal family. Her own family paid the other half. Considering she was marrying a prince, worth at least $1.5 billion, this seems an extraordinary demand. Prince Rainier was one of the world’s top collectors of stamps and owned up to 10% of Monaco’s real estate. Monaco is the second smallest sovereign state in the world, after the Vatican and recognized as the most expensive and wealthiest places in the world.
It demand for a dowry sounds rather like the king demanding the farmer’s pet lamb when the king owns a kingdom.
Grace Kelly grew up in a wealthy family. Her father was a three-time Olympic gold medallist. His brick business made him a self-made millionaire.
Kelly was mesmerised by acting, starting in her school days, even though she was the shyest member of the family. She studied ballet, but was considered too tall to be successful.
Her uncle George won a Pulitzer Prize as a playwright. He mentored Kelly on her road to stardom. Meanwhile, her father said being an actor was “A slim cut above being a streetwalker.” Even when she became a Hollywood icon, her father never changed his attitude.
Forced to be Self-Sufficient
Kelly worked as a model and put herself through the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. Her parents continued in their disapproval of Grace, and not just her desire to be an actor. Kelly came from a Catholic background, but fell in love with an older fellow actor, who was a Jew.
Kelly dreamed of being on Broadway but her high, lilting voice wouldn’t carry across the stage lights. She lost as a ballet dancer, now she had to lay aside her Broadway dream as well.
Kelly turned her sights to films. Hitchcock said Kelly’s earlier performances were mousy and lacked imagination. However, Hitchcock eventually became her mentor, and Kelly became an inspiration to the well-established director. Hitchcock described Kelly as “A snow-covered volcano.”
Kelly said, “It was thanks to Alfred Hitchcock that I understood that murder scenes should be shot like love scenes and love scenes like murder scenes.”
Grace Kelly the Gracious Princess of Hollywood
Grace Kelly was on her way to becoming the gracious princess of the world of film. Though she was born in Philadelphia, she adopted a Transatlantic accent, a blend of American and British English.
This is a consciously learned accent of English, which was fashionable and adopted by the early 20th-century American upper class and entertainment industry. Actors who wanted to appear a cut above everyone else adopted this accent. Kelly won an Oscar for her performance in Country Girl. She was the highest paid actress in her time.
Then along came the head of a minor, but wealthy principality. Surely this was every little girl’s dream come true?
The Gracious Princess Not Retiring
Rainier was searching for the ‘perfect bride’, just like Prince Charles. The British prince needed an heir to the British line of succession. Rainier needed an heir or the kingdom of Monaco would revert to French ownership. The search was on for the ‘perfect bride’.
At the time of her engagement to Rainier, Kelly had no intention of retiring from acting, and was still reading numerous scripts. However, a role in movies did not sit well with her role as a royal person, according to the royal hierarchy. It is thought the prince made his wife give up her acting career.
It was echoes of the time when women weren’t allowed to hold property or keep their maiden name. The husband’s word was law and it was a man’s world. After their marriage Kelly’s films were banned in Monaco.
Grace Kelly the Gracious Princess Withdrawn
Six years after her marriage to the prince, it was reported that she would star in another Alfred Hitchcock movie. A few months later, the palace announced that she had been withdrawn. The conservative element in Monaco did not want their princess working in Hollywood. It is also believed that Charles de Gaulle convinced Rainier to withdraw his wife. The image of Grace Kelly, the gracious princess of Monaco being seen on the silver screen was not acceptable.
At the time of her death i t was reported there were tentative moves that Kelly was considering returning to acting.
The Gracious Princess and Children
Kelly had a difficult childhood, and this became apparent with her own children. They said they were closer to their nanny than their mother.
While some may feel Kelly failed as a mother, she was an active patron of the arts and culture in Monaco, besides quietly supporting countless American performing and film artists. She was the first female member of the 20th Century Fox Film Corp Board. Kelly was a woman who worked out ways to continue with things that really interested her.
Kelly also supported philanthropic organizations outside the arts, such as the Red Cross and Rainbow Coalition Children, an orphanage. Each Christmas she threw a Christmas party just for the orphaned children of Monaco and showered them with gifts.
Kelly toured America with an evening of poetry reading to benefit the World Wildlife Fund. She also narrated several documentaries. Two years before her death, Kelly played herself in a half-hour documentary film.
At her husband’s request, the film was never released.
Iconic Fashion Leader
It is doubtful Kelly set out to become a fashion icon and a leader, but countless numbers of women have followed her particular elegant style. Despite all her limitations, Kelly had a voice that resonated in the hearts of other powerful women.
Grace Kelly’s wedding in 1956 was a template channelled by many later royal brides, such as Kate Middleton. Kelly’s wedding remains one of the most memorable in modern history for its timelessness in elegance and style.
Princess Diana wore an iconic blue diaphanous gown similar to the vintage gown Kelly wore in To Catch a Thief. Like Grace Kelly, Diana was a woman who rose from obscurity to unthinkable fame. Like Grace, Diana found it had far-reaching limitations.
Princess Eugenie wore a gown at her wedding reception styled on a gown Kelly wore. Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle are often seen in styles similar to those worn by Kelly. Other royal women also have pored over photos and followed the style of Grace Kelly, the gracious princess.
From her childhood, Kelly was passionate about flowers. A little known hobby of the princess was her love of pressed flower collages. This allowed Kelly to express her creativity in her own unique way. She founded the Garden Club of Monaco, and did a solo exhibit of her collages in Paris. In the Princess Grace memorial garden there are over 4000 roses.
In 1982, Grace Kelly died, aged 52, in a tragic car accident. Her daughter suffered minor injuries, but Kelly suffered a brain haemorrhage. Princess Stephanie said she remembers her mother panicking, saying the brakes weren’t working. Conspiracy theories abounded, including that Kelly suffered a stroke which led to the crash. Kelly died after 24 hours in a coma.
Grace Kelly had impressed so many, that nearly 100 million people watched the televised funeral. James Stewart said, “She was the nicest person I ever met.”
In 1993, Kelly’s face appeared on a US postage stamp. She was long gone but not forgotten, proving that a woman’s influence lasts long after she is gone.
Rainier never remarried, and in 2005 he was buried beside his wife. In 2012, her son, Prince Albert, purchased her childhood home and restored it. The home is now a Philadelphia landmark, though it is not open to the public. The family use it and it is an office for the prince’s foundations, which includes the Princess Grace Foundation, USA.
Fairy Tale Life a Myth
All little girls dream of meeting a handsome prince and becoming his princess. Grace Kelly’s life as a princess was not a fairy tale. Her royal life was fraught with loneliness and that she had to create a far more demanding illusion than any film set would have required.
Kelly would not be the only person to find the demands of a royal princess very difficult. This was evidenced in the life of Princess Diana. When Diana attended Kelly’s funeral, you wonder what her thoughts were, for surely they were kindred spirits?
Both women had a husband who cheated on them, causing them humiliation and extreme unhappiness. Diana escaped, but Grace Kelly, the Gracious Princess, could not. Like Princess Kelly, Princess Diana died in a tragic car accident.
Rita Hayworth Actress to Princess
Rita Hayworth, a contemporary of Grace Kelly and another Hollywood royal, also became a royal princess. In 1947, Hayworth married Prince Ali Salman Aga Khan of Pakistan. Like Grace Kelly, Rita Hayworth’s marriage was fraught with the husband’s infidelity.
A friend of Kelly wrote that life for Grace was like being a prisoner in a gilded cage behind the palace walls. Hayworth, however, filed for divorce and was finally granted it in 1953.
Countess Alexandra Tolstoy-Miloslavsky was another woman like Rita Hayworth, and managed to escape from the world of the Russian high-society and a narcistic relationship with a Russian billionaire oligarch.
The voice of these courageous women still speak to us today. Few of us have to deal with the demands of being a royal princess, but each in our own way have a sphere of influence. Let us all use it to the good.