Grimaldi Family

Princess Grace: from Hollywood to Monaco trone

The world has always been intrigued by the question: who was the «real» grace kelly? Perhaps her image of being a reserved person leading a very private life fed curiosity and was the reason for various stories and legends. Nowadays one cannot tell the true from the false. Today we’ll show you how the shy daughter of a building tycoon became the queen of Hollywood and attained the title of the princess of Monaco. Lights, camera, action!

Family

On 12th November 1929, John and Margaret Kelly had their third child – Grace Patricia. At that time, John’s business was on the up. Grace’s father, an Irish migrant, had come to the United States in search of a better life. He had started his brickwork company in Philadelphia, though he had succeeded in the field of sports. By 1920, he had won six U.S. National Championships in rowing. John had the life of a real Olympic athlete and a wife to match. Grace’s mother Margaret was a strong and wilful woman who taught physical education at the University of Pennsylvania. It’s no wonder sports held a very important place in the Kelly family.

Grace spent her childhood surrounded by her siblings. The family had four children. Peggy, the eldest, was father’s favourite. John Jr., the only son, was supposed to take over his father’s business. Elizabeth (nicknamed Lizanne) received all the parental love, as she was the youngest child. Grace had always stayed in the background and seemed to be a shy girl. “She was a sweet and wonderful child. Sometimes I didn’t even want her to grow up”, Margaret said, “Peggy, John and Lizanne were extroverts, while Grace remained shy and prone to being alone”.

Grace Kelly
Georges Lukomski – Archives du Palais Princier de Monaco

Little Grace did not share her parents’ passion for sports. She preferred playing dolls. But who could have guessed that this fragile, clumsy girl would go on to become a Hollywood icon and decide the fate of the tiny European Principality along with her husband Prince Rainier III.

Grace’s parents could afford to send their daughter to prestigious educational establishments. In a solid Catholic private school and free from parental care, Grace Kelly finally showed her real character at its finest. For the sisters of the school, Grace was a quiet, religious girl. But her classmates remembered her as a little devil in a skirt, smoking cigarettes in the back of the school yard.

At the age of 12 Grace was part of a small amateur troupe, which at that time was quite common in Philadelphia. Two years later, she became a local star, playing Peter Pan and Katherine in “The Taming of the Shrew.”

In 1940, inspired by a Russian Ballet performance, Grace began taking dance lessons until she was told that she was too tall to be a ballerina. However, her efforts paid off. Today one can still admire her grace and elegance onscreen.

The American Academy of Dramatic Arts

The first time Grace heard about the American Academy was during a trip to New York. Her mother’s friend who was an actress told young Kelly about her studies at the Academy.

At that time Grace had already developed the reputation of an “Ice Queen” that the whole world would see on the screens some years later. Her friends could see her giggling, but in public she was the epitome of royal coolness. As we all know, she was admitted to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, the most prestigious American acting school at the time, with a little help from her famous uncle George Kelly, an American screenwriter and actor. Here began another chapter of Grace’s life, full of challenges and student parties.

Grace Kelly
“The hand on the collar”: Cary Grant and Grace Kelly sit side by side, Port Hercule, Monaco. Reserved Rights.

During her studies, Grace went through a lot. The first challenge was her Philadelphia accent. The young woman tried hard to get rid of it. She knew that without a perfect pronunciation she would never get main roles. Meanwhile, she sent her portfolio to several ad agencies. When it turned out that the camera loved her, Grace started to appear in every commercial: from soap to vacuum cleaners. Soon she had signed her first big contract with the tobacco brand “Old Gold”. Every advertising block brought her about 2,000 dollars (40,000 dollars today). That’s what aspiring actresses earned for 6 months of hard work! However, Grace never bought expensive clothes or went to chic restaurants, and she preferred taking public transport. Where did all her money go? She sent her earnings to her parents as a compensation for her studies.

Grace Kelly
Grace Kelly on the bridge of Deo Juvante II, Port Hercule, Monaco. Fausto Picedi – Archives du Palais Princier de Monaco

A new role of Grace

In 1952 Kelly received a co-starring role with Gary Cooper in “High Noon”. The film was a success in the United States and won four Academy awards. After “High Noon” Kelly starred in “Mogambo” (1953), “Dial M for Murder” (1954), “Rear Window” (1954), “Green Fire” (1954) and “The Country Girl” (1954). The latter brought Kelly her first Academy Award win. And there she was, heading to the Cannes Film Festival with the American delegation.

Grace Kelly
Prince Rainier III and Princess Grace in the Hercule Gallery of the Prince’s Palace. Fernand Detaille – Archives du Palais Princier de Monaco

During her trip, she was supposed to meet Prince Rainier III for a photo session in his Palace. On the appointed day, the unexpected strike of electrical workers spoilt all her plans. She arrived at the Palace with her hair wet (the hair dryer did not work) wearing her only dress not wrinkled from travel. It was not a good start to the day. However, history shows those unfortunate little details would be the start of a big love story.

Grace Kelly
Portrait of Princess Grace in a wedding dress, Prince’s Palace, Monaco. Fernand Detaille – Archives du Palais Princier de Monaco

19th April 1956. Monaco. The St Nicholas Cathedral was packed with high-ranking guests and celebrities. Ava Gardner, Aristotle Onassis, the Duchess of Westminster… The rich and famous gathered in Monaco’s main cathedral to see “the wedding of the century”. The ceremony was broadcast on television in nine European countries, reaching 30 million viewers. Grace had never seemed so famous and popular.

Despite the fears of the sceptics, the marriage of Prince Rainier III and the former Hollywood star enhanced the economic position of Monaco. Tourists from all over the world were flocking to the European microstate. Moreover, attracted by favourable taxation, businessmen from different countries moved their companies to Monaco. The economy of the Principality was flourishing as never before.

Grace Kelly
The Princely Family on the stairs of the Court of Honor of the Prince’s Palace. Georges Lukomski – Archives du Palais Princier de Monaco

Grace took her new role very seriously, carrying out her obligations and making a positive public image for Monaco. Now she had to look after her three wonderful children and the small state hidden between France and Italy. She dedicated herself to charity work and the Monaco Red Cross Foundation activity and left her acting career for good.

Grace Kelly
Princess Grace in Gala Dress, Paris, 1959. Georges Lukomski – Archives du Palais Princier de Monaco

The final curtain

13th September 1982. On her way back home from Mont Agel, Princess Grace had a stroke. Her Rolls-Royce drove off the road and fell down a cliff. The Princess was taken to hospital with multiple fractures. As her condition worsened overnight, the Princely family took the difficult decision to turn off her life-support system.

Grace Kelly
Rose princess Grace, Roseraie de Fontvieille, Monaco. Sylvie Ruau – Archives du Palais Princier de Monaco
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