Best know for her roles in Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window opposite James Stewart and To Catch A Thief opposite Cary Grant.
Hollywood amuses me. Holier-than-thou for the public and unholier-than-the-devil in reality. ~ Grace Kelly
Grace Kelly was born on November 12, 1929, at Hahnemann University Hospital in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to an affluent and influential family. Her father, Irish-American John B. Kelly Sr. (1889–1960), had won three Olympic gold medals for sculling and owned a successful brickwork contracting company that was well-known on the East Coast.
Kelly’s mother was Philadelphia native Margaret Katherine Majer (1898–1990). Margaret had taught physical education at the University of Pennsylvania and had been the first woman to coach women’s athletics at the institution.
While attending Ravenhill Academy, a prestigious Catholic girls’ school, Kelly modeled fashions at local social events with her mother and sisters. In 1942, at the age of 12, she played the lead in Don’t Feed the Animals, a play produced by the East Falls Old Academy Players. Before graduating in May 1947 from Stevens School, a socially prominent private institution on Walnut Lane in the Northwest Philadelphia neighborhood of Germantown, she acted and danced. Her graduation yearbook listed her favorite actress as Ingrid Bergman and her favorite actor as Joseph Cotton
Despite her parents’ initial disapproval, Kelly decided to pursue her dreams of being an actress. John was particularly displeased with her decision; he viewed acting as “a slim cut above streetwalker.” To start her career, she auditioned for the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York, using a scene from her uncle George Kelly’s The Torch-Bearers (1923). Although the school had already met its semester quota, she obtained an interview with the admission officer, Emile Diestel, and was admitted through the influence of George. She began her first term the following October. While at school, she lived in Manhattan’s Barbizon Hotel for Women, a prestigious establishment which barred men from entering after 10 pm, and she worked as a model to support her studies.
Television producer Delbert Mann cast Kelly as Bethel Merriday, in an adaptation of the Sinclair Lewis novel of the same name; this was her first of nearly sixty live television programs. Success on television eventually brought her a role in a major motion picture. She made her film debut in a small role in the 1951 film Fourteen Hours. She was noticed during a visit to the set by Gary Cooper, who subsequently starred with her in High Noon (1951). He was charmed by her and said that she was “different from all these actresses we’ve been seeing so much of.” However, Kelly’s performance in Fourteen Hours was not noticed by critics and did not lead to her receiving other film acting roles. She continued her work in the theater and on television, although she lacked “vocal horsepower” and would likely not have had a lengthy stage career. She had various roles on television shows produced by NBC and CBS. She was performing in Denver’s Elitch Gardens when she received a telegram from Hollywood producer Stanley Kramer offering her a co-starring role opposite Gary Cooper in High Noon (1951).
Director John Ford had first noticed Kelly in a 1950 screen test. The studio flew her to Los Angeles to audition in September 1952, and he said that she showed “breeding, quality and class.” She was hired for the role and was offered a seven-year contract with a salary of $850 a week. She signed the deal under two conditions: That every two years she could get time off to do theater performances, and that she could live in New York City at the now-landmarked Manhattan House (200 E. 66th Street). Two months after signing her contract, Kelly and the cast arrived in Nairobi to begin production of the film Mogambo. Gene Tierney was initially cast in the role, but she had to drop out at the last minute because of personal issues.
A break in the filming schedule afforded her and Mogambo costar Ava Gardner a visit to Rome. Her role as Linda Nordley in MGM’s production of Mogambo garnered her a Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress and her first Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress.
After the success of Mogambo, Kelly starred in a TV play The Way of an Eagle with Jean-Pierre Aumont, before being cast in the film adaptation of Frederick Knott’s Broadway hit Dial M for Murder. Director Alfred Hitchcock also saw the 1950 screen test and took full advantage of her beauty on-camera. He was one of her last mentors in the film industry.
In January 1954, Kelly began filming scenes for her next film, The Bridges at Toko-Ri, with William Holden. She played Nancy, the wife of naval officer Harry (Holden), who was a minor but pivotal character in the story.
Kelly unhesitatingly turned down the opportunity to star alongside Marlon Brando in On the Waterfront (1954). Eva Marie Saint, who replaced her, won an Academy Award for that role.
Kelly committed to the role of Lisa Fremont in Rear Window instead. Kelly’s new costar, James Stewart, was highly enthusiastic about working with her. The role of Lisa Fremont, a wealthy Manhattan socialite and model, was unlike any of the previous women she had played. For the very first time, she portrayed an independent, career-driven woman. He played a speculative photographer with a broken leg, bound to a wheelchair, and so reduced to curiously observing the happenings outside his window.
Just as he had done earlier, Hitchcock provided the camera with a slow-sequenced silhouette of Kelly, along with a close-up of the two stars kissing, finally lingering closely on her profile. With the film’s opening in October 1954, Kelly was praised again.
Kelly won the role of Bing Crosby’s long-suffering wife, Georgie Elgin, in The Country Girl (1954), after a pregnant Jennifer Jones bowed out. Already familiar with the play, Kelly was highly interested in the part. To cast her, MGM would have had to lend her out to Paramount; Kelly was adamant and threatened the studio that if they did not allow her to do the film she would pack her bags and leave for New York for good. They relented, and the part was hers.
The film paired her again with William Holden. Kelly’s character, the wife of a washed-up alcoholic singer, played by Crosby, is emotionally torn between two lovers.
For her performance in The Country Girl, Kelly won the Academy Award for Best Actress. Her main competitor for the prize was Judy Garland, in her much heralded comeback performance in A Star Is Born (1956).
In April 1954, Kelly flew to Colombia for a 10-day shoot on her next project, Green Fire, with Stewart Granger. She played Catherine Knowland, a coffee plantation owner.
After the consecutive filming of Rear Window, Toko-Ri, Country Girl, and Green Fire, Kelly flew to France, along with department store heir Bernard “Barney” Strauss, to begin work on her third and last film for Alfred Hitchcock, To Catch a Thief. She and her costar, Cary Grant, developed a mutual admiration and cherished their time together for the rest of their lives.
Kelly headed the U.S. delegation at the Cannes Film Festival in April 1955. While there, she was invited to participate in a photo session at the Palace of Monaco with Prince Rainier III, the sovereign of the principality. After a series of delays and complications, she met him in Monaco. At the time of her initial meeting with him, she was dating the French actor Jean-Pierre Aumont.
Upon returning to America, Kelly began work on The Swan, in which she coincidentally portrayed a princess, and she meanwhile began a private correspondence with Rainier.
In December 1955, Rainier went to America on a trip officially designated as a tour, although it was speculated that he was seeking a wife, as a treaty with France in 1918 (which resulted from the Monaco Succession Crisis of 1918), stated that if he did not produce an heir Monaco would revert to France.
That same year MGM released Kelly’s last film, the musical comedy High Society, based on the studio’s comedy The Philadelphia Story (1940). Kelly wore her own engagement ring in the film and sang a duet with Bing Crosby, “True Love,” a song with words and music by Cole Porter.
While in the U.S., Rainier met Kelly and her family, and after three days, he proposed. She accepted, and the families began preparations for what the press at that time dubbed “The Wedding of the Century”. Kelly and her family had to provide a dowry of $2 million in order for the marriage to go forward.
The religious wedding was set for April 19, 1956. News of the engagement was a sensation, even though it meant a probable end to Kelly’s film career.
The Napoleonic Code of Monaco and the laws of the Roman Catholic Church necessitated two ceremonies – both a civil ceremony and a religious wedding. The 16-minute civil ceremony took place in the Palace Throne Room of Monaco on April 18, 1956, and a reception later in the day was attended by 3,000 Monaco citizens. To cap the ceremony, the 142 official titles that she acquired in the union (counterparts of her husband’s) were formally recited. The following day the church ceremony took place at Monaco’s Saint Nicholas Cathedral, before Bishop Gilles Barthe. The wedding was estimated to have been watched by over 30 million viewers on live television
The couple had three children: Princess Caroline, born January 23, 1957; Prince Albert, born March 14, 1958, current Prince of Monaco; Princess Stéphanie, born February 1, 1965
Hitchcock offered Kelly the lead in his film Marnie in 1962. She was eager, but public outcry in Monaco against her involvement in a film where she would play a kleptomaniac made her reconsider and ultimately reject the project. Director Herbert Ross attempted to lure her into accepting a part in his 1977 film The Turning Point, but Rainier quashed the idea.
On September 13, 1982, Kelly was driving back to Monaco from her country home in Roc Agel when she had a stroke. As a result, she lost control of her 1971 Rover P6 3500 and drove off the steep, winding road and down the 120 foot (37 m) mountainside. Her daughter, Stéphanie, who was in the passenger seat, tried, but failed, to regain control of the car. When paramedics arrived at the accident site, Kelly was alive but unconscious and in critical condition. She and Stéphanie were transported to the Monaco Hospital (later named the Princess Grace Hospital Centre). At the hospital, doctors attempted to resuscitate Grace but because of the extent of her brain injury and injuries to her thorax and a fractured femur, they were unable to save her life. Doctors believed that she had suffered a minor stroke that may have caused the car to veer off the road causing the accident. She died the following night at 10:55 p.m., age 52, after Rainier chose to take his wife off life support.
Kelly’s funeral was held at the Saint Nicholas Cathedral, Monaco on September 18, 1982. After a Requiem Mass, she was buried in the Grimaldi family vault. Over 400 people attended. At a later memorial service in Beverly Hills, James Stewart delivered the eulogy.
Rainier, who did not remarry, was buried alongside her following his death in 2005.