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 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.