Grace Kelly is cemented in history as both Hollywood royalty and actual royalty, as the actress married Prince Ranier III of Monaco. Kelly is truly one of the most memorable figures of the 20th century. As noted by Biography, the actress-turned-princess was born on November 12, 1929, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and grew up with a love of the performing arts.
After getting married, she gave up her acting career and focused on royal life as well as raising her children, Princess Caroline, Prince Albert, and Princess Stephanie. While she appeared to live a charmed life, not everything was easy for Kelly. She experienced her share of hardships and died far too young.
Kelly’s life has had a tremendous impact on the world. Today, she is remembered as a fashion icon and one of Hollywood’s brightest stars. Many of her films, including Rear Window and To Catch a Thief, are still regarded as classics in the present day. Here are some facts about Grace Kelly that you likely didn’t know.
Grace Kelly grew up in a wealthy family
Grace Kelly’s family was quite impressive. Biography revealed that the Kelly family was quite well-off. Kelly’s father, John Brendan Kelly, was a three-time Olympic gold medalist who competed with the United States rowing team. He also owned a successful brick business, which made him into a self-made millionaire. Kelly’s mother, Katherine Majer, was also a successful athlete and made history as the first coach of women’s teams at the University of Pennsylvania.
While Kelly was born into a life of privilege, it wasn’t necessarily a happy life. She was one of four children, and her father reportedly favored her older sister, Peggy. “We were always competing for everything – competing for love,” Kelly said (via IrishCentral). According to the star’s younger sister, Elizabeth “Lizanne” Kelly, their mother believed in corporal punishment and “demanded obedience.” Kelly’s upbringing would later affect her own parenting. According to biographer J. Randy Taraborrelli (via The Independent), Kelly admitted to regularly spanking her children.
Grace Kelly fell in love with acting at a young age
Grace Kelly grew up performing, acting in school and community plays in addition to studying ballet. She originally wanted to become a professional ballerina but, as Vanity Fair noted, at five feet, six inches, she was considered too tall. She then turned her sights to acting.
Biography explained that Kelly was heavily influenced by her uncles, Walter C. Kelly and George Kelly. Walter performed in vaudeville, while George was a playwright who had won a Pulitzer Prize. George nurtured his niece’s love for acting, encouraging her to act professionally and continuing to mentor her on her path to stardom. The rest of the family, however, was not so keen to see Kelly explore a career in the arts. Kelly’s friend, Judith Balaban Quinn, said that Kelly’s father viewed his daughter being an actress as “a slim cut above streetwalker.” Undaunted, Kelly pursued acting anyway, attending the American Academy of Dramatic Arts.
At her graduation, she performed in The Philadelphia Story as Tracy Lord. Years later, she would play Tracy Lord again, this time in a musical adaptation of The Philadelphia Story, High Society.
Grace Kelly worked as a model before landing her big break
Although Grace Kelly came from a wealthy family, her parents’ disapproval of her acting career meant she was on her own when she ultimately defied them by enrolling in the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. According to Vanity Fair, she worked her way through school as a commercial model, making $400 per week and appearing in a variety of ads. In this way, she was following in her mother’s footsteps as she, too, had been a model.
Kelly’s salary more than covered her tuition, which The New Yorker noted was $500 per year. It also afforded her financial freedom and an escape from the rigid ways of her staunchly Catholic family, who disapproved of more than just her career choice.
Kelly reportedly scandalized her family by having an affair with an older Jewish actor and director, who was also married (although he was separated from his wife at the time of the affair). “The fact that I could fall in love with a Jew was beyond them,” Kelly said of her parents in a letter to a friend.
Grace Kelly dreamed of Broadway stardom before turning to film
While Grace Kelly became known for her film career, she actually dreamed of starring on Broadway before turning to film. She landed a few Broadway roles, notably in 1949’s The Father, but she was far better suited to working on film. According to Vanity Fair, Kelly received favorable reviews and drew attention from television producers for her work on Broadway, but her voice apparently wasn’t right for a career on the stage.
While Kelly’s high, lilting voice was graceful and elegant on film, it simply wasn’t strong enough to carry across a theater. She reportedly attempted to make her voice deeper and, in an effort to “achieve clarity and depth,” she went so far as to train with a clothespin on her nose.
Playbill revealed that Kelly starred in one other Broadway play, 1952’s To Be Continued. By that time, her television and film career was well underway. Her first TV credit came the year after she starred in The Father, with an appearance on Believe It or Not.
Grace Kelly was Alfred Hitchcock's muse
Out of the 32 credits listed on Grace Kelly’s IMDb profile, some of the most iconic are her collaborations with legendary filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock. Based on the strength of her screen test for Taxi (a role she ultimately did not land), Hitchcock requested to meet with the actress in 1953, reported The New Yorker. The meeting led to a fruitful collaboration. Kelly would go on to star in three of Hitchcock’s most beloved films: Dial M for Murder, Rear Window, and To Catch a Thief.
Kelly did more than simply star in Hitchcock’s films, though. According to Grace: A Biography, Hitchcock also became a mentor to Kelly and she, in turn, became his muse. “It was thanks to Alfred Hitchcock that I understood that murder scenes should be shot like love scenes and love scenes like murder scenes,” Kelly once said (via MSN).
Grace Kelly's wedding was a lavish affair
Grace Kelly’s 1956 wedding to Prince Rainier was perhaps one of the best royal weddings in history — not to mention one of the most expensive. Town & Country noted that the opulent affair has been touted as “the wedding of the century.” Kelly’s gown was a lavish number, custom designed by costume designer Helen Rose and gifted to the actress by MGM. The gown has its own page on the website of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which revealed that the dress was decorated with pearls and “constructed in four complex parts,” all topped off with a 90-yard veil. That’s 270 feet of tulle, lace, and silk.
According to Town & Country, the star-studded ceremony was held at St. Nicholas Cathedral in Monaco, where approximately 600 guests, including celebrities Cary Grant and Aristotle Onassis, were in attendance. Only the finest foods were served at the reception, with guests dining on champagne, caviar, and, for dessert, a 200 pound wedding cake.
“Mom said it was ‘overwhelming,'” Kelly’s son, Prince Albert, told People decades later. “That ‘excited’ or the word ‘overjoyed’ wasn’t strong enough to express her feelings. My father said so too.”
Grace Kelly's films were banned in Monaco after her wedding
After Grace Kelly married Prince Rainier, she left acting behind. Her husband went so far as to have all of the films she had made banned in the country, as revealed by The Guardian. It’s widely believed that it was Prince Rainier who made his wife stop acting, as Kelly had no plans of retiring at the time of their engagement.
Author J. Randy Taraborrelli of Once Upon a Time: Behind the Fairy Tale of Princess Grace and Prince Rainier detailed in his book that just a few months before Kelly’s wedding, the actress told reporter Maurice Zolotow that she planned to continue acting after her wedding. “I’m reading a dozen different scripts, trying to choose among them,” said the soon-to-be princess. “I’m never going to stop acting.”
A few days later, however, Prince Rainier was quoted in the Los Angeles Times (via Once Upon a Time) claiming that he and Kelly agreed that she would retire. “I don’t want my wife to work,” he said, adding that the couple were “happy with our decision.”
Grace Kelly was a loving mother but struggled to connect with her children
Grace Kelly loved her children, but they often felt alienated from her. In Albert II of Monaco, The Man and The Prince (via People), Princess Caroline said her nanny, Maureen Wood, “was the key figure” in her and her older brother Prince Albert’s life. “When we were little, we were probably closer to our nanny than to our parents,” she told the authors of the book. Princess Caroline reported missing her nanny so much that when Wood went on vacation, Kelly would often ask her to end her trip early.
Despite this, Prince Albert told People (via Vanity Fair) that Kelly did truly care for her children, calling her a “loving and caring hands-on mom.” He also spoke about his admiration for his mother, saying that moving to Monaco and living as one of the royals “must have been hard for her at first” but he “never heard her complain.”
Grace Kelly considered a return to acting
A few years after Grace Kelly’s wedding and subsequent retirement from acting, she attempted to stage a comeback. In 1962, she planned to star in another Alfred Hitchcock film, Marnie, according to the book Hitchcock and the Censors. Her involvement in the film was announced in March of that year, but just a few months later, the Monaco palace announced that she would not be in it.
Kelly cited scheduling conflicts, according to Hitchcock and the Making of Marnie. Hitchcock, however, claimed that it was “the conservative element in Monaco” that prevented Kelly from starring in the film as “they didn’t want their princess working in Hollywood.”
At the time of her death, People reported that Kelly “had made tentative moves toward a return to acting.” She narrated a 1977 documentary, and also played herself in the half hour film Rearranged, which The Guardian noted was filmed two years before she passed away. The film was not released, per her husband’s request.
Grace Kelly supported the arts in Monaco
While Grace Kelly gave up her acting career after becoming a royal, she didn’t completely abandon the arts. Instead, she became a great patron of the arts in Monaco. According to the website of the Princess Grace Foundation – USA, which was created by Kelly’s husband in 1982 to carry on her legacy, the former actress “brought arts and culture to Monaco while also quietly supporting countless American performing and film artists.” The foundation helps “extraordinary emerging artists in theater, dance, and film via awards in the form of grants, scholarships, and fellowships.”
Her son, Prince Albert, told Fox News that he believes his mother would have approved of the foundation, saying “she was very keen on putting up an entity that would help” artists get established in their careers.
Kelly also supported philanthropic organizations outside the arts. The Epoch Times wrote that she supported the Red Cross and the Rainbow Coalition Children, an orphanage run by her friend Josephine Baker. Every Christmas, Kelly would throw a Christmas party solely for the orphaned children of Monaco and shower them with presents.
Grace Kelly died in a tragic car accident
The world lost the icon far too soon, and it’s all because of a devastating, deadly car accident. According to The Independent, 52-year-old Kelly was driving her daughter Princess Stephanie to Paris, France, in in 1982 . A sharp turn sent Kelly’s car off the side of a mountain, plummeting some 120 feet. While her daughter was left with only minor injuries, Kelly suffered a brain hemorrhage and passed away.
In the book Rainier and Grace: An Intimate Portrait, (via the Chicago Tribune), Princess Caroline told the author that her sister Stephanie said she remembered her mother panicking, saying the brakes of the car weren’t working. “She told me right after the accident,`I pulled on the hand brake but it wouldn’t stop. I tried but I just couldn’t stop the car,'” Caroline relayed.
The accident led to all sorts of conspiracy theories, wrote Reader’s Digest. Many remarked that it was strange that Kelly decided to drive herself instead of having a chauffeur drive. There was also speculation that Kelly had suffered from a stroke, leading to the crash.
Millions of mourners watched Grace Kelly's funeral on television
The Washington Post reported that more than 400 people were in attendance at Grace Kelly’s funeral, which was held on September 18, 1982. The funeral was held at Monaco’s St. Nicholas Cathedral — the very same place where Kelly had her wedding 26 years earlier. Many famous figures came out to pay their respects to Kelly, including Cary Grant, Nancy Reagan, and Princess Diana. After the funeral mass, her remains were interred in the Grimaldi family vault.
Most of Kelly’s family were in attendance at the funeral, although Princess Stephanie was still in the hospital recuperating from the accident. Those who could not attend the funeral in Monaco said goodbye to the icon on TV. The Chicago Tribune noted that nearly 100 million people watched the televised event, proving just how much the actress and royal meant to the entire world.
Grace Kelly's royal life wasn't exactly a fairy tale
Grace Kelly is remembered as an icon today and her life seems like a fairy tale, but things may have not been as they appeared. Some believe that Kelly’s life after becoming a princess was fraught with loneliness and that she struggled with the expectations of royal life. Kelly’s friend, Judith Balaban Quine, told The Independent that Kelly’s royal life was harder than “any day on a movie set, and she would be called upon to create more illusion that she had as an actress.”
The outlet also quoted Kelly’s friend, Joan Dale, who wrote in her book My Days With Princess Grace of Monaco, “I am sure there were times in the early years when she felt somewhat like a prisoner in a gilded cage behind the palace walls.” Biographer Wendy Leigh painted an even bleaker portrait of Kelly’s royal life, claiming in her book True Grace: The Life and Times of an American Princess (via The Independent) that Kelly’s husband was cheating on her within months of their wedding, leaving her “humiliated and … extremely unhappy.”
Grace Kelly's son purchased and restored her childhood home to honor her legacy
Even if Grace Kelly hadn’t been a princess, people would’ve still enjoyed the films that she starred in during her reign in Hollywood. Her family wants to preserve her memory in more tangible ways, though.
In 2016, Kelly’s son, Prince Albert, purchased her childhood home in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Architectural Digest noted that the royal spent $754,000 on the 4,000-square-foot home, which was built by Kelly’s father in the 1920s. The six-bedroom house had been out of the family for more than 50 years. The home is a historical landmark and Prince Albert had it restored to its original glory to be used for family gatherings as well as a place to conduct business for the family’s various foundations.
Prince Albert told People that the house “felt like a real family home,” adding that his mother’s childhood residence “was a real place of gathering and rejoicing.”
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