Perhaps the most gorgeous face ever to bless the silver screen, Grace Kelly was appropriately named. A vision of disarming beauty, she both took people's breath away and breathed fresh air into 1950s Hollywood, setting the standard for beauty in the second half of the 20th century. In her brief time at the top of the heap in Hollywood, she worked along side legendary leading men and some the greatest film makers who ever put image to celluloid. And yet, when the trappings of Tinseltown and all the possibilities of superstardom were hers for the taking, she resolutely and quite unexpectedly gave it all up, turning her back on a successful career to become, quite literally, the symbol of a nation.
Grace was born Grace Patricia Kelly in Philadelphia, PA in 1929, to Olympic rower turned construction tycoon turned aspiring politician Jack Kelly, and mother Margaret Katherine Majer, the first female physical education teacher at the University of Pennsylvania. So from the outset, Grace had a lot to live up to. The beautiful daughter of a beautiful mother, Grace spent her early years modelling along side her mom and sisters. When the time came for her to attend college, she was rejected by the prestigious Bennington College for Women for having low math grades. Disappointed and disillusioned with traditional schooling, she instead decided to follow the lead of her estranged uncle Geroge (a screenwriter and director, who was rejected by the Kelly family for being a homosexual) and followed her dreams of acting in the theater. To her parent's dismay, Grace auditioned for a position at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, using a scene from one of her uncle's plays. Despite the fact that the school had already met their quota for the semester, Grace managed to get a meeting with an admissions officer and squeezed her way into the school, thanks to the clout her uncle's name gave her.
Studying and working as a model to support herself, she would eventually graduate and make it to Broadway, where she caught the eye of television producers, looking to cast talented actresses for live TV performances of various stage plays and musicals. Little did Grace know that she would become one of the biggest and brightest stars in what would later be called "The Golden Age of Television," performing in nearly 60 live programs in the late 40s and early 50s. It wasn't long before this success got her noticed by film makers, who quickly saw the potential of this beautiful rising star.
Her first major film role in 1951's FOURTEEN HOURS was barely noticed, except for one rather important fellow by the name of Gary Cooper, who was charmed with Grace and found her refreshing. Hearing nothing more from Hollywood, Grace would go back to the theater and television shows, despite the fact that her future was uncertain in either, due to what was seen as a lack of "vocal horsepower" in her dialogue deliveries. However, Hollywood's call to greatness was merely delayed. During a performance in Colorado, Grace received a telegram offering her a supporting role in a new movie in production called HIGH NOON, staring her biggest fan, Gary Cooper. This would become her true foot in the door role. At the age of 21, Grace Kelly was about to become a movie star.
Almost from the beginning, Grace was a hit. After impressing director John Ford with an early 1950 screen test, she was given a second role in the 1952 hit Mogambo, staring alongside fellow Classic Hotties alum Ava Gardner and legendary leading man Clark Gable. This role earner her a Golden Globe nomination and an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress. It was also the inaugural film in her 7-year contract with MGM studios, with which she signed only on the agreement that she have at least one year out of every two years off to perform in plays, and that she be allowed to live in New York. Like many actors in her time, Grace was put off by the tight restrictions studios placed on actors under contract with them, as well as the harsh light of the Hollywood gossip rags. These superficial aspects of life as a star were of little interest to Grace, who was very much concerned with being a dedicated actor over a celebrity.
With her rapid rise to fame came an inevitable tide of leading men, many quite older than she, who were all desperate to work along side such a talented and beautiful woman. Though perhaps her most fruitful working relationship was with a legend behind the camera - one Alfred Hitchcock, who would end up casting her in 3 of his movies, two of which, DIAL M FOR MURDER and REAR WINDOW, came in the same year, 1954. Rear Window paired Grace with Jimmy Stewart, who played a wheelchair-bound invalid who witnesses a murder from his bedroom window. For this role Grace would give up a lot - namely the role of Edie alongside Marlon Brando in ON THE WATERFRONT - a role which won actress Eva Marie Saint the Oscar that year. Still, Grace's performance in REAR WINDOW was acclaimed and fostered a mutual admiration and friendship with director Hitchcock that would last for the rest of their lifetimes.
One of Grace's other 5 roles in 1954, THE COUNTRY GIRL, would prove to be the apex of her career. Hailed by critics and movie fans alike, she quickly went into the running for best actress in most awards shows that year. Her chief competition in the way of Judy Garland, who made her comeback performance in A STAR IS BORN that year, was seen by many as the odds-on favorite for the Oscar. NBC even set up a remote camera in Garland's maternity room, so that she could accept the award in person. When Grace's two-time leading man William Holden announced Grace's name as the winner, the assembled NBC crew left without a word and Miss Garland left with some not-so-gracious opinions of her victorious opponent.
The following year, Grace completed her 3rd and final film with Hitchcock, TO CATCH A THIEF. Grace starred alongside Cary Grant in that film, playing the unwitting target of a jewel thief who must be thwarted by a reformed thief played by Grant. His time working with Grace would have a lasting impression on Grant, who was already seen by many as perhaps the greatest leading man in history. Years later, when he was asked who his favorite leading lady was, Grant would pass over many celebrated Hollywood beauties, among them such beauties as Ingrid Bergman and Katherine Hepburn, to select Grace as his favorite. In his words "I much preferred Grace. She had serenity."
1956 saw Grace star in two more films, also along side great leading men. One of them, HIGH SOCIETY, a somewhat inferior adaptation the play The Philadelphia Story, saw her performing with classic crooners Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra. The film received only mixed reviews. Her other film that year, THE SWAN, where Grace played a princess about to be married to a European prince, would prove somewhat predictive to events happening in Grace's private life at this time. Flashback to the year before, when Grace was heading up the US delegation at the Cannes Film Festival. It was here she would met the Prince of Monaco, Prince Rainier. The prince, at this time, was a man in trouble. Threatened by a 1918 treaty with France which stipulated that if Rainier did not produce an heir, his nation would become a part of France. Highly motivated to marry and produce a son, it was understood that Rainier was in the business of landing a wife.
Heading to the US in 1956 to complete his goal, Rainier met with Grace and her family. Three days later, he would propose. Being quite the old school royal, a dowry was required from Grace's family in order for Rainier to accept her into his family. The Kelly's paid no less than $2,000,000 to the prince for his trouble, an exorbitant amount for anything at that time. This was to be quite the expensive wedding, even before any vows were spoken. Announcement of the impending nuptials was a sensation in Hollywood, though many worried that this would mean the end of her highly successful career. With the marriage set for April, Grace and her family set out to meet her new subjects. She was welcomed by a nation overjoyed. 20,000 people lined the streets to meet their future princess. The two were married on April 19th, 1956, with 30 million people watching on TVs across the globe. Shortly thereafter, MGM would release High Society. Though unknown by most people at the time, this would turn out to be Grace's last film.
Despite the fact that she was perhaps the most celebrated and desired actress of her day, the life of the Princess of Monaco didn't afford any room for the bright lights of Hollywood. The wife of an old school European royal was expected to remain resolute and austere, which became the theme of her life from that time on. Though film roles were still offered to her, the prince would quash them in his concerted effort to break all ties between Grace and her former life. He would ban all her movies from playing in Monaco and had strict rules about how the press interacted with her. Grace's job, in those early years, was to produce an heir. Which she would do just a few years later. In all, she would have 3 children with the prince and go on to become a humanitarian and a symbol of her nation's beauty.
Princess Grace would continue in her role as national symbol for a quarter century, never again working as an actress in any capacity, right up until September of 1982, when tragedy struck. While she and her daughter Stephanie were driving home from the family's country home in France, Grace suffered a stroke while behind the wheel. Losing control of the car, the two would drive off the winding mountain road and careen down the mountainside. Both Grace and her daughter were recovered alive from the wreckage, although both were injured badly, Grace unconscious. Her daughter would recover, but Grace was unfortunately too far gone. She never regained consciousness and was pronounced dead a few days later. She was 52. Her funeral was attended by royalty, world leaders and movie stars, among them Princess Diana of England and two of her past leading men, Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart. In a eulogy for Grace, Stewart said of her:
"You know, I just love Grace Kelly. Not because she was a princess, not because she was an actress, not because she was my friend, but because she was just about the nicest lady I ever met. Grace brought into my life as she brought into yours, a soft, warm light every time I saw her, and every time I saw her was a holiday of its own. No question, I'll miss her, we'll all miss her. God bless you, Princess Grace."