The young girl was first touched by the acting bug when she was 10 years old, appearing in a local play in Philadelphia. After her education in elite private schools, Kelly set off for New York to follow in her mother's footsteps and become a model. At the same time, she also took acting classes. After appearing in cigarette commercials on TV, she had her first big break, appearing in a 1949 Broadway revival of August Strindberg's The Father.
Kelly's first film appearance was little more than a walk-on in Fourteen Hours (1951), but in spite of her inexperience as a film or theater actress, she was next thrust into the female lead as Gary Cooper's Quaker wife in High Noon (1952). The film was a major hit, saving Cooper's career and launching Kelly's. In her very next movie, Mogambo (1953), a remake of Red Dust (1932), she played the part of the prim wife, which had once been played by Mary Astor, and garnered a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination. Her career was in high gear and moving ever faster.
1954 was the best year of her career. She starred in four films, all successful at the box office, three critically acclaimed. Though Green Fire was forgettable, she triumphed in two Alfred Hitchcock hits, Dial M for Murder with Ray Milland and Robert Cummings, and Rear Window opposite James Stewart, plus the film for which she won an Oscar for Best Actress, The Country Girl, playing against type as the bitter wife of an alcoholic (Bing Crosby, in what was also one of his best performances). Kelly starred in but four more films, The Bridges at Toko-Ri (1955), To Catch a Thief (1955) with Cary Grant, The Swan (1956), and her only musical, High Society (1956), with Crosby again. During location shooting in the south of France for Hitchcock's To Catch a Thief, Kelly met Prince Rainier III of Monaco. Her storybook wedding might have provided the perfect ending for a Hollywood movie, but Kelly's real end was tragic. In 1982, at the age of 54, Princess Grace died in an automobile accident along the treacherous roads of the French Riviera near her principality. A question remains concerning whether she or her daughter, Princess Stephanie, was actually at the wheel when the car went out of control and plunged off the road.
The Start of a Movie Career:
After embarking on an acting career in 1950, at the age of 20, Grace Kelly appeared in New York City theatrical productions as well as in more than forty episodes of live drama productions broadcast during the early 1950s Golden Age of Television. In October 1953, with the release of Mogambo, she became a movie star, a status confirmed in 1954 with a Golden Globe Award and Academy Award nomination as well as leading roles in five films, including The Country Girl, in which she gave a deglamorized, Academy Award–winning performance. She retired from acting at 26 to enter upon her duties in Monaco.
She and Prince Rainier had three children: Caroline, Albert, and Stéphanie. She also retained her American roots, maintaining dual US and Monégasque citizenships. She died on September 14, 1982, after suffering a stroke the previous day while driving, which caused her to lose control of her automobile and crash. Her daughter, Princess Stéphanie, was in the car with her, and survived the accident.
Grace Kelly's Last Television Interview
ABC 20/20, (June 22, 1982)
The Kelly Family House in East Falls, Philadelphia
Grace Kelly was born in Philadelphia to John Brendan "Jack" Kelly, and his wife, Margaret Katherine Majer. The newborn was named after her father's sister, who had died at a young age. She was raised Catholic, and was of Irish and German descent. Before her marriage, Majer studied physical education at Temple University and later became the first woman to head the Physical Education Department at the University of Pennsylvania. Jack Kelly was a local hero as a triple Olympic-gold-medal-winning sculler, and became wealthy as his construction company became the largest such enterprise on the East Coast. Registering as a Democrat, he obtained the party's nomination for mayor in the 1935 election and lost by the closest margin for any Democrat in the city's history. In later years, he served on the Fairmount Park Commission and, during World War II, was appointed by President Roosevelt as National Director of Physical Fitness. When Grace was born, the Kellys already had two children, Margaret Katherine, known as Peggy (June 13, 1925 – November 23, 1991) and John Brendan, Jr., known as Kell (May 24, 1927 – May 2, 1985). Another daughter, Elizabeth Anne, known as Lizanne (June 25, 1933 – November 24, 2009), was born three and a half years after Grace. At Margaret's baptism in 1925, Jack Kelly's mother, Mary Costello Kelly, expressed her disappointment that the baby was not named Grace in memory of her last daughter, who had died young. Upon his mother's death the following year, Jack Kelly resolved that his next daughter would bear the name and, three years later, with the arrival of Grace Patricia in November 1929, his late mother's wish was honored. Following in his father's athletic footsteps, John Jr. won in 1947 the James E. Sullivan Award as the country's top amateur athlete. Also, similar to his father's gold medals in rowing at the 1920 and 1924 Summer Olympics, he competed in the sport at the 1948, 1952 and the 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne where, on November 27, seven months after his sister's Monaco wedding, he won a bronze medal, which he gave to her as a gift of the occasion. He also served as a city councilman, and Philadelphia's Kelly Drive is named for him. Two of Grace Kelly's uncles were prominent in the arts; her father's eldest brother, Walter C. Kelly (1873–1939), was a vaudeville star whose nationally known act The Virginia Judge was filmed as a 1930 MGM short and a 1935 Paramount feature, and another older brother, George Kelly (1887–1974), estranged from the family due to his homosexuality, became renowned in the 1920s as a dramatist, screenwriter and director with a hit comedy-drama, The Show Off, in 1924–25, and was awarded the 1926 Pulitzer Prize for Drama for his next play, Craig's Wife.
More about her Acting career:
While going to 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 twelve, she played a lead in Don't Feed the Animals, a play produced by the East Falls Old Academy Players. During high school, she acted and danced, graduating in May 1947 from Stevens School, a socially prominent private institution on Walnut Lane in the Northwest Philadelphia neighborhood of Germantown. Her graduation yearbook listed her favorite actress as Ingrid Bergman and her favorite actor as Joseph Cotten. Written in the "Stevens' Prophecy" section was, "Miss Grace P. Kelly – a famous star of stage and screen."
Theater and Television:
Because of low mathematics scores, Kelly was rejected by Bennington College in July 1947. To the dismay of her parents—despite his brothers' occupations, her father viewed acting as "a slim cut above streetwalker"—Kelly decided to pursue her dreams of a career in the theater. For an audition into the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York she used a scene from her uncle's 1923 play The Torch-Bearers. Although the school had already selected its semester quota, Kelly obtained an interview with the school's admission officer, Emile Diestel, and was admitted due to her uncle George. Living in Manhattan's Barbizon Hotel for Women, a prestigious establishment which barred men from entering after 10 pm, and working as a model to support her studies, Kelly began her first term the following October. A diligent student, she would use a tape recorder to practice and perfect her speech. Her early acting pursuits led her to the stage, most notably a Broadway debut in Strindberg's The Father alongside Raymond Massey. At 19, her graduation performance was as Tracy Lord in The Philadelphia Story. Television producer Delbert Mann cast Kelly as Bethel Merriday, an adaptation of the Sinclair Lewis novel of the same name, in her first of nearly sixty live television programs. Success on television eventually brought her a role in a major motion picture. Kelly 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. Cooper was charmed by Kelly and said that she was "different from all these actresses we've been seeing so much of." However, her 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. Kelly was performing in Colorado'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.
Grace Kelly with Clark Gable in Mogambo, 1953
Director John Ford had first noticed Kelly in a 1950 screen test. The studio flew Kelly to Los Angeles to audition in September 1952. Ford said Kelly showed "breeding, quality and class". She won the role, along with a 7-year contract at the relatively low salary of $850 a week. Kelly signed the deal under two conditions: first that one out of every two years she have time off to work in the theater, and second that she be able to live in New York City at the now-landmarked Manhattan House, at 200 E. 66th Street. Two months later in November, Kelly and the cast arrived in Nairobi to begin production of the film Mogambo. Though Gene Tierney was initially cast in the role, she had to drop out at the last minute due to personal issues. Kelly later told Hollywood columnist Hedda Hopper, "Mogambo had three things that interested me. John Ford, Clark Gable, and a trip to Africa with expenses paid. If Mogambo had been made in Arizona, I wouldn't have done it." A break in the filming schedule afforded Kelly and Mogambo co-star Ava Gardner a visit to Rome. Kelly's 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.
Dial M for Murder, 1954
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 would become one of Kelly's last mentors. He took full advantage of Kelly's beauty on-camera. In a scene in which her character Margot Wendice is nearly murdered, a struggle breaks out between her and her would-be-killer Tony Dawson as she kicks her legs and flails her arms attempting to fight off her killer. Dial M for Murder opened in theaters in May 1954 to both positive reviews and box-office success.
Kelly began filming scenes for her next film, The Bridges at Toko-Ri, in January 1954 with William Holden. The role of Nancy, the wife of naval officer Harry (Holden), proved to be a minor but pivotal part of the story. Released in January 1955, the The New Yorker remarked on the apparent on-screen chemistry of Kelly and Holden, and took note of Kelly's delivery of her performance "with quiet confidence."
Marlon Brando in "On the Waterfront"
Kelly unhesitatingly turned down the opportunity to star alongside Marlon Brando in On the Waterfront, which won her replacement, Eva Marie Saint, an Academy Award. Kelly committed instead to the role of Lisa Fremont in Rear Window. Said Kelly: "All through the making of Dial M for Murder, he [Hitchcock] sat and talked to me about Rear Window all the time, even before we had discussed my being in it." Much like the shooting of Dial M for Murder, Kelly and Hitchcock shared a close bond of humor and admiration. Sometimes, however, minor strife would emerge on set.
Grace Kelly and James Stewart in "Rear Window"
Kelly's new co-star, 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 which she had played. For the very first time, she was an independent career woman. Stewart 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 and finally lingering closely on her profile. With the film's opening in October 1954, Kelly was again praised. Variety's film critic remarked on the casting, commenting about the "earthy quality to the relationship between Stewart and Miss Kelly. Both do a fine job of the picture's acting demands."
Kelly won the role of Bing Crosby's long-suffering wife, Georgie Elgin, in The Country Girl, after a pregnant Jennifer Jones bowed out. Already familiar with the play, Kelly was highly interested in the part. To do it MGM would have to loan Kelly out to Paramount. Kelly was adamant, and threatened the studio that if they did not allow her to do it she would pack her bags and leave for New York for good. MGM relented, and the part was hers. The film also paired Kelly again with William Holden. The wife of a washed-up alcoholic singer, played by Crosby, Kelly's character is emotionally torn between two lovers. As a result of her performance in The Country Girl, Kelly was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress. Her main competitor for the prize was Judy Garland's much heralded comeback performance in A Star Is Born; playing not only the part of an up-and-coming actress-singer, but also ironically, the wife of an alcoholic movie star. Although Kelly won the New York Film Critics Circle Award for best actress for her performances in her three big movie roles of 1954 (Rear Window, Dial M For Murder, and The Country Girl), she and Garland both received Golden Globe Awards for their respective performances. By the following March, the race between Kelly and Garland for the Oscar was very close. On the night of the Academy Awards telecast, March 30, 1955, Garland was unable to attend because she was in the hospital having just given birth to her son, Joseph Luft. However, she was rumored to be the odds-on favorite, and NBC Television cameras were set up in her hospital room so that if she was announced as the winner, Garland could make her acceptance speech live from her hospital bed. However, when William Holden announced Kelly as the winner, the technicians immediately dismantled the cameras without saying one word to Garland.
Grace Kelly Taking a Nap during the filming of "Green Fire"
In April 1954, Kelly flew to Colombia for a 10-day shoot on her next project, Green Fire, with Stewart Granger. Kelly played Catherine Knowland, a coffee plantation owner. In Granger's autobiography he writes of his distaste for the film's script, while Kelly later confided to Hedda Hopper, "It wasn't pleasant. We worked at a pathetic village – miserable huts and dirty. Part of the crew got shipwrecked ... It was awful."
Green Fire was a Critical and Box-Office Failure but Made a Small Profit of $840,000
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. Kelly and her co-star, Cary Grant, developed a mutual admiration. The two cherished their time together for the rest of their lives. Years later, when asked to name his all-time favorite actress, Grant replied without hesitation: "Well, with all due respect to dear Ingrid Bergman, I much preferred Grace. She had serenity."
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, Kelly met the prince in Monaco.
Grace Kelly Played a Princess in "The Swan"
At the time of her initial meeting with Rainier, Kelly was romantically linked to the French actor Jean-Pierre Aumont. Upon returning to America, Kelly began work on The Swan, in which she coincidentally portrayed a princess. Meanwhile, she was privately beginning a correspondence with Rainier. In December, Rainier came to America on a trip officially designated as a tour, although it was speculated that Rainier was actively seeking a wife. A 1918 treaty with France stated that if Rainier did not produce an heir, Monaco would revert to France as a result of the Monaco Succession Crisis of 1918. At a press conference in the United States, Rainier was asked if he was pursuing a wife, to which he answered, "No." A second question was posed, asking, "If you were pursuing a wife, what kind would you like?" Rainier smiled and answered, "I don't know – the best." Rainier met Kelly and her family, and after three days, the prince proposed. Kelly accepted and the families began preparing for what the press called "The Wedding of the Century." Kelly and her family had to provide Prince Rainier with a dowry of 2 million USD in order for the marriage to go ahead. The religious wedding was set for April 19, 1956. News of the engagement was a sensation even though it meant the possible end to Kelly's film career. Alfred Hitchcock had quipped that he was "very happy that Grace has found herself such a good part."
With Frank Sinatra in High Society, 1956
Preparations for the wedding were elaborate. The Palace of Monaco was painted and redecorated throughout. On April 4, 1956, leaving from Pier 84 in New York Harbor, Kelly, with her family, bridesmaids, poodle, and over eighty pieces of luggage boarded the ocean liner SS Constitution for the French Riviera. Some 400 reporters applied to sail, though most were turned away. Thousands of fans sent the party off for the eight-day voyage. In Monaco, more than 20,000 people lined the streets to greet the future princess consort. In 1956, MGM released Kelly's last film, the musical comedy High Society (based on the studio's 1940 comedy Philadelphia Story). She wore her own engagement ring in High Society. One highlight of the film was Kelly's duet with Bing Crosby, singing "True Love," with words and music by Cole Porter.
President and Mrs Kennedy with Grace Kelly and Prince Rainier III of Monaco
at the White House in 1961
To fulfill the requirements of French law, and Roman Catholic rules on marriage, Kelly and Rainier had both civil and religious weddings. The 40-minute civil ceremony took place in the Palace Throne Room of Monaco on April 18, 1956, and was broadcast across Europe. To cap the ceremony, the 142 official titles (counterparts of Rainier's) that Kelly acquired in the union were formally recited. The following day the church ceremony took place at Monaco's Saint Nicholas Cathedral. Kelly's wedding dress, designed by MGM's Academy Award–winning Helen Rose, was worked on for six weeks by three dozen seamstresses. The bridesmaid's gowns were designed by Joe Allen Hong at Neiman Marcus after Lawrence Marcus visited Monaco. The 600 guests included Hollywood stars David Niven and his wife Hjördis, Gloria Swanson, Ava Gardner, the crowned head Aga Khan III, Gloria Guinness, Enid, Lady Kenmare, Aimée de Heeren, Daisy Fellowes, Etti Plesch, Lady Diana Cooper, Louise de Vilmorin, Loelia Lindsay, and Conrad Hilton. Frank Sinatra initially accepted an invitation but at the last minute decided otherwise, afraid of upstaging the bride on her wedding day. The ceremony was watched by an estimated 30 million people on television. The prince and princess left that night for their seven-week Mediterranean honeymoon cruise on Rainier's yacht, Deo Juvante II.
The couple had three children:
Caroline Louise Marguerite, Princess of Hanover, Hereditary Princess of Monaco, born January 23, 1957. Princess Caroline was born exactly nine months and four days after the wedding of her parents. Albert Alexandre Louis Pierre, Prince of Monaco, born March 14, 1958, current ruler of the Principality of Monaco. Princess Stéphanie Marie Elisabeth of Monaco, born February 1, 1965.
As Princess of Monaco, she founded AMADE Mondiale, a Monaco-based non-profit organization eventually recognized by the UN as a Non-Governmental Organization. According to UNESCO's website, AMADE promotes and protects the "moral and physical integrity" and "spiritual well-being of children throughout the world, without distinction of race, nationality or religion and in a spirit of complete political independence." Her daughter Princess Caroline carries the torch for AMADE today in her role as President.
After the wedding, Prince Rainier banned the screening of Kelly's films in Monaco. 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 that portrayed her as a kleptomaniac made her reconsider and ultimately reject the project. Director Herbert Ross attempted to lure Princess Grace for his 1977 film The Turning Point, but Prince Rainier quashed the idea. Later that year, Kelly returned to the arts in a series of poetry readings on stage and the narration of the documentary The Children of Theater Street. She also narrated ABC's made-for-television film The Poppy Is Also a Flower (1966).
As princess, Kelly was active in improving the arts institutions of Monaco, and eventually the Princess Grace Foundation was formed to support local artisans. She was one of the first celebrities to support and speak on behalf of La Leche League, an organization that advocates breastfeeding; she planned a yearly Christmas party for local orphans, and dedicated a Garden Club that reflected her love of flowers. Kelly was also a member of the International Best Dressed List since 1960. In June 1999, the American Film Institute ranked Grace Kelly as number 13 in its list of top female stars of American cinema.
On September 13, 1982, while driving with her daughter, Stéphanie, to Monaco from their country home, Roc Agel, on the French side of the border, Princess Grace suffered a stroke, which caused her to drive her Rover P6 off the serpentine road down a mountainside. The accident site is located at 43°43′35″N 7°24′10″E. Grace was pulled alive from the wreckage, but had suffered serious injuries and was unconscious. She died the following day at the Monaco Hospital (subsequently renamed The Princess Grace Hospital Centre in 1985), having never regained consciousness; she was 52 years old. It was initially reported that Princess Stéphanie suffered only minor bruising, although it later emerged that she had suffered a serious cervical fracture.
Excerpts of Princess Grace Kelly's Funeral including the Attendance of Princess Diana
Grace was buried in the Grimaldi family vault on September 18, 1982, after a Requiem Mass in Saint Nicholas Cathedral, Monaco. The 400 guests at the service included representatives of foreign governments and of present and past European royal houses, among them Diana, Princess of Wales and then-First Lady of the U.S. Nancy Reagan.
Grace Kelly and Cary Grant in "To Catch a Thief" in 1955
Cary Grant was among the members of the film community in attendance. Prince Rainier, who did not remarry, was buried alongside her following his death in 2005.
Grace Kelly and James Steward in Alfred Hitchcock's "Rear Window," 1954
In his Eulogy, James Stewart Said:
"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.