On Sunday, eyes of the whole world will once again be on Hollywood where world’s greatest actors, directors and film crews will be gathered for the 89th Academy Awards ceremony. Although in last decades cinematography became predominantly American domain there are many notable figures in the industry who had also deep ties to Europe. One of them is Grace Kelly, wonderful actress and ultimate style icon regarded by many as an embodiment of perfection. However, in reality, Kelly’s life was not quite a dream.
Kelly was born in a notable, affluent family. Both of her parents had European roots. Her mother, having German heritage, was an exceptional beauty and worked as a coach to women’s athletic team at the University of Pennsylvania and as a model. Her father, an Irish-American, has made a considerable fortune running a brickwork construction company. Apart from that, he won also three gold medals in sculling at the Olympics and was appointed by President Roosevelt National Director of Physical Fitness.
Grace’s talent for acting showed in the early age. As a small girl, she spent her whole days playing with dolls, preparing for them theater plays and voicing multiple characters. For many years she attended ballet classes which she finally abandoned for acting. Her beauty was captivating. Kelly received her first engagement proposal when she was only 15 years old. However, she has never been constant in her affections. Grace is known to have flirted with a countless number of men and was regularly changing her partners, often much older than the young actress.
“The idea of my life as a fairy tale is itself a fairy tale.”
In 1947 Kelly started her studies at American Academy in New York. In 1949, as the first one in her year group at the university, she got her first role on Broadway thanks to the romance with an influential producer. Her career soon gathered momentum. In 1952 she got her first major role in Zinnemann’s western entitled “High Noon” where 23-year-old Kelly appeared opposite Garry Cooper, one of the most famous actors at the time. The movie’s success brought Grace instant recognition and fame. Soon afterward she got roles in other remarkable movies like “Dial M for Murder”, Hitchcock’s “Rear Window” or “To Catch a Thief”. The peak of her career came in 1954 when she was awarded an Oscar for her outstanding performance in “The Country Girl”.
Not long after the Academy Awards ceremony, Kelly’s life changed forever. In April 1955, as a member of U.S. delegation, Grace was attending Cannes Film Festival where she met her future husband, prince Rainier III of Monaco. A year after the meeting the couple was already married. What seemed to many as a love at first sight resembled rather a business contract. What pushed prince Rainier III to marriage was not a deep feeling but Monaco’s difficult political situation and his own deteriorating finances. It was not a secret to anyone that in 1955 prince Rainier III was urgently seeking a spouse. Due to the Monaco’s succession crisis, the republic had a treaty with France which obliged the prince to produce an heir. Otherwise, Monaco would revert to France. Grace’s beauty and her father’s substantial fortune were also not negligible. Rainier III was hoping that marriage with Hollywood’s shining star will bring him prestige and prosperity. Kelly, on the other hand, was simply charmed by the prospect of entering the royal family. Thus, at the age of 26, she replaced her film career with royal banquets and charity work.
Soon after the marriage, the troubles began. Kelly was missing her acting career and didn’t know French, thus could not communicate with the locals. Rainier III, known for his fiery temperament, couldn’t control his bursts of aggression and unrestrained rage. Although Kelly was regularly offered roles in Hollywood’s biggest productions she had to decline them all. Her husband categorically forbade her to continue her acting career. Constant romances of both Grace Kelly and prince Rainier III further deteriorated their relations.
On September 14th, 1982, Grace died in a car accident when she was driving together with her 17-year-old daughter Stéphanie. The circumstances of her death, however, are wrapped in mystery. According to the official version, Kelly had a stroke, lost control of the car and drove off the steep road. However, there are numerous inconsistencies in this story which induced some people to look for alternative reasons for Grace’s death. For example, Stéphanie, who survived the accident and was the main witness of the event, was never interrogated by the French police. The fact that the official statement of the Monaco government was issued long after Grace’s death also provoked some suspicions.
Some claim that prince Rainier III had dealings with the Italian mafia and that Grace Kelly died in an attempt to escape two masked figures on motorcycles trying to abduct her. Others say that Grace’s driving under influence was the real cause of the accident. It was not a mystery that the princess was struggling with excessive alcohol consumption. Another theory states that it was inexperienced princess Stéphanie who was behind the wheel, even though she did not have a driving license at this age.
Probably we’ll never know what was the real cause of Grace Kelly’s death. There is no doubt, however, that the princess of Monaco was an extraordinary figure who had a considerable influence on Europe’s and America’s modern culture.