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  • Writer's pictureCarin Misterly

Grace Kelly: The Legacy of A Hollywood Princess

Grace Patricia Kelly (Class of 1949) was born November 12, 1929, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Her family was a treasure trove of successful members including her father, John who was a medaling Olympic athlete and business owner and was appointed National Director of Physical Fitness by President Roosevelt. Her mother, Margaret, made history as the first woman to coach women’s athletics at Penn State and was a civic leader. Her uncles were notable in the Entertainment Industry: one being a Vaudeville to film star, and another a Pulitzer Prize-winning dramatist, screenwriter, and director.

Kelly’s career started like any aspiring ingenue’s would, modeling fashion at local events with her mother and sisters and acting in local theater productions and school plays; acting and dancing. It was in these performances that she found her voice and realized her calling to be a performer. Her parents were not on board with this decision, and quite frequently let Kelly know of their displeasure with her chosen vocation. She made the trek to New York and auditioned for the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in 1947. Kelly's performance coupled with the influence of her playwright/screenwriter uncle, George, landed her an interview with Admissions officer, Emile Diestel. She was accepted and began her acting education.

Kelly dedicated herself to her craft and worked very hard at the Academy. She made her Broadway debut alongside Raymond Massey in Carl Strindberg’s The Father. For her graduation performance, she portrayed Tracy Lord in "The Philadelphia Story". Shortly after her graduation, she began to perform on stage more frequently and was declared Theatre World Magazine’s “Most promising personality of the Broadway Stage of 1950”. She starred in several productions including “The Rockingham Tea Set”, “Bethel Merriday”, “The Apple Tree”, and “The Mirror of Delusion”.

From stage, she moved to television and starred in over 40 episodes of live productions broadcast during the early 1950s. It was these early-stage and small screen roles that brought Hollywood to her. Her first major motion picture role came through Director/Producer Henry Hathaway’s film, “Fourteen Hours”. While the role was small, Kelly’s talent and personality shined brightly. It was her honest approach, cool and calm working temperament, and stunning beauty that won overcast and film-goers alike. And while she wasn’t noticed by film critics, she was a hit with young men and women; starting her fan club and winning her a role in the Academy Award-winning film, “High Noon” with Gary Cooper.

Gary Cooper and director Stanley Kramer knew that she would be perfect for the role of Cooper’s young Quaker wife in “High Noon”. This film set a future precedent for Kelly, who often played opposite leading men who were 20-30 years her senior. While her role failed to excite critics yet again, her popularity began to rise among co-stars and the movie-going public. The film was ranked one of the top films of all time and it is often labeled as one of her best-known films. Kelly returned to her acting training after the concussion of the film. She was also advised and mentored by her uncle George to enhance her craft. Her focus was to improve her delivery to be taken more seriously as an actor.

While training in New York, Kelly continued to star in stage productions and East Coast-based television programs. While there, she started to be noticed by Hollywood again; this time by studio giant, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. By 1952, Kelly was signed to a seven-year contract. Kelly had two conditions to this agreement: one, that every two years she had adequate time off to do theater; and two, she was able to live in Manhattan. The deal was made and thus, she began her new MGM adventure.

Kelly had her first award win, starring Clark Gable and Ava Gardner in the John Ford directed MGM adventure-romance film, “Mogambo”. It won her a Golden Globe and Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress in 1953. After her success in Mogambo, Kelly starred in the TV play “The Way of an Eagle” and was then cast in “Dial M for Murder”, directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Kelly would soon become Hitchcock’s muse as he became one of her last mentors. Kelly starred in two more Hitchcock classics, “Rear Window” in 1954, and “To Catch a Thief” in 1955.

Kelly would find herself straying from her home at MGM quite often to work with Paramount Pictures. First came “The Bridges at Toko-Ri” in 1954 starring Heartthrob-at-the-time, William Holden, and after that her role in Hitchcock’s “Rear Window” starring opposite Jimmy Stewart. Her character was a departure from her typical man-dependent role and was a more dominant, independent career woman. Her synergy with Stewart was apparent from the start, and the film would prove to be one of her most popular Hitchcock roles. The last straw for MGM came with a request from Paramount to have her star in “The Country Girl”, starring Bing Crosby. This was a part of a lifetime, and after some heavy negotiations, Kelly won the fight and secured her role in the musical-comedy. Critics called the film a success and Kelly secured the Best Actress Academy Award and the New York Film Critics Circle Award and a Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Motion Picture - Drama in 1954.

Kelly portrayed Princess Alexandra in “The Swan”, as well as starred in the musical, “High Society”, directed by Charles Walters and starring opposite, Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, and Celeste Holm. Little did Kelly know that this would be her last film, as she was soon to take on a new adventure, of “royal” proportions. It was during the 1955 Cannes Film Festival that Kelly was invited to participate in a photo session with Prince Rainier III. The Prince became infatuated with the young actress and even though she was dating French actor Jean-Pierre Aumont, Prince Rainier began to court her. After a year of courting, Kelly married the Prince of Monaco in 1956. Their formal church ceremony was attended by over 700 guests and was televised around the world to the tune of over 30 million viewers; making their wedding a precursor to the type of major-media weddings and events of today. Now known as Princess Grace, Kelly joined her Prince at his side. Together they had three children.

As Princess Grace, her focus was on her growing family and royal duties. It was clear, she was now retired from show business, but the urge to perform remained constant. In 1962, Alfred Hitchock offered the Princess the lead role as a kleptomaniac in his upcoming film, “Marnie”, but it was not to be. Though she greatly wanted to return to adoring fans, the subject matter and storyline of the film caused a great public outcry in Monaco. Further attempts to cast Princess Grace was met with refusal on the part of her husband, Prince Rainier. It wasn’t until late 1977 that Princess Grace returned to the arts in a series of poetry readings on stage and serving as narrator on documentaries. Her last production was in In 1979 when she worked on a short independent film with her husband titled, "Rearranged" that only aired in Monaco. ABC-TV became interested in the film in 1982 and requested to extend the project to be larger in scope. Before new scenes could be shot, tragedy struck and the film was never released publicly again.

On September 13, 1982, as Princess Grace was driving back from her country home with her daughter, Stephaine, she suffered a stroke and lost control of her car. Stephanie was unable to gain control, and they veered off the winding road and down a steep mountainside. Both were rushed to the hospital, and sadly, Princess Grace was pulled from life-support the following evening. Her daughter survived the crash with moderate injuries. Her funeral, like her wedding, was a star-studded event that honored her brilliant memory.

Grace Kelly leaves an unmatched legacy; serving as a model, stage actor, television actor, and film icon. She was classified as one of the “Classic Hitchcock Blondes”, and was considered the source of the “fresh-faced look”. She adorned the cover of Time Magazine and served as a muse for artists such as Andy Warhol, James Gill, and photographer Howell Conant. Her visage and style have been the inspiration to many designers like Zac Posen and Tommy Hilfiger. She influenced fashion; inaugurated into the International Best Dressed List Hall of Fame, was a Hermès bag trendsetter, and had numerous exhibitions and fashion retrospectives of her clothing throughout her career and life as a royal in Monaco. Becoming a philanthropist after becoming a princess, she donated her time and fame to helping many, including children and the arts. Following her death, the Princess Grace Foundation-USA (PGF-USA) was established to continue her (often anonymous) support in assisting emerging theater, dance, and film artists in America.

Despite a brief time in Hollywood, Grace Kelly’s career and life had a huge impact on the entertainment industry. Whether in the form of beautiful inspiration or as a shining example of what a true Hollywood Star should be, her gifts to the arts, pop culture, and beyond will remain eternal.


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