Grace Kelly

American Film Actress and Princess of Monaco

A picture of actress Grace Kelly.
American actress Grace Kelly (circa 1954). (Photo by FPG/Archive Photos/Getty Images)

Who Was Grace Kelly?

Grace Kelly was a beautiful, classy stage actress who became an Oscar-winning movie star. In five years she starred in 11 motion pictures and, while at the top of her popularity, she left stardom to marry Prince Rainier III of Monaco in 1956.

Dates: November 12, 1929 – September 14, 1982

Also Known As: Grace Patricia Kelly; Princess Grace of Monaco

Growing Up

On November 12, 1929, Grace Patricia Kelly was born the daughter of Margaret Katherine (née Majer) and John Brendan Kelly in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Kelly’s father was a successful construction company owner and former triple Olympic gold medalist in rowing. Her mother had been the first coach of women's athletic teams at the University of Pennsylvania.

Kelly’s siblings included an older sister, older brother, and a younger sister. Although the family did not come from “old money,” they were successful in business, athletics, and politics.

Grace Kelly grew up in a 17-room brick mansion with plenty of recreational features for active children; plus, she spent summers in her family’s vacation home in Ocean City, Maryland. Unlike the rest of her athletic family, Kelly was introverted and always seemed to be fighting a cold. She enjoyed making up stories and reading, feeling like a misfit in the sporty household.

As a child, Kelly was taught by her mother to never publicly show emotions and her father taught her to strive for perfection. After Ravenhill Academy elementary school, Kelly attended the private Steven's School for young matrons, where, to the astonishment of her parents, she excelled in the school’s drama society.

Grace Kelly wanted to continue studying drama in college; thus, she applied to Bennington College in Vermont due to their outstanding drama department. With low scores in math, however, Kelly was turned down. Her father was against her second choice, which was to audition for the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York.

Kelly’s mother intervened, telling her husband to let Grace go; she was confident their daughter would be home in a week.

Grace Kelly Becomes an Actress

In 1947, Grace Kelly was accepted into the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. She took off for New York, lived at the Barbizon Hotel for Women, and earned extra money by modeling for the John Robert Powers modeling agency. With her blonde hair, porcelain complexion, blue-green eyes, and 5’8” perfect poise, Grace Kelly became one of the highest-paid models in New York City at the time.

After graduation from the Academy in 1949, Kelly appeared in two plays at the Bucks County Playhouse in New Hope, Pennsylvania, and then in her first Broadway play, The Father. Kelly received good reviews for her “essence of freshness.” She retained an agent, Edith Van Cleve, and began acting in television dramas in 1950, including the Philco Television Playhouse and the Kraft Theatre.

Sol C. Siegel, a producer at Twentieth Century Fox, had seen Grace Kelly in The Father and was impressed with her performance. Siegel sent director Henry Hathaway to test Kelly for a small part in the motion picture Fourteen Hours (1951). Kelly passed the reading test and joined the Hollywood cast.

Her parents, concerned about her safety, sent Kelly’s younger sister to accompany her to the West Coast. The shooting for Kelly’s part, a cool wife seeking a divorce, only took two days; after which she returned back east.

Continuing to act in off-Broadway plays in Ann Arbor and Denver in 1951, Kelly received a call from Hollywood producer Stanley Kramer to play the part of a young Quaker wife in the Western film High Noon. Kelly jumped at the chance to work with the experienced leading man, Gary Cooper. High Noon (1952) went on to win four Academy Awards; however, Grace Kelly was not nominated.

Kelly returned to acting on live television dramas and Broadway plays. She took more acting classes in New York with Sanford Meisner to work on her voice.

In the autumn of 1952, Grace Kelly tested for the film Mogambo (1953), enticed by it being filmed in Africa and starring legendary film star Clark Gable.

After the test, Kelly was offered the part and a seven-year contract at MGM. The film was nominated for two Oscars: Best Actress for Ava Gardner and Best Supporting Actress for Grace Kelly. Neither actress won, but Kelly won a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress.

Hitchcock Uncovers Kelly's Warmth

By the 1950s, director Alfred Hitchcock had made a name for himself in Hollywood making suspenseful motion pictures that featured very cool blondes as his leading ladies. In June 1953, Kelly got a call to meet Hitchcock. After their meeting, Grace Kelly was cast as the female star in Hitchcock’s next motion picture, Dial M for Murder (1954).

To rival television in the 50s, Warner Brothers decided the movie would be shot in 3-D, to Hitchcock’s dismay. The cumbersome camera made routine filming difficult and scenes had to be shot over and over, especially the murder scene in which Kelly’s character turns from victim to victor with a pair of scissors. Despite Hitchcock’s irritation over the 3-D frustration, Kelly enjoyed working with him. He had a way of exploiting her cool exterior while unearthing her warm passionate interior.

When filming for Dial M for Murder finished, Kelly returned to New York. Soon she was offered two screenplays and had to make up her mind which movie to star in. On the Waterfront (1954) was to be filmed in New York, where Kelly could continue dating her boyfriend, the famous clothing designer Oleg Cassini. The other was another Hitchcock picture, Rear Window (1954), to be filmed in Hollywood.

Feeling that she better understood the fashion model character in Rear Window, Kelly opted to go back to Hollywood and work with Hitchcock.

Kelly Wins Academy Award and Meets a Prince

In 1954, Grace Kelly was handed the script for The Country Girl, a role that was completely different from anything she had played before, that of the wearied wife of an alcoholic. She wanted the part badly, but MGM wanted her to star in Green Fire, a film she felt was full of clichés.

Kelly never found enchantment or contentment in Hollywood and wrestled with MGM with firm resolve, threatening to retire. The studio and Kelly compromised and she starred in both movies. Green Fire (1954) was a box-office failure. The Country Girl (1954) was a box-office success and Grace Kelly won the Academy Award for Best Actress.

While Grace Kelly turned down multiple motion picture offers, to the studio’s displeasure, audiences revered her everywhere. One film she did not turn down was Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief (1955), filmed on the French Riviera with Cary Grant.

Kelly’s boyfriend, Oleg Cassini, followed her to France and when the film finished, she introduced him to her family. They did not hide their disdain for him. He was divorced twice and seemed to be interested in more women than just their daughter, which was true, and the romance ended several months later.

In spring 1955, while at the Cannes Film Festival, Grace Kelly was asked to appear in a photo session at the Palace of Monaco with Prince Rainier III.

She obliged and met the prince. They chatted lightly while photos were taken. The photos sold magazines worldwide.

After being a bridesmaid in her younger sister’s wedding during the summer of 1955, Kelly wanted marriage and a family of her own all the more. Prince Rainier, who was actively seeking a wife, began corresponding with her, finding out that they had a lot in common; they were both uncomfortable celebrities, devout Catholics, and desired a family.

Grace Kelly Exits Stardom and Enters Royalty

Prince Rainier arrived in the States to woo his future princess during the holidays of 1955 before asking Grace Kelly for her hand in marriage. Kelly’s family was very proud and the official proclamation of the couple’s engagement was made in January 1956, which became front-page international news.

To finish her contract, Kelly starred in two final movies: The Swan (1956) and High Society (1956). She then left stardom behind to become a princess. (No one was more melancholy about her leaving Hollywood than Hitchcock for he had her in mind as his leading lady for several more of his movies -- if not all of them.)

The royal wedding of 26-year-old Miss Grace Patricia Kelly to 32-year-old His Serene Highness Prince Rainier III of Monaco was held in Monaco on April 19, 1956.

Then began Kelly’s most challenging role of all, fitting into a foreign country while feeling like an unwelcome visitor. She had left the States, her family, friends, and her acting career behind to enter the unknown. She became homesick.

Sensing his wife’s unease, the prince began to ask her opinions and include her in state projects, which seemed to improve Kelly’s outlook as well as Monaco’s tourism. Kelly surrendered her former acting desires, settled into life in Monaco, and revitalized the principality as a center for opera, ballet, concerts, plays, flower festivals, and cultural conferences. She also opened the palace for guided tours during the summer when she and the prince were away at their summer home, Roc-Agel in France.

The Prince and Princess of Monaco had three children: Princess Caroline, born 1957; Prince Albert, born in 1958; and Princess Stéphanie, born in 1965.

In addition to motherhood, Princess Grace, as she was known, supervised the renovation of a crumbling medical facility into a first-rate hospital and founded the Princess Grace Foundation in 1964 to help those with special needs. Princess Grace of Monaco became loved and cherished by the people of her adopted homeland.

Death of the Princess

Princess Grace began suffering from severe headaches and abnormally high blood pressure in 1982. On September 13th of that year, Grace and 17-year-old Stéphanie were returning to Monaco from their country home, Roc-Agel, when Grace, who was driving, blacked out for a second. When she came to, she accidentally pressed her foot on the accelerator instead of the brake, driving the car over an embankment.

As the women were pulled from the wreckage, it was discovered that Stéphanie had sustained minor injuries (a hairline cervical fracture), but Princess Grace was unresponsive. She was placed on mechanical life support at the hospital in Monaco. Doctors concluded that she had suffered a massive stroke, which had caused irreversible brain damage.

The day following the accident, Princess Grace’s family made the decision to remove her from the artificial devices that were keeping her heart and lungs going. Grace Kelly died on September 14, 1982, at the age of 52.

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Schwartz, Shelly, Contributing History Writer. "Grace Kelly." ThoughtCo, Mar. 3, 2017, thoughtco.com/grace-kelly-1779810. Schwartz, Shelly, Contributing History Writer. (2017, March 3). Grace Kelly. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/grace-kelly-1779810 Schwartz, Shelly, Contributing History Writer. "Grace Kelly." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/grace-kelly-1779810 (accessed November 25, 2017).