Grace Kelly is one of the most celebrated actresses in Hollywood history and yet her career only spanned six years. The Academy Award and Golden Globe winning actress quickly rose to international fame, starred in a handful of highly acclaimed films and then, in 1956, she stepped away from the spotlight to marry a real life prince.
Remembering Grace Kelly
Despite her short-lived acting career, Kelly managed to star in more than 40 live drama productions during the “Golden Age of Television” The actress also acted with some of Hollywood’s top leading men including James Stewart, Frank Sinatra, and Bing Crosby. It has been 35 years since Grace Kelly passed away but her fairy tale of a life hasn’t lost its luster even as reports of a rocky marriage have surfaced over time.
Keep reading to learn more about the crazy life of the elegant and stunning Golden Globe and Oscar Award winning actress, mom, and real-life princess.
Kelly Was Raised By A Strong Mother
Grace Kelly was raised by German immigrants who put an emphasis on school and family. Kelly’s own mom, Margaret Katherine Majer, was a physical education teacher at the University of Pennsylvania. Margaret was the first woman to coach for a women’s athletics program at the university. Majer left her position to focus on becoming a mother after marrying John Kelly in 1924. She soon gave birth to Marjorie and John Jr. who were followed by Grace and then her younger sister Elizabeth. Grace Kelly’s mom would send her to Ravenhill Academy, a prestigious Catholic girls’ school.
Kelly would later admit that despite her mom’s attempts to give her a world-class education, she was unable to overcome bad math scores and failed to be accepted to Bennington College. However, her experience at Ravenhill Academy led to her first true love — acting.
Her Father Was An Accomplished Industrialist And Athlete
John Brendan Kelly Sr., known more affectionately as Jack Kelly, built a fortune with his company that specialized in bricklaying and construction. His fortune afforded his children the opportunity to attend prestigious schools and gatherings.
However, Jack Kelly wasn’t just a smart businessman, he also followed his own passion, becoming a triple Olympic Gold Medal winner in the sport of rowing. He would become the first rower to win three gold medals and is still considered one of the greatest competitors the sport has ever known. His ability to follow his passion was likely a reason his daughter chose her own path in Hollywood after years of formal education training.
Coming from a wealthy and respected family also probably made it easier for Kelly to push off the advances of a wealthy prince but not for long as we will soon learn.
Grace Kelly’s First Role Was Less Celebrated Than Her Time In Hollywood
It was in 1942, at the age of 12, that Grace Kelly first caught the acting bug. Kelly auditioned for the lead role in “Don’t Feed The Animals” which was being produced by the East Falls Old Academy Players. Kelly won the role and quickly realized her love for both acting and dancing.
While attending another socially prominent private institution, the Stevens School, she continued to land more roles and perfected her acting chops and dancing abilities. Before leaving the school she would list in her graduation yearbook that her favorite actress was Ingrid Bergman and her factor actor was Joseph Cotten. She didn’t realize at the time that only eight years later she would soon be listed as a favorite actress by millions of adoring fans.
A Strong History Of The Arts In Kelly’s Family
The arts may not have been the focus of Kelly’s immediate family but they were a big part of her heritage. Uncle Walter C. Kelly was a vaudevillian performer who traveled around the world performing. It was Walter and Grace’s other uncle, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, George Kelly, author of “Craig’s Wife,” who had the biggest impact on her decision to pursue acting full-time.
George specifically pushed Kelly towards pursuing her acting dream while mentoring her throughout a surprisingly quick rise in Hollywood. Through his mentoring, a strong cast of leading co-stars, and some amazing Hollywood scripts, she would eventually meet the love of her life only five years into her explosion onto Hollywood’s silver screen.
Her fairy tale romance, however, didn’t start out like something produced for Disney…
A Trip To New York City Changed Her Life Forever
After high school, and a rejection from her top university of choice, Kelly enrolled in the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City. She was accepted to the school after performing a scene from her uncle George’s play, The Torch-Bearers.
Her parents didn’t approve of her decision so she supported herself by modeling and appearing in various TV commercials. In fact, her dad once said that acting was “a slim cut above streetwalker.”
Kelly’s first break came when she was chosen for a role in the Broadway play “The Father” by August Strindberg. That role would slowly put her on the map and helped Grace land a bit part in her first Hollywood movie, “Fourteen Hours.” Her career would soon skyrocket thanks to numerous roles in some of Hollywood’s most iconic films of all time.
Her first big role immediately landed her a Golden Globe and she nearly took home the Oscar. It’s a move any movie buff should watch at least once in their lifetime…
Three Years Into Her Career And A Golden Globe
The natural beauty was immediately embraced by film producers in Hollywood and within three years she brought home her first Golden Globe Award for her role in the film “Mogambo.” She was also nominated for best actress for the Academy Awards but lost to Donna Reed who co-starred in the iconic film “From Here To Eternity.”
While she wouldn’t take home Hollywood’s most coveted prize, it didn’t take long for Grace Kelly to prove that she was one of the most captivating women to appear on the silver screen.
What would follow was one of the most successful and talked about three year runs in Hollywood history. Stay tuned.
Deglamorized For An Oscar Win
Known for her beauty and charm, it was actually a deglamorized role that earned Kelly an Oscar for her role as Georgie Elgin in the film “The Country Girl.”
The movie was a stage she shared with Bing Crosby and William Holden, two of the biggest and most admired actors of the generation.The screen adaption of Clifford Odets stage play of the same name quickly led to numerous roles for Kelly in some of the most iconic films of the last 100 years. Among those roles were leading spots in “Dial M for Murder”, “Read Window,” “To Catch A Thief,” and “High Society.” With every role came more praise and promises of bigger things to come — and then she left it all behind just as quickly as her career had started but it wasn’t an immediate spark that had her trading in her Hollywood roles for a tiara…
It Wasn’t Love At First Sight
In 1955, Kelly was acting in the Alfred Hitchcock movie, “To Catch A Thief” when she was approached by Prince Rainier III of Monaco. The movie was being filmed in the French Riviera and the Prince was immediately infatuated with the gorgeous Hollywood star.
Despite the opportunity to become a real life princess, Kelly initially shared no interest in a romantic partnership with Prince Rainer. Instead, he initiated a long correspondence with the actress that would quickly lead to a shared love for each other and their eventual wedding. Kelly, herself raised in a prominent household, didn’t need Rainer’s money or the royal title, which likely made her decision to be courted by the princess a whole lot easier.
The pair were pen pals for less than a year when the prince showed up at her Philadelphia home with his doctor and his priest. Three days later they were set to be married with her father’s permission.
The Wedding Came With A Huge Stipulation
Before Kelly could marry her future husband and become a princess she was forced to undergo an examination. In order for Ranier to marry the Hollywood actress he first had to ensure she could bear children for him.
If the couple would have married and child bearing was not a possibility, Monaco would have become a French protectorate under terms the countries signed in 1918. Once it was determined that Grace was able to give the kingdom children she was presented with a massive 12-carat diamond engagement ring.
The Most Glamorous Wedding Dress Of All Time?
With her impeccable beauty, it took a lot to upstage Kelly on the silver screen and in real life. However, her wedding dress might be one of the few objects during her life that came a close second to match her breathtaking looks.
The wedding dress was constructed by 30 seamstresses who spent six weeks in the studio hemming her outfit. With its high collar, elegant lace sleeves, a full skirt, and a 90-yard veil that carried a pearl-encrusted prayer book and a bouquet of Lilies of the Valley, it was a sight to behold. Kelly’s shoes were even created by designer David Evins who hid a copper penny inside her right shoe for good luck. During a private ceremony, Kelly wore a more simplistic but still beautiful skirt by designer Helen Rose.
A Wedding For The Ages With 30 Million In “Attendance”
Obviously, 30 million people couldn’t pour into the church to watch Grace Kelly tie the knot with the Prince of Monaco, however, that number did tune in on TV to experience the most extravagant wedding of all time. In very real numbers, Grace Kelly’s wedding and her conversion to the “Princess of Monaco” was the Super Bowl of wedding events.
Even without her millions of adoring fans, it was still a massive wedding that welcomed approximately 600 guests. Kelly and Rainer were first wed in private but held a public ceremony fit for a princess.
Media outlets around the world quickly deemed it to be the “wedding of the century.”
A “Wedding For The Ages” Cost Her Father A Fortune
Before Grace Kelly could marry her prince a dowry had to be paid to Rainier III by Kelly’s dad. Given the prominence of the man she was marrying and the massive cost of the wedding, her dad was forced to cough up a whopping $2 million.
If her dad wasn’t a construction magnate the wedding might have never moved forward. In the end, her family became part of royalty which we assume was the only reason her dad paid $2 million to have his daughter settle down with the Prince of Monaco.
That’s a small price to pay to watch your future grandchildren grow up to become princes and princesses.
More Reporters Covered Her Wedding Than All Of WWII
On April 18, 1956, a total of 1500 reporters showed up for the wedding of Grace Kelly and Prince Rainier III. The population for the entire principality of Monaco at the time was less than 25,000.
To put that number into perspective, there were fewer reporters covering World War II than there were for the Princesses coronation. Perhaps it was for that reason that so much footage of her wedding day from film and video have been preserved over the past seven decades. It was truly a magical event that people wanted to witness and continued to talk about for many years to follow.
Locked Into A Marriage For Her Children’s Sake
While the glitz of her wedding weighed heavy on the hearts of millions of fans, Kelly’s nuptials were far from as glamorous. Not only did she submit to a fertility test to gain the approval of the crown to marry her future husband but she also had to sign a prenuptial.
At the heart of the agreement wasn’t a monetary consideration but rather a demand that in the event of a divorce her children would remain with their father. Because an heir needed to be chosen, the royal family wanted to ensure that any children in the event of the marriage ending, would not be sent to America to live out the rest of their lives.
A Jealous Husband Who Couldn’t Handle Her Stardom?
Grace Kelly was considered the luckiest woman on the planet after her fairy tale wedding but rumors of her husband’s jealousy and adultering ways circulated throughout Hollywood and the rest of the world. After their magical wedding, Prince Rainier III demanded that the screening of any Grace Kelly movies be banned in Monaco.
In 1962 Alfred Hitchcock attempted to cast the actress turned princess in his film Marnie. For her efforts, she would be paid $1 million or nearly $8 million in today’s dollars. Kelly turned down the role after public pressure mounted from the people on Monaco who didn’t want to see their princess play the role of a compulsive thief.
Perhaps Prince Rainier was so jealous because of the next man on our list who also happens to have been Grace Kell’s first fiance!
Another Man Nearly Stood In The Way Of Her Fairy Tale Wedding
Grace Kelly may have been wooed by the Prince of Monaco but her heart first belongs to another man. Indeed, the Princess of Monaco was originally set to marry fashion designer Oleg Cassini.
You may recognize Cassini’s name because he was the man behind the “Jackie Look” which was named after First Lady, Jacqueline Kennedy. Cassini would go on to marry three times, remaining with his spouse Marianne Nestor from 1971 until they both passed away in 2006.
Nearly 100 Million People Watched Grace Kelly’s Funeral
On September 13, 1982, Kelly was driving from her country home in Roc Agel to her castle in Monaco when she had a stroke, veered off a steep, winding road, and died. Her daughter Stephanie managed to escape the 120-foot drop with only a hairline fracture on the seventh cervical vertebrae. Her injury meant she was unable to attend her mother’s funeral. However, nearly 100 million people tuned in to pay their final respects to the Grace of Monaco.
To put that number into perspective, the most watched TV series finale of all time was “M*A*S*H” which scored 105.9 million viewers. Princess Grace’s funeral would be second on that list ahead of “Cheers” which brought in 84.4 million viewers. Only the Moon landing, a handful of sporting events, and a few other moments in time have captured a bigger audience than Grace of Monaco’s funeral.
She Made History 11 Years After Her Death
Grace Kelly was the first ever actress to be featured on a US postage stamp. She received the honor in 1993 or 11 years after she passed away.
Need more proof that Grace Kelly was an actress for the ages? In 2000 she was inducted into the Online Film & Television Hall of Fame.
In 1999, Kelly was ranked 13th in the American Film Institute’s list of Top Female Stars of American Cinema, proving that her untimely death and short-lived Hollywood career couldn’t hold back the massive star and figurehead she became throughout not only Hollywood but the world at large.
Before Her Death, She Was Working On A Film Project With Her Husband
Kelly and Rainier worked together in a 33-minute independent film called “Rearranged” in 1979. Executives at ABC had a chance to watch the film after it debuted in Monaco in 1982. The TV network asked that the film be extended to one hour so they could air it in the United States.
Following Grace Kelly’s death, the film was yanked from general production and it was never shown in public again as Rainier and Kelly were never able to extend the film for NBC. Kelly managed to narrate a few film’s during her time on the throne but this was the closest she came to recapturing her glory days as Hollywood’s biggest female star.
She Left Behind A Piece Of History In Philadelphia
An American actress from Philadelphia married a British royal from Monaco and it wasn’t even part of a script she picked up in Hollywood, although it most certainly could have been another production filmed for the silver screen.
With such a crazy and wild ride, it makes sense that in 2012, Grace Kelly’s childhood home was turned into a Pennsylvania historic landmark. You can visit the home at 3901 Henry Avenue in the East Falls section of Philadelphia. The home was built by her own father in 1929 and was lived in by Kelly until 1950. It is also the location of the prince’s marriage proposal, adding even more historical significance to the home’s presence. The Kelly family sold the property in 1974, following the death of Grace’s mother, Margaret but it was repurchased by Grace’s son, Prince Albert of Monaco in October 2016.