Grace, Princess of Monaco
By Alexis Di Gregorio
Grace, Princess of Monaco, born Grace Kelly, captured the attention of the world with her unprecedented rise from Hollywood ingénue to Monégasque royalty. In understanding how the daughter of a bricklayer came to marry the Prince of Monaco, it is helpful to focus her life’s story through the lens of Bell and Nkomo’s cultural framework. Looking at gender, race, and socio-
economic class as part of a larger cultural and specific historical period, it is possible to better understand how lives develop in the manner they do. This framework allows us to comprehend the complex social structures lead a certain person down a specific path. Using Bell and Nkomo’s
framework, it is impossible to deny that Grace’s life was indelibly shaped by multiple and
Born in 1929 to John B. and Margaret Major Kelly, Grace (along with the other three Kelly children) grew up believing that her father had achieved the American dream. John Kelly had been one of ten children in a poor, Irish family. John B. and his siblings relentlessly pursued an escape from poverty in “lower” East Falls, Pennsylvania. John found his escape through athletics, winning two Olympic gold medals in sculling before he was thirty. For John B. athletic success translated in to business success. In his youth, he worked for a company laying bricks around Philadelphia, by the time Grace was born, he owned that brick company. John’s success served as a tangible
example for his children of the power of hard work. He expected his children to push their why through life, much the way he had.
John B’s older brother, George, was generally considered the family outsider. In a catholic
family of boisterous athletes, he was both homosexual and quietly intellectual. A Pulitzer Prize winning playwright, he was disdainful of physical competition. Although he was three years his brother’s junior, it was generally John B. who took care of George, making sure he always had a place in the family. A quite child, from the start, Grace preferred to be playing with dolls by herself or reading a book to the sports her siblings would engage in. This put her at notable odds with her father’s ideal of children, but bonded her strongly to her uncle. It was George who first introduced
Grace to the theater; her first acting role was in his The Torchbearer. Her uncle allowed her to see a
kind of success different from what her father was always pushing. He had made a success of himself without being loud or athletic. This served as greater proof to Grace that there was no way to fail in America.
Born on the eve of the Great Depression, Grace was remarkably untouched by the economic hardship that swept the nation. Her father had not lost a significant amount of money and in the mid thirties found himself campaigning for public office. The insular circle the Kelly’s socialized with gave young Grace no sense of the struggles faced by many others. While the Depression era may not have touched Grace, World War II certainly had a personal impact for her. Hers was the only mother she know of German decent; she was the only person she knew who was forced to suffer through German grammar lessons. When she was finally able to convince her of the unpatriotic nature of these lessons, she buried all traces of her German ancestry.
Having fallen one math credit short of college entrance requirements, Grace decided to try her hand at modeling in New York. At five foot six inches tall she was considered to tall to be a good model. Taking the small jobs she could get to pay the bills, Grace pursued her dreams of becoming a stage actor. Unfortunately for her, so did many other young women. New York casting directors had no shortage of young, beautiful women wanting to be put on stage, and Grace did not yet the experience to distinguish herself from the throngs of others. She was making no money and barely acting so she made a drastic change.
She had always wanted to be on stage; Hollywood was not a place Grace Kelly had ever dreamt of heading off to, but exasperation over the snail like pace of her stage career pushed for west. Arriving in Hollywood in 1948, she made a string of minor appearances in B rate films. It was in 1951 that she made an international splash in High Noon with Gary Cooper. The film was
shown in movie houses all over the world, and audiences all over the world were wowed by the young starlet’s beauty. Had Grace been born even twenty years earlier, this kind of international recognition would have been impossible.
Suddenly, Grace Kelly was in demand in Hollywood. Her next film, Mogambo, would see
her cast opposite Hollywood’s number one leading man, Clark Gable. The steam boat making days of what once been a many months long journey, the whole crew traveled to Africa to shoot the film. The next few years few by in a flurry of film shooting and Hollywood publicity parties. Completely encapsulated in Hollywood society, it was difficult for Grace to understand that people all over the world knew what she looked like, and often felt a personal connection with her, even though they had never met her.
Regarding her career in Hollywood it is easy to see how race play a crucial part in Grace’s
success: people of color wear not depicted in films as anything other the servants, and often times those people were whites who had been made up to look like another race or ethnicity. Her class background played an important part in her success also. The east coast patrician quality to her beauty, voice, and mannerisms set her apart the brash young women so common in Hollywood. Being a woman was also helpful, as there were more female roles to be had.
While the qualities of being a white, upper class woman were incredibly helpful to Grace’s
success, there was larger cultural phenomenon that led her to become a symbol of femininity. The post-war, 1950’s America saw the rise of the nuclear family and a return to idealized images of womanhood. Grace was soft spoken and elegantly beautiful, a sharp contrast to the brash and sexualized images of women that had previously come out of Hollywood. Her beauty was disarming, not intimidating; she was someone other women could identify with or aspire to, and someone men could want to have in their home. She was well fit to represent the stereotypes of the time: how women should dress, speak, and behave.
In 1955, Grace traveled to the French Riviera to film To Catch a Thief with Cary Grant. On
her second day there, she took a driving tour of the area, including Monte Carlo, where she caught sight of a beautiful, partially enclosed garden. When she was told that the garden belong to the Prince of Monaco, she commented the she “would love to see them.” Although tours of the
Prince’s private gardens were not commonly given, Grace’s international celebrity was such that
her wish was fulfilled. Just a few days later, she was back in Monte Carlo; MGM, the movie studio Grace was contracted to, had arranged for her and several others involved with the making of To
Catch a Thief to take a publicity tour of Monaco.
Prince Rainier of Monaco was to officiate over the tour, though he apologetically late—a
fact that would be infamous over the years. The Prince, for his part, was not star struck but he did find the young actress, though he did find for charming. He was impressed by her comportment and lady-like manner, something drilled into her by the strict parochial school her parents had sent her to. The two enjoyed each other’s company thoroughly; spending most of the day just slightly
separated the rest of the group. All together, the Prince and the actress spent a lovely afternoon together. However, they parted that evening believing they would never again meet.
That indeed should have been the have been the end of it, and would have been if not for a completely booked party. Visiting the Riviera Edith and Austin Russell, long time friends of the Kelly family, desperately wanted to attend a gala banquet in Monaco. Knowing that Grace had met the Prince just two months earlier, the couple called the palace and left a message saying they were friends of Grace’s. Tickets to the front table of the gala were delivered by messenger a few hours
later, along with a note of invitation from the Prince’s chaplain, Father Francis Tucker. It would
remain unclear whether the Prince or the priest was responsible for the tickets.
Whatever the case, it can definitively be said that Father Tucker was playing matchmaker. The next day the Russell’s were invited to the tea at the palace where, at the instigation of Father Tucker, Austin invited the Prince to visit them in the States. Much to everyone’s surprise Rainier took the American couple up on their offer. Four months later the Prince wired the Russell’s to say
he was coming. The Russell’s immediately contacted the Kelly’s and a mad dash match making
scheme was put into the works. The Russell’s brought the Prince and his entourage with them to
the Kelly home; Grace was given one days notice. Grace and Rainier spent a week in each other’s
company before announcing their engagement.
The exact nature of their courtship has never been revealed to the public, but Grace is reported to have told her mother, after their third outing, that she “was quite in love with him” (England 1984:135). That the couple would grow to love each other with extreme passion is unquestionable, however at that time it was far more likely that they were both feeling their own sort of pressure. Grace was feeling the pressure to marry for many sides: she was twenty-six years old and her family was starting to push towards settling down to start a family. Hollywood was also wanted her married; while monogamy was not expected, Hollywood was far more comfortable with having its starlets married to leading men. Grace was also feeling the pressure of being a feminine icon; how could she continue to present American women if they were married and she was not?
Rainier for his part was not feeling pressure to find a wife—he had scores of matchmakers
trying to find one for him. At thirty-two he felt no internal pressure to marry. For years newspapers were often reporting that he was on frantic search for a bride. For most of those years the Prince had had a serious relationship with a French woman whom he could not marry. He viewed the reports that he was bride hunting as the perfect cover for their relationship. As soon as that relationship ended, the matchmakers swooped down on him. To the Prince, Grace was a sweet young woman he could mold into the perfect princess.
Upon the announcement of her engagement Rainier, Prince of Monaco, Grace’s fame became legend. An American girl, a sort of Hollywood princess, was about to become a real life princess. The media covered every aspect of the engagement; the wedding turned into a media circus. Grace and Rainier hated their wedding—in later years they would both admit that if they
had to do it over again they would have married in private. Despite the rocky start to their marriage, Grace and her prince would live happily together through good time and bad.
The circumstances that led to Grace Kelly becoming a princess were the combined result of her time and culture, along with the added importance of her gender, race, and class. Being white allowed her entrance into Hollywood where she became an international celebrity in motion pictures. She was able to travel because of vast improvements in transportation. Her breeding as a member of an upwardly mobile middle class provided her with the comportment needed to conduct herself in the presence of royalty.
Bell, Ella L.J. Edomondson and Stella M. Nkomo. 2001. Our Separate Ways. Boston, MA: Harvard
Business School Press.
England, Steven. 1984. Grace of Monaco. New York, N.Y.: Doubleday & Company, INC.