I’m very, very reluctant to write about anyone who was an Old Hollywood movie star, and Grace Kelly may be the most Old Hollywood of all movie stars. This reluctance is largely because I feel that territory is covered so extremely well over at The Hairpin with Classic Scandals. BUT. I think the most interesting portion of Grace Kelly’s life might be less to do with her acting career, and more with the circumstances leading up to her marriage to Prince Rainier (the III) of Monaco.
Who I have always been disinclined to believe she really loved because, well, Prince Rainier was a roly-poly man and she was the most beautiful woman in the world. As you can see:
And then this is Prince Rainier of Monaco:
When telling her mother of her engagement Grace Kelly said, “He’s most attractive in every way . . . I think he’s very nice.” He certainly does look nice! But he’s still a bit of a roly-poly man compared to some of Grace’s former lovers. Incidentally, I am told not everyone knows what a roly-poly man is. This is a roly-poly man:
So now you know.
Who were Grace’s former lovers? Well, if you believe certain accounts, pretty much every leading man in Hollywood. Donald Sinden, who played Grace Kelly’s husband in Mogambo, starring Clark Gable and her, described wandering into Clark’s tent and seeing “both of them starkers!”
And she was apparently naked all the time! There’s a great quote on This Recording, which I think sums it up:
One of Kelly’s signature moves was to emerge totally naked. I don’t mean at Bergdorf’s or on the street, I mean after she was alone with her date. She would excuse herself into the bathroom and come back naked, or if he went to the bathroom he would come back to find her naked. I can see her doing this but only posing as though she were a store mannequin, one perfectly manicured hand on her hip, the other lifted into the air as if to say, “Why not take a gander at my vagina?”
I mean, she probably would have called them “ladybits.”
Grace Kelly wasn’t actually the aloof ice princess she was often made out to be. She was, however, completely myopic. She literally could not see six feet without glasses.Which did not stop her from seducing blurry outlines of her married male co-stars. She slept with, in order of coolness, which I know is debatable, so we can discuss that in the comments if you want:
- Cary Grant
- Frank Sinatra
- Marlon Brando
- Clark Gable
- JFK (he’d be higher, but, you know, the way he treated women wasn’t great)
- David Niven (you know, I’d rank David Niven higher, but we’re being objective here)
- William Holden
- Gary Cooper
- Ray Milland
- Bing Crosby
Apparently in one instance, Bing Crosby (he is last because, while White Christmas is a nice song, it is still not sexy) found Grace Kelly naked in bed with Marlon Brando. The men fought. With their fists, not their words or singing, as one might expect.
Regardless, the affair with Bing ended terribly. The crooner later told his wife (he was engaged to her at the time he had the affair with Grace):
“You were gone for a very long time, you know, and it started out as just a party after our movie wrap-up — and then I suppose I had too much to drink and one thing led to another. Weeks later, when I told her of my previous commitment to you, she utterly lost her composure. She had always been so calm and serene, but now she wept and screamed at me. I can’t understand why a woman would carry on like that. It was just terrible. Then she disappeared!”
Supposedly, Grace threatened or attempted suicide when the affair ended. Over Bing Crosby. I’ll never listen to White Christmas the same way again.
Her affair with Clark Gable was nearly as fraught. Grace was 24 during the filming, while Clark was 52.
According to Dear Mr. Gable:
The gossip about their affair [during the filming of Mogambo] soon reached Grace’s mother and she flew to London immediately to chaperone. As she was more Clark’s age and had always admired him, she soon warmed up to the idea of her daughter becoming Mrs. Gable. It didn’t take long for Clark to catch on to what her ideas were and he quickly ended the affair. He ignored Grace’s phone calls and snubbed her at the studio. Grace was devastated.
After filming ended and when everyone was on their way home, he gave Grace a camera, which she thought was a sign that he might be interested in rekindling the affair. Then, at the airport, as the photographers were taking pictures, he kissed her on both cheeks and walked away. Grace burst into tears in front of everyone.
Some of Grace’s affairs with older men – like Bing Crosby, or Clark Gable – are now thought to be an attempt to gain the praise she never received from her father. Grace’s father was, in addition to being a wealthy businessman, an Olympic rower. A newspaper even went so far as to call him “the most perfectly formed American male.”
He was also the model for the George Kittredge character (Tracy Lord’s new money fiance) in The Philadelphia Story. This is a little bizarre as Grace Kelly played Tracy Lord in the musical adaption High Society. This is the song her George Kittredge sings in it, which tragically I cannot find a clip of from the actual movie.
Grace’s mother was a former competitive swimmer and a cover girl. They liked outgoing, athletic, boisterous people. Which Grace, the third of four children, was not.
A family story describes Grace being locked in a cupboard by her older sister. Rather than shouting to be let out, Grace stayed inside playing quietly with her dolls for hours. This sounds completely heroic to me, but was not the kind of outward, gung-ho spirit that her father wanted. Her family really didn’t understand that she was very shy and imaginative.
Her father later said that his other daughters were his favorites, and that he was surprised Grace turned into anything other than a housewife. He also claimed that being an actress was “a slim cut above streetwalker.”
While her family was never abusive, and her parents were otherwise supportive (there’s no need to make this worse than it was), Grace must have relied heavily on her imagination and personal resources to become as successful as she did. As a child, she told her sister – the same one who locked her in a cupboard – “One day, I’m going to be a princess.”
So, it doesn’t really surprise me that Grace was quick to marry Prince Rainier.
They met in 1955 when Grace was 25, at a photo opportunity for Paris Match. Grace almost missed the appointment because it conflicted with getting her hair done, but ultimately she decided that – well, I imagine she decided that she was Grace Kelly and she could get her hair done at any time. I don’t know why so many magazines and biographies seem to mention this moment, other than that they have some vendetta against hairdressers and wish you to remember priorities.
In any event, Grace Kelly met Prince Rainier, and then told Paris Match (I am not sure if she told the photographer or a reporter), “He’s charming. So charming.” Just like Prince Charming! Well, that was a very good line.
Prince Rainier was 32 at the time, and under considerable pressure to produce an heir. If he didn’t, the country of Monaco would revert to France, which, obviously, the Monegasque people were not eager to see happen. However, the Prince swore he would only marry for love.
He wrote letters to Grace while she was filming The Swan. I do not know if he sent flowers or gifts. Probably. Seems likely. And he came to visit for Christmas with her family. Shortly after, on December 28th, he proposed at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel. He presented Grace with a 12 carat diamond ring set with smaller rubies, to represent the official colors of Monaco.
Grace excitedly exclaimed, “To live there with you would be wonderful!”
That is not the same as saying “I love you very much.”
I imagine that Grace Kelly did love him or, at least in that moment, may have felt a sense of gratitude that was very similar to love. She was only 25. She had been through so many bitter, broken love affairs that she seems someone who was anxious for a man to be nice to her. You could perhaps argue that, after Bing Crosby (engaged) and Clark Gable (not going to marry her) and many similar stories, she would love anyone who was available and who seemed inclined to treat her well.
Besides. It must have seemed like a way to show everyone – the men who had thrown her over, her siblings, her father – who hadn’t thought she was special. She was a little American girl who was going to be a princess, and she was going to make everyone who had ever doubted her feel like an idiot.
Her father was skeptical, but she assured him, “I’ve been in love before, but never like this.”
I am, however, a little surprised that Prince Rainier married her.
While Grace’s image may have appeared pristine publicly, it was very commonly known in Hollywood that she slept with all of her leading men. Remember that in the 1980s Prince Charles couldn’t marry Camilla because he had to find a “bona fide virgin.” The idea of marrying a woman who could conceivably be carrying another man’s child has traditionally been horrifying to royals.
And when Prince Rainier talked to David Niven, a famous ladies’ man, and asked him who had been the best in bed of all the actresses he had slept with, Niven quickly replied, “Well, Grace, of course,” before catching himself, horrified, and exclaiming “Gracie Fields!”
I do not remotely mean this is a mean way, because the singer Gracie Fields was a wonderful person, but this is Gracie Fields:
If that wasn’t enough, Cary Grant was present at the couple’s wedding, and he and Grace were said to have had a romance while filming To Catch A Thief though that is disputed by the Cary-Grant-was-gay camp. But, well, look at this:
Unlike most of Grace’s male co-stars, Cary Grant remained devoted to her for her entire life, saying, “Grace had a kind of serenity, a calmness, that I hadn’t arrived at at that point in my life – and perhaps never will, for all I know.”
All the stories you read about Cary Grant are always good. If you are ever depressed you can read a biography of Cary Grant and watch him say things like, “I was so lonely as a child. I never want anyone to be lonely.” And then he composes dirty limericks. Hilarious dirty limericks.
Alright. That’s enough about Cary Grant, who may or may not have been gay, but who I am in love with.
So, Prince Rainier certainly knew that Grace had been with other men before him, right? Right. Sure. That’s reasonable. And that didn’t cause him to hesitate. Now, he may have been very progressive for the 1950s. And Grace’s father did offer him a two million dollar dowry, which may have played a role in overlooking prior indiscretions.
In any event, they married. Grace’s gown was a parting gift from MGM Studios, and was fashioned from 125 year old Brussels lace, with thousands of tiny pearls sewn onto the veil. Look at this magnificent dress:
She is glorious. Utterly glorious.
And then Grace slept with one of her bridesmaid’s husbands. This is a bizarre part of the story, but, Carolyn Rebold, the bridesmaid, claimed that Grace slept with her husband, and then sent her a note confessing everything, claiming that she did it only because she had been upset that her father had recently been diagnosed with cancer.
But then, Grace also told her hairdresser, “”I know my husband has affairs with other women.That’s very frustrating to me and makes me very unhappy.”
But then, she was rumored to have an affair with Frank Sinatra during her marriage – and Sinatra told his valet that she was his “dream girl.” The two were even said to share a love nest in Cap Ferrat. This somehow seems like the height of glamor to me.
Many people believe that David Niven, noted lover of Gracie Fields, remained Grace Kelly’s lover throughout her time married to Rainier.
So – mixed messages. And she probably slept around a lot. Wendy Leigh, author of True Grace: The Life and Times of an American Princess says:
“She had a great deal of romantic opportunities and she could hardly be blamed for taking them . . . She was the world’s first liberated woman – and besides, Rainier was so unfaithful.”
So, fine, they both slept around. But does that mean that she and Rainier weren’t in love?
Funny though it sounds after all the dalliances, I think they did love each other. At one point, after their three children had been born, Grace was asked about her marriage and she said, “He’s very bright, has a wonderful sense of humor, makes me giggle and is very, very handsome. He’s a good person. And I love him.” This seems like exactly the kind of way you would hope to feel about your husband, even if, initially, you only thought he was very nice.
There is this picture of Rainier, seven years after Grace’s death in a car crash in 1982, standing before his wife’s portrait. Somehow, I just don’t think you can fake this sort of sorrow. By all accounts, he was broken-hearted and filled Monaco with memorials to her. On the 20th anniversary of her death, Prince Rainier said, “Princess Grace is always present in our hearts and in our thoughts.” When he passed away in 2005 he was buried beside her.
I want to believe he was broken-hearted, because someone who was on the verge of suicide over Bing Crosby seems like she would need a great deal of love. I hope Grace received from her marriage that which she never had in her younger years. In Monaco, I really do like to think, she found a place where she was treasured and cherished.