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The Times (15/Sep/1982) - Obituary: Princess Grace of Monaco

(c) The Times (15/Sep/1982)

Princess Grace of Monaco

Princess Grace of Monaco, the former American film actress Grace Kelly, whose death yesterday is reported elsewhere, was a cool and elegant blonde who took naturally to the cinema screen. She had a brief but spectacular career in Hollywood during which, in 1955, she was voted the second most popular box-office draw in the country. A year later came her engagement and marriage to Prince Rainier III and in spite of several attempts to woo her back, she renounced the cinema to become a full-time first lady of Monaco.

She was born in Philadelphia on November 12, 1929. Her father, John Kelly, the son of an Irish farm boy from county Mayo, in the Republic of Ireland, was a wealthy self-made businessman who had twice, in 1920 and 1924, been an Olympic sculling champion. Her interest in acting, however, may have come from an uncle, George Kelly, who was a popular playwright. She studied at the American Academy of Dramatic Art and was soon offered a film contract, which she turned down, preferring to concentrate on television and modelling.

After good parts in television plays and on Broadway, where she played in Strindberg's The Father, opposite Raymond Massey, she was again approached by Hollywood and made her film debut in 1951 in Fourteen Hours. It was a small role of a woman who tries to mend her marriage after seeing a man threatening to throw himself off an apartment block. The following year she played Gary Cooper's Quaker wife in the celebrated Western, High Noon, although she benefited little from the film's critical and box-office success and had to wait some time for her next part. It came in John Ford's African melodrama, Mogambo, as a reserved Englishwoman who entices Clark Gable away from the more animal attractions of Ava Gardner. Her performance brought an Oscar nomination for best supporting actress and her career had taken off.

Its subsequent development owed much to Alfred Hitchcock, who starred her in three of his films in succession. She probably best realized his idea of the woman who could radiate enormous sex appeal from a prim exterior.

A smaller part in The Bridges of Toko-Ri, with William Holden, failed to add to her reputation but after a battle between MGM, who was making the film, and Paramount, who had her under contract, she landed more promising material in Clifford Odets's The Country Girl. In fact, her performance as the wife of a man (Bing Crosby) fighting alcoholism won her the, 1954 Oscar for best actress and confirmed her standing as one of Hollywood's most sought-after stars.

Difficulty finding a suitable film to follow it led to temporary suspension by the studio but Hitchcock came to the rescue with an engaging comedy thriller set on the Riviera, To Catch a Thief. She played an aloof American girl who gradually succumbs to the charms of Cary Grant, signalling her conversion by planting a huge kiss on him. It was during the location shooting that she met Prince Rainier. Their engagement was announced in January 1956 and it was made clear that she would retire from the screen after their marriage.

Grace Kelly's wedding took place at Monte Carlo in April 1956, attracting more than 1,500 journalists and the world's television cameras. Not surprisingly, the bride seemed slightly overawed by such attention. In 1969 she said in an interview that she intended to return to acting, probably in the theatre, once her children had grown up. She did appear on radio and television from time to time to reminisce about her Hollywood days and former colleagues like Cooper, Gable and Crosby. In 1976 she took part in poetry readings at the Edinburgh Festival to mark the American bicentenary and she continued to appear on stage to read poetry and prose, most recently in Britain last March at Chichester to mark the Festival Theatre's twenty-first anniversary.

In Monaco Princess Grace founded the Garden Club, and she instituted an annual flower festival, which was extremely popular, as well as writing an attractive book about flower arranging. She also took a warm and personal interest in the Ballet School, and while preferring a private life could always be persuaded to extend her patronage to a charitable cause.

The public clamour over the unfortunate marriage of her elder daughter, Princess Caroline, greatly distressed her and the Prince. To bring up a family in the full and relentless glare of international publicity was a difficult feat, even for someone who had been accustomed to fame, first as a film star, then as a royal princess. She accomplished it with grace and charm, and her death will leave the people of Monaco quite stunned with grief and shock.

There were three children of the marriage: Princess Caroline, born 1957, Prince Albert, heir to the throne, born 1958, and Princess Stephanie, born in 1965.