In the 1950s, “It Girl” Grace Kelly was on her way to becoming a part of Hollywood royalty. After winning the Oscar for her role in The Country Girl (1954), she threw it all away and traded in her trophy for a tiara. Just like that, she went from actress to princess – the bride of Prince Rainier III of Monaco. You would think that becoming a princess is every girl’s dream, right?
Well, the actress paid the price of becoming a royal. No, I mean literally. According to a fairly recent documentary, Grace Kelly: The Missing Millions, the 26-year-old actress had to pay a $2 million dowry (which would be roughly $20 million today) to the House of Grimaldi in order to marry her prince.
In order to make it happen, Grace Kelly had to combine her acting fortune with her family inheritance. The actress must have really been in love (or she had daddy issues and needed to impress her disapproving father). It’s only natural to think that the Princess of Monaco would be set for life (and her kids’ and grandkids’ lives), but Kelly truly fell from Grace.
Kelly’s life may have seemed like a fairytale, but this princess paid a high price to be a royal. By the time she died in 1982, the 52-year-old had a mere $10,000 (about $27,000 today) to her name and her grandfather’s old, rundown cottage in Ireland. So, what happened?
Born to wealthy Philadelphian parents in 1929, Kelly and her three siblings grew up in their family mansion. At 18, Kelly moved to New York City and lived in the Barbizon Hotel for Women while studying acting, which cost $1,000-per-year. But mommy and daddy didn’t pay the bills; she funded her studies by modeling.
Her big break was in the 1952 Western High Noon, which earned four Oscars, made $18 million at the box office, and essentially put Kelly’s name on the map. Soon enough, she was offered a contract with MGM Studios and went on to star in the films Mogambo (1953), Dial M for Murder and Rear Window (both 1954), and High Society (1956).
Kelly spent a good five years making bank in Hollywood during the ’50s. In the documentary, a financial advisor who studied Kelly’s life and career noted that all the actress’ earnings and bonuses likely reached $1.5 million (or $15 million today). The thing is, those earnings were missing from her will.
Who or what could possibly seduce her to the point that she was willing to leave fame and fortune behind? What was so appealing about becoming a princess that totally eclipsed her childhood dreams of becoming a Hollywood actress? Well, it had a lot to do with a man named Rainier Louis Henri Maxence Bertrand Grimaldi… aka Prince Rainier III.
Kelly met Rainier at the Cannes Film Festival back in April 1955, where she was heading the U.S. delegation. She was invited to be part of a photo session with Prince Rainier III, “the sovereign of the Principality of Monaco,” at his Palace about 55 km away from Cannes.
They clearly hit it off because, within months, they were engaged, and by April 1956, they were husband and wife. At the royal ceremony, the 142 official titles that she acquired were formally recited. She wore a wedding dress designed by an MGM wardrobe designer, which took six weeks and 36 seamstresses to make.
The wedding was seen by over 30 million people on live television and was described as “the first modern event to generate media overkill.” At first, Kelly planned to keep acting, but after a matter of days, she agreed to retire. The Los Angeles Times reported that the royal couple had decided that the princess would end her acting career.
According to The List, it’s widely believed that Rainier made his wife stop acting since Kelly had no plans of retiring when they got engaged. Once, she was asked by a reporter if she would continue to act after marriage, to which Kelly responded: “Well, that decision will be made by the prince.”
Five years into their marriage, Kelly was planning on making her return to Hollywood with the lead role in Alfred Hitchcock’s Marnie, but Kelly ended up dropping out due to issues between Monaco and France. Kelly likely felt compelled to stay in Monaco as her husband was settling problems with France.
It’s been reported that Kelly had three wills – one of them a secret that has been locked away in the Grimaldi archives. A second Irish will was discovered after her death in 1982, which “strongly suggested there would be other formal documentation that dealt with the assets she was known for,” which was noted in the documentary.
Eventually, the third, hidden will, was found. The only problem was that the Palace wouldn’t release it as Prince Albert II (Kelly’s son) “doesn’t wish to disclose its content.” Her son, by the way, has an estimated net worth of $1 billion (as of 2019).
According to the documentary, it seemed as though everyone around Kelly — other than the actress herself — financially benefited from the actress turned princess. Call it the “Grace Kelly effect” – MGM made millions from her films, and even Monaco relied on her allure to attract many millionaires to the tax-free haven and the second smallest country in the world (no, Monaco is not a part of France).
Kelly’s father, Jack, was a three-time Olympic gold medalist (in sculling) who succeeded in turning a $7,000 loan into an $18 million construction company (during WWII, he was appointed by President Roosevelt as National Director of Physical Fitness).
As for her mother, Margaret, she was also an athlete – a champion swimmer – as well as a cover model. One of Kelly’s uncles was a vaudeville star; another was a Pulitzer-winning playwright. In their family movies, Kelly and her brother and two sisters proved that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree as they were seen racing and leaping off rooftops.
Kelly grew up in a close-knit Catholic community in Philadelphia. During her years at Ravenhill Academy, a Catholic girls’ school, the young Kelly modeled at local charity events along with her mother and sisters. In 1942, when she was 12, she performed the lead role in the play Don’t Feed the Animals.
Whereas her graduation yearbook listed her favorite actress as Ingrid Bergman, she was unofficially voted as her family’s “least likely to succeed.” Due to her low mathematics scores, Kelly was rejected by Bennington College in 1947. Not that she cared, though. After all, her goal wasn’t to become a scholar – she was California dreamin’.
Still, Kellys weren’t supposed to fail. Despite her parents’ initial disapproval, the young woman decided to pursue her dreams of becoming an actress. Her father, in particular, was disappointed by the decision since he saw acting as “a slim cut above streetwalker.”
But Grace, the middle daughter, was different from her siblings. It may sound ironic, but of all the Kellys, she was the only one who couldn’t command a room. The shy, bespectacled girl who avoided competitive sports (in a competitive family) became something of a black sheep. There was really only one thing Kelly loved, and that was the stage.
When she was on the stage, she had another identity. She was no longer the family’s disappointment, especially her father’s. Even after her 18-month Hollywood triumph when she made nine films, won an Oscar, married a prince, and retired, her father was still disgraced (no pun intended).
When a reporter asked if he was proud of his beautiful and talented daughter, Jack Kelly suggested they write about her older sister Peggy instead. “Anything that Grace could do, Peggy could always do better.” Sadly, Kelly was the family failure.
On her off days, she would enjoy her hidden hobby of fortune-telling. Kelly had a secret obsession with fortune-tellers, who would tell her that all her hard work would eventually pay off. As it turns out, Kelly had a somewhat creepy side to her, too.
It’s been said that she would greet her dates in a bare, candlelit room dressed as an Addams Family comic. Another young man said he found her under a sheet like a corpse. She seemed to have a rebellious side, which was probably the result of having controlling parents.
Kelly’s parents weren’t very happy with the young men their daughter was dating. It’s not surprising, though, since she once romanced one of her instructors at the Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York. Their affair started at school, of course, and when she brought him home, everything fell apart.
Kelly’s parents actually put an end to many of her relationships. Kelly’s biographer wrote: “They just did not give Grace any freedom as to what man she would become involved with romantically unless he was exactly what they wanted for her.”
After skipping college and saying sayonara to her daddy’s dreams, she hit NYC and aimed for Broadway. She had to stomach five years of rejection. “I was in the ‘Too’ category,” she later described. “Too tall, too leggy, too chinny.”
The actress said she hated her wide jaw and learned over the years to tilt it when being photographed so it would look narrower. Her strong features made her look stubborn (in other words, she had a “resting b***h face”). And apparently, she was a bit difficult. She may have gotten it from her strait-laced father. Mr. Kelly was known to be cold.
No parental approval means no money from mom and dad. And so, Kelly supported herself with modeling gigs and commercials. She got her face on the cover of Cosmopolitan (her chin mostly hidden behind a glove).
But most of her modeling gigs were less than glamorous – like shampoo, cigarettes and beer ads. She wasn’t the best ad girl, though. Kelly admitted that she was lousy at them, and she even had a sense of humor about it. “Anyone watching me give the pitch for Old Gold would have switched to Camel.”
Most people don’t know that Kelly had to take speech lessons to drop her Philadelphian accent. While in college, one of her professors recommended that she drop her accent because it would get in the way of her acting career.
At acting school, her instructors told her to work on her voice and delivery. She used a tape recorder to hear herself and started working on her accent. Eventually, her speech sounded a tad British: measured and well-rounded. Speaking of accents, she perfected an Irish one when trying out for the movie Taxi in 1952.
Kelly had to use a convincing Irish accent for the screen test for Taxi but lost that role, too. She just didn’t know how helpful that screen test would soon be. At that moment, it was just another rejection in a string of “no’s” that she kept on getting from audition to audition.
When she finally landed a cameo role as a divorcée in the film Fourteen Hours, she was still cast aside (this time, the pun was intended). Apparently, the assistant director paid more attention to the fact that he had to protect their rented fur coat than the actress’ performance.
Later that same year, Kelly got a small part as Gary Cooper’s young bride in High Noon. Let it be known that before she became a princess, she had an adventurous dating life. She fell for many of her older costars, which only added to biographers’ (and my own) belief that Kelly had some daddy issues.
These older gentleman lovers included Clark Gable, Ray Milland, and in the film High Noon, Gary Cooper. While filming together, 51-year-old Cooper and 22-year-old Kelly began a boiling affair. When describing their romance, Cooper said, “She looked like a cold dish with a man until you got her pants down.” (Eye roll)
Just as things were looking up, the Hollywood hopeful’s best offer was a $250-a-week studio contract. She rejected the offer. Even if she started thinking that Hollywood wasn’t for her, it didn’t last too long.
Her losses turned into wins when John Ford, looking for an actress to play a married woman who cheats on her husband with a safari guide in Mogambo, saw Kelly’s rejected screen test for Taxi. As soon as he saw it, he said, “This girl can act. Get her!” A chance to be in a big movie AND kiss Clark Gable in Kenya? Yes, sir.
Kelly rushed to the airport and signed a six-year MGM contract a mere minutes before her flight took off. It proved to be a regretful move, however. But she didn’t figure that out for a while. For now, she was in a movie with Hollywood hotshot Clark Gable, and he was dreamy as could be.
Gable also adored her. They would go hunting while their costar Ava Gardner was sleeping in. When Gable shot a massive 12-ft. snake, she posed next to his trophy. “Someday, I’m going to get married and I’ll want to tell my children I was in Africa on a safari,” she said in an interview around that time.
Once Mogambo premiered, Hollywood fell in love with her. In the film’s betrayal scene, Kelly shoots her secret sweetheart with a gun. And the world got to witness the cool beauty lose control – in a role that won her the Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination and the Golden Globe.
It was 1953, and the 24-year-old became famous overnight. Unlike her bombshell counterparts in Tinseltown, Kelly never felt the need to participate in beauty contests or cheesecake pin-ups. Time Magazine wrote that “She is a star who was never a starlet.” In fact, she was seen as the anti-Marilyn Monroe.
Pinned against the most famous woman in the world, the good girl from a good family was nothing like bad girl Marilyn Monroe. Kelly actually kept her clothes on (again, probably because of her father’s opinion on actresses being a notch above prostitutes).
Unlike Monroe, Kelly wasn’t sexualized in Hollywood. She was described as “stainless steel” and “granite.” Alfred Hitchcock, who was also obsessed with her after seeing the Taxi screen test, called her “a snow-covered volcano.” In Rear Window, the famed director reportedly made her kiss Jimmy Stewart 30 times in one scene.
Reporters repeatedly failed to drill beneath her steely shell. Whenever they would ask intrusive questions about things like her measurements or whether she wore wigs, Kelly always shut them down. At one point, the rumor around town was that her costar tried to leave his wife for her.
Her costar Ray Milland, from the 1954 film Dial M for Murder, supposedly tried to leave his wife of 21 years for a shot at marrying Kelly (Milland’s wife called Kelly a “homewrecker”). But, of course, the actress wouldn’t speak about it when the subject was brought up in interviews.
When it came to the press, the only things they learned about the up-and-coming actress was the fact that she liked giraffes, the color yellow, and knitting. “I don’t want to be a personality,” she insisted once. There was a time when one journalist spent three weeks following her, desperate for a scoop.
He finally threw down his notepad and groaned, “There’s nothing here worth printing,” to which Kelly replied calmly, “I don’t think I’m very interesting either.” She gave her all to Hollywood but gave nothing to the press. Her private life was just that – private.
She was cool, calm and collected, always. But she was still an actress and was forced to attend industry parties. At those parties, Kelly hid behind her glasses and remained silent. Her mysteriousness only made her more attractive to men, as well as producers. She was in high demand in those days.
Six days a week, Kelly worked from dusk until dawn. After a long day’s work, she would eat a hamburger and go straight to bed for 10 hours of sleep. One morning, she wrapped up at the Green Fire set, hopped on a flight to France, and started shooting To Catch a Thief.
While she was becoming the hottest thing in Hollywood, she kept her eye on New York. Instead of buying a home in Beverly Hills, she insisted on sharing a modest rented apartment. That way, she could go back to New York whenever she wanted.
Out west, she had nothing going for her besides the pleasure of acting. But she wasn’t that interested in money (she came from it), she didn’t like fame, and she wasn’t looking for anyone’s approval, except her father’s, that is. Although her own father wasn’t a fan, Hitchcock certainly was…
Hitchcock claimed that Kelly could practically read his mind. In Dial M for Murder, Kelly insisted that her character wouldn’t slip a bathrobe on just to answer the phone. And the notoriously hard-headed director agreed with her. She was on a roll in her life – finally, after years of failure – and she found herself on a lucky streak.
One night at a casino in Cannes, she and costume designer Edith Head swore that they would only gamble $10 – no more – on the roulette wheel. As it usually went, Head lost everything instantly. Kelly, on the other hand, waited and then put all ten dollars on the number 6. She won $350.
Getting cast in 1954’s The Country Girl (a Paramount Pictures film) was one of the biggest moves in her career, but she had to fight for it. Kelly threatened to quit acting if MGM Studios didn’t lend her to Paramount. It’s a good thing they did because the film won her an Oscar.
Kelly played Bing Crosby’s wife, and there may have been a few moviegoers who knew about the actress’ childhood and cringed when William Holden’s director character yelled at her, “With all your fine background and breeding you were a failure.” But Kelly didn’t so much as flinch; she slapped him in the face instead.
Kelly was even calm and calculated when it came to giving her Oscar speech. She kept it short and sweet with 32 words, saying, “The thrill of this moment keeps me from saying what I really feel.” However, the flattering words in the press were then eclipsed by the new headlines about her and some prince.
The news was all about Kelly’s impending marriage to Prince Rainier III of Monaco, which meant she would become the most titled woman in the world. Try to keep up: She was going to be twice a princess, four-times a duchess, eight-times a countess, nine-times a baroness, 111 times a lady, and most aptly put, Her Serene Highness.
Okay, so maybe now daddy would be happy? Nope. His reaction to the news? “I’m not impressed with royalty,” Jack Kelly told the press. The couple’s engagement came so suddenly that her mother first thought her daughter was marrying the Prince of Morocco.
It turns out that the prince was actively looking for a top-shelf American actress. Before he met Kelly, Rainier paid people to introduce him to Marilyn Monroe. He wanted a blonde bombshell who would be willing to quit acting to have his children and thus secure Monaco’s crown and tax-free independence from France.
In her final film, High Society, Kelly wore her own engagement ring as a well-bred Philadelphia heiress. In a case of art imitating life, she was seen in Frank Sinatra’s arms, sighing, “I don’t seem to be made of bronze then?”
A few years before her death, she said, “I regret I didn’t stick to it for another five years because I believe I might have made a real name as Grace Kelly.” Being a princess wasn’t as grand as she thought. But she kept busy with charity balls, flower art and being the first woman on 20th Century Fox’s board.
On September 13, 1982, Kelly and her teenage daughter, Princess Stephanie, were driving in Kelly’s 1971 Rover P6 3500 when she suffered a stroke. She then lost control of the car and drove off the cliff of the winding road, soaring down the 120-foot mountainside.
Her daughter, who was in the passenger seat, tried to gain control of the car but failed. They were taken to the Monaco Hospital (renamed the Princess Grace Hospital Centre), where Kelly was found to have injuries to the brain and thorax and a fractured femur. She died the next night when Rainier decided to turn off her life support. She was 52.
Amazingly, her daughter survived, although she did suffer a slight concussion and a hairline fracture of a cervical vertebra. She wasn’t able to attend her mother’s funeral. Over 400 people attended the funeral, including Cary Grant, Nancy Reagan, and the Princess of Wales.
The car crash that took Grace Kelly’s life led to some confusion in the press. The public was misled about both the nature of the crash and the severity of the princess’ injuries. It seemed as though people weren’t being given the whole story.
This is what happened…
According to an excerpt from the book Rainier and Grace: An Intimate Portrait, the prince and princess had train tickets to Paris, where their 17-year-old Stephanie was going to start college. Their chauffeur brought Kelly’s 11-year-old Rover and offered to drive them once they were in France.
But Kelly insisted that she would take the wheel. Two miles outside of La Turbie, she sent the car flying. Her other daughter, Princess Caroline, recalled what Stephanie told her happened in the car. Stephanie told her sister, “Mommy kept saying, I can’t stop. The brakes don’t work. I can’t stop.”
She said that their mother was in a “complete panic.” Stephanie then grabbed the hand brake, but it wouldn’t stop. “I tried but I just couldn’t stop the car,” she said. Stephanie revealed in an interview that her mom had a headache during their car trip and seemed to black out for a moment.
They started to swerve before going full speed over the cliff. Days later, doctors confirmed that the princess had a “cerebral vascular incident.” Dr. Jean Chatelain, chief surgeon, told The Times: “It was an incident which, if it occurred at home — well, she might have sat down and perhaps felt better soon,” he said.
“It could have been relatively benign,” the surgeon continued. “But you can’t say for sure. It’s conjecture. In other circumstances, of course, things could have evolved in a different manner.” It’s believed that Kelly either confused the brake with the accelerator, or she lost control of her legs.
At first, there was mistaken speculation that Stephanie was actually the one driving because of a man – the first at the scene of the crash – who stated that he pulled Stephanie out of the driver’s side. It wasn’t a false statement – she was pulled out of the driver’s seat…
Stephanie later clarified that it wasn’t because she was driving; she was pulled out of that door because the passenger side was “completely smashed in” and that she had to get out from the only accessible door – the driver’s door.
There were also false reports that Kelly would recover. Despite the fact that the princess was in critical condition, the Palace continued to report that she was stable; that she was only suffering from a broken thigh, collarbone, and ribs. Even Kelly’s own brother, John, was misinformed. “I was led to believe she was out of danger,” he asserted.
Rainier never remarried, and when he died in 2005, he was buried next to his late wife. The royal couple had three children; two princesses and Prince Albert, who has told Fox News that he’s always “felt a sense of responsibility” to protect his late mother. The now 61-year-old prince explained that since they never traveled as a whole family together, he and his mother would travel together a lot – just the two of them.
“She called me her traveling companion,” he fondly recalled. “I felt a sense of responsibility, even though I was very young.” Albert explained that while she was clearly the one taking care of him, he still felt that he had to take care of her at times, too.