Grace Kelly: The life story you may not know

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July 28, 2021
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Grace Kelly: The life story you may not know

Grace Kelly was—and is—the epitome of elegance and style. To this day, decades after her untimely death, few even come close.

She made her way, at first, as a hard-working model and actor. The daughter of a prominent Philadelphia family, Kelly studied acting, appeared in live television dramas, and finally made her way to the Broadway stage.

Kelly helped render three of director Alfred Hitchcock’s suspense films into masterpieces: “Dial M for Murder,” “Rear Window,” and “To Catch a Thief.”

Of course, not only was she a Hollywood star, but she became a real-life princess, sweeping off to wed a European prince in lavish luxury. So enamored was the public of the couple that their engagement announcement was front-page news at The New York Times. Brides still crave gowns styled like the one she wore of silk taffeta and old lace.

Kelly’s influence is perpetual. She radiated poise, style, taste, class, graciousness, and beauty.

Although Kelly was one of the most public figures of the 20th-century, Stacker has found 25 facts about her life that you may not know, drawn from media coverage, movie archives, historical accounts, and fashion reviews.

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1929: Born in Philadelphia

Grace Patricia Kelly was born in Philadelphia on Nov. 12, 1929. She was the third of four children. The eldest sibling was Peggy, followed by John Jr., and sister Lizanne was the youngest.

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1920s: An Olympic athlete father

Grace Kelly’s father, Jack, was a champion athlete, winning three Olympic gold medals in 1920 and 1924 for sculling. He also ran a successful construction company, Kelly for Brickwork, and once made a bid for Philadelphia mayor. The family lived in a house overlooking the Schuylkill River, where the actor's father liked to row.

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1920s: A family of achievers

The Kelly family did not fall short of success. Grace Kelly’s mother, Margaret Majer Kelly, was a former cover-girl model and competitive swimmer, and she was also the first woman to teach physical education at the University of Pennsylvania. One of Grace Kelly’s uncles was Walter Kelly, a vaudevillian entertainer, and another was George Kelly, a playwright who won a Pulitzer Prize in 1926 for "Craig's Wife." Her cousin John Lehman Jr. served as U.S. Secretary of the Navy.

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1940s: School days in Pennsylvania

Kelly graduated in 1947 from the Stevens School in Germantown, Philadelphia. Classmates wrote in her yearbook that she would become a star of the stage and screen.

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1940s, early 1950s: A move to New York

When she was 18, Kelly moved to New York City, where she attended the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. She stayed in the Barbizon Hotel for Women and worked as a commercial model, appearing in print advertisements. In the early 1950s, she acted in live “playhouse” television dramas and made more than 30 television appearances.

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1949: Landing a role on the Broadway stage

Kelly landed her first big Broadway role in 1949, playing the daughter in “The Father.” The play starred Raymond Massey. She was criticized for having a high voice that did not project well, and she trained her voice to be deeper.

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1951, 1952: Getting work in Hollywood

Kelly picked up her first movie role when she was 22, playing Mrs. Louise Ann Fuller the 1951 movie “Fourteen Hours.” Her role, that lasted just over two minutes, was that of a bystander. The following year, she played Gary Cooper’s wife in ”High Noon.” The Western won four Oscars.

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1952: Signing on with MGM

The actor signed a seven-year contract with MGM in 1952. It paid her $750 a week, and it stipulated she could live in New York every other year to pursue her stage ambitions. She made nine movies under the contract, five of them with studios where MGM lent her out.

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1953: Catching the eye of John Ford

In her third movie role, 1953’s “Mogambo,” Kelly co-starred in the jungle drama with Clark Gable and Ava Gardner. In casting Mogambo, director John Ford noticed Kelly in a screen test she had done three years earlier for a role she did not land.

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1950s: Starring as Hitchcok’s leading actor

Director Alfred Hitchcock gave Kelly three leading roles—in “Dial M for Murder,” “Rear Window,” and “To Catch a Thief”—that made her a Hollywood star. He needed a lead actress for “Dial M for Murder” after his previous choice, Ingrid Bergman, was caught up in a scandalous affair with married director Roberto Rossellini.

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1954: An acclaimed performance in ‘Rear Window’

Kelly’s most critically acclaimed performance in her movies by Alfred Hitchcock was in 1954’s “Rear Window.” The male lead was played by actor James Stewart, whose character is using a wheelchair due to a broken leg. He suspects he has witnessed a murder in a neighboring apartment. To investigate, he enlists the help of his girlfriend, played by Kelly. To make “Rear Window,” Kelly turned down the female lead in “On the Waterfront,” that was taken instead by Eva Marie Saint.

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1954: Engaged to Oleg Cassini

Kelly dated Russian fashion designer Oleg Cassini, who wooed her with bouquets of roses until she agreed to go out with him. The couple was engaged briefly in 1954. He was credited with helping curate Kelly’s trademark elegant style and later helped create the distinctive style of first lady Jacqueline Kennedy.

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1954: Voted on to Best-Dressed List

Kelly was voted onto the International Best-Dressed List in 1954 and again for several years thereafter. In 1955, her image was the model for a line of mannequins that were used in department store windows.

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1955: A night at the Oscars

Kelly was the highest-earning female actor in Hollywood in 1955, the year she won an Oscar for best actress for her role in “The Country Girl.” She played the wife of a washed-up alcoholic actor and singer played by Bing Crosby. Judy Garland, who played in “A Star Is Born,” had been the expected winner. Hollywood gossip columnist Hedda Hopper reported the Academy’s vote on the category winner was one of the closest ever, with just six votes’ difference.

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1955: Meeting the prince

Kelly met Prince Rainier of Monaco in May of 1955 at the Cannes Film Festival, where her Oscar-winning film “The Country Girl” was being shown. The announcement of their engagement in January 1956 took many of those who knew her by surprise since the couple had known each other for a relatively short time. The Jan. 6, 1956 engagement announcement ran on the front page of The New York Times.

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1956: 'The Wedding of the Century'

Kelly and Prince Rainier married on April 19, 1956 in what was widely called “The Wedding of the Century” at St. Nicholas Cathedral in Monaco. Kelly and an entourage of 66 travelled by ship to Monaco, and almost 2,000 reporters covered the gala ceremony. The wedding was filmed by MGM and aired live in Europe.

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1956: A gown of silk, vintage lace

Kelly's wedding gown was created by MGM costume designer Helen Rose. It consisted of 25 yards of silk taffeta and 100 yards of silk net. The rose point lace was 125 years old and purchased from a museum, and thousands of tiny pearls were sewn onto the veil. The dress went on to inspire the choices of myriad brides, including the dress made by Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen for Kate Middleton’s 2011 wedding.

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1956: A toast to the bride and groom

As part of the celebration in Monaco to mark the marriage of the prince and the actor, bartenders began serving a specially concocted drink for the occasion. The Princesse Cocktail was made of equal parts bourbon, grenadine, and fresh cream.

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1956: Creating a signature look for new mothers

While pregnant in 1956 with her first child, Caroline, Kelly created the now-coveted Kelly bag. She was using her large, square Hermès purse to protect her belly, and the purse became hugely popular. Still highly desired, Kelly bags, especially vintage ones, can be very expensive.

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1957: Princess Caroline is born

The couple had their first child, Caroline, who was conceived during their honeymoon and whose birth assured a Grimaldi succession for Monaco, allowing it to become independent from France. Caroline has been married three times, and she has four children. Her second husband, Stefano Casiraghi, was killed in 1990 in a high-speed boating accident.

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1958: Prince Albert is born

Kelly and Rainier had their son, Albert, in 1958. He ascended to the throne in 2005 when his father died. As a young man, Albert competed in the Olympics games of 1988, 1992, 1994, 1998, and 2002 on Monaco’s bobsledding team. He is the father of twins Jacques and Gabriella, born in 2014, with his wife Princess Charlene, a former Olympic swimmer from Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe. Albert also has a son, born in 2003, with a former Air France flight attendant, and a daughter, born in 1992, with a woman from California.

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1964: A thwarted return to the movies

Kelly wanted to return to acting and appear in Alfred Hitchcock's 1964 film "Marnie." Apparently the idea was not popular in Monaco, with the country against its princess in the role of a compulsive thief across from heartthrob Sean Connery. Kelly withdrew from the production, and he role went to Tippi Hedren.

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1965: Princess Stephanie is born

Kelly and Rainier’s third child, Stephanie, was born in 1965. Stephanie grew up to become a model, singer, and fashion designer. Her first husband, Adans Lopez Peres, whom she divorced, was a circus acrobat. She had two children with her second husband, Daniel Ducruet, whom she also divorced. She had a third child with a former royal bodyguard.

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1982: Death on the road

On Sept. 13, 1982, Kelly was driving with her daughter Princess Stephanie on a roadway in Monaco when she lost control of the car. The car ran off the road and down a steep mountainside, and Kelly was killed in the horrific crash. Stephanie suffered a cervical fracture. It is believed Kelly had a small stroke while at the wheel. She was 52.

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1982: Interred at Cathedral of St. Nicholas

Kelly was laid to rest in the Cathedral of St. Nicholas in Monaco. The inscription uses the words “uxor principis," meaning prince's wife. Her favorite flowers were roses, and Prince Rainier opened up a public rose garden in Monaco following her death.

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