The People's Princess
remembering Grace of Monaco
By Steven D. Greydanus
Grace of Monaco, opening in theaters in March, stars Nicole Kidman as Her Serene Highness Princess Grace of Monaco—better known to the world as Grace Kelly.
Like Kate Middleton and Diana Spencer, Grace Kelly was a “people’s princess,” a non-royal young woman of great poise and beauty who, in the first-ever televised “wedding of the century,” became a princess by marrying a prince—Ranier III of Monaco—and won the hearts of the nation she served through her dedication to its people.
In this case, though, the new princess was already more famous and celebrated than her royal husband. A child of a prominent Philadelphia family of Irish Catholics, Kelly was 26 when she retired from Hollywood to marry Prince Ranier, heir to one of the last Catholic monarchies in Europe. In a career lasting only seven years, she had become a timeless icon of elegance and glamor, playing opposite the likes of Jimmy Stewart, Cary Grant, Clark Gable, Gary Cooper, Bing Crosby, and William Holden.
1954, exactly 60 years ago, was a crucial year for Kelly. She took Hollywood by storm that year, with nearly half of her 11 movies opening, including the two Hitchcock films that catapulted her to stardom—Dial M for Murder and Rear Window—and the film for which she won her Academy Award, The Country Girl with Crosby and Holden.
Also that year, unbeknownst to her, her future husband made a pilgrimage to Lourdes to pray to the Virgin Mary for a wife. Pius XII had declared it a “Marian Year,” in honor of the 100th anniversary of Pius IX’s dogmatic definition of Mary’s Immaculate Conception.
After the wedding, Kelly revealed that her confirmation name was Bernadette, after the visionary of Lourdes to whom Mary revealed herself as the “Immaculate Conception.”
The royal wedding took place two years later in Monaco’s Cathedral of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception. (A Kelly child not marrying at the family parish, St. Bridget in East Falls, was a crisis the Kellys dealt with by first flying the pastor of St. Bridget’s to Monaco and then commissioning the ceiling of St. Bridget’s to be repainted as a replica of Monaco’s cathedral.)
In 1957 Rainier and Grace made the first of several visits to the Vatican, where they were received by every pope from Pius XII to John Paul II. In 1979, marking the 25th anniversary of her husband’s pilgrimage, Grace also visited Lourdes to thank the Blessed Virgin. Three years later the princess died in a car crash, and she was buried in the same cathedral she was married.
Kelly made three films before 1954, one of which is today considered a masterpiece: Fred Zinnemann’s High Noon, a tense, claustrophobic Western starring Gary Cooper as a popular small-town sheriff retiring to settle down with his beautiful new Quaker bride, played by Kelly. Though committed by faith to nonviolence, Kelly is ultimately the one person in town willing to back up her husband against a desperado out for revenge.
Dial M for Murder, Kelly’s first Hitchcock film, is a well-constructed thriller with an elaborately convoluted plot adapted from a West End stage play about a psychopathic tennis pro plotting to have his wealthy, unfaithful wife murdered. He seems to have planned the perfect murder, but Kelly’s lover, an American mystery writer, says there’s no such thing in real life.
Rear Window, probably the most celebrated film Kelly appeared in, also captures her at her most glamorous and elegant—intimidatingly so to her boyfriend, a working-class photographer played by Jimmy Stewart. Stuck in his Greenwich Village apartment with a broken leg, Stewart glumly submits to Kelly’s ministrations as he idly watches his neighbors through the windows overlooking a common courtyard, until he begins to suspect he’s witnessed a murder.
Kelly’s least glamorous performance, and possibly her best, occasioned her Oscar: In The Country Girl, she plays the long-suffering wife of broken, sodden Crosby, a fading performer whom stage director Holden is trying to rehabilitate as the star of his new musical. Much admired for its blunt dialogue and frankness about secret drinking and patterns of dependency, it’s a well-made and well-acted film that, despite strong performances, I found too much of a grim slog.
To Catch a Thief, Kelly’s last film with Hitchcock, is a frothy trifle with Cary Grant as a dapper one-time cat burglar and French Resistance fighter suspected of returning to his criminal roots in a string of jewel thefts and Kelly as a frivolous American heiress fascinated by Grant’s shady past. Although the plot is lightweight and slack, there’s a relaxed charm to the picture with its spectacular location shooting (Hitchcock made it during a working vacation on the French Riviera) and Grant and Kelly’s banter.
All the Grace Kelly films mentioned in this article are suitable for teens and up. At this writing, Steven has not seen Grace of Monaco.