Oscar-winning actress turned princess. Image: Evening Standard

The guts it would take to marry a real-life European Prince.

It would mean leaving all you know – your home, your family, your country.

In 1956, when she was 26 years old, actress Grace Kelly left Hollywood to marry Rainier III, Prince of Monaco – a marriage that lasted until her death in 1982.

It was referred to as The Wedding of the Century. Even though she appeared in only 11 Hollywood films, Grace Kelly was an Oscar Winner and sartorially influential*, which kind of made her American royalty. When she met Rainier, she was one of the highest-paid actresses in Hollywood.

A new documentary on her life, Grace Kelly: Precious Memories (2021), says her wedding is still Talked About. Kelly’s gown was designed by Hollywood costume designer Helen Rose, and it was the most expensive dress Rose ever created, with 25 yards of silk taffeta and 100 yards of silk net. The bodice was made of 125-year-old Brussels lace embroidered with seed pearls.

Kelly and Rainier met in 1955 when she attended that year’s Cannes Film Festival. Precious Memories says a meeting between the two was suggested by actress Olivia de Havilland, that scamp, who was, apparently, travelling on the same train as Kelly.

It was well known that Prince Rainier was in the market for a wife, and Precious Memories says even Marilyn Monroe was intrigued. However, when he and Kelly met, there was Instant Attraction.

The two corresponded for a year. “The press glamorized their courtship, depicting it as a true fairy-tale romance,” notes the documentary. The film includes footage from a press conference where Grace says she’s “a little sad” to be leaving America, but insists she’s very happy.

We’re engaged! Image: The Royal Watcher

Grace Kelly: Precious Memories is not a sordid exposé of Hollywood or Monaco. Although the film admits Kelly “struggled with the pressures of Hollywood,” it doesn’t provide details. Its purpose is to introduce us to the much-photographed Kelly and her remarkable life.

Now, you could argue Kelly had advantages not available to everyone – wealth, beauty, opportunity – which made it easier to lead such a life.

Her parents, however, weren’t always On Board with her choices. They didn’t like her decision to become an actress, and they were Unimpressed by Rainier’s status as Prince.

They were even less impressed with the $2M US Monégasque dowry requirement, but they did agree to pay half, which was Kelly’s share of the family inheritance. Kelly herself paid the other half.

In return, Rainier gave Kelly an emerald-cut diamond engagement ring (10.47 carats!) that she wore in her last film, High Society (1956).

Yet, even in 1956, Kelly’s father said he felt his eldest daughter, Peggy, would be the Successful One** in the family.

Polishing the engagement ring. Image: The Court Jeweller

Although Kelly remained committed to Acting Retirement – not even Alfred Hitchcock was successful in enlisting her to play the lead in Marnie (1964) – she did join the board of the Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation, as one of its first female board members.

Instead, says Precious Memories, she focused on raising her three children and her philanthropic work. She was the patron saint of the Monaco Red Cross, and founded World Association of Children’s Friends (AMADE Mondiale), an organization dedicated to protecting children worldwide.

She was also an expert on flowers, as it turns out. She made pressed-flower collages and arrangements, some of which showed at the Galerie du Monde in Paris, while others were featured on postage stamps. She also co-wrote My Book of Flowers, published in 1980.

Princess Grace in her studio. Images: Alberti’s Window

Precious Memories is a loving look at Grace Kelly, using dozens of photographs (and new-to-us footage) to document her life.

Is this film sentimental and romanticized? You bet it is, and we adore it for that reason.

In fact, we felt a bit emotional when the film detailed the inevitable: The 1982 car accident in Côte d’Azur that claimed Kelly’s life. (Ironically, this was the same cliff-side road Kelly was nervous about navigating while filming Alfred Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief in 1955.)

Her funeral was attended by luminaries such as Lady Diana and Cary Grant. James Stewart gave the eulogy, noting, “She was just about the nicest lady I ever met.”

As for Prince Rainier, one of Europe’s longest-reigning monarchs, he was not the same man after Kelly’s death. He never remarried and was buried alongside Kelly in the Cathedral of our Lady Immaculate – the same cathedral where an American film star married a European prince.

Notes

Disclosure: EM Productions sent us a link to view this documentary in exchange for an unbiased review.

*The legendary Hermès Kelly Handbag was popularized by Princess Grace who carried one over her stomach to hide an early baby bump. (Bonus: Check out the story behind the Kelly-inspired Gucci floral print HERE.)

**Grace’s older brother, John B. Kelly, Sr., was a triple Olympic gold-medal-winning rower, and her uncle, George Kelly, was a successful vaudevillian and playwright.

Grace Kelly: Precious Memories – Narrated by Lucy Brown. Written & directed by Lucy Ciara McCutcheon. EM Productions, 2021, B&W and Colour, 51 mins.

Happily blogging about old movies and using the royal "We".

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