So, I’ve been reading a lot of books about classic Hollywood lately, and my most recent acquisition has been quite interesting. I stumbled upon a Life magazine coffee book that was filled with photos from the photographer Howell Conant.
This isn’t your average book of photos, however. No, this was an entire book dedicated to Conant’s relationship with actress Grace Kelly.
The book starts out with how the two met, interjected with photos of Grace in various locations and eventually ends with a collection of pictures of Ms. Kelly in her later years with Prince Rainier and their three children, Stéphanie, Albert, and Caroline.
I bring this book up because it’s utterly fascinating. These photos, although mundane to some, provide an intriguing look at the woman behind that facade that was Grace Kelly. You know the facade I’m talking about.
The “ice covered volcano” one.
The one her entire cinematic legacy is based on.
The one everyone is obsessed with- including me.
Grace Kelly was a lot of things. Although she only made 13 films, her cinematic footprint continues to live on.
Why is that?
How does a woman who was only in Hollywood for a couple years, create such a lasting legacy? Some may say it was because of her beauty, others say it may have been the movies she made. Heck, I don’t even know why she’s so remembered. She was only in Hollywood for about 5 years, until she left and married a Prince that lives in Monaco.
So, what’s all the hubbub?
Let’s find out.
Grace Kelly started her movie career with the film Fourteen Hours. She had a minor role that didn’t garner much attention, so, she went to television and honed her craft by performing in over 60+ live TV appearances. Her hard work and dedication got her noticed by director Fred Zinnemann, who decided to cast her opposite Gary Cooper in the movie, High Noon. The movie received decent reviews, but, Grace didn’t stand out too much. There was, however, another director that had Grace on his radar.
John Ford saw Grace in Fourteen Hours and cast her in his action-adventure-romance flick, Mogambo. Co-starring alongside Clark Gable and Ava Gardner, Mogambo is a grand ole’ movie, but not for Grace. As I explained in my review, Gardner easily outshined Grace in the film. But, this hiccup didn’t deter other directors from hiring Grace in their pictures.
Her next project would be filming scenes for the Mark Robson directed drama The Bridges at Toko-Ri. Playing the wife of her co-star William Holden, Grace received favorable reviews for her role as the wife of Navy Lieutenant Harry Brubaker played by Holden. After getting significant praise for her role in The Bridges at Toko-Ri, things started looking up for Grace‘s career.
Turning down a part in the movie, On The Water Front, Grace took the opportunity to work with Alfred Hitchcock on the film, Rear Window. About the production of this flick, Grace is reported to have said that during the making of another movie, Dial M for Murder, Hitchcock, “sat and talked to (her) about Rear Window all the time, even before we had discussed my being in it.”
As you guys may know, Rear Window is peak Grace Kelly. It’s the role that, more or less, made her a household name. It’s the part that most people recognize her from and rightfully so. If you’ve seen Rear Window, you know that it’s one of Hitch‘s best films.
Rear Window also happens to be the movie where Grace‘s persona of the “ice queen” really kicks into high gear. You see, Hitchcock had this rather unhealthy obsession with blonde women, and Grace may have been the one actress that sent him over the edge.
Grace Kelly‘s “ice queen” image was supposed to symbolize sex, the “good” kind. She didn’t advertise it like a Marilyn or a Kim Novak would. No, you had to coax her into it, and once you did- oh boy.
Hitchcock was the only director to really play up her image in the 3 movies they did together which, ultimately, peaked in To Catch a Thief from 1955. Luckily for Hitchcock, movie audiences and critics alike both saw what he was trying to achieve with Grace‘s image. Kelly was praised for her performance in Rear Window and eventually, that saw her win the role of Georgie Elgin in the Oscar winning film, The Country Girl.
This was the motion picture where Grace, essentially, “dirtied” herself up to win an Academy Award.
You know what I’m talking about.
It’s when a very attractive woman takes a role in a movie where she’s going to have to make herself look less appealing than she actually is. Nicole Kidman, Charlize Theron and a number of other actresses have all done this.
Grace was no different.
Some may argue that she didn’t deserve it, and they’re right, to a certain extent.
There is a large section of classic film fans who firmly believe that Judy Garland should’ve won for her heartbreaking performance in A Star Is Born that year. I could see why they’d be upset. Garland was the favorite that year, and A Star Is Born was her comeback movie. Grace ‘spoiled’ that for her.
As for my opinion, well, it’s a little bit of both. I do believe that Judy should’ve won, but, I also understand why Grace did.
Much like Leonardo DiCaprio‘s Oscar win from a year ago, Grace Kelly won her Oscar based on her body of work. Just a couple of years earlier, Grace was nominated for Best Supporting Actress for her role in Mogambo. She didn’t win, unfortunately, but she did win a Golden Globe for her performance. Now, this is important because I think this tells us why Judy lost out on the Academy Award.
In 1955, Grace was the ‘It’ girl. She was everywhere. At this point her career she’s worked with Alfred Hitchcock, John Ford, Fred Zinnemann and many other directors of a high pedigree.
She was a hot commodity.
With every movie Grace did, particularly during 1954 and 1955, her profile grew. Everyone wanted her- including the Academy. Judy didn’t have that. Even though she was the favorite to win it, she was old property (their words not mine.) Grace represented something new, something fresh.
It really comes down to Hollywood wanting to move forward (a.k.a Grace) and not wanting to be stuck in the past (eg: Judy.) It’s sad to think about, but, that’s how Hollywood works.
C’est la vie.
Anyway, after Grace finished a grueling schedule that saw her work on four movies in a span of a few months, she finally got to kick back and relax on a trip to the French Riveria to film Alfred Hitchcock‘s To Catch A Thief.
Perhaps the ‘weakest’ of the three films she did with Hitch, To Catch A Thief is an okay movie. The plot isn’t very convincing and I found myself bored during certain parts of the film. What the movie does have going, however, is its dialogue and interplay between Grace and her co-star Cary Grant.
The innuendo filled script and the beautiful sights of the Riviera are enough to make this film better than what the plot offers. It’s still a good movie, don’t get me wrong, but I’d most certainly put it as the 3rd movie in my ranking of Hitchcock/Kelly collaborations.
After, completing To Catch a Thief, Grace was invited to head the U.S delegation that was traveling to the Cannes Film Festival. It was at Cannes where she met her future husband Prince Rainier III of Monaco. They initially met when Rainier asked to participate in a photo session with her.
At the time, Grace was dating French actor Jean-Pierre Aumont, and marriage was the last thing on her mind. It wasn’t until Grace returned to America to film The Swan, that she started a correspondence with the Prince.
A few months and many letters later, Rainier visited Philadelphia under the ruse that he was there on “official business.”
Spoiler: He wasn’t.
After getting engaged Grace would only film one last movie before shipping out to Monaco.
She showed that she had a gift for light comedy and slapstick humor. It makes you rather sad that she permanently retired from acting after this film. You have to wonder what kinds of roles she would’ve gone on to play if she didn’t marry Rainier.
We’ll never know.
Grace finished High Society and went on to marry Prince Rainer on April 19th, 1956 in Saint Nicholas Cathedral, located right beside the shining waters of the Riviera.
Sadly, as I stated earlier, Grace would never make another movie. She did have a chance in 1962, though, when Hitchcock offered her the lead role in his movie, Marnie. But, it was not meant to be. The people of Monaco didn’t want her to play a sex crazed, kleptomaniac, so, she gracefully bowed out of the project.
For the rest of her life, Grace would basically do things that a ruler of a small principality like Monaco would do.
She had a multitude of philanthropic projects going, she and Rainier had three children together, and life was basically very relaxed for the new Princess of Monaco.
Sadly, that all ended on September 13, 1982, when Grace was driving down a curving road with her daughter Stéphanie and suffered a stroke that saw her accidentally drive off a small cliff. Paramedics found her alive, but in critical condition. They attempted to resuscitate her, to no avail. Grace Patricia Kelly died on September 14th, 1982 at 10:55 p.m at the age of 52.
Why is Grace Kelly so remembered?
I think the question we need to be asking ourselves is: Why wouldn’t she be?
For a moment in time, Grace Kelly epitomized beauty and glamor. Her persona as an actress fueled into that and her movies with Hitchcock cemented it. Sure, the majority of her films may have been duds, but, the ones that were good, exceeded expectations. I think that’s why we remember Grace Kelly, it’s a combination of those things.
If we take into account everything that happened to Grace, her life is the stuff of mythology.
She was born into a wealthy Philadelphia family, became a world renown actress, and retired at the age of 26 to marry of a Prince. People on both sides of the Atlantic love her and miss her dearly. She’s also a woman who, to this day, gets put on best-dressed lists. She’s inspired many people to not only get into acting but, to be the best person they could be. Based on the way her friends and family reacted when she died, you’d swear she was an angel sent down from heaven.
When you add that all up, what’s not to remember?
Grace Kelly was a legend, and her legacy reflects that.