It’s hardly a secret that Grace Kelly, the Fifties most beautiful and enduring Hollywood star, retired to marry Monaco royalty, and some six years into her marriage agonized over whether to mount a screen comeback in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1964 thriller Marnie.
Kelly had had a short Hollywood career lasting a mere six years, comprising a relatively meager 11 movies. With the notable exception of James Dean, who made just three features, no other Fifties star has derived more mileage from such few films.
What movies: her second feature, 1952’s High Noon; three Hitchcock beauties — Dial M For Murder and Rear Window, both in 1954 and To Catch A Thief a year later — with a John Ford safari picture (1953’s Mogambo) thrown in.
Her feature debut came via small supporting part in 20th Century Fox’s 1951’s film noir outing, Fourteen Hours. Three years later The Country Girl with Bing Crosby won her a best actress Oscar.
It all ended for her (professionally) in the spring of 1956 when she married Prince Rainier III and became the Princess of Monaco, and enfolded herself in motherhood combined with soft sell marketing of a tiny principality (population, some 35,000) surrounded by France.
Kelly’s time as a royal consort and wife is the subject of a recent film, French director Olivier Dahan’s Grace of Monaco, which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in May and was promptly lambasted by the critics. (It has yet to open in the U.S.)
The movie’s premise is that by marrying Rainier, Kelly had consigned herself to a shaky marriage, difficult children and life in a suffocatingly hot-house atmosphere where her every move was royally critiqued. Hitchcock’s offer of the Marnie leads to a personal crisis. Torn between royal duties and her acting career, Kelly decides to reject the director’s offer. (The part went, of course, to Tippi Hedren.)
Albert II, the current Prince of Monaco (Rainier died in 2005), and the rest of the royal family dismissed Dahan’s film as total fiction. According to author J. Randy Taraborrelli’s 2003 tome, Once Upon A Time: Behind the Fairy Tale of Princess Grace and Prince Rainier, the royal family has a point.
Turns out that it was Prince Rainier himself who contacted Hitchcock, telling him that Grace was despondent, and that he would like for her to make another movie in the hope it would lift her spirits….She had been so supportive of him during recent difficult political times. It was only fair, said the Prince, that he do something for her now. (Rainier in mentioning “difficult political times” was probably referring to a nasty tax squabble with France’s Charles de Gaulle, which is covered in Grace of Monaco.)
Both Grace and Rainier actually were enthusiastic about her participation in Marnie, which Hitchcock had planned to film in the summer of 1962. She had firmly made up her mind to go forward by mid-March of 1962. A press release was prepared and issued in Monaco, which detailed the fact that her $800,000 salary would be donated to charity.
The uproar immediately began. The general Monegasques public made it noisily clear that it wanted no part of the royal plan to stage manage a Hollywood comeback for their Princess. She was completely blindsided by the furor over her impending return to the big screen. It hit her hard, wrote Taraborrelli. Grace and Rainier, forced to defer to public opinion, begged off Marnie.
The film, based on a novel by Winston Graham about a mentally unstable woman (Hedren), who fears men and rejects her love interest (Sean Connery) as a result of childhood trauma. You might wonder how Princess Grace would have handled such material. Alas, we shall never know.
Kelly died on Sept. 14, 1982, the day after her car veered off the treacherously twisting road (D37) snaking into Monaco. She had suffered at least one massive stroke. She was just two months shy of her 53 birthday.