One of the most lasting stars of Hollywood’s late golden age made only 12 movies. But her career as a royal and her untimely early death contributed to the impact her film career had on the public.
Sure, Grace Kelly had a short career — lasting a mere six years — that would seemingly undermine claims of her classic movie stardom. But what movies: 1952’s High Noon, three Alfred Hitchcock beauties with a John Ford safari picture thrown in.
It all ended (professionally) in 1956 when she married Prince Rainier of Monaco, that sunny place populated by shady people, and enfolded herself in motherhood combined with soft sell marketing of a tiny (population less than 35,000) principality surrounded by France.
Her life ended literally on Sept. 14, 1982, the day after her car veered off the treacherously twisting Corniche above Monaco. She had suffered a massive stroke. She was just two months shy of her 53 birthday.
It’s hardly a secret that Grace Kelly, some six years into her royal marriage, agonized over whether to mount a screen comeback in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1964 thriller Marnie.
Certainly her work in Hollywood merited a revisit. Kelly’s second feature was 1952’s High Noon. There were 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.
Kelly’s time as a royal consort and wife is the subject of 2014 a film, French director Olivier Dahan’s Grace of Monaco, which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival and was promptly lambasted by the critics. (Nicole Kidman portrayed Kelly.)
The movie’s premise is that by marrying Rainier, Kelly had consigned herself to a shaky marriage, difficult children and life in a sufficatingly 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.
Grace Kelly rightly or wrongly is remembered today as one of America’s most inspiring movie actresses. She certainly is remembered for being among the most beautiful.
Question: how many other actresses do you know of who inspire full fledged biopics 32 years after their death? And after only a dozen movies.