Kelly was born November 12, 1929 in Philadelphia, to an affluent family. Her paternal grandparents were Irish and her maternal grandparents were German. Her father, John B. Kelly, Sr., won three Olympic gold medals for sculler. He later founded a brickwork contracting company that became well known on the East Coast. He registered as a Democrat, and was then nominated to be mayor for the 1935 election, but lost by the closest margin in the city’s history. In later years, he served on the Fairmount Park Commission and, during World War II, was appointed by President Roosevelt as National Director of Physical Fitness. Her mother, Margaret Katherine Majer, taught physical education at the University of Pennsylvania. Margaret was the first female to coach women’s athletics teams at the institution, and was also a beauty queen and model; in her later years, she suffered from a stroke and was admitted to a convalescent home, where she eventually died of pneumonia at the age of 91. Grace had two older siblings, Margaret (June 13, 1925 – November 23, 1991) and John Jr. (May 24, 1927 – March 2, 1985), and a younger sister named Elizabeth (June 25, 1933 – November 24, 2009). They were raised Catholic.
Margaret, more commonly known as Peggy, lived to be 65. At her baptism in 1925, John Kelly’s mother, Mary Costello Kelly, expressed her disappointment that the baby was not named Grace in memory of her last daughter, who had died young. Upon Mary’s death the following year, John resolved that his next daughter would bear the name and, three years later, with the arrival of Grace Patricia in November 1929, Mary’s wish was honored. John Jr. won the James E. Sullivan Award as the country’s top amateur athlete for rowing in 1947. He followed in his father’s footsteps and competed at the 1948, 1952, and 1956 Summer Olympics. During the 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne, he won a bronze medal, which he gave to Grace as a late wedding gift. In addition to his rowing career, he also served as a city councillor. Philadelphia’s Kelly Drive is named in his honor. Two of Kelly’s uncles were prominent in the arts. John’s eldest brother, Walter C. Kelly (1873–1939), was a vaudeville star. His nationally-known act The Virginia Judge was filmed as a 1930 MGM short and a 1935 Paramount feature. Another uncle, George Kelly (1887–1974), was estranged from the family due to his homosexuality. He became renowned in the 1920s as a dramatist, screenwriter and director, with a hit comedy-drama, The Show Off, in 1924–25, and he was awarded the 1926 Pulitzer Prize for Drama for his next play, Craig’s Wife.
While attending Ravenhill Academy, a prestigious Catholic girls’ school, Kelly modeled fashions at local social events with her mother and sisters. In 1942, at the age of twelve, she played the lead in Don’t Feed the Animals, a play produced by the East Falls Old Academy Players. Before graduating in May 1947 from Stevens School, a socially prominent private institution on Walnut Lane in the Northwest Philadelphia neighborhood of Germantown, she acted and danced. Her graduation yearbook listed her favorite actress as Ingrid Bergman and her favorite actor as Joseph Cotten. Written in the “Stevens’ Prophecy” section was: “Miss Grace P. Kelly – a famous star of stage and screen.” Owing to her low mathematics scores, Kelly was rejected by Bennington College in July 1947.
Despite her parents’ disapproval, Kelly decided to pursue her dreams of being an actress. John was particularly displeased with her decision; he viewed acting as “a slim cut above streetwalker.” To start her career, she tried to get admitted into the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York. In her audition, she used a scene from her Uncle George’s 1923 play The Torch-Bearers. Although the school had already met its semester quota, she obtained an interview with the admission officer, Emile Diestel, and was admitted through the influence of George.. She began her first term the following October. While at school, she lived in Manhattan’s Barbizon Hotel for Women, a prestigious establishment which barred men from entering after 10 pm, and she worked as a model to support her studies. Kelly worked diligently and practiced her speech by using a tape recorder. Her early acting pursuits led her to the stage, most notably a Broadway debut in Strindberg’s The Father alongside Raymond Massey. At 19, her graduation performance was as Tracy Lord in The Philadelphia Story.
Television producer Delbert Mann cast Kelly as Bethel Merriday, in an adaptation of the Sinclair Lewis novel of the same name; this was her first of nearly sixty live television programs. Success on television eventually brought her a role in a major motion picture. She made her film debut in a small role in the 1951 film Fourteen Hours. She was noticed during a visit to the set by Gary Cooper, who subsequently starred with her in High Noon. He was charmed by her and said that she was “different from all these actresses we’ve been seeing so much of.” However, Kelly’s performance in Fourteen Hours was not noticed by critics and did not lead to her receiving other film acting roles. She continued her work in the theater and on television, although she lacked “vocal horsepower” and would likely not have had a lengthy stage career. She had various roles on television shows produced by NBC and CBS. She was performing in Denver’s Elitch Gardens when she received a telegram from Hollywood producer Stanley Kramer offering her a co-starring role opposite Gary Cooper in High Noon.
Director John Ford had first noticed Kelly in a 1950 screen test. The studio flew her to Los Angeles to audition in September 1952, and he said that she showed “breeding, quality and class.” She was hired for the role and was offered a seven-year contract with a salary of $850 a week. She signed the deal under two conditions: That every two years she could get time off to do theater performances, and that she could live in New York City at the now-landmarked Manhattan House (200 E. 66th Street). Two months after signing her contract, Kelly and the cast arrived in Nairobi to begin production of the film Mogambo. Gene Tierney was initially cast in the role, but she had to drop out at the last minute due to personal issues. Upon getting the role, she told Hollywood columnist Hedda Hopper, “Mogambo had three things that interested me. John Ford, Clark Gable, and a trip to Africa with expenses paid. If Mogambo had been made in Arizona, I wouldn’t have done it.” A break in the filming schedule afforded her and Mogambo costar Ava Gardner a visit to Rome. Her role as Linda Nordley in MGM’s production of Mogambo garnered her a Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress and her first Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress.
After the success of Mogambo, Kelly starred in a TV play The Way of an Eagle with Jean-Pierre Aumont, before being cast in the film adaptation of Frederick Knott’s Broadway hit Dial M for Murder. Director Alfred Hitchcock also saw the 1950 screen test and took full advantage of her beauty on-camera. He was one of her last mentors in the film industry. Kelly began filming scenes for her next film The Bridges at Toko-Ri in January 1954 with William Holden. She played Nancy, the wife of naval officer Harry (Holden), who was a minor but pivotal character in the story. A film review that was released 12 months later, the The New Yorker remarked on the apparent on-screen chemistry between them, and took note of her delivery of her performance “with quiet confidence.” Kelly unhesitatingly turned down the opportunity to star alongside Marlon Brando in On the Waterfront. Eva Marie Saint, who replaced her, won an Academy Award for that role. Kelly committed to the role of Lisa Fremont in Rear Window instead. Said Kelly, “All through the making of Dial M for Murder, he (Hitchcock) sat and talked to me about Rear Window all the time, even before we had discussed my being in it.” During the shooting of Dial M for Murder, they shared a close bond of humor and admiration, although minor strife sometimes emerged on set.
Kelly’s new costar, James Stewart, was highly enthusiastic about working with her. The role of Lisa Fremont, a wealthy Manhattan socialite and model, was unlike any of the previous women she had played. For the very first time, she portrayed an independent, career-driven woman. He played a speculative photographer with a broken leg, bound to a wheelchair, and so reduced to curiously observing the happenings outside his window. Just as he had done earlier, Hitchcock provided the camera with a slow-sequenced silhouette of her, along with a close-up of the two stars kissing, and finally lingering closely on her profile. With the film’s opening in October 1954, she was praised again. Variety’s film critic remarked on the casting, commenting on the “earthy quality to the relationship between Stewart and Miss Kelly. Both do a fine job of the picture’s acting demands.”
Kelly won the role of Bing Crosby’s long-suffering wife, Georgie Elgin, in The Country Girl, after a pregnant Jennifer Jones bowed out. Already familiar with the play, she was highly interested in the part. To do so, MGM would have to lend her out to Paramount. She was adamant, and threatened the studio that if they did not allow her to do it she would pack her bags and leave for New York for good. They relented, and the part was hers. The film also paired her again with William Holden. The wife of a washed-up alcoholic singer, played by Crosby, her character is emotionally torn between two lovers. For her performance in The Country Girl, Kelly was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress. Her main competitor for the prize was Judy Garland, in her much heralded comeback performance in A Star Is Born, playing not only the part of an up-and-coming actress-singer, but also, ironically, the wife of an alcoholic movie star. Although she won the New York Film Critics Circle Award for best actress for her performances in her three big movie roles of 1954, Rear Window, Dial M For Murder, and The Country Girl, she and Garland both received Golden Globe Awards for their respective performances.
By the following March, the race between Kelly and Garland for the Oscar was very close. On March 30, 1955, the night of the Academy Awards telecast, Garland was unable to attend because she was in the hospital having just given birth to her son, Joey Luft. However, she was rumored to be the odds-on favorite, and NBC Television cameras were set up in her hospital room so that if she was announced as the winner, she could make her acceptance speech live from her hospital bed. However, when William Holden announced Kelly as the winner, the technicians immediately dismantled the cameras without saying one word to Garland. In April 1954, Kelly flew to Colombia for a ten-day shoot on her next project, Green Fire, with Stewart Granger. She played Catherine Knowland, a coffee plantation owner. In Granger’s autobiography he writes of his distaste for the film’s script, while she later confided to Hedda Hopper, “It wasn’t pleasant. We worked at a pathetic village – miserable huts and dirty. Part of the crew got shipwrecked … It was awful.” Green Fire was a critical and box-office failure but made a small profit of $840,000. After the consecutive filming of Rear Window, Toko-Ri, Country Girl, and Green Fire, Kelly flew to France, along with department store heir Bernard “Barney” Strauss, to begin work on her third and last film for Alfred Hitchcock, To Catch a Thief. She and her costar, Cary Grant, developed a mutual admiration. They cherished their time together for the rest of their lives. Years later, when asked to name his all-time favorite actress, he replied without hesitation, “Well, with all due respect to dear Ingrid Bergman, I much preferred Grace. She had serenity.”
After her marriage to Prince Rainier, Kelly became involved with philanthropic work since she was no longer allowed to act. Kelly founded AMADE Mondiale, a Monaco-based non-profit organization that was eventually recognized by the UN as a Non-Governmental organization. According to UNESCO’s website, AMADE promotes and protects the “moral and physical integrity” and “spiritual well-being of children throughout the world, without distinction of race, nationality or religion and in a spirit of complete political independence.” Her daughter, Princess Caroline, carries the torch for AMADE today in her role as President. Kelly was also active in improving the arts institutions of Monaco, forming the Princess Grace Foundation in 1964 to support local artisans. In 1983, following her death, Princess Caroline assumed the duties of President of the Board of Trustees of the Foundation. Prince Albert is Vice-President.
The Princess Grace Foundation-USA (PGF-USA) was established following the death of Kelly to continue the work that she had done, anonymously, during her lifetime, assisting emerging theater, dance and film artists in America. Incorporated in 1982, PGF-USA is headquartered in New York and is a tax-exempt, not-for-profit, publicly supported organization. The Princess Grace Awards, a program of the Princess Grace Foundation-USA, has awarded nearly 500 artists at more than 100 institutions in the U.S. with more than $7 million to date. The foundation also says it “holds the exclusive rights and facilitates the licensing of her name and likeness throughout the world.” In addition, Kelly was one of the first celebrities to support and speak on behalf of La Leche League, an organization that advocates breastfeeding. She also planned a yearly Christmas party for local orphans and dedicated a Garden Club.
Kelly headed the U.S. delegation at the Cannes Film Festival in April 1955. While there, she was invited to participate in a photo session at the Palace of Monaco with Prince Rainier III, the sovereign of the principality. After a series of delays and complications, she met him in Monaco. At the time of her initial meeting with him, she was dating the French actor Jean-Pierre Aumont. Upon returning to America, Kelly began work on The Swan, in which she coincidentally portrayed a princess, and she meanwhile began a private correspondence with Rainier. In December 1955, Rainier came to America on a trip officially designated as a tour, although it was speculated that he was actively seeking a wife. A treaty with France in 1918 had stated that if he did not produce an heir, Monaco would revert to France; this was as a result of the Monaco Succession Crisis of 1918. At a press conference in the U.S., he was asked if he was pursuing a wife, to which he answered, “No.” Then a second question was posed: “If you were pursuing a wife, what kind would you like?” Rainier smiled and answered, “I don’t know – the best.” That same year MGM released Kelly’s last film, the musical comedy High Society, which was based on the studio’s 1940 comedy The Philadelphia Story. She wore her own engagement ring in the film and one of its highlights was her duet with Bing Crosby, “True Love,” a song with words and music by Cole Porter.
Rainier met Kelly and her family, and after three days, he proposed. She accepted and the families began preparing for what the press called “The Wedding of the Century.” She and her family had to provide him with a dowry of $2 million. The religious wedding was set for April 19, 1956. News of the engagement was a sensation, even though it meant a possible end to Kelly’s film career. Alfred Hitchcock quipped that he was “very happy that Grace has found herself such a good part.” Preparations were elaborate. The Palace of Monaco was painted and redecorated throughout. On April 4, 1956, leaving from Pier 84 in New York Harbor, she, with her family, bridesmaids, poodle, and over eighty pieces of luggage, boarded the ocean liner SS Constitution for the French Riviera. Some 400 reporters applied to sail, although most were turned away. Thousands of fans sent the party off for the eight-day voyage, and in Monaco, more than 20,000 people lined the streets to greet the future princess consort.
To fulfill the requirements of the Napoleonic Code of Monaco and the laws of the Roman Catholic Church, Kelly and Rainier had both civil and religious weddings. The 16-minute civil ceremony took place in the Palace Throne Room of Monaco on April 18, 1956, and a reception later in the day was attended by 3,000 Monaco citizens. To cap the ceremony, the 142 official titles that she acquired in the union (counterparts of his) were formally recited. The following day the church ceremony took place at Monaco’s Saint Nicholas Cathedral, before Monaco’s Bishop Gilles Barthe. The wedding was estimated to have been watched by over 30 million viewers on live television, and was described by biographer Robert Lacey as “the first modern event to generate media overkill.” Her wedding dress, designed by MGM’s Academy Award–winning Helen Rose, was worked on for six weeks by three dozen seamstresses. The bridesmaids’ gowns were designed by Joe Allen Hong at Neiman Marcus. The 700 guests included several famous people, including Aristotle Onassis, Cary Grant, David Niven and his wife Hjördis, Gloria Swanson, Ava Gardner, the crowned head Aga Khan III, Gloria Guinness, Enid, Lady Kenmare, Daisy Fellowes, Etti Plesch, Lady Diana Cooper, Louise de Vilmorin, Loelia Lindsay, and Conrad Hilton. Frank Sinatra initially was invited, but did not attend. She and Rainier left that night for their seven-week Mediterranean honeymoon cruise on his yacht, Deo Juvante II.
Hitchcock offered Kelly the lead in his film Marnie in 1962. She was eager, but public outcry in Monaco against her involvement in a film that portrayed her as a kleptomaniac made her reconsider and ultimately reject the project. Director Herbert Ross attempted to lure her into accepting a part in his 1977 film The Turning Point, but Rainier quashed the idea. Later that year, she returned to the arts in a series of poetry readings on stage and narration of the documentary The Children of Theater Street. She also narrated ABC’s made-for-television film The Poppy Is Also a Flower (1966).
On September 13, 1982, Kelly was driving back to Monaco from her country home in Roc Agel when she had a stroke. As a result, she lost control of her 1971 Rover P6 3500 and drove off the steep, winding road and down the 120 ft mountainside. Her daughter, Stéphanie, who was in the passenger seat, tried to regain control of the car, but was unsuccessful. When paramedics arrived at the accident site (43°43′35″N 7°24′10″E), Kelly was alive but unconscious. She and Stephanie were transported to the Monaco Hospital (later named The Princess Grace Hospital Centre). Doctors tried to stop her internal bleeding during surgery and performed CAT scans to diagnose her brain damage. Despite their efforts, her head injuries – in addition to her fractured ribs, collarbone, and thigh – were irreparable. Doctors believed that she had suffered a minor stroke prior to the accident, which made her more susceptible to another. The following night, at 10:55pm, she died at the age of 52 after Rainier decided to take her off life support. Stephanie’s original diagnosis was mild, with only minor bruising and a light concussion. However, after receiving x-ray results, she was found to have suffered a hairline fracture on the seventh cervical vertebra. She was unable to attend her mother’s funeral due to her injuries.
- November, 12, 1929
- Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
- September, 14, 1982
- Monte Carlo, Monaco
Cause of Death
- cerebral hemorrage after a car crash
- Cathedral of Saint Nicholas
- Monaco, Monaco