Above: Grace Kelly (Getty Images / Silver Screen Collection) At right: Kelly in 1956 just before she left Hollywood to marry Prince Rainier of Monaco. The ring she wears is her engagement ring. (AP Photo)
It was a story from a Disney movie. The young woman – a commoner, but renowned for her beauty and talent. The handsome prince who swept her up in a whirlwind romance. And the fairytale wedding, making her a princess.
For Grace Kelly, it was no cartoon – it was the story of her life.
Before the hearts of young women around the world sank upon hearing of Prince William's engagement to Kate Middleton… before Diana Spencer's shy gaze captured the hearts of millions… there was Princess Grace. Like any princess, she was clearly something special, something many women aspired to be. But as a princess who wasn't born and bred for the part, she was, like Kate and Diana, a little different. She was living proof that sometimes fairy tales aren't just stories.
Kelly was born into a family that was successful – her father was an Olympic gold medalist and the National Director of Physical Fitness – but most certainly not royal. Despite her family's insistence that acting was not an acceptable career (her father called the profession "a slim cut above streetwalker"), Kelly was determined to act and quickly rose to fame and fortune, starting with a high-profile role in High Noon.
By her early 20s, Grace Kelly was a movie star, and for five years, her film career continued to thrive and grow. She became a favorite of Alfred Hitchcock, starring in three of his classics – Dial M for Murder, To Catch a Thief and Rear Window, alongside Jimmy Stewart.
Princess Grace Kelly waves to cheering crowds lining the road as she rides in an open car with Prince Rainier III following their marriage in a religious wedding ceremony in the Monaco Cathedral, South of France, April 19, 1956. (AP Photo)
And then came that storybook romance. Kelly met Prince Rainier III of Monaco in 1955 at the Cannes Film Festival. It was a simple photo session and their acquaintance could have ended there… but it didn't. The actress and the prince began to secretly correspond, and when Rainier came to the U.S. a few months later – cagily putting off questions about whether he was there in search of a wife – he met with Kelly and her family. Three days later, he proposed, and five months later they were married in "The Wedding of the Century."
Prince Rainier III of Monaco and Grace Kelly dance at a party at the Formentor Yacht Club, near Puerto Pollensa on the island of Mallorca off the coast of Spain, on April 23, 1956, during their honeymoon. (AP Photo)
The world breathlessly followed the preparations for the wedding, culminating in an eight-day ocean voyage from New York to Monaco and two ceremonies, one civil and one religious. The wedding was attended by heads of state, celebrities and other notables, and 30 million people watched in on TV. Many of them watched with dreams of such a fairytale wedding of their own… and perhaps a bit of jealousy over the upcoming seven-week honeymoon cruise around the Mediterranean on Rainier's yacht.
Grace grew to love her new home, supporting local art and artisans, hosting a yearly Christmas party for orphans, and forming a garden club.
But sometimes fairy tales don’t go on happily ever after. Princess Diana reminded us of this when she and Charles divorced after an unhappy marriage, and then again 15 years ago when she died suddenly, tragically in a car crash in Paris at just 36.
Thirty years ago today, Grace Kelly's magical life ended in tragedy. Just a year after Diana Spencer ascended to royalty in her own “Wedding of the Century,” Princess Grace died suddenly Sept. 14, 1982. While driving along a narrow, mountain road, Grace suffered a stroke and lost control of the car, which went over the edge and down the mountainside. Grace and daughter Stephanie survived the crash, but Grace never regained consciousness and died the next day. She was only 52.
As the world mourned and struggled to understand the popular princess’ sudden death, heads of state, film stars and royals flocked to Monaco for the funeral. Princess Diana was there, as were Hollywood friends and former co-stars like Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart. In his eulogy, Stewart summed up pretty well why Grace Kelly was adored by so many:
You know, I just love Grace Kelly. Not because she was a princess, not because she was an actress, not because she was my friend, but because she was just about the nicest lady I ever met. Grace brought into my life as she brought into yours, a soft, warm light every time I saw her, and every time I saw her was a holiday of its own. No question, I'll miss her, we'll all miss her, God bless you, Princess Grace.
Written by Linnea Crowther