Considering her disdain for the press, it’s ironic that a publicity stunt during Kelly’s visit to the 1955 Cannes Film Festival changed the course of her life. The movie editor of Paris Match magazine roped Kelly into a 30-minute photo op at Prince Rainier’s palace in Monaco, a small principality bordering France. The single 32-year-old monarch, like Kelly, was very much in the news at the time—if Rainier did not produce an heir, Monaco would revert to French control.
Once Kelly returned to the States, Rainier wrote to thank her for her visit. The two began corresponding regularly, and found they had much in common—Rainier, too, had an unhappy, lonely childhood and at times felt burdened by his very public position. Six months later, Rainier visited the United States with his priest and doctor in tow, set on asking Kelly to marry him. When asked in an interview, “If you were to marry, what kind of girl do you have in mind?” His response was, “I don’t know—the best.” That is what Kelly’s parents had always raised her to be—and despite all her career success, it was with this match that she, at last, earned their attention.
Three days after meeting the Kellys, Rainier proposed. After submitting to an exam from Rainier’s doctor that conﬁrmed Kelly could bear children, Rainier gave her a 10.47-carat diamond, which she wore as her character’s engagement ring in what would be her last movie, High Society.
So why did Kelly leave her hard-won career—within which she’d carved out an unusual amount of autonomy—for an even more structured life in Monaco’s palace? “I don’t want my wife to work,” Rainier told the press. And against the backdrop of 1950s society, being a wife and a mother was still the ultimate accomplishment. Kelly also saw her makeup call times being bumped an hour earlier—a sign that the 26-year-old was already aging out of Hollywood. And a friend recalled that she doubted her abilities as an actress and felt there was nowhere for her to go but down after her Oscar win for The Country Girl.
In April 1956, Kelly prepared for what the media had dubbed “the wedding of the century” when she sailed with friends and family on the USS Constitution to Monaco. She carried with her four massive trunks and 56 pieces of luggage, along with her wedding dress—a gift from MGM—stored in a steel box resembling a coﬃn as a ruse to throw oﬀ reporters.
The macabre metal-encased wedding dress was an unhappy foreshadowing. Royal life proved a bad trade for Kelly—she was terribly lonely and isolated from the start. “I became princess before I had much time to imagine what it would be,” Kelly said. Studying to be royalty was unlike any of her acting jobs—she could skirt convention in Hollywood, but in Monaco old rules reigned. And the adjustment to palace life was hard: Rainier was often preoccupied with affairs of state, and until she learned French there was a language barrier between her and her staff. Even the births of her three children couldn’t completely ﬁll the void left by her career.
In 1960, Kelly’s father was diagnosed with terminal cancer. After the princess left his Philadelphia bedside, her personal secretary, Phyllis Blum, recalled that Kelly broke down in tears—it was the ﬁrst time she’d seen the princess cry. With the death of John B. Kelly, the man who had greeted his daughter’s 1955 Oscar win by telling the press that, “Of the four children, she’s the last one I’d expected to support me in my old age,” the snow-topped volcano began its thaw. Photographer Eve Arnold visited Monaco to work on a CBS documentary in 1962, and recalled, “I got the distinct feeling that Kelly felt trapped.” That same year, Kelly’s shot at coming out of retirement arrived when Hitchcock oﬀered her the title role in Marnie. She was overjoyed, and perhaps because he now had his heir, Rainier allowed her to accept. But as Donald Spoto writes in his biography of Kelly, she reneged when she learned she was pregnant. Two weeks later, she miscarried. It was never made public, so the oﬃcial reason was given as an angry outcry from the Monegasque people, who supposedly didn’t want to see their princess kissing another man. Kelly never returned to Hollywood.
Rainier and Kelly’s relationship became more distant in the 1970s. Kelly often escaped with her daughters to Paris for months at a time, and in 1976 she joined the board of 20th Century Fox, telling a friend, “It gets me away from Monaco at least four times a year.” She also began wandering the mountains of Monaco collecting ﬂowers, which she eventually turned into art and exhibited. The new hobby puzzled those close to her. “Here was one of the most vital women in the world, and she’s making pressed ﬂower collages?” said her friend Rupert Allan. She began drinking heavily by the late 1970s, and friends observed she was struggling with depression.
On September 13, 1982, Kelly and her youngest daughter, Stephanie, left the family’s country home for Monaco in their 1972 Rover 3500. She had an appointment with her couturier, and loaded some dresses that needed altering into the back seat. Because the car was crowded, she drove herself and left their usual chauffeur behind. Kelly never liked to drive, and the winding mountain roads on the way to Monaco were especially difficult to navigate. A truck driver witnessed her car swerving, then speeding up and ﬂying over a cliff. The car bounced upside down, rolled several times and then came to a stop on its roof.
Stephanie suffered a hairline fracture to her neck; Kelly was unresponsive. The palace issued an early alert that the princess only had a broken leg, but it was later revealed that she had experienced a massive stroke while driving, and another brain injury in the crash. Kelly was taken oﬀ life support the following day. She was just 52 years old. All of Monaco—and Hollywood—grieved.
Kelly’s friend Robert Dornhelm recalled, “She always told me that she dreamed about the days when no one would care about her and she could be a bag lady wandering through the Metro in Paris.” It was never to be; even 36 years after she was laid to rest, an internet search of Kelly yields a photo of her lying in state in her coﬃn. The photographers that plagued her throughout her life refused to relent beyond it. (Though one notably did: The only time that Howell Conant did not pack his camera for a ﬂight to Monaco was the trip to Kelly’s funeral.)
It seems everything happened early for Grace Kelly: Her pain, her fame, her marriage, her disenchantment, and her death. As Kelly herself once told Spoto, “The idea of my life as a fairy tale is itself a fairy tale.”