After embarking on an acting career in 1950, at age 20, Kelly appeared in New York City theatrical productions and more than 40 episodes of live drama productions broadcast during the early 1950s Golden Age of Television. In October 1953, she gained stardom from her performance in the film Mogambo, which won her a Golden Globe Award and an Academy Award nomination in 1954. Subsequently, she had leading roles in five films, including The Country Girl (1954), for which her deglamorized performance earned her an Academy Award for Best Actress. Other films include High Noon (1952) with Gary Cooper, Dial M for Murder (1954) with Ray Milland, Rear Window (1954) with James Stewart, To Catch a Thief (1955) with Cary Grant, and High Society (1956) with Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby.
Kelly retired from acting at the age of 26 to marry Rainier and began her duties as Princess of Monaco. They had three children: Caroline, Albert II, and Stéphanie. Kelly retained her American roots, maintaining dual U.S. and Monégasque citizenship. She died on September 14, 1982, a day after suffering a stroke while driving her car, which caused a crash.
Kelly was born on November 12, 1929, at Hahnemann University Hospital in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to an affluent and influential family. Her father, Irish-American John B. Kelly Sr. (1889–1960), had won three Olympic gold medals for sculling and owned a successful brickwork contracting company that was well-known on the East Coast. A registered Democrat, he was nominated to be mayor of Philadelphia 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. Two of his brothers were also notable: Walter C. Kelly (1873–1939) was a vaudeville star who also made films for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Paramount Pictures, and George Kelly (1887–1974) was a Pulitzer Prize-winning dramatist, screenwriter, and director.
Kelly's mother was Philadelphia native Margaret Katherine Majer (1898–1990); the daughter of German immigrants. Margaret had taught physical education at the University of Pennsylvania and had been the first woman to coach women's athletics at the institution. She was noted for her beauty and modeled for a time in her youth. After marrying John B. Kelly in 1924, Margaret focused on being a housewife until all her children were of school age, following which she began actively participating in various civic organizations.
Kelly had two older siblings, Margaret (1925–1991) and John Jr. (1927–1985), and a younger sister, Elizabeth (1933–2009). The children were raised in the Roman Catholic faith.
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 12, 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' initial 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 auditioned for the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York, using a scene from her uncle George Kelly's The Torch-Bearers (1923). 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 (1951). 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 (1951).
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 because of personal issues. Upon getting the role, Kelly 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.
In January 1954, Kelly began filming scenes for her next film, The Bridges at Toko-Ri, with William Holden. She played Nancy, the wife of naval officer Harry (Holden), who was a minor but pivotal character in the story. In a film review released 12 months later, 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 (1954). 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 Kelly, along with a close-up of the two stars kissing, finally lingering closely on her profile.
With the film's opening in October 1954, Kelly 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 (1954), after a pregnant Jennifer Jones bowed out. Already familiar with the play, Kelly was highly interested in the part. To cast her, MGM would have had to lend her out to Paramount; Kelly was adamant and threatened the studio that if they did not allow her to do the film she would pack her bags and leave for New York for good. They relented, and the part was hers.
The film paired her again with William Holden. Kelly's character, the wife of a washed-up alcoholic singer, played by Crosby, is emotionally torn between two lovers.
For her performance in The Country Girl, Kelly won 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 (1956).
Although Kelly 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 were 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 10-day shoot on her next project, Green Fire, with Stewart Granger. She played Catherine Knowland, a coffee plantation owner. Granger wrote in his autobiography of his distaste for the film's script, while Kelly 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." Although Green Fire got lackluster reviews, the film made a 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 and 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."
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 went to America on a trip officially designated as a tour, although it was speculated that he was seeking a wife, as a treaty with France in 1918 (which resulted from the Monaco Succession Crisis of 1918), stated that if he did not produce an heir Monaco would revert to France. At a press conference in the U.S., when asked if he were pursuing a wife, 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, based on the studio's comedy The Philadelphia Story (1940). Kelly wore her own engagement ring in the film and sang a duet with Bing Crosby, "True Love," a song with words and music by Cole Porter.
While in the U.S., Rainier met Kelly and her family, and after three days, he proposed. She accepted, and the families began preparations for what the press at that time dubbed "The Wedding of the Century". Kelly and her family had to provide a dowry of $2 million in order for the marriage to go forward.
The religious wedding was set for April 19, 1956. News of the engagement was a sensation, even though it meant a probable end to Kelly's film career. Alfred Hitchcock quipped that he was "very happy that Grace has found herself such a good part."
The preparations were elaborate. The Palace of Monaco was painted and redecorated throughout. On April 4, 1956, Grace, with her family, bridesmaids, poodle, and over 80 pieces of luggage, boarded the ocean liner SS Constitution, bound 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. More than 20,000 people lined the streets of Monaco to greet the future princess consort.
The Napoleonic Code of Monaco and the laws of the Roman Catholic Church necessitated two ceremonies – both a civil ceremony and a religious wedding. 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 her husband's) were formally recited. The following day the church ceremony took place at Monaco's Saint Nicholas Cathedral, before 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 was invited but did not attend. Kelly and Rainier left that night for their seven-week Mediterranean honeymoon cruise on his yacht, Deo Juvante II.
The couple had three children:Princess Caroline, born January 23, 1957
Prince Albert, born March 14, 1958, current Prince of Monaco
Princess Stéphanie, born February 1, 1965
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 where she would play 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). She and Rainier worked together in a 33-minute independent film called Rearranged in 1979, which received interest from ABC TV executives in 1982 after premiering in Monaco, on the condition that it be extended to an hour. Before more scenes could be shot, Kelly died and the film was never released or shown publicly again.
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 foot (37 m) mountainside. Her daughter, Stéphanie, who was in the passenger seat, tried, but failed, to regain control of the car. When paramedics arrived at the accident site (43°43′35″N 7°24′10″E), Kelly was alive but unconscious and in critical condition. She and Stéphanie were transported to the Monaco Hospital (later named the Princess Grace Hospital Centre). At the hospital, doctors attempted to resuscitate Grace but because of the extent of her brain injury and injuries to her thorax and a fractured femur, they were unable to save her life. Doctors believed that she had suffered a minor stroke that may have caused the car to veer off the road causing the accident. She died the following night at 10:55 p.m., age 52, after Rainier chose to take his wife off life support.
Stéphanie'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 because of her injuries.
Kelly's funeral was held at the Saint Nicholas Cathedral, Monaco on September 18, 1982. After a Requiem Mass, she was buried in the Grimaldi family vault. Over 400 people attended, including Cary Grant, Nancy Reagan, and Diana, Princess of Wales. At a later memorial service in Beverly Hills, James Stewart delivered the following eulogy:
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.
Rainier, who did not remarry, was buried alongside her following his death in 2005.
During her marriage, Kelly was unable to continue her acting career. Instead, she performed her daily duties as princess and became involved in philanthropic work.
She 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 Kelly's death, to continue the work 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."
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.
While pregnant with her daughter Caroline in 1956, Kelly was frequently photographed clutching a distinctive leather hand-bag manufactured by Hermès. The purse, or Sac à dépêches, was likely a shield to prevent her pregnant abdomen from being exposed to the prying eyes of the paparazzi. The photographs, however, popularized the purse and became so closely associated with the fashion icon that it would thereafter be known as the Kelly Bag.
Kelly was inaugurated into the International Best Dressed List Hall of Fame in 1960.
Numerous exhibitions have been held of Kelly's life and clothing. The Philadelphia Museum of Art presented her wedding dress in a 2006 exhibition to mark the 50th anniversary of her marriage, and a retrospective of her wardrobe was held at London's Victoria and Albert Museum in 2010. The V&A exhibition continued in Australia at the Bendigo Art Gallery in 2012. This famous dress, seen around the world, took thirty five tailors six weeks to complete. An exhibition of her life as Princess of Monaco was held at the Ekaterina Cultural Foundation in Moscow in 2008 in conjunction with Monaco's Grimaldi Forum. In 2009, a plaque was placed on the "Rodeo Drive Walk of Style" in recognition of her contributions to style and fashion.
After her death, Kelly's legacy as a fashion icon lived on. Modern designers, such as Tommy Hilfiger and Zac Posen, have cited her as a fashion inspiration. During her lifetime, she was known for introducing the "fresh faced" look, one that involved bright skin and natural beauty with little makeup. Her fashion legacy was even commemorated at the Victoria and Albert Museum of London, where an exhibit titled, "Grace Kelly: Style Icon" paid tribute to her impact on the world of fashion. The exhibit included 50 of her legendary ensembles. She is remembered for her "college-girl" everyday fashion, defined by her pulled-together yet simple look.
In 1955, Kelly was photographed by Howell Conant in Jamaica. He photographed her without makeup in a naturalistic setting, a departure from the traditional portrayal of actresses. The resulting photographs were published in Collier's magazine, with a celebrated photo of her rising from the water with wet hair making the cover. Following her marriage, Conant was the unofficial photographer to the House of Grimaldi and extensively photographed her, Rainier, and their three children. In 1992, Conant published Grace, a book of photographs that he took during her 26-year tenure as Princess of Monaco.
Kelly has been depicted by many pop artists including James Gill and Andy Warhol. Warhol made a portrait of her for the Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia as a limited edition silkscreen in 1984.
A rose garden in Monaco's Fontvieille district is dedicated to the memory of Kelly. It was opened in 1984 by Rainier. She is commemorated in a statue by Kees Verkade in the garden, which features 4,000 roses.
In 2003, the Henley Royal Regatta renamed the Women's Quadruple Sculls the "Princess Grace Challenge Cup." Kelly was invited to present the prizes at the Henley Royal Regatta in 1981, as a peace offering by the Henley Stewards to put a conflict between her family and Stewards to rest. Prince Albert presented the prizes at the Henley Royal Regatta in 2004.
In 2012, Kelly's childhood home was made a Pennsylvania historic landmark, and an historical marker was placed on the site. The home, located at 3901 Henry Avenue in the East Falls section of Philadelphia, was built by her father, John B. Kelly Sr., in 1929. Grace lived in the home until 1950, and Prince Rainier III proposed to her there in 1955. The Kelly family sold the property in 1974, following the death of Grace's mother, Margaret.
In October 2016, Prince Albert of Monaco, Grace's son, purchased the property, speculating that the home would be used either as museum space or as offices for the Princess Grace Foundation."True Love", a duet with Bing Crosby from High Society (1956)
L'Oiseau du Nord et L'Oiseau du Soleil, in French and in English (1978)
Birds, Beasts & Flowers: A Programme of Poetry, Prose and Music (1980)
Monaco: Grand Cross of the Order of Saint-Charles
Austria: Recipient of the Red Cross Medal
Egyptian Royal Family: Dame Grand Cross of the Order of the Virtues, Supreme Class
France: Recipient of the Red Cross Medal
Greek Royal Family: Dame Grand Cross of the Royal Order of Beneficence
Iranian Imperial Family: Recipient of the Commemorative Medal of the 2,500 year Celebration of the Persian Empire
Italy: Grand Officer of the Order of the Star of Italy
Holy See: Dame of the Order of Pope Pius IX
Vatican: Dame Grand Cross of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre
Sovereign Military Order of Malta: Dame Grand Cross of the Order of Merit, Special Class