Without Grace

Her life seemed charmed. But 10 years after her death, Grace Kelly’s daughters are still searching for happy endings and wondering if things would have been different had she lived.

The talk of Monaco is that there is no talk at all-at least publicly. The citizens of this pint-size Mediterranean principality scuttle about, their heads lowered, avoiding reporters’ questions about the latest romantic high jinks of the country’s royal daughters. Some Monegasques, as the residents are called, are shocked, some resigned. Most can’t help wondering: if Princess Grace hadn’t died in a tragic car crash 10 years ago this month, what would life be like in Monaco? With each new exploit of Caroline, age 35, Stephanie, 27, and Albert, 34, the world is reminded of their mother. No one has been able to forget the beautiful movie-star-turned-princess whose dignity and graceful manner came to personify the best of Monaco. Many residents here can’t help but ask: Princess Grace, what secret of life would you tell your children now? Especially now that Princess Caroline-with the long-awaited Vatican annulment of her disastrous first marriage in hand-is expected to marry Vincent Lindon, a French actor best known for his steamy love scenes. And now that Princess Stephanie, having told the tabloids that she and her former bodyguard, Daniel Ducruet, will have a baby in November, proudly proclaims that they’re in no hurry to marry.

Few women have ever had to endure the relentless scrutiny Grace Kelly did when she decided to marry His Serene Highness Prince Rainier III of Monaco in 1956. Even for a 1950s film star — accustomed to acclaim for her roles in such films as The Country Girl (for which she’d won an Academy Award) and attention for her affairs with leading men — it was intense. The marriage was hardly the whirlwind fairy-tale romance of the press made it out to be. It was more like the contract hammered out between Hollywood agents. Monaco, ruled by the powerful Grimaldi’s since the 13th century, had always been a male-dominated society, and Grace was expected to bring to the union an heir, preferably male, thus ensuring Monaco’s independence from France — and more important, from French taxes. As part of her compensation, she would become the most titled woman in the world (twice a princess, four times a duchess and nine times a baroness.) In exchange her presence was expected to draw tourist dollars to Monaco’s sagging economy, which it promptly did.

But it wasn’t an effortless performance. In the beginning the notoriously xenophobic Monegasques resented her, and some members of European royalty made it clear that they considered Grace little more than a title-searching social climber. Looking Grace up and down, England’s Princess Margaret said rudely, “You don’t look like a movie star.” Grace resisted the temptation to reply, “And you don’t look like a princess.” Instead, she employed a subtler put-down: “Well, I wasn’t born a movie star.”

But she was undaunted. As her friend Cary Grant once said, “Whatever Grace does, she does well.” What she was determined to produce was a successful marriage. And that meant children.

In 1957 the royal couple’s first child, Princess Caroline, was born. A year later Prince Albert followed. Seven years later, Princess Stephanie arrived.

Although Grace had agreed to Rainier’s decree that she never return to acting, she wistfully continued to read scripts. Though always dignified in public, on at least one occasion she and her old friend Ava Gardner got royally drunk together. But mostly Her Serene Highness became very proficient at her new profession.

She raised funds to rehabilitate the run-down local hospital. She inaugurated the annual Red Cross ball. She revitalized the moribund Garden Club. She launched many activities for children. “One of the great things she did was to organize impromptu softball games,” says Debra Taylor who knew Grace when she lived in Monaco and now operates a country inn in northern Michigan. “She managed to look regal, even on base.”

Grace’s looks had, in fact, undergone a subtle transformation. As a movie star, “her look was extraordinarily sexy, but her sexiness was the opposite of Marilyn Monroe’s,” says photographer Francesco Scavullo. “Monroe was funky sexy. Grace was vulnerable sexy.” In Hollywood she had been known for the healthy, all-American look: the famous cashmere sweaters, the fresh-scrubbed face.

Now, as royalty, her taste ran to refined elegance. “She was always very conscious of being a princess,” says Marc Bohan, the former chief designer for Christian Dior, one of Grace’s favorite designers for years. “She had a taste for classical clothes.”

But underneath a veneer of glamour, Princess Grace was at heart an old-fashioned convent girl and a down-two-earth mother. She read Dr. Spock, she breast-fed her babies, and when her children grew older, she read to them and walked them to school. She even fixed them peanut butter sandwiches in the palace kitchen. And when her girls traveled to boarding school in Paris, she accompanied them as a chaperone.

She was a stickler for manners. Once in a restaurant eight year-old Caroline picked up a grapefruit half and begin to squeeze it into a spoon Grace touched her arm. “At home it’s all right to squeeze out the grapefruit,” she said. “But never when dining out.”

Rainier, in the meantime, paid only cursory attention to his daughters upbringing. His focus was on his son and heir, Prince Albert. Grimaldi men are, by tradition, great sailors. Albert, to his father’s dismay, turned out to be preternaturally afraid of the water.

“The children were born special, and they grew up knowing they were special,” says Ann Edwards, author of The Grimaldi’s of Monaco, released this month. “The two girls were always in competition with their mother and with each other. When Stephanie was born, Caroline was terribly jealous. Caroline was already a very headstrong little girl, and Stephanie would grow up to be much the same. And poor Albert — he was the odd man out. Rainier wanted to turn Albert into a macho son, but instead Albert is a very shy, quiet, sensitive man.”

Nevertheless, as her children entered their teens, with Caroline in particular showing a liking for nightclubs, champagne and cigarettes, Grace remained regally composed. Her figure matured, and she took to wearing flowing high-collared dresses and turbans to conceal her thinning hair. Arnold Scaasi, in fact, commented that Grace seemed to be using Queen Elizabeth as her style mentor.

Yet she never lost her legendary Ice Princess beauty. “She had flawless skin that was almost translucent,” says Howell Conant, a photographer and friend whose book, Grace, was also released this month. “She almost didn’t need makeup.”

Besides keeping her looks, Grace kept the Grimaldi name scandal free. Yet her daughters seem determined to change that. Caroline’s 1978 decision to marry Frenchman Philippe Junot was her first gesture of outright defiance. “Of course Grace was upset,” Grace’s younger sister, Lizanne Kelly LeVine of Philadelphia, said at the time. “Who wouldn’t be? The man was nearly twice Caroline’s age. He was a notorious womanizer. He claimed to have a title, but that turned out to be bogus.” In less than two years, Caroline’s marriage collapsed, and she and Junot divorced in the fall of 1980.

And two years later (September 14th, 1982) the old green Land Rover that Princess Grace was driving — with Stephanie at her side — missed a sharp turn outside Monaco, jumped a safety barrier and plunged some 120 feet. A few hours later Princess Grace was dead.

In 1983 Caroline married again, this time to Italian businessman Stefano Casiraghi. This proved to be a happier, more stable marriage, and the couple had two boys and a girl before he died in a speedboating accident in 1990. But Caroline’s first marriage kept a cloud over the fate of this tiny nation for more than a decade: Just recently, the Catholic Church annulled her marriage to Junot after much royal nail biting but since her second marriage was only a civil one, and never recognized by the Church, her three children by Casiraghi are unlikely to ever inherit the throne unless they are legally adopted by her father or brother. Until then, the pressure’s on Albert to marry and have a son. Yet at age 34 he has shown no interest in settling down.

Stephanie’s latest bombshell, though, has pushed Caroline’s much-publicized romantic doings temporarily aside. The palace issued at first a denial then a terse “no comment” at the news of her pregnancy. But Stephanie turned chatty. She readily revealed that she and Ducruet hope the child will be a boy — they plan to name Jonathan. “We’ll certainly get married,” she and Ducruet said. “But we’re in no hurry.”

“Grace would be terribly unhappy,” believes Deborah Taylor. “After all, Caroline and Stephanie are just not like everybody else. They are royal princesses. This latest episode with Stephanie would have broken her mother’s heart.”

Grace was full of good wishes for all babies and might have told her daughters that motherhood gives life new meaning. Perhaps what Grace would have told Stephanie can be found on the embossed card she sent to all her friends and subjects when a child was born:
I deeply share your joy
at the news
of the birth of your child
and wish your baby
great happiness
-Princess Grace

This article has been edited for girlsspeakgeek.com. The complete story appeared in McCall's Sep.1992.

September 1, 1992 | Interview | this post contains affiliate links