The extraordinary events of Grace Kelly’s life dovetailed seamlessly into the tragic circumstances of her death. An Irish-American princess from Philadelphia’s Main Line who became a real princess in Monaco; a thrilling ride with Cary Grant in the film To Catch a Thief (1955) on a snaking road that would later be the real-life setting of her fatal car crash.
With Grace Kelly, the line between fact and fiction often blended. What always stood out, however, was her breathtaking beauty and undeniable talent.
Grace Patricia Kelly was born November 12, 1929, in Philadelphia,Pennsylvania. Her father was a famous local sculls champion in a city that revered rowers. Though he eventually achieved great wealth and power as one of the city’s biggest contractors, his humble beginnings as a bricklayer prohibited him from participating as a young man in the prestigious English Diamond Sculls at the Henley Regatta. Grace’s brother, Jack, avenged this slight, becoming a rowing champion and twice winning the race to which his father had been denied entry.
While Jack turned his attention to athletics, Grace focused on acting. She received family support in this endeavor, as two of her uncles were in show business: Walter C. Kelly, a famous vaudevillian; and George Kelly, a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright. In fact, after graduating from the American Academy of Dramatic Art in New York, Grace made her professional debut in July 1949 in a revival of her uncle George’s comedy, “The Torch Bearers.” Her Broadway debut followed in November 1949, in Strindberg’s “The Father.”
Grace’s beauty and talent soon landed her work on such early TV shows as “Studio One” and “The Hallmark Hall of Fame.” Hollywood couldn’t help but notice her and she made her film debut with a small part in Fourteen Hours (1951). Her next film, High Noon (1952), in which she appeared opposite Gary Cooper, made her a star. Next came Mogambo(1953), in which she held her own against Hollywood heavyweights Clark Gable and Ava Gardner. Alfred Hitchcock, smitten by Grace’s cool blond beauty, tapped her for the thriller Dial M for Murder (1954). The film soared and so did Grace’s career. Hitchcock used her again opposite Jimmy Stewart in the classic thriller Rear Window (1954) and Grace established herself as the archetype of the director’s detached but sensual feminine ideal. Curiously, however, she won the Academy Award for playing against type in Country Girl (1954).
Grace made other notable films, including High Society (1956), but it was her appearance with Cary Grant in Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief that sealed her legend. The two mega-stars displayed obvious chemistry as they cavorted above Monte Carlo. The next year, Grace would meet and marry the leader of that country, Prince Ranier III, effectively retiring from acting. She would devote the rest of her life to her royal duties, her family (she and Ranier had three children together) and good works on behalf of various charities. But the fairy tale had a tragic ending with Grace’s death at fifty-two from injuries suffered in her fatal car crash in the very hills in which her career reached its zenith.