Text by John P. Walsh.
Philadelphia-born Grace Kelly (1929-1982) had a short but dazzling film career in Hollywood. Called the “Greatest Screen Presence in Film,”1 passionate and dramatically talented Grace Kelly was Alfred Hitchcock’s favorite actress when she starred in three of his classic films of the 1950’s: Dial M For Murder (1954), Rear Window (1954) and To Catch a Thief (1955). After Grace was discovered in 1951 by Gary Cooper who said that she was “different from all these actresses we’ve been seeing so much of”2—and subsequently cast in High Noon (1951) as Cooper’s movie wife—Grace Kelly’s incomparable charm and allure swiftly impressed Hollywood and the world. From September 1951 to March 1956 Grace Kelly’s star blazed in eleven major motion pictures for five different Hollywood studios.
On the set of Rear Window (1954). In the 1930’s costume designer Edith Head leaned liberal in her costume designs. But in the 1950’s her designs became more conservative.
Grace Kelly in a chiffon-draped gown by Edith Head for To Catch a Thief (1955). Edith Head and Grace Kelly became lifelong friends so much so that Edith Head, who was a very busy and successful costume designer in Hollywood, visited Grace in Monaco after she became princess.
Grace Kelly and her stand-in Dorothy Towne on the set of High Noon. Lloyd Bridges, Katy Jurado, Gary Cooper, Co-starred with Grace Kelly in High Noon. Gary Cooper took credit for discovering Grace for the movies. He said about Grace: she was “different from all these actresses we’ve been seeing so much of.”
Grace Kelly in wardrobe by Edith Head for The Bridges of Toko-Ri. Filming began in January 1954 where Grace played a small but pivotal role as Nancy Brubaker, wife of Lt. Harry Brubaker (William Holden). By this time Grace was becoming as well-known as Audrey Hepburn for her fashion sense, and Edith Head found it a joy to work with her.
Edith Head’s famous eau de nil suit and matching hat for Grace Kelly in Rear Window (1954).
Following High Noon for United Artists, her performance for M-G-M on John Ford’s Mogambo (1953) led to Grace’s first Academy Award nomination as Best Supporting Actress. Grace began work in July 1953 on Dial M For Murder for Warner Brothers where she met Alfred Hitchcock who became a cinematic mentor. Soon after, The Bridges at Toko-Ri (1954) at Paramount Pictures began Grace’s ground-breaking multi-film collaboration with Academy-Award winning costume designer Edith Head. Grace refused other lucrative film offers to work again with Hitchcock, this time at Paramount Pictures, on Rear Window co-starring Jimmy Stewart.
In this landmark film which came out in summer 1954, one of Hitchcock’s dramatic emphases for Grace Kelly’s film persona was to display her natural elegance and sex appeal—he was amused by her public image as an “Ice Queen”3—by having her costumed in an array of fabulous Edith-Head-designed lingerie, dresses, and pants. Growing up in Philadelphia Grace Kelly as an adolescent and teenager had modeled in local fashion shows but, by the middle 1950’s in her mid-twenties, she became an international fashion and style icon.
Grace Kelly was a style icon for the era of the 1950’s.
Following these first phenomenal film credits, what happened for Grace Kelly next was perhaps surprising but not unexpected, and a clear and certain capstone to, and beacon for, her professional acting career that was barely five years old. Never just a pretty face, Grace Kelly insisted in her studio contract that she be allowed regular breaks to be able to act in live theater.4 Grace admired the art of the live stage and welcomed demanding theater and film roles that challenged and exhibited her acting range and abilities. This was part of her motivation to go after the hardly glamorous but dramatically impressive role of Georgie Elgin in George Seaton’s The Country Girl (1954) for Paramount Pictures.
Grace Kelly studying the script during filming of George Seaton’s The Country Girl. The 1954 film received 7 Academy Award nominations and won two. One of them was for Grace who won the Oscar for Best Actress.
With co-stars Bing Crosby and William Holden, the film featured Grace playing the long-suffering wife of an alcoholic actor struggling to resume his career (played by Crosby). At its release, the film was a hit and nominated for seven Academy Awards. On Wednesday, March 30, 1955, at the telecast of the 27th annual Academy Awards held at RKO Pantages Theatre,5 The Country Girl won two Oscars, including one for Grace Kelly for Best Actress. At just 25 years old Grace Kelly—of the ambitious and hugely competitive Philadelphia Kellys—had reached the highest echelons of the cinematic arts by way of her profession’s gold-plated statuette.
Grace Kelly backstage after the 27th annual Academy Awards on March 25, 1955 when she won the Oscar for Best Actress for her role in The Country Girl.
The 27th Annual Academy Awards, Bette Davis presenter, Marlon Brando and Grace Kelly, with their Best Actor and Best Actress Oscars.
Always looking ahead, Grace’s film career had already turned international. She did Mogambo for a host of reasons not least of which was being able to see Africa with “all expenses paid.”6 In early 1954 she had flown to South America to make Green Fire (1954) for M-G-M with Stewart Granger and then in May 1954 she was at the French Riviera to make her third film with Alfred Hitchcock: To Catch a Thief (1955) co-starring Cary Grant for Paramount Pictures.
Grace Kelly sitting in Cary Grant’s chair while director Alfred Hitchcock serves her a beverage on the set of To Catch A Thief. The cast and crew had such a respect for the young film star that a hush would come over the set at her first appearance.
Grace liked the Riviera enough to travel there one year later, in April 1955, this time for the 8th annual Cannes Film Festival. To what degree Grace could imagine in advance how that particular journey to that most beautiful part of the world would impact her film career as well as future life as wife and mother was beyond her. It was during that early spring 1955 Mediterranean trip that Grace Kelly was first introduced to Prince Rainier III of Monaco.
26-year-old Grace Kelly and 31-year-old Prince Rainier III at their first meeting at the palace in Monaco, May 6, 1955. They would be engaged to be married by the end of the year. Photograph by Edward Quinn.
Grace Kelly stood five foot seven inches tall and weighed 118 pounds. Her dress size was two.7 She was born on November 12, 1929 into the Kelly family of Philadelphia. Grace Patricia Kelly was the third of four children and one of that Irish-German family’s three girls. Elder sister Peggy and younger sister Lizanne were athletic and shared their mother Margaret’s model looks. Margaret was also the family disciplinarian who the Kelly children liked to call “the Prussian General.”8
As a child Grace was dreamy and shy while her siblings were outgoing and athletic. Yet Grace too inherited a keen awareness of her body using her arms and legs to be dramatically expressive in an actress’s rather than athlete’s way.9 By the time she was 18 years old Grace’s beautiful rectangle-shaped face with soft pear-shape dimensions displayed thick blond hair, almond-shaped blue eyes, a small high-bridge nose and ruby lips evident in many later glamour photographs.
Grace Kelly by Howell Conant, 1955. Conant was Grace Kelly’s friend and favorite photographer.
Each member of the Philadelphia Kelly family was an exuberant competitor in areas of American life such as athletics, business, politics, or high society. As an adult one of Grace’s major strengths in addition to her incredible beauty was her ability to focus on whatever goal she decided to pursue whether professionally or personally until that goal was achieved. When Grace won the Academy Award for Best Actress in 1955 it was also a brick in the Kelly wall of ambition for success. Before she was a teenager Grace performed in plays so that in her teenage years a desire to be an actress grew. Since Grace was situated within a protective and affluent family as well as educated in Philadelphia Catholic and private schools she sought theater work in New York City instead of Hollywood which Grace, even after she achieved film success, considered a pitiless machine of cinematic production.10
The Kelly siblings in Philadelphia. Grace and Peggy flank Jack with Lizanne on his shoulders, c. 1946.
Grace Kelly moved to Southern California to be in motion pictures. She appeared in her first film called Fourteen Hours for 20th Century-Fox in 1951 when she was 22 years old.
It was Aristotle Onassis who suggested to Prince Rainier that he marry a beautiful American movie star to bring the glitterati back to Monaco. Onassis’s list at the time did not include Grace Kelly.11
Invited to the 1955 Cannes Film Festival after she had won the Academy Award for Best Actress for The Country Girl one month before, Grace was curious enough about the prince to be introduced to him in Monaco on Friday, May 6, 1955. What is memorable from the photographs of their meeting at the palace is that the Prince looks chic and handsome and Grace is at her most beautiful in a black silk floral print dress with her blond hair pulled back into a German-style bun. That evening she returned to Cannes for the festival’s screening of The Country Girl helping to conclude a day that Grace herself called “pretty wild.”12 But Grace’s career in Hollywood wasn’t over—nor her life half begun. She was back in Paris before the festival’s winners were announced (she had won nothing there),13 and soon returned to Hollywood to make what turned out to be her final two Hollywood movies – The Swan and High Society.
Grace Kelly in High Society (1956).
Grace Kelly wears her new engagement ring from Prince Rainier on the set of High Society. One of her female co-stars observed it was the size of a “skating rink.”
Grace Kelly in a make-up test for the honeymoon scene in High Society.
Grace Kelly, The Swan.
Grace Kelly in a MGM publicity photograph for The Swan. Grace was at the height of her career when she left the movies never to return for Monaco.
Grace Kelly dressed for the ball in the penultimate scene of her penultimate film, To Catch A Thief.
- It was actually my brother Kevin, now deceased, who when he was working in the Chicago Film Office wrote to me this apt description of Grace Kelly (and Rear Window as the greatest film ever).
- Quoted in Roberts, Paul G., Style Icons Vol 4 Sirens, Fashion Industry Broadcast, p. 74.
- Dherbier, Yann-Brice and Verlhac, Pierre-Henry, Grace Kelly A Life in Pictures, Pavilion, 2006, p. 11.
- Edith-Head-designed apparel for Rear Window – Haugland, H. Kristina, Grace Kelly: Icon of style to Royal bride (Philadelphia Museum of Art), Yale University Press, 2006, p. 956; so she could act in live theater – TBA
- Date and place of 1955 Oscars- see https://www.oscars.org/oscars/ceremonies/1955 – retrieved April 26, 2017.
- did Mogambo for an all-expense paid visit to Kenya – TBA
- height and dress size- http://www.bodymeasurements.org/grace-kelly/ – retrieved April 28, 2017.
- Dherbier and Verlhac, p. 9.
- Conant, Howell, Grace: An intimate portrait of Princess Grace by her friend and favorite photographer, Random House, 1992, p.18.
- Preferred theater to film-TBA
- Leigh, Wendy, True Grace: The Life and Times of an American Princess, New York: Thomas Dunne Books, 2007, p.100.
- ibid., p. 112.
- Dherbier and Verlhac, p. 12.
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Grace Kelly at the wheel of a Mercedes-Benz during filming of High Society (1956).