Grace Kelly in dress, fur and pearls.
Text and captions by John P. Walsh.
Here are some famous and rarely seen photographs of Philadelphia-born Grace Kelly (1929-1982) before and during her 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. 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. 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. 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. 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 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.
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. 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
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.
- 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.
©John P. Walsh. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by an means, electronic or mechanical, which includes but is not limited to facsimile transmission, photocopying, recording, rekeying, or using any information storage or retrieval system.
- Grace Kelly, December 29, 1954.
- Grace Kelly’s glamorous portrait during filming of Rear Window photographed in 1954 by Virgil Apger. Apger led MGM’s portrait gallery for over twenty years following Clarence Sinclair Bull’s departure.
- LADY IN RED: Grace Kelly by Howell Conant, 1955. For more than 25 years Conant was Grace Kelly’s friend and favorite photographer.
Grace Kelly as photographed by Mark Shaw in 1954.
THE KELLY BAG: Paris-based high-fashion luxury-goods manufacturer Hermès renamed their sac à dépêche a Kelly handbag in 1956 after a pregnant Grace Kelly was spotted carrying one as the new Princess of Monaco.
- Grace Kelly, at 24 years old, in a photograph by Philippe Halsman, 1954.
- EXTREMELY RARE: Grace Kelly was muse for many, including photographer Philippe Halsman. This image is likely a test proof from a private sitting in 1954. The photograph has Philippe Halsman’s copyright stamp on the back which indicates it was in his own personal collection.
- Grace Kelly in a photograph by Cecil Beaton, 1954.
- Grace Kelly in 1954.
- Grace Kelly in a promotional photograph in 1955 for Alfred Hitchcock’s To Catch A Thief in which Kelly co-starred with Cary Grant.
- Grace Kelly poses with nude shoulders in 1955. In 2017 off-the-shoulder fashion has made a big comeback.
Grace Kelly by Apger Virgil, c. 1954. In 1929—the year Grace was born—Apger was hired in the portrait gallery at Paramount. In 1931 he went to work at M-G-M doing what he did at Paramount: developing negatives, working with the dryers, and making prints. Apger was an assistant to Clarence Sinclair Bull, but Jean Harlow gave Apger his start as a production still photographer on China Seas in 1935. After that, Apger shot M-G-M publicity stills for the stars.
Grace Kelly had many reasons to do John Ford’s Mogambo which started filming in Africa in November 1952. Two of those reasons were to co-star with legendary Clark Gable and sultry Ava Gardner at the height of her fame.
- During filming of Bridges at Toki-Ri Grace Kelly fell madly in love with co-star William Holden.
Grace Kelly, New York City, 1954. Photograph by Irving Penn.
Photographer Howell Conant observed that every movement of Grace’s body was a telling gesture. Jamaica, 1955.
- Grace Kelly and Cary Grant kiss on the couch in an interior scene from To Catch A Thief filmed in Hollywood in July-August 1954 as director Alfred Hitchcock and crew look on.
- Designed by Edith Head, a dramatic sun suit for Grace Kelly to walk to the beach in To Catch A Thief (1954).
- Cary Grant and Grace Kelly on location for To Catch A Thief.
- Cary Grant recalled that Grace commanded so much respect during the filming of To Catch a Thief that there was almost total silence when she arrived on the set.
- Grace Kelly and costume designer Edith Head work on fabric selection during the making of To Catch A Thief.
Grace Kelly arrives with Edith Head at the 1955 Academy Awards wearing the ice blue gown that Edith designed for her.
- In a dress and coat designed by Edith Head, Grace Kelly at the 1955 Oscar ceremony. She was nominated and won the Best Actress trophy in the lead role of George Seaton’s adaptation of The Country Girl. After the ceremony, alone in her Beverly Hills Hotel bungalow, Grace admitted that she felt that night like “the loneliest person on the planet.”
- 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.
Grace Kelly with her Oscar for Best Actress in hand backstage at the 1955 Academy Awards.
Grace Kelly posing for LIFE magazine in the Edith Head dress she wore to both the premiere of The Country Girl and the 1955 Academy Awards ceremony. Photographed by Philippe Halsman.
- Edith Head’s wardrobe for Grace Kelly in Rear Window (1954). Chic and modern, Grace’s memorable film entrance is in this black-fitted bodice with off-the-shoulder V-neckline on top of a full bunched and layered chiffron tulle skirt to mid calf marked by a pattern at the hip. Grace’s high fashion is cinched by a thin black patent leather belt and elbow-length white gloves.
- In the 1930’s Edith Head leaned liberal in her costume designs. But in the 1950’s her designs became more conservative. Grace Kelly for Rear Window.
For Rear Window released in the summer of 1954 Grace Kelly received equal billings with co-star Jimmy Stewart and director Alfred Hitchcock.
- Edith Head’s famous eau de nil suit and matching hat for Grace Kelly in Rear Window (1954).
In Bridges at Toko-Ri (1955) Grace is radiant in each scene she’s in. She plays Nancy Brubaker, the wife of Navy pilot William Holden who is killed in action in the Korean War. A story of an American family in war-time, the film’s cooperation with the U.S. Navy led to realistic aerial and carrier action scenes that won it the Academy Award for Best Special Effects in 1956.
The director greets the leading lady for To Catch A Thief.
Grace Kelly in a 1955 portrait during her Hollywood years originally shot in black and white.
Grace Kelly in almost complete profile, 1954.
The Kelly siblings in Philadelphia. Grace and Peggy flank Jack with Lizanne on his shoulders, c. 1946.
Grace Kelly (center) with school chums. Grace had already started amateur modeling and acting by this time.
Kelly family in Philadelphia, 1935. From left: son Jack and father Jack, Lizanne, mother Margaret. Back: Grace and Peggy.
Grace 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.
Grace takes a comb to her hair, early 1950’s.
Grace modeling in New York City in 1950.
Portrait of Grace Kelly by theater and film photographer Marcus Blechman (1922-2010).
Jack Kelly gives his daughter Grace a twirl at Ocean City, New Jersey, in 1937.
Grace Kelly in 1954 in Philippe Halsman’s “Jump” series which featured celebrities jumping for the camera.
Grace Kelly eating cotton candy on the 4th of July 1955 in Philadelphia.
Grace Kelly in wardrobe tests for The Country Girl. Edith Head dressed Grace’s character of Georgie Elgin in brown wool clothes, cardigan sweaters and low-heel Capezio shoes.
At the end of The Country Girl, Georgie Elgin is dressed by Edith Head in a dark dress with a low V-cut neckline and jeweled accent at the waist and in a strand of pearls. It allowed the movie audience to see how lovely Georgie Elgin really was.
Grace Kelly photographed by Howell Conant on holiday in Jamaica 1955.
Grace Kelly, Jamaica, 1955. After making six films in 1954, Grace went on vacation with her sister Peggy and took along Howell Conant to be official photographer. Grace would return to Jamaica for family vacations as Princess of Monaco.
Grace in 1954 on Corsica with her sister Peggy and Oliver the dog.
Grace Kelly modeling a fashionable dress for her mother in the mid 1950’s. Look at Grace’s reflection in the mirror.
Grace Kelly in New York City by Milton H. Greene, 1955.
Grace Kelly in dress, white fur stole, and pearls.
Grace Kelly, 1955.
Grace Kelly is dressed for St. Patrick’s Day in 1954. She has a copy of the MGM studio news on her lap. Photograph by Gene Lester.
Grace Kelly and Alfred Hitchcock on the set of To Catch A Thief. Grace is sitting in Cary Grant’s chair. It could be tea but looks like coffee.
Grace Kelly in a breakfast interview with Daily Mirror reporter Donald Zec at the May 1955 Cannes Film Festival. Grace Kelly was invited to the festival after winning the Oscar for Best Actress in The Country Girl. Elegant Grace wore pearl earrings and a big ribbon on her blue jacket as she sat near to the Promenade de la Croisette. Photographer Edward Quinn was also there.
Grace Kelly and Edith Head working on costume designs. They had a close working relationship and remained great friends. After Grace left Hollywood, Edith traveled to Monaco several times to visit her.
26-year-old Grace Kelly and 31-year-old Prince Rainier III on 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.
First meeting in Monaco of Grace Kelly and Prince Rainier III On May 6, 1955. He would tell her, “This is Europe, not America. We think differently here, and you will have to get used to it.”
Next in CORRIDORS: Grace Kelly, Famous and Rare Photographs. Part II: Hollywood ends, Monaco begins (1956-1982).