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 Grace was “different from all these actresses we’ve been seeing so much of”2—and 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 across the silver screen in eleven major motion pictures for five different Hollywood studios. Grace was at the height of her career when she exited Hollywood to get married to the prince of Monaco in Europe, in April 1956.
Grace Kelly and her stand-in Dorothy Towne on the set of High Noon (1952).
Following High Noon for United Artists, Grace’s performance for M-G-M on John Ford’s Mogambo (1953) led to her first Academy Award nomination as Best Supporting Actress. This was a coup for Grace Kelly who had made two films and was only one of many actresses considered for the role. Neither was Grace the studio’s first choice for the part of Linda Nordley, but English actress Deborah Kerr. It was mostly thanks to fellow Irish-American John Ford that worked to get fellow half-Irish Kelly the role – and Grace got to see the continent of Africa, “all expenses paid.” Always looking ahead, Kelly did Mogambo for many reasons not least of which was its overseas international connection.
Location filming in Africa began in November 1952 and continued until the end of January 1953. It was a major production, and out of the nervous excitement that seemed to imbue the project for the actors and crew, there shortly developed a sense of camaraderie and confidence. Grace contributed to the exciting professional spirit and a major outcome was that the Technicolor film from M-G-M was successful both critically and at the box office. It also raised the career prospects of its principals—namely, director John Ford, and Clark Gable, Ava Gardner, and newcomer Grace Kelly.3
Clark Gable repeated the role of big-game hunter Victor Marswell that he played in Red Dust, M-G-M’s 1932 film co-starring Jean Harlow and Mary Astor. In the 1953 film, Marswell’s competing love interests were now played by Ava Gardner as Eloise Kelly and Grace Kelly as Linda Nordley. Grace Kelly was dressed by Helen Rose (1904-1985) costumer designer at M-G-M, for Mogambo. She wore a memorable well-cut pink shirt and, during one evening dinner, a flower dress which inspired its imitation among movie-goers. In 1956 Grace would be dressed again by Helen Rose for The Swan, though it is by being dressed by older and prolific costume designer Edith Head (1897-1981) that Grace Kelly became a fashion film icon.
GRACE BEGINS HER FASHION COLLABORATION WITH ACADEMY-AWARD-WINNING COSTUME DESIGNER EDITH HEAD IN 1953.
Grace Kelly in wardrobe by Edith Head for The Bridges of Toko-Ri. Filming began in January 1954.
In July 1953 Grace began work 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. In the 1930’s, costume designer Edith Head leaned liberal in her costume designs. By the 1950’s, when she worked with Grace, Head’s fashion designs became more conservative. Edith Head and Grace Kelly became lifelong friends. Even after Grace left Hollywood and became Princess of Monaco, Edith Head, who had a very busy schedule as a prolific and successful costume designer in Hollywood – a record eight Academy Awards for Best Costume Design between 1949 and 1973 – visited Grace in Monaco on vacations right up to the time of Kelly’s untimely death at 52 years old on September 14, 1982 following a car accident.
In 1952 Grace Kelly played Amy Fowler Kane in Fred Zinnemann’s High Noon. In 1953 Kelly received an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress for her performance as Linda Nordley, one side of a love triangle, in John Ford’s Mogambo with Hollywood stars Clark Gable and Ava Gardner. Grace had made her first of three films with Alfred Hitchcock as Margot Mary Wendice in Dial M For Murder (released in May 1954). So, when filming started in January 1954 for The Bridges at Toko-Ri, Grace Kelly, who just turned 24 years old, had already made remarkable films.
The year 1954 proved to be a banner year for Grace Kelly’s scintillating Hollywood career. In August/September 1954 Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window was released. The part of Lisa Carol Fremont solidified Kelly’s image as a fashion icon. Other films released in 1954 starring Grace Kelly were Green Fire with Stewart Granger, The Bridges at Toko-Ri with William Holden and The Country Girl with Bing Crosby – all December 1954 releases. In the dressed-down role of Georgie Elgin Grace Kelly’s performance brought her that year’s Academy Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role in March 1955. In May 1955 Grace Kelly met Prince Rainier III (1923-2005) of Monaco and the couple were engaged by the end of the year.
Kelly had been working constantly since 1951. She made the entertaining color action feature The Bridges at Toko-Ri for Paramount Pictures. The film is significant for the fact that it started the collaboration of Grace Kelly with costume designer Edith Head as well as was a serious film dealing with the Korean war.
Before meeting Prince Rainier III in May 1955 upon leading the American delegation that year to the Cannes Film Festival and making the Hitchcock thriller, To Catch a Thief, co-starring Cary Grant, Grace had her share of romantic involvements, including during the making of The Bridges at Toko-Ri.
Off screen Grace Kelly had fallen madly in love with co-star William Holden. Holden was 11 years older than Grace Kelly—and married. But they had an affair throughout the making of the picture. The electricity of that affair is evident in the love scenes where they played movie husband and wife.
In The Bridges at Toko-Ri Grace Kelly is Nancy Brubaker, the young wife of Navy pilot Lieutenant Harry Brubaker (Holden). A husband and father, Brubaker never wanted to be a flyer in the Navy and still wants out. Yet he accepts a very risky and dangerous mission during the Korean War and is killed in action. The commander asks—is it really a good mission if lives of good men are lost? The film is based on a novel by James Michener who recounted actual missions he covered as a correspondent on U.S. air craft carriers that were flying bombing missions on railroad bridges in North Korea in 1951 and 1952.
Though Kelly has a relatively small part in the war film, she is radiant in every scene. This is the first film where Grace Kelly appears in bed. Directed by prolific Marc Robson, The Bridges at Toko-Ri was one of the biggest hits of his career. Lyn Murray composed the musical score. Murray started in Hollywood in 1950 doing vocal arrangements for Walt Disney but soon was writing music for feature films throughout the 1950’s and 1960’s.
The film is a noisy and straightforward tale of one small American family in war-time. It combines humor notably provided by Mickey Rooney as CPO NAP Mike Forney that soon collides with war’s high-stakes mortal danger whose scenes look to presage Vietnam. The film’s cooperation with the U.S. Navy led to realistic and spectacular aerial and carrier action scenes that, in 1956, won the Academy Award for Best Special Effects.
Holden as Airman Brubaker tenderly expresses his sense of loss when his fellow airmen Mike Forney and Nestor Gamidge (Earl Holliman) are whisked off to other navy assignments. Their entire job was to save the lives of airmen in battle—and had saved Brubaker’s – so that their sudden professional absence is personally and deeply felt.
This is a film of the mid 1950s with caring commanders who look and talk remarkably like Ike, then President of the United States and who had just ended the Korean action in July 1953. Chain smoking by nearly everyone in the cast appears to be de rigueur. Listening to navy radio Lieutenant Harry Brubaker is riveted hearing a broadcast from Chicago’s famous Chez Paree nightclub showcasing jazz trumpeter Henry Busse. The local flair and period cultural items add interest to the fine acting and timeless beauty of Grace Kelly along with the film’s fact-based war story and blockbuster action. Almost 70 years after its initial release, The Bridges at Toko-Ri continues to be a worthwhile entertainment.
On the set of Rear Window (1954).
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 mystery thriller 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”4—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.
Edith Head’s famous eau de nil suit and matching hat for Grace Kelly in Rear Window (1954).
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.5 From childhood, 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 love of the theater was a big part of her motivation to seek 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 Georgie, the long-suffering wife of an alcoholic actor struggling to resume his career (played by Crosby).
Grace Kelly studying the script during filming of George Seaton’s The Country Girl. The 1954 drama film received 7 Academy Award nominations and won two Oscars – including Grace Kelly as Best Actress.
At its release, the film was a hit and nominated for seven Academy Awards. On Wednesday, March 25, 1955, at the telecast of the 27th annual Academy Awards held at RKO Pantages Theatre, the third time the ceremony was televised nationally.6 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 Kellys of Philadelphia—had reached the highest echelon of cinema arts holding her profession’s gold-plated statuette.
Grace Kelly backstage after the 27th annual Academy Awards on March 25, 1955.
At the 27th Annual Academy Awards, presenter Bette Davis is joined by Marlon Brando and Grace Kelly, each holding their golden trophies for Best Actor and Best Actress.
In early 1954 Grace had flown to South America to make Green Fire (1954) for M-G-M with Stewart Granger. 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. In April 1955 she traveled there again for the 8th annual Cannes Film Festival. It was during this early spring 1955 Mediterranean trip that Grace Kelly was first introduced to Prince Rainier III of Monaco.
Grace Kelly in a chiffon-draped gown by Edith Head in To Catch a Thief (1955).
Sitting in a director’s chair with her co-star Cary Grant’s name emblazoned on it, Academy-Award-winning Best Actress Grace Kelly is served a beverage by director Alfred Hitchcock on the set of To Catch A Thief.
Grace Kelly dressed for the ball in the penultimate scene of her penultimate film, To Catch A Thief.
Grace Kelly by Howell Conant, 1955. Conant was Grace Kelly’s friend and favorite photographer.
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 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 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 At 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 later glamour photographs.
Each member of the Philadelphia Kelly family was an exuberant competitor in areas of American life such as athletics, business, politics, or high society.
in addition to her remarkable beauty, one of Grace’s major strengths was her ability to focus on the 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 a brick in the Kelly family wall of ambition for success.
Before she was a teenager Grace performed in plays so that during her teenage years a desire to be a professional actress grew. Since Grace was situated within a protective and affluent family as well as educated in Philadelphia Catholic and other private schools she sought theater work in New York City instead of Hollywood. Even when she had achieved the pinnacle of film success Grace still considered New York Theater a worthwhile aspiration and Hollywood as 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 Grace 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 wears her engagement ring from Prince Rainier on the set of High Society.
Grace behind the wheel of a Mercedes-Benz for a scene in High Society.
Leaving “Tinsel Town” for what turned out to be forever, the 26-year-old movie star sailed for Monaco. The Kellys paid a $2 million dowry and, in April 1956, Grace married her prince. She became a wife, mother, and royal princess of a sovereign city-state and microstate on the Mediterranean Sea – and one of the wealthiest places in the world.14 Grace, however, traveled frequentl to the United States, and though her acting career had precipitously ended, she remained Hollywood royalty as well.
GRACE KELLY HOLLYWOOD FILMOGRAPHY
Grace Kelly as Louise Anne Fuller
Directed by Henry Hathaway
Released March 6, 1951.
Amy Fowler Kane
Directed by Fred Zinnemann
Released July 24, 1952
Directed by John Ford
Released October 9, 1953
Dial M for Murder
Margot Mary Wendice
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Released May 18, 1954
Lisa Carol Fremont
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Released September 1, 1954
The Bridges at Toko-Ri
Directed by Marc Robson
Released December 31, 1954
The Country Girl
Directed by George Seaton
Released December 15, 1954
Directed by Andrew Marton
Released December 29, 1954
To Catch a Thief
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Released August 3, 1955
Directed by Charles Vidor
Released April 18, 1956
Directed by Charles Walters
Released July 17, 1956
- It was actually my brother Kevin who, when he was working in the Chicago Film Office, wrote to me this 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.
- Scott Eyman, Print The Legend: The Life and Times of John Ford, Simon & Schuster, 1999, p. 419-21; Kenda Bean and Anthony Uzarowski, Ava: A Life in Movies, Philadelphia: Running Press, 2017, p. 118
- 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.
- 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.
- The 1.25-mile waterfront stretch in Monaco that used to be the world’s most expensive street looks no different from the rest of the city — and it says a lot about Monaco’s wealth. Katie Warren, January 9, 2020. https://www.businessinsider.com/most-expensive-street-in-monaco-avenue-princesse-grace-2020-1