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.
On the set of Rear Window (1954). In the 1930’s, costume designer Edith Head leaned liberal in her costume designs. By the 1950’s her fashion designs became more conservative.
Grace Kelly in a chiffon-draped gown by Edith Head in To Catch a Thief (1955). Edith Head and Grace Kelly became lifelong friends. Edith Head, who was a very busy and successful costume designer in Hollywood, visited Grace in Monaco after Grace became princess.
Grace Kelly and her stand-in Dorothy Towne on the set of High Noon.
Lloyd Bridges, Katy Jurado, and Gary Cooper co-starred with Grace Kelly in High Noon. Gary Cooper took credit for discovering Grace for the movies. Cooper was impressed with her acting talent, good looks, work ethic, and professionalism.
AFTER ONLY TWO FILMS, GRACE’S FIRST OSCAR NOMINATION IS FOR MOGAMBO
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 only made two films and was one of many actresses considered for the role. Neither was Grace the studio’s first choice which was Deborah Kerr. It was mostly thanks to fellow Irish-American John Ford that Kelly who was, of course, half Irish and half German in origin, got the role.
Location filming in Africa began in November 1952 and continued until the end of January 1953. 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.” 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 cameraderie and confidence. Grace contributed to that professionally exciting spirit and a major outcome was a film which proved successful at the box office and for the careers of its principals—namely, Clark Gable, Ava Gardner, John Ford, and newcomer Grace Kelly.3
Ava Gardner and Grace Kelly in Africa during the filming of M-G-M’s 1953 Technicolor adventure/romantic film, Mogambo, directed by John Ford. While Clark Gable repeated the role of big game hunter Victor Marswell from M-G-M’s 1932 film Red Dust co-starring Jean Harlow and Mary Astor, Marswell’s competing love interests were now played by Ava Gardner as Eloise Kelly and Grace Kelly as Linda Nordley.
IN 1953 GRACE BEGINS HER FASHION COLLABORATION WITH ACADEMY-AWARD-WINNING COSTUME DESIGNER EDITH HEAD. GRACE IS A FASHION ICON AND SHE AND HEAD STAYED FRIENDS FOR THE NEXT ALMOST 30 YEARS
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.
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.
When filming started in January 1954 for The Bridges at Toko-Ri, Grace Kelly had just turned 24 years old. Kelly had already made memorable films. She played Amy Fowler Kane in Fred Zinnemann’s High Noon released in 1952.
In 1953 Kelly appeared with Clark Gable and Ava Gardner in John Ford’s Mogambo in 1953 and received an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress for her perforamnce as Linda Nordley, the third side in a love triangle.
5 GRACE KELLY FILMS RELEASED IN 1954 INCLUDING HER ACADEMY-AWARD-WINNING PERFORMANCE IN THE COUNTRY GIRL
The year 1954 proved to be a banner year for Grace Kelly’s scintillating Hollywood career. In January 1954 Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window was released. The part of Lisa Carol Fremont solidified Kelly’s image as a fashion icon. A second Hitchcock film, Dial M for Murder, was released in May 1954 which starred Kelly as Margot Mary Wendice.
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. 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.
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 at least the fact that it started the collaboration of Grace Kelly with costume designer Edith Head. After Grace Kelly left Hollywood, she and Edith Head remained great friends and Head would visit Kelly in Monaco right up to the time of Kelly’s untimely death in mid-September 1982 at 52 years old.
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, with Cary Grant, Grace had her share of romantic false starts, including during the making of The Bridges at Toko-Ri.
Grace Kelly and William Holden play the leads in Paramount Pictures’ 1954 war film, The Bridges at Toko-Ri. During filming, Grace Kelly fell madly in love with her co-star who was 11 years her senior and married.
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.
In The Bridges at Toko-Ri Grace played Nancy Brubaker, the wife of Navy pilot (William Holden) who is killed in action in the Korean War. In every scene she appears, she is radiant.
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.
For Rear Window released in the summer of 1954, Grace Kelly received equal billing with co-star Jimmy Stewart and director Alfred Hitchcock.
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.
Above and below: Edith Head’s famous eau de nil suit and matching hat for Grace Kelly in Rear Window (1954).
Grace Kelly was a style icon for the era of the 1950’s.
In a phenomenal film career barely 5 years old what happened next for Grace Kelly was unusual but not entirely surprising.
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.
Grace Kelly studying the script during filming of George Seaton’s The Country Girl. The 1954 drama film received 7 Academy Award nominations. It won two Oscars–including Best Actress for Grace Kelly.
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,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. Earlier that evening Grace won the Oscar for Best Actress for her dressed-down and dramatic role in The Country Girl.
At the 27th Annual Academy Awards, presenter Bette Davis is with Marlon Brando and Grace Kelly, with their Best Actor and Best Actress Oscars.
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.
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. Hitchcock had found his blonde muse and aided mightily to reveal the star qualities in Grace Kelly. When Grace was filming To Catch A Thief, her final film for Hitchcock, the cast and crew felt such great respect for the young film star that whenever she appeared on the set a hush would fall over it. Like Edith Head and many others in Hollywood, Cary Grant was Grace’s lifelong admirer and friend.
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.
Twenty-six-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 the family disciplinarian who the Kelly children liked to call “the Prussian General.”8
Grace Kelly models a fashionable dress for her mother in the mid1950’s. Grace’s reflection is in the mirror.
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.
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.
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
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
Grace Kelly in a glamour photograph in 1955.
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 in High Society (1956).
Grace Kelly wears her engagement ring from Prince Rainier on the set of High Society.
One of her female co-stars observed that the gem 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 M-G-M publicity photograph for The Swan.
Grace was at the height of her career just as she exited Hollywood. Leaving “Tinsel Town” forever, the 26-year-old movie star sailed for Monaco (after the Kellys paid a $2 million dowry) in April 1956 to marry her prince, and become a wife, mother, and royal princess of a small European country on the Mediterranean Sea.
Grace Kelly behind the wheel of a Mercedes-Benz during filming of High Society (1956).
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.
- 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.