Thursday, November 12, 2009

Grace Kelly 's Eightieth Birthday

It was on this day in 1929 that Her Serene Highness, the Princess of Monaco, Grace Kelly was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Had Grace Kelly was still alive today, she would be 80 years old. Regardless of her age were she alive, for many of her fans and admirers (myself included), Grace Kelly remains one of the most beautiful women to ever live. It might seem surprising, given her fame and her many fans, that Grace Kelly's career was relatively brief. On Broadway she only appeared in two plays. Beyond appearances on talk shows, news programmes, and variety shows, Grace only made appearances in around forty episodes of television shows. And while it would be film that would bring her fame, Grace only appeared in eleven movies. She began her acting career in 1948 and it ended in 1956 with her marriage to Ranier III, Prince of Monaco.

That Grace Kelly became one of the most famous stars of all time might seem remarkable, even given her incredible beauty, except when one considers that talent ran in her family. Two of her uncles, brothers to ther father, would both achieve fame before Grace was even born. Her uncle, Walter C. Kelly, was a very well known vaudeville comedian who toured for years as "the Virginia Judge (even if his roots were planted firmly above the Mason-Dixon Line). Not only did he appear frequently on Broadway, but he was on the silver screen before his niece Grace was even born. He made his last film appearance in 1936 in the film The Tugboat Princess. Sadly, he would die in 1939 from injuries sustained in an automobile accident, not unlike his most famous niece. Her uncle George had also worked in vaudeville as an actor and a writer of sketches, before going on to fame as a playwright on Broadway. George even won the Pulitzer Prize for his play Craig's Wife in 1925. Many of his plays would be adapted as motion pictures and teleplays. Grace's father, John B. Kelly, was an accomplished oarsmen who had went to the Olympics in both 1920 and 1924.

Grace Kelly started acting while very young. She appeared in productions at both the prestigious convent school Ravenhill Academy and the private Stevens School. She also performed with the the Old Academy Players in East Falls in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, appearing as in the lead in a play called Don't Feed the Animals when she was twelve. After graduating from high school, Grace attended the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City. Her acting career began in 1948 with roles on the stage. By 1949 Grace had made her debut on Broadway, appearing in August Strindberg's The Father. She would make only make one other appearance on Broadway, in the play To Be Continued in 1952.

Grace Kelly made her debut on television in 1948 in an episode of the series Actor's Studio. She would go onto appear in around forty more episodic television series, including Big Town, The Clock, Hallmark Hall of Fame, Lights Out, Robert Montgomery Presents, Suspense, and Studio One. She made her film debut in a small role in the film Fourteen Hours in 1951. Although brief, Grace would go onto a film career that even other big name stars might envy. Her second film would be the classic High Noon, in which she played the Quaker wife of Marshall Will Kane, played by screen legend Gary Cooper. In 1954 Grace would appear as the lead in her first film with Alfred Hitchcock, Dial M for Murder. She would collaborate with the Master of Suspense in two more classic films (Rear Window and To Catch a Thief), arguably the most famous of the director's cool blondes in the process. Grace also appeared in other classics, including The Bridges at Toko-Ri, The Country Girl, and High Society. Grace Kelly won the Oscar for Best Actress in a Leading Role for The Country Girl, as well as other awards.

In 1955 when Grace was part of the United States' delegation to the Cannes Film Festival. While there she was invited to take part in a photo shoot at the Palace of Monaco with Prince Rainier III. It would be the beginning of the end of her film career. When Prince Rainier toured of the United States later that year, he proposed marriage to Grace. The two were married in April 1956. As it would not be considered fitting for a Princess of Monaco to act in movies, Grace never acted in films again. Hitchcock offered the lead role of Marnie to her, and Grace was eager to work with her old friend again, but public outcry from the people of Monaco put a stop to any such plans. In 1966 she narrated the ABC television movie Poppies Are Also Flowers. Herbert Ross tried to lure her out of retirement for his 1977 movie The Turning Point, to no avail. That same year Grace performed a series of poetry readings and  provided narration for both the documentary The Children of Theatre Street and ABC's television movie Poppies Are Also Flowers.

It was on September 13, 1982, that Grace Kelly suffered a stroke while driving.with her daughter Stephanie back from the family's vacation home Roc Agel to Monaco. As a result her car went down the embankment of a mountain and crashed into a tree at the bottom, before landing on a pile of rocks. Grace was unconscious, but still alive when she was taken from the wreckage. Sadly, she would die the following day from the injuries she sustained in the crash. Her daughter Stephanie was also severely injured, to the point that she was still in hospital the day her mother's funeral was held.

It has been twenty seven years since Grace Kelly died. It has been fifty three years since she last starred in a motion picture (High Society in 1952), and yet Grace still holds the imagination of millions people around the world. In 1993 she became the first American actress to ever appear on a United States postage stamp. In 1995 Grace ranked #5 on Empire magazine's list of 100 Sexiest Stars in film history. She was also named 12th Greatest Movie Star of all time by Premiere magazine and was #13 in the American Film Institute's list of 50 Greatest Screen Legends. According to Turner Classic Movies (TCM), she was "the most glamourous woman of the 20th Century." In honour of her 80th birthday, TCM had dedicated the month of November to her.

In many respects it is difficult to gauge the appeal of Grace Kelly. There can be no doubt that she was beautiful. Possessed of blonde tresses and bright blue eyes, she had a face that could have sculpted with utmost precision. And although Grace Kelly is not often mentioned in the same class as such bombshells as Jean Harlow and Marilyn Monroe, she had an excellent figure--her measurements were 34-24-35. While Grace was undoubtedly beautiful, it would seem that her appeal goes far beyond her beauty. After all there have been numerous actresses of nearly equal beauty and many of them with more extensive careers than Grace had, yet none of them are nearly as popular or as beloved as she is. I rather suspect Grace's enduring popularity is not due to the fact that she was incredibly beautiful, but rather that she was so much more than a pretty face. Grace Kelly was incredibly talented. In her films she played a variety of roles, from washed up, alcoholic actor Frank Elgin distinctly un-glamourous wife  in The Country Girl to the ultra-glamourous (and very cunning) Francine in To Catch a Thief. It must also be pointed out that Grace generally played women who were strong and self confidant, yet to some degree vulnerable. In The Country Girl Georgie Elgin is nearly the only thing that holds has-been actor Frank together. In High Noon, as Amy, Grace Kelly evinces a quiet strength, even as her husband, Marshall Will Kane, must take part in the violence which she adamantly opposes.

While it is difficult to put the appeal of Grace Kelly into words, I must say that I have loved her since the first time I ever saw her in a movie. Even as a young child, Grace Kelly numbered among my favourite movie stars of all time. I have no doubt that in the beginning much of it was because she was incredibly beautiful. Indeed, while I know there are those who would argue for Marilyn Monroe, for me it has always been Grace Kelly is the epitome of blondeness. As I grew older I would realise that Grace was much more than a beautiful, cool blonde, and that only made me love her more. The characters she played were not simply beautiful women. It was a rare thing for Grace Kelly to appear in a film only as window dressing. Many, perhaps most, of the characters Grace played were intelligent and often more than a match for any man. In Rear Window Lisa Fremont was not simply a socialite who was Jeff's girlfriend. She is also his fellow amateur detective in finding out what happened in one of the apartments across from him. Not only is Lisa as bright as Jeff, she is also brave, even putting her life at risk to solve the mystery. In To Catch a Thief it would appear that Francine was more intelligent than jewel thief John Robie. The combination of blonde beauty and natural intelligence that many of Grace's characters possessed made her much more appealing than many other actresses would be for me.

To this day, decades after I first saw Grace Kelly in a movie, I must confess that I still love her. I do not think I am alone in this. As evinced by the many tributes to her all across the internet, Grace Kelly still has a large and very fervent following. And I think this is due to much more than her unbelievable beauty and her fashion sense. Grace Kelly possessed intelligence, charm, and wit to spare and played characters who had such as well. It is for that reason that, despite her short career, she has remained in people's hearts while others have been forgotten.


xinekite said...

Really great post! No, you are not alone. She is still loved by many. I also wanted to let you know that she has a U.S. foundation that helps theater, dance and film artists who are just starting out in their careers, which is what she did throughout her own life, as well.

Holte Ender said...

Loved her in Rear Window. What a classy lady.