Grace Patricia Kelly (November 12, 1929 – September 14, 1982), later known as Her Serene Highness Princess Grace of Monaco, was an Oscar-winning American film actress who became the wife of Prince Rainier III of Monaco. She is the mother of the principality's reigning Sovereign Prince, Albert II of Monaco.
She was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to John Brendan Kelly, Sr. (October 4, 1889 – June 20, 1960) and Margaret Majer; her Irish Catholic family were new but prominent figures in Philadelphia society. Her father was a self-made millionaire and a gold-medal-winning Olympic sculler, and her brother "Jack" followed in that tradition. Kelly Drive in Philadelphia is named for John, Jr., who was a city councilman there.
Though her family had opposed her becoming an actress, Kelly became a fashion model and appeared in her first film, Fourteen Hours (1951), when she was 22. The following year she "starred" with a minor role in High Noon (1952), a generally praised but somewhat controversial western starring Gary Cooper.
Her next film, Mogambo (1953), was a drama set in the Kenyan jungle which centers on the love triangle portrayed by Kelly, Clark Gable, and Ava Gardner. It earned Kelly an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress, but the award went to Donna Reed for her role in From Here to Eternity. Kelly made three films with Alfred Hitchcock: Dial M for Murder, Rear Window, and To Catch a Thief.
In 1955, she was awarded the Academy Award for Best Actress for The Country Girl. While it was being filmed, she had engaged in a brief affair with co-star Bing Crosby, which was kept quiet to protect both their reputations.
The musical comedy High Society (1956) was her last film, as her marriage to Prince Rainier III of Monaco marked her retirement from acting. Before her marriage, she was previously involved with Clark Gable, Bing Crosby, Ray Milland, William Holden, Oleg Cassini ,and Jean-Pierre Aumont. She reportedly was surprised to learn from Rainier that she was expected to give up her film career entirely, but followed his wishes grudgingly.
Her Catholicism and ability to bear children were key factors in her being chosen to marry Prince Rainier. Tales were circulated that Monaco would revert to France in the absence of an heir; and though there is no requirement for a Catholic marriage, it was thought unlikely that a Catholic prince would divorce and remarry if his chosen wife were barren. In fact, there was really little actual danger that Monaco would revert to France as, since in 1882, a childless prince of Monaco adopted an unrelated heir, thereby ensuring Monaco's survival as a principality. Prince Rainier's maternal grandfather, Prince Louis II of Monaco also legitimized his illegitimate daughter Charlotte Louvet, who would become Rainier's mother and made her his heir Princess Charlotte of Monaco.
Before Grace Kelly drew Rainier's attention, French film star Gisèle Pascal had been his love interest for six years. Gisèle and Rainier supposedly parted when a physical examination reportedly found her to be infertile (she later married and had children).
Prince Rainier and Princess Grace had three children:
- Princess, Caroline Louise Marguerite, born January 23, 1957, and now heiress presumptive to the throne of Monaco
- Prince, Albert Alexandre Louis Pierre, Marquis des Baux, born March 14, 1958 and now reigning monarch of Monaco as Albert II of Monaco
- Princess, Stéphanie Marie Elisabeth, born February 1, 1965
In 2002, a new treaty between France and Monaco clarified that, even if there are no direct heirs of the reigning prince, the principality will remain an independent nation, rather than reverting to France. Due to Prince Albert's enduring bachelorhood, Monegasque law now states that, in the event of a reigning prince's lack of descendants, his siblings and their children will inherit the throne. The line of succession is now Princess Caroline, then her children by her second husband Stefano Casiraghi and third husband HRH Prince Ernst August of Hanover.
At the age of 52, in September 1982, Princess Grace suffered a stroke while driving. It had been rumored that she was driving on the same stretch of highway in Monaco that had been featured in To Catch a Thief, although her son claims that it was not. It resulted in an accident, and she died the next day without regaining consciousness. Princess Stephanie, who was alleged by some sources to have been the actual driver of the car, suffered only minor injuries.
Princess Grace is interred in St. Nicholas Cathedral, Monte Carlo, Monaco.