Before Meghan Markle became the most famous actress-turned-royal in the world, there was Grace Kelly.
The late Princess of Monaco was an American socialite and movie star who swapped Hollywood for a tiara in the 1950s, after falling in love with Rainier III, Prince of Monaco.
Before earning her place in the House of Grimaldi in 1956, Kelly was a talented actress in her own right. The screen siren had appeared in cinema classics such as Rear Window and The Country Girl when she crossed paths with Monaco’s heir apparent.
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Kelly was filming Alfred Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief in 1955 when she first met Prince Rainier, who had been the ruler of Monaco since 1949.
According to an interview their son Prince Albert conducted with Paris Match, the pair met while travelling by train to the Cannes Film Festival.
If she hadn’t been invited to the annual cinema celebration in France, the Oscar-winning American actress would never have become a princess.
After their chance meeting, which was facilitated by late actress Olivia de Havilland, Kelly attended the Prince’s Palace of Monaco.
While the proposal was something out of a fairytale, Rainier’s royal status meant Kelly would have to abandon her Hollywood career.
During the visit, Rainier invited the actress to take a walk through the gardens. “The atmosphere changed,” Prince Albert wrote in his column. “The couple relaxed… My father, at ease, let his charm work and a dialogue began.”
Kelly, however, needed to leave soon after for a Cannes Film Festival party. Their courtship continued via letter correspondence – yet it was kept a secret from the press and public for months.
Just seven months after that day in the palace gardens, Prince Rainier proposed to his actress lover while on holiday in America in Christmas 1955.
The royal originally proposed to Kelly with a Cartier eternity band of rubies and diamonds.
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But when Rainier realised Hollywood actresses of Kelly’s calibre were sporting much more impressive rings, he swapped it out for a Cartier ring with a 10.47 carat emerald-cut diamond, flanked by two baguettes.
While the royal proposal was something out of a fairytale, Rainier’s royal status meant Kelly would have to abandon her Hollywood career.
Her last film before becoming Princess Consort of Monaco was the 1956 classic, High Society, and her final appearance in Hollywood in her capacity as a film star was on March 21, 1956.
She attended the 28th Annual Academy Awards in Los Angeles, accompanied by her MGM publicist Morgan Hudgins.
Kelly looked every bit the princess already in a regal gown made by costume designer Helen Rose, who would go on to design the princess’ wedding dress.
While Kelly was not nominated for an award that evening, she presented the Best Actor award.
The Monaco royal’s unforgettable appearance marked her last hurrah in Hollywood before she retired from film at the age of 26 to begin her royal duties.
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The royal couple tied the knot on April 18, 1956 during a spectacular ceremony at the Prince’s Palace of Monaco and Saint Nicholas Cathedral. Their nuptials were watched by over 30 million people around the world and was touted as the “wedding of the century”.
Kelly’s new life behind palace walls involved royal engagements and a focus on philanthropy, particularly involving the arts and young children.
Prince Rainier and Princess Grace of Monaco went on to welcome three children: Princess Caroline, Prince Albert and Princess Stephanie.
Five years into her new role as a princess, Kelly planned to make a surprise return to Hollywood with the lead role in Hitchcock’s 1964 film Marnie.
As author Tony Lee Moral wrote in his book Hitchcock and the Making of Marnie, the Monaco royal dropped out due to political issues between Monaco and France.
Moral said Kelly “felt compelled to stay in Monaco while her husband tried to settle problems with France who had ended a treaty with Monaco over their limited tax laws”.
Tragically, Kelly never got to grace the screen again before her death in 1982.
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She died at the age of 52 at Monaco Hospital from injuries sustained in a car crash while with her daughter on September 13, 1982.
The actress-turned-princess is remembered dually for her talent in front of the camera and for her royal elegance.
And it seems the Hollywood gene has passed down several generations. Jazmin, Prince Albert of Monaco’s eldest daughter and Kelly’s granddaughter, is an aspiring actress herself.
“My grandmother was a talented actress and beautiful human being inside and out,” she wrote on her social media in 2019.
“I hope to follow in her footsteps and define my OWN path. If she can do it, I CAN do it!”
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