It may momentarily have seemed to Grace Kelly that day in 1956 when her prince had come that cameras and critics were at long last behind her. The daughter of a Philadelphia bricklayer-turned-contractor had become Her Serene Highness of Monaco. How serene it was, or was it?
In fact, the paparazzi of the continent's penny-dreadful press have dogged her life as a princess of Monaco far more oppressively than when she was queen of Hollywood. And lately—with all the lurid tabloid attraction of her nubile daughter Caroline—Grace complains, "The freedom of the press works in such a way that there is not much freedom from it." Still worse, her reviewers now judge not only Grace's performances but also her life.
The notices have so far been favorable, or mixed anyway. The late Charles de Gaulle, who had misgivings about her husband Prince Rainier, hailed Kelly as "I' Aphrodite Américaine." Brigitte Bardot, who likes to bare her mezzanine on the beach (a Swedish nudie club for Monte Carlo was vetoed), sneeringly prefers the title "I' Altesse (her highness) Frigidaire." "She's the squarest person I ever knew," concedes Frank Sinatra, "a cross between Aimee Semple McPherson and Queen Elizabeth." But he makes the statement fondly, and is always available to play a benefit gig for one of his old friend Grace's innumerable charities.
Women's Wear Daily calls her wardrobe "tawdry," though less dowdy than, say, that of Britain's Princess Margaret. To Terence Cardinal Cooke, Archbishop of New York, "She's a lesson in Catholic motherhood." And the final word, naturally, comes from her hairdresser. "She's much more of a lady than some of my ladies," says the famed Alexandre of Paris. "And," he adds, in the ultimate compliment a Frenchman can bestow on a Yankee, "she's so un-American."
Remarkably, all authoritative sources concur that Grace Kelly Grimaldi has, at 45, learned to play her regal role with more warmth and dignity than any of Europe's born-to-the-purple royalty except possibly for Britain's venerable Queen Mother Elizabeth. Grace's carriage and gestures are flawless, never wavering even in the oppressive heat of a midsummer antique show that had her on the verge of fainting. She suggests modestly that her low blood pressure might help account for her unflappable cool (her Hollywood nickname was "the hot icicle"). Is she capable of being ruffled? "Yes, indeed," says Grace, "by three children, for one thing. Lots of things annoy me. But I try to spare other people from the moments when I lose my temper."
There were more palpable strains at the very beginning of her reign, 19 years ago. Grace admits, "I wasn't equipped at all for many things I encountered. Everything was new. I had to adjust from being single to being married, from one set of customs to another, one culture to another." Her training in the theater (rather than Hollywood), she acknowledges, "definitely helped me in my public life as princess of Monaco: the discipline and objectivity about one's self is important."
Initially, Grace's public life was curtailed by her pregnancies. Caroline arrived nine months and five days after her marriage. Albert followed 14 months later. (Stephanie made her appearance after a six-year entr'acte.) "In those days, it was hard to remember how it was not to be pregnant," she recalls. But she also found that "when one's children are born in a place, one begins to feel that it's home." (The children were delivered at the palace rather than at a fancy Swiss clinic, and Grace, as a supporter of the La Leche League, insisted on breastfeeding.)
With the princess, the throne and independence itself finally secure (Monaco would have become a protectorate of France if Rainier had failed to produce a male heir), Grace lost her self-conscious caution and began to put her own imprint on the principality. Its half-liter size (470 acres) and population (23,500 with just 4,300 native Monégasques) might have made a lesser woman feel like just the wife of the city manager of, say, Reno, Nev. But in Grace's vision, the Grimaldis were more like Medici of a major city-state. "A lot of things that go with the job are not always convenient or terribly pleasant," she says, "but it is satisfying to be able to take an idea, develop it and see the results."
As a Grimaldi, Grace could transform Monaco with an impact unthinkable for a Kelly back in Philly. She founded a garden club and annual flower show, built boutiques for local artisans, established a day-care center (there is no unemployment in Monaco), and mobilized volunteers to aid the ill and elderly. And, with her showbiz connections, she produced a summer arts festival with luminaries like Sinatra and Arthur Rubinstein. Currently Grace is engrossed in reviving a permanent ballet company in the one-time home of the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. "Unfortunately," she says, "ballet companies don't look good on paper," and the project will require a bail-out subsidy from her own foundation, which is partly financed from her Hollywood earnings. On grand occasions, such as Rainier's 25th anniversary as a reigning prince last May, their Serene Highnesses invited the entire population to a family picnic in the local soccer stadium. It was just one indication of her acceptance when Rainier decreed that if he died before Albert became 21, Grace would serve as regent.
Under its well-matched monarchs (whose marriage, despite rumors, seems as solid as nearby Eden Roc), Monaco has boomed and thrust upward and outward as never before in its 800-year history. High-rise slabs are squeezing out the gracious villas and chaotically jostle one another for views of the sea. Monaco's beach, golf and tennis clubs have been located across the border in France. Stilts sunk in a seabed prop up a new Loew's hotel clinging to Monte Carlo. There is also a Holiday Inn and, with reclamation, new riches are anticipated in what is already one of the most prosperous, tax-free enclaves on earth.
Many Monégasques have always feared the Kelly family would convert their storybook state into Atlantic City. Au contraire, Grace fights to retain its 19th century charm. "That is what people want to find. I'm not too keen on some of the modern buildings and their height. I protest when I can, and then I have to learn to go along with whatever is the decision." To her credit, Grace helped save one architectural landmark, the grand old Hermitage Hotel. "I suggested," the heroine of High Noon says sweetly, "that I would nail myself to the door if they moved in to demolish it."
The one refuge the Grimaldis have from Rainier's responsibilities and Grace's causes is Rocagel, a mountaintop farm just across the French border from their realm. At 2,300 feet above sea level, Rocagel is sometimes veiled in clouds, but even on a clear day, a palace functionary explains pointedly for the benefit of potential paparazzi, "it cannot be overlooked from any point." There the royal progeny can ride and swim, or laugh ungraciously at screenings of Mom's old films.
Prince Rainier drives a tractor and tinkers with wrought iron in his workshop, and Princess Grace plays the piano (for her parrot Berlioz) and makes quite professional ceramics and collages of dried flowers and leaves. If Rainier is barbecuing the steaks, Her Serene Highness will toss up a salad from the garden. "Rocagel," says Princess Grace, "is where we close the door to the world." The family's other escape is America, where they are currently enjoying a few weeks' breather in a secluded resort in New Hampshire and the Kelly family summer home in Ocean City, N.J. Prince Albert was already in New Hampshire serving as a camp counselor. At some point during the visit, he and his parents will scout out a college for Albert, who's now 17. (Princeton, Annapolis and the University of Virginia are on the shopping list.)
But the "door to the world" reopens when they return to either of their other two homes—the 180-room palace in Monaco and their apartment on the sunny side of Paris' chic Avenue Foch. It is to there that Grace shuttles, trying to chaperone her worldly daughter Caroline. Hounded relentlessly by reporters and elevated into a front-page crumpet, Caroline at 18 is in a bind just partly of her own making. Recently photographed in a gown slit to her waist, she explained to her folks that she'd misplaced her brooch. Flunking some of her university entrance exams hasn't helped. Nor has smoking in public (her proper Philadelphia mother disapproves) or apparently lying nude on a beach (a montage photo, faked in a blackmail attempt). With no assured niche like bonnie Prince Albert, Caroline flaunts the same rebellious public manner that makes Princess Anne the least-liked member of Britain's royal family. Add a lusty figure and the beginnings of her father's double chin rather than the classic unmatchable beauty of a woman 27 years her senior, who also happens to be her mother, and Caroline's difficulties become understandable.
Princess Grace is troubled by the publicity "in that it also disturbs Caroline. She can't live the life of a normal student." And dealings between the two women sometimes border on the abrasive. Grace, for example, hoped that while in Paris, Caroline would attend Maxim's chic six-week course in cooking and playing hostess. "I don't need that, Mother," Caroline snapped. "We've got slaves for that." "Yes, darling," Mom responded coyly, "and I'm your slave." Clearly, it is Prince Albert, with "his calmer nature" and role as altar boy in the palace chapel, who most resembles his mother. (As children, Grace had required them all to clean their rooms.) It is Rainier, a roué in his bachelor days (he kept a villa with live-in friend, actress Gisella Pascal, at nearby St. Jean-Cap-Ferrat), who is more tolerant, but is still said, by palace sources, to help maintain the disciplinary lines.
With her family now coming into young adulthood, Grace is entering a soignée middle age (save for a few extra pounds in the midriff) and is inevitably asked about plans to resume her career. "I haven't made a film in 20 years," she says. "So take your conclusions from there." Then she adds, "Who knows what's around the corner? I loved acting. I loved my career, and I have another life now. It's that simple. I don't dwell on the past. I look forward. There are many things ahead. I take my job seriously, but not myself. People who cannot be objective about themselves," observes Her Serene Highness, "become confused. Every life has sadness and disappointments, but if one has any sense one thinks only of the good and forgets the bad. I have been very fortunate and very lucky."