Make way for the princess!" a functionary boomed. The begowned and black-tied crowd in the Beverly Wilshire Hotel was restless after an hour's wait, but for a moment you could almost hear the champagne bubbles rising in the tulip glasses they clutched decorously by the stem. Caroline of Monaco, however, did not appear. Avoiding both the crush of guests in the private room and the press, she slipped into an elevator. An hour later, a drumroll sounded ("My God what was that?" Loretta Young exclaimed), and the 26-year-old princess, in royal blue silk, glided into the ballroom on the arm of Cary Grant.

It was, a spokeswoman explained, "a very emotional night" for the daughter of the late Princess Grace "because she is standing in for her mother." More than 300 Hollywood upper-crusters had coughed up $250 to $500 each to mingle with Caroline and listen to Placido Domingo deliver himself of three ballads. Barbara Walters emceed the perhaps overtitled "An Evening in Monaco" ball. The event raised an undisclosed sum for the Princess Grace Foundation, which supports young performing artists, and the International Foundation for Learning Disabilities, which includes the David Niven Scholarship Fund.

A standing ovation for the entering guest of honor was quickly followed by discreet commentary. One guest approvingly termed Caroline's elegant sapphire-and-diamond earrings "just like two of Princess Di's engagement rings." After picking at her salmon mousse, Caroline puffed cigs, checked the shine on her nose in a gold compact and talked very little—and then only to Cary Grant and Robert Wagner, with whom she took a spin on the dance floor.

Perhaps her thoughts were elsewhere. In June, Caroline had accompanied her beau, Robertino Rossellini, to the Swedish fishing village of Fjallbacka, where he solemnly watched as the ashes of his mother, Ingrid Bergman, were scattered. But by summer's end they were no longer speaking.

In the interim, as the European press had reported with hound-dog zeal, Robertino had been photographed necking with 19-year-old Italian TV starlet Isabella Ferrari in a motorboat off the Greek island of Paxoi. And Caroline had joined some Italian friends aboard their yacht for a cruise to Sardinia. On board, she reportedly took a liking to Stefano Casiraghi, the 23-year-old heir of a Milanese oil-refining family.

The press tracked the couple to Milan in September, where Caroline stayed in the Hotel Principe & Savoia and spent a week shopping and dining with Stefano; then to Monaco, where the Italian stayed in his family's apartment; and finally to Manhattan in early October, where they dined at Club A's swanky Tucano restaurant, before Caroline winged to the Beverly Hills benefit alone.

Ironically, Caroline first met Stefano with Rossellini, when the two were at Regine's Monte Carlo disco in August 1982. While the press speculates on who dumped whom and delves into questions of motivation and jealousy, Prince Rainier's elliptic pronouncement last spring regarding his daughter seems apt. "I don't think a young woman can be alone," he said. "I don't think it's right."