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Is It Over for the Princess and Her Playboy? The Palace Maintains a Puzzling Silence

updated 07/28/1980 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/28/1980 01:00AM

"There are two stages in every marriage," Philippe Junot observed recently. "First amusement, then reflection. Our marriage is gradually entering the second stage."

When Her Serene Highness Princess Caroline of Monaco married her Parisian playboy two years ago, it seemed as if the amusement stage might be endless. In the style of monied aristocracy that she was and he had become, they spent their time at leisure—in Manhattan discos, at Paris soirees and on yachts in the Mediterranean. But Junot began to give Caroline more cause for reflection than amusement in the first months of the marriage. He was seen with beautiful women on his arm during solo business trips to the U.S. He grappled with one of the young Kennedy boys over a blond model at Xenon, a Manhattan discotheque. The tabloids of Europe are still tittering about a gorgeous young "mystery woman" whom Junot was seen escorting around Paris. Sighs one of Junot's oldest pals: "A playboy never gives up."

Still, reports that the marriage was seriously troubled did not surface in earnest until last month. Almost unthinkably, Caroline was said to have found solace for herself during Philippe's absences in an old and close friend, Renato Rossellini, 30. Junot lashed back at the insinuations in an interview with an editor friend at Paris Match—in which he insisted that the marriage was not threatened but only changing, and that he intended to spend the entire summer with his bride. The protestations did not succeed. Rumors of a split have percolated up from their closest friends ever since. It was reported that Caroline had changed the locks on their villa in Monaco. Junot's old cabaret chums figure Philippe has been brought up short at last. "Sure he was photographed coming out of nightclubs with girls in New York," as one puts it, "but he probably never dreamed that Caroline would have a new love right away."

Nobody knows how shaky the royal marriage really is, perhaps not even the principals themselves. All the publicity can hardly have helped what has always seemed a problematical match. Their wedding in 1978 followed a lengthy courtship, during which Caroline's father and mother threw up every possible impediment. Prince Rainier and especially her staunchly Catholic mother, Princess Grace, worried that their daughter was marrying a man of little discernible achievement in the real estate business, who was 17 years older than the princess and whose commitment to marriage was questionable at best. "Did he go out much?" a friend of Junot's laughs. "He was born out—out of traditional society, out of normal family and bourgeois frames, outside any woman's possessive power. He was in nightclubs a lot—and in many different bedrooms." Only after the strong-willed Caroline insisted for two full years on marriage did her parents give their reluctant consent. The ceremony in Monte Carlo was notably devoid of the joyful pageantry that marked the union of the fairytale prince and his American film queen in 1956.

As if to confirm the parents' worst fears, Caroline and Philippe started going their separate ways shortly after the honeymoon. "Ours is entirely a physical separation—because of my obligations," Junot insisted in the Paris Match interview. His detractors—and even some friends—suggest that his defense of the marriage is motivated more by opportunism than by love. "Losing Caroline would be very bad for him," says Peppo Vanini, owner of Xenon and reportedly a confidant of the couple. "He likes her very much. He will never find another girl like her. You don't divorce Princess Caroline." As another of Caroline's old friends puts it, with more candor and less charity: "He's the one who can't afford to lose his spouse and position."

Whatever is the truth, Junot clearly has a rival now for his wife's attention, if not for her affection. Renato "Robertino" Rossellini, a handsome sometime architect with a Monte Carlo real estate business as vague as Junot's, has frequently been seen with the princess in Paris and Monaco in the past few months. The famous 1950 "love child" of Ingrid Bergman and director Roberto Rossellini, Robertino acknowledges that he and Caroline have been friends since childhood and that he dated the princess when she was a teenage schoolgirl. That is the end of the affair, he says. "What a lot of nonsense the press has been giving out about me and Caroline," Rossellini complains. "I can't think where people got such ideas." Acquaintances say that Rossellini is a delicate young man, fit to serve as a hand-holding counselor to a troubled young lady, perhaps, but hardly a daring lover for a princess. Besides, they say, Rossellini is no more in the financial class of the House of Grimaldi than Junot was. "Life is so expensive," Robertino, who lives in a rented apartment, recently observed while sipping a tomato juice in Monte Carlo's Hotel de Paris. He added plaintively, "Especially when you have to live in the style of a tycoon."

In a Mediterranean world that combines the intrigue of royalty with Latin volatility, opinions about the couple's future are numerous—and contradictory. "It's obvious she has left him," whispers one self-described friend of Caroline's. "She and Robertino probably flirted before she got married, and then when her husband put so many horns on her [a graphic Italian metaphor for cuckolding], she started getting serious." Just as adamantly, Caroline's American cousin Grace LeVine declares that the marriage is unassailable. "They're not going to be separated. Their marriage is not going to be annulled. They're not going to be divorced."

Aside from Junot's interview in France, the royal family has done nothing to lay the rumors to rest. Some interpret the silence—and the disappearance from sight last week of Philippe, Caroline and Robertino, who was whisked off to Sweden by his mother—as a signal that attempts are under way to work out the problems quietly. Others are less sanguine, believing the silence will end with the tourist season in Monaco, or attributing it to the discretion that the Catholic Church demands of candidates for annulment (page 31). Whatever its purpose, public reticence was one thing on which all parties to the sticky situation agreed. As Philippe put it: "We'd like people to forget us a little so we can lead a healthier life. The less one speaks of us, the happier we are."

Di Robilant is a Rome-based journalist who has covered European royalty for 20 years.

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