November 12, 1929 – September 14, 1982
America’s very own Princess, Grace Patricia Kelly was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where she grew up in the East Falls section, the third of four children to John Brendan Kelly, Sr., also known as Jack Kelly, and Margaret Katherine Majer Kelly.
Grace, having appeared on the cover of LIFE magazine a total of four times from 1954 – 1961, she first appeared on April 26, 1954 being listed as Hollywood’s Brightest and Busiest new star. LIFE continued to cover her from starlet to Princess as she moved from actress to the wife of Prince Rainer of Monaco.
Grace Kelly’s choice of career was reflected in her childhood experiences. While attending the prestigious Ravenhill Academy, Grace modeled fashions at local social events with her mother and sisters. She gained her first acting experience at the age of 12, when she played a lead role in Don’t Feed the Animals, a play produced by the Old Academy Players in East Falls. During high school, she acted and danced, graduating from Stevens School, a small private school in a mansion on Walnut Lane in Germantown, Philadelphia, in May 1947.
Grace decided to pursue her dreams of a career in the theater, using a scene from her uncle’s play, Torchbearers, for an audition into the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York. Although the school had already selected its quota for the semester, Grace wangled an interview with Emile Diestel, the school’s admission officer. Notable talents including Katharine Hepburn, Lauren Bacall, Gene Tierney, and Spencer Tracy had all studied there. Living in Manhattan’s Barbizon Hotel for Women, a prestigious establishment which barred men from entering after 10 p.m., and working as a model to support her studies, Grace began her first term the following October. A diligent student, she would use a recorder to practice and perfect her speech. Her early acting pursuits led her to the stage, most notably a Broadway debut in Strindberg’s The Father alongside Raymond Massey. At 19, her graduation performance was in The Philadelphia Story, a role with which she would also end her film career.
“Movies with soon be full of Grace Kelly” the head lines for the first of many articles written by LIFE magazine referring to what will become a roller coaster ride though this special persons life. An excerpt from this article shows the writers belief in what will become a fairy tale story for many years to come. “In Hollywood, 1954 is likely to be known as this year of Grace. The reason is the serious looking girl, portrayed by 24 year-old Grace Kelly, who has suddenly become the most valuable acting property in the movies. With four recently completed top-budget films to be released this year and a fifth already begun, Miss Kelly’s cool beauty and her unquestionably fine acting ability will soon be movieland bywords. What will not be so publicly evident, however, is the determination, what one convinced producer called Miss Kelly’s “stainless steel inside” that has brought all this about.
LIFE magazine continued to follow Grace through her many movies and television shows including her Oscar and countless other awards on April 9, 1956 the cover was of a beautiful and yet elegant Grace in a wedding dress while filming for the movie “The Swan” which becomes a parallel to her real life, in only 10 days she will marry Prince Rainer of Monaco, a wedding covered extensively in the April 30, 1956 issue of LIFE.
Nine months and four days after the wedding, Princess Grace gave birth to the royal couple’s first child, Princess Caroline. 21 guns announced the event, a national holiday was called, gambling ceased, and free champagne flowed throughout the principality. A little over a year later, 101 guns announced the birth of their second child, Prince Albert. Prince Rainier and Princess Grace had three children:
- Hereditary Princess Caroline Louise Marguerite, born January 23, 1957, and now heiress presumptive to the throne of Monaco
- Albert II, Prince of Monaco, born March 14, 1958, current ruler of the Principality of Monaco
- Princess Stephanie Marie Elisabeth, born February 1, 1965.
On September 13, 1982, while driving with her daughter Stephanie to Monaco from their country home, Princess Grace, then 52, suffered a stroke, causing her Rover P6 to plunge 100 feet down a mountainside. Princess Grace died the next day without regaining consciousness. Princess Grace was buried in the Grimaldi family vault on September 18, 1982, after a requiem mass in Saint Nicholas Cathedral, Monaco. Prince Rainier, who never remarried after Kelly’s death, was buried alongside her following his death in 2005.