Grace Patricia Kelly, an American Academy Award winning actress, is born into an affluent Catholic family of half Irish and half German descent in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on November 12, 1929. After starring in several significant films in the early to mid-1950s, she becomes Princess of Monaco by marrying Prince Rainier III in April 1956.
Kelly’s father, Irish American John B. Kelly, Sr., wins three Olympic gold medals for sculling, and owns a successful brickwork contracting company that is well known on the East Coast. As Democratic nominee in the 1935 election for Mayor of Philadelphia, he loses by the closest margin in the city’s history. In later years he serves on the Fairmount Park Commission and, during World War II, is appointed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt as National Director of Physical Fitness. Her mother, Margaret Majer, has German parents. She teaches physical education at the University of Pennsylvania and is the first woman to coach women’s athletics at Penn. She also models for a time in her youth. After marrying John Kelly in 1924, she focuses on being a housewife until her four children are of school age, following which she begins actively participating in various civic organizations.
Kelly receives her elementary education in the parish of Saint Bridget’s in East Falls. While attending Ravenhill Academy, a reputable Catholic girls’ school, she models fashions at local charity events with her mother and sisters. In 1942, at the age of 12, she plays the lead in Don’t Feed the Animals, a play produced by the Old Academy Players also in East Falls. In May 1947, she graduates from Stevens School, a socially prominent private institution in nearby Chestnut Hill, where she participates in drama and dance programs. Owing to her low mathematics scores, she is rejected by Bennington College in July 1947. Despite her parents’ initial disapproval, she decides to pursue her dreams of becoming an actress.
After graduating from the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in 1949, Kelly begins appearing in New York City theatrical productions and over 40 live drama productions broadcast in early 1950s Golden Age of Television. She gains stardom from her performance in John Ford‘s adventure-romance Mogambo (1953), for which she is nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. She wins the Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance in the drama The Country Girl (1954). Other notable works include the western High Noon (1952), the romance-comedy High Society (1956), and three consecutive Alfred Hitchcock suspense thrillers: Dial M for Murder (1954), Rear Window (1954), and To Catch a Thief (1955). She works with some of the most prominent leading men of the era, including Gary Cooper, Clark Gable, Ray Milland, James Stewart, Bing Crosby, William Holden, Cary Grant, Alec Guinness, and Frank Sinatra.
Kelly retires from acting at age 26 to marry Rainier, and begins her duties as Princess of Monaco. Hitchcock hopes that she will appear in more of his films which require an “icy blonde” lead actress, but he is unable to coax her out of retirement. The Prince and Princess have three children: Princess Caroline, Prince Albert, and Princess Stéphanie. Princess Grace retains her link to America by her dual U.S. and Monégasque citizenship. Her charity work focuses on young children and the arts, establishing the Princess Grace Foundation-USA to support local artisans in 1964. Her organization for children’s rights, World Association of Children;s Friends (AMADE), gains consultive status within UNICEF and UNESCO. Her final film contribution is in 1977 to documentary The Children of Theatre Street directed by Robert Dornhelm, where she serves as the narrator. The documentary is nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.
On September 13, 1982, Princess Grace suffers a small stroke while driving back to Monaco from her country home in Roc Agel. As a result, she loses control of her 1971 Rover P6 3500 and drives off the steep, winding road and down the 120-foot mountainside. Her teenage daughter Stéphanie, who is in the passenger seat, tries but fails to regain control of the car. The Princess is taken to the Monaco Hospital (later named the Princess Grace Hospital Centre) with injuries to the brain and thorax and a fractured femur. She dies the following night at 10:55 PM after Rainier decides to turn off her life support. Stéphanie suffers a light concussion and a hairline fracture of a cervical vertebra, and is unable to attend her mother’s funeral.
Princess Grace’s funeral is held at the Cathedral of Our Lady Immaculate in Monaco-Ville, on September 18, 1982. After a Requiem Mass, she is buried in the Grimaldi family vault. Over 400 people attend, including Cary Grant, Nancy Reagan, Danielle Mitterrand, the Princess of Wales, and Empress Farah of Iran.
Rainier, who does not remarry, is buried alongside her after his death in 2005.