It was a century for princesses. There was Elizabeth who became Queen, and her sister Margaret who didn't, and her daughter Anne who was disliked and became trusted and admired and would probably never be queen, and her daughter-in-law Diana, the shy fashion horse who could have become queen easily if the matter had ever been put to a vote.
And in 1956 there was the creation of Princess Grace Kelly, the pale, regal cinema darling who at the age of twenty-seven could write her own ticket in Hollywood and had been courted by, and spurned, some of the most handsome men of the day - Ray Milland, William Holding, Bing Crosby, Oleg Cassini, even Frank Sinatra. She was Alfred Hitchcock's blonde flavor of the decade, had her own money and her own strong will.
Yet for some reason, after a very brief meeting with Prince Rainier Grimaldi of Monaco, she accepted his proposal of marriage and her family paid a cool two million dollars in dowry for the privilege of having their daughter joined in matrimony with minor and rather moldy European royalty.
Was it a love match? Unlikely, as J. Randy Taraborrelli makes clear in Once Upon a Time. Rainier almost certainly did his homework and knew that besides being one of the most beautiful women in the world, Grace Kelly came from a prosperous and feisty clan of Irish class busters who had clawed their way into High Society (the title of one of Grace's most successful films). Rainier's palace needed paint - lots of it - and he needed a fertile woman to produce an heir, without which the Grimaldi's would lose their holdings, by ancient decree. That she was gorgeous was no small thing - but he could have had his pick among many, as could she.
It turns out that both were rather introspective, insecure people who had sought and never found warmth and approval in their family lives. Grace's father, Jack, insisted on calling the Prince "Ray" and used the occasion of her wedding to brag openly about himself. Her mother wrote a series of embarrassing articles about her daughter on the eve of her rather tricky engagement: "If she added a charm to a bracelet for each marriage proposal, she would scarcely be able to lift that bracelet today."
Perhaps because of this, both Rainier and Grace took a strong role in the raising of their three children, and though they fought endlessly over important matters - the Prince having once said wisely that "marriage is having the same argument over and over" - they tended to agree and support each other when the chips, casino style, were down. Grace did much to rehabilitate the somewhat seedy image of Monaco in the heady circles she inhabited, and even took her children to paint the walls of the country's rundown hospital. For his part, Rainier was as willing as he could bring himself to be to allow Grace to resume her film career, for her sake, though ultimately she was as willing as she could bring herself to be to relinquish it, for his sake. Surely this is love.
Notwithstanding the warmth they obviously engendered in one another, the book is salted with alluringly poignant glimpses of Grace in a mope: "Many days were spent in boredom...sometimes she would spend the entire day reading...on the worst of days, she would feel so exhausted by despair that she would simply take to her bed." For his part, we hear the Prince constantly professing his desire to make his wife happy at any cost and acknowledging in an interview "There have been times, you know, when the Princess has been a little melancholic - which I understand - about having performed a form of art successfully, only to be cut away from it completely."
He may however go too far in lauding the amazing Grace, when he states that "though Princess Diana's funeral would bring a great outpouring of grief in 1996, it is probably Princess Grace's memory that will prove the more indelible." Hardly a supportable view, considering that Diana was the wife of a possible king and member of a legitimate and world renowned royal lineage, whereas Grace, for all the work she did to "burnish the image of Monaco" was merely the commoner wife of a man of questionable royalty whose tiny estate (a few square miles) was and still is, to some, a bit of a joke.
However, the author points out correctly that Grace's place at the head of the queue for Diana's wedding gave credence to the Grimaldi's claim to royal status - and perhaps Diana loved Grace and honored her in this way, because upon meeting her "she then put one hand on each of Diana's cheeks, cupping her face. 'Don't worry dear,' she said with a gentle smile. 'You see, it'll only get worse.'" A breath of honesty rare in Diana's world and words that could only echo back as the sad years passed.
Of course the death of Grace, like that of Diana, is shrouded in suspicion and conspiracy mongering. Who was really driving the car - and why did it crash? Like Diana's tragic demise as she fled the ubiquitous paparazzi with her illicit lover, the passing of Grace was attended by paradox and premonition. On her first visit to Monaco, before having met Rainier with all that lying before her, Grace cried out in genuine fear, "Who would dare drive these roads?" And once during her compromise phase, when Grace had begun to realize finally that wife and mother and Princess was all she would ever get to be, she "had a nightmare that she'd been involved in a dreadful accident and was paralyzed for life...she had awakened with a start and wondered what she would do if such a thing actually occurred." It was to gently and mercifully end the life of a comatose woman who had had just such an accident that the Prince gave the order to let her go. She died in the hospital that bore her name.
A Hollywood producer once said, "Only Grace Kelly could have created Grace Kelly."