by Maurice Zolotow (“The American Weekly”, April 21, 1956)
The position in which Grace Kelly finds herself today must be intensely painful to her. For a long time, she has desperately avoided being the center of attention. She has been elusive. She has been secretive. She has kept to herself. Being a shy and sensitive person, she likes silence and solitude.
Even though she has been compulsively driven to seek success in a profession which swarms with lovely lunatics who are fond of doing and saying bizarre and unconventional things, this lean and intense blonde has persisted in her withdrawn pattern of living.
Her reserve, which is actually a disguise to mask the insecurity she feels with other people, has been interpreted as aristocratic hauteur. Her timidity has been called serenity. Her long silences when interviewers probe her inhibitions about divulging the dimensions of her bosom or the length of her long, lean legs, are described as manifestations of a snobbish disdain for the manners and morals of Hollywood.
So now, this girl who has always tried to shun the glare of publicity has become a focus of international excitement from the principality of Monaco to the principality of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. If the future wife of Prince Rainier III, His Serene Highness, the Prince of Monaco, Baron du Buis, Duc de Valentinois and Marquis des Baux, carries out her threat to retire from motion pictures, it would cost her studio at least $10,000,000 a year for the remaining four years of her contract.
The triumph of Grace is one of the most astonishing reversals in the whole saga of Hollywood. Four years ago she was in several unsuccessful Broadway shows. Then, almost within a year, she catapulted to the heights. She won the Academy Award for her portrayal of the tortured wife of an alcoholic in The Country Girl. In her two upcoming films, The Swan and High Society, her qualities of subtlety, wit, emotion and human understanding will be displayed in even more sharpness because she is constantly polishing her technique as an actress.
One morning between scenes during the shooting of High Society I sat in Bing Crosby’s dressing room. He plays the ex-husband of a girl named Tracy. Crosby remarked, “This Tracy character that Grace is doing, well, it’s the most. It will be a whole new Kelly. She starts out being a little held down and then she breaks it up. She gets real high. She even gets drunk in one scene. Man, this girl achieves a real coup d’état.
“You see, first she’s untouchable and then she breaks down and becomes a real woman. She kind of broke down a little in The Country Girl but in High Society she breaks down all the way. I think what happened is her being in love and that this romance with the Prince, old Rainier, helped to bring out this gal’s warmness. And isn’t that something about Monaco putting her picture on a postage stamp? I also hear they’re putting her on a coin. It sure will be the best looking piece of change in the world.”
To come to know Grace Kelly even casually, as I came to know her for a few brief days, is to realize that physically and spiritually she is quite unlike most of the characters she has portrayed so elegantly in the movies. It is proof of what an extremely gifted actress she is that when you are about to come into contact with her you expect to meet the chic and elegantly voluptuous creature who flirted so outrageously with Jimmy Stewart in Rear Window, who resolutely went on the make for Cary Grant in To Catch a Thief, who passionately kissed Clark Gable in the rain in Mogambo, and who broke William Holden’s heart in The Country Girl.
That afternoon, as I plodded through the crowds in the Metro commissary, I was filled with misgivings because I could not see the enchanting blonde goddess anywhere. I thought for a moment she might have forgotten our appointment. But she was sitting at one of the tables against a wall.
The reason I did not see her was simple: she doesn’t look like an enchanting blonde goddess. She was wearing her glasses, but that was not the reason. She was wearing an azure-colored blouse tied with a string around her slender neck. She was wearing black bolero pants and ballet slippers.
She is unusually tall for a woman almost five feet eight inches tall but she does not carry the weight that ordinarily goes with this height. She is about 110 pounds in heft give or take a few pounds. Her eyes, which are large and deep and extremely penetrating, are a lovely sky-blue color. Her hair, which is soft and straight, is worn long, almost to the shoulders. She has strong eyebrows, a delicately shaped nose, a small but firm chin, an alabaster skin that is translucently clear, beautifully formed ears and thin but very expressive lips.
Through some fortunate chemical interaction, Miss Kelly and I happened to hit it off almost immediately. I felt comfortable and happy with her, and I believe she also felt at ease with me. For this reason, I was able to catch a glimpse of her that few outsiders have known.
This aspect of her personality only comes out during one of her upswinging moods that usually follow the finishing of a movie or any satisfying experience that makes her feel good about herself. She then becomes playful, whimsical, gay, high-spirited. In this mood, she loves to tease people, giving play to an almost childlike mischievousness.
During her New York years, for instance, she once lived in an apartment with very little furniture. She used to startle young men who called for her by dressing up in a long black dress, letting her hair hang wildly over her face, and sitting crosslegged in an empty room, lit only by one candle in a bottle.
When I visited her house and started to light a cigarette, she said, handing me a pack, “Use these matches from Monaco.”
I looked impressed. I saw the big word “Monaco” on the folding matchbox. I lit my cigarette and remarked, “Isn’t that nice the Prince sending you matches from Monaco. How thoughtful!”
Seeing I had been neatly fooled, Miss Kelly broke into spasms of girlish delight.
“Read it again,” Miss Kelly said.
I did. The matchbox cover read: “The Monaco Grocery and Delicatessen. Imported and Domestic Food Products. Finest Wines. 8513 Santa Monica Boulevard at La Cienga.”
But her prevailing mood is one of introverted detachment from her surroundings. She can get lost in her own thoughts and emotions and she will sit by herself for hours, silently knitting or looking out a window.
For at least three hours a day, she must be by herself. During these interludes she retraces the events of the day, analyzing the motives of the people she has encountered, wondering which of her actions she might have altered.
One of her friends told me, “She has a secret life in which she finds peace.”
Her circle of really close friends is very small and they are all New Yorkers. They include Rita Gam, Broadway producer Gant Gaither, her Music Corporation of America agent, Jay Kanter, and his wife Judy. The members of this group have a secret signal three bird whistles in rapid succession so they can identify themselves over the telephone. But even with her closest friends, Grace will be bashful. Few of them have heard her play the piano, although she is a tolerably good pianist.
It seems peculiar that somebody with such a character should plunge into the profession of acting, acting, and the answer to this riddle is a complicated one that takes us deep into her psychology and into her inner conflicts. But first, we must clear up two misconceptions Grace Kelly is not a debutante and she does not hail from the “Main Line” of Philadelphia society.
She was born Grace Patricia Kelly on November 12, 1929. The family then lived and still does in the East Falls of Schuylkill neighborhood of Philadelphia, a solid, no-nonsense, bourgeois neighborhood. The Kelly family is not in the Social Register. Nor is her father, John B. Kelly, worth $20,000,000.
Some years the John B. Kelly construction company, one of the nation’s biggest contractors in the brick-masonry line, has done that much gross business. But Mr. Kelly probably is not worth more than a small handful of millions and he is certainly not one of the richest men in America, as he has been inaccurately described.
None of the Kelly children was reared in the lap of luxury. They ate sturdy, simple meals and they were not tended by retinues of nurses and governesses.
Another misconception about Grace Kelly’s life, it seems to me, is that she had a blissfully happy childhood. The sadness and loneliness that Grace Kelly projected as Mrs. Elgin in The Country Girl could have come out of her experience as a human being. She understands loneliness and misery.
Both of her parents are strong, unusual personalities. Mrs. Kelly, who was Margaret Majer, comes of German stock. As a girl, she was tall, blonde and beautiful. She was a fervent suffragette and physical culturist. In 1914, when she was about 13 years old, Miss Majer went to the Philadelphia Turngemeinde, a gymnasium and social club for gymnasts, to practice high diving. She was introduced to a tall, handsome, broad-shouldered man, 10 years older than herself, who had come to play handball.
That man was John B. Kelly, a lusty young Irishman, with a keen mind and tremendous ambition. When he met the future Mrs. Kelly, he was a bricklayer’s apprentice six days a week and an athlete in his spare time.
Jack Kelly was a great basketball player and a good boxer. He fought in army bouts during World War I in the heavyweight division and knocked out a man who later gave Gene Tunney a lot of trouble. He probably was the best all-around oarsman this country has ever known.
Politics, business and athletics are the three goals of his life and of these the most important is athletics. To Mr. and Mrs. Kelly, athletics is almost a religion. Of their four children, three fitted into the pattern beautifully.
The oldest child, Peggy, born in 1925, was a swimming and diving champion. She is married to George Davis, the owner of the Philadelphia Ramblers, a hockey team. Their nine-year-old daughter, Meg Davis, finished second in the Junior National Figure Skating meet in 1955. She was younger than most of the other competitors.
John B. Kelly, Jr., was born in 1927. From the time he was five, his father had him out in a boat and was drilling him in the technique of rowing, John Jr. has won the U. S. sculling championship six times, the Canadian championship five times, England’s Diamond Sculls twice. He won the European championship in 1949.
During World War II he did some boxing in the Navy as a lightweight. He met his wife, Mary, at the 1952 Olympic Games. She was a member of the American swimming team.
The youngest Kelly child, Lizanne, was born in 1932. She was captain of the girls’ basketball team at the University of Pennsylvania and is married to Don LeVine, who is a broker with a stock exchange firm in Philadelphia.
By a strange fluke of biology, into this family of boisterous gladiators and Amazons, there came a quiet, sensitive, artistic, gentle creature – a girl named Grace.
Next week Mr. Zolotow tells why this shy girl became a great actress and why he thinks she fell deeply in love with Prince Rainier.