The fairy-tale marriage 20 years later

“There were a lot of people”, says Prince Rainier, “who bet we’d never make it”. Princess Grace says they did because she knew “marriage is partnership but not an equal one. A woman has to give more”.


“Twenty years,” said Princess Grace. “But I still think I’m lucky to get through one day!”.

I had phoned to talk about an important date in her life. On April 19. the former Grace Kelly and her husband, Prince Rainier, celebrate 20 years of marriage. When it look place, the “wedding of the century” between a movie queen and Monaco’s reigning prince drew an 1800-strong battery of photographers and reporters and captured the world’s imagination as a modern fairytale.

How was the fairytale holding up now? Over the phone, Grace laughed. “When I made it to the 10th anniversary. I asked for a year off for good behavior but it was turned down. I haven’t decided yet what to ask for the 20th, but…”. She hesitated, then spoke as a parent of teenagers: “Maybe I’ll ask for a year off with him – and nobody else!”.

To explore the subject further, she suggested meeting for lunch at their Paris residence. “Rainier is coming up from Monte Carlo, so he can tell you how he sees it. After all, he is head of this family”, she said.

Two of their children, Princesses Caroline and Stephanie, now go to school in Paris, while Prince Albert, 18, is finishing his last year at a Monaco public high school. So during school terms, all members of the family – variously obeying dictates of Stale, school, or the human heart – shuttle frequently between Paris and the palace at Monaco.

The recently-acquired Grimaldi home in Paris, near the Etoile. differs little from many others around it. Beneath giant horse-chestnut trees, 19th-century apartments and homes are linked in an unbroken, formal facade of grey stone. The windows, either shuttered tight or open to give occasional glimpses of old paintings and crystal chandeliers, invariably contain a baroque balustrade of wrought iron. Before each home there is a high steel fence with helmet spikes painted black, while the doors have brightly-polished bronze handles and their bells are often without a name. The Grimaldis’ steel door buzzed open on to a delightful courtyard of trees, a small mound of plants – and Princess Stephanie, now 11. leaning over the railing of a second-floor window.

Sense of presence

When I first visited Princess Grace on her 15th wedding anniversary. Stephanie was a child of six, with two baby teeth missing. After curtsying like a perfect princess, she promptly put the foot of a doll into her mouth. Now, five years later, Stephanie has a slender body, long legs, grey-green eyes and a Kelly complexion that gives promise of a beauty even more startling than that of the much-publicized Caroline.

“Hello, Stephanie!”.
“My cat! You see my cat?”.
Sneaking into the garden came a dirty, black and white alley cat.
“Mistral!”, she cried happily. Then, to me: “You see how she comes when I call her?”.
The cat was first to the front door, but the maid held it back with her foot — a neat bit of blocking. There followed a moment’s wait in the living-room, with its large bay window overlooking the garden.

Grace had appeared suddenly. That is a special part of – her. She never seems rushed, yet one is inevitably left with the impression of meeting her suddenly… like seeing a deer unexpectedly in a forest clearing.

Whatever it is, she imparts a sense of tar sudden presence, which is something more than mere physical beauty, Anna Magnani had it, and she wasn’t particularly beautiful. It’s an aura of the essence of femininity, like a lamp burning in a window, which some women possess.

Before we could begin. Stephanie appeared, “Mommie, my cat’s sitting at the front door!”.

A feminist at heart

Grace looked out through the bay window. “You keep calling her, dear. She’s there because you call her”.
“But she’s lonely and wants in”.
“No. dear. No cats in the house. You know what Daddy would say. As it is. I suspect that Mistral’s sneaked in a few times when nobody was looking except for maybe just one little girl?”. Stephanie, finding herself out-manoeuvred, withdrew to study the situation.

We sat down before the fireplace. The princess wore a powder blue two-piece wool suit from Dior and a chain necklace with gold and ivory flowers ending in a shamrock of Brazilian crystal. As always, she had on little make-up and seemed remarkably young for 46.

It was the moment to return to her remark that her husband was undisputed head of the family. Hadn’t they heard that even the Catholic Church had knocked that out of the marriage ritual? It was now a partnership between man and woman and… Grace interrupted: “I’m very much a feminist at heart. I think women can do whatever they set their minds to do. But I also think that, in a man-woman relationship the man should be head of the family and unchallenged by the woman. It’s a partnership, in that two people should keep their own identities… not squash one another. But it can’t be 50-50 and work. If a woman goes into marriage thinking that, she’s in for a big shock because she has to give more than 50 percent to make her marriage successful. Her job is to be the homemaker, the wife and the mother. Even when she goes out to work, she still has these responsibilities and it won’t fit into a 50-50…”.

“Mommie!”. Princess Caroline burst into the room, an olive green St. Laurent cape whirling around her, a tiny yorkshire terrier in her arms.
“She can never be married! She’s much too small!”.
“Poor Tiffany”, replied Grace, looking at the dog. “You mean she didn’t have an affair with my dog after all?”.
“Impossible,” said Caroline. “Besides. Timmy’s too dumb. He wouldn’t know what to do.”
Grace overlooked this gross insult to her poodle’s procreative worth. I asked Caroline why her dog was called Tiffany.
“Don’t you know? The best things come from there.”

The cape fell away and revealed blue jeans and olive green boots. She sat on the floor. She’s 19, with a dark, Mediterranean beauty — closer to Rainier’s mother, Princess Charlotte, than anyone from the Kelly clan. But in her speech and unaffected, unspoiled manner, she seems a rather decent kid, like the girl next door used to be.

“Wanton clothes”

“Is Daddy home yet?”, Grace shook her head.
“Did you tell him to bring your purple crushed-velvet clothes and my sequin-studded brown hot pants?”.
Grace laughed, then explained, “We were reading some silly horoscope magazine which told us what to wear when we needed ‘wanton clothes’… I couldn’t believe it!”.
“It was wild”, said Caroline.

They seemed quite close. I asked: “were there some things which only a mother and daughter should share?”.
Grace replied: “That fathers don’t know about?”, she laughed. “Sometimes it’s just as well. Other times, fathers and daughters know things that mothers don’t”.
Caroline: “Not as much as mothers and daughters. If Daddy knew we had champagne in your room till after one o’clock the other night…”.
Grace: “He’d be jealous he wasn’t with us to hear about our wanton clothes”. Caroline laughed and hugged her knees. Then, hearing Stephanie call her, she excused herself. I congratulated Grace on having such a close rapport with her daughter. She sighed.
“Having an 18-year-old daughter is like riding a young horse over an unknown steeplechase. You don’t know when to pull up the reins, when to let the horse have its head — or what.
“A lot depends on the age. With Stephanie, for example, the mother has to have authority and respect. But with Caroline, the mother has to be there to discuss things. Like we said, she came into my room and we drank champagne until all hours, discussing life and whatnot.
“The generation gap often comes when you ignore the children till they’re 16 — then want to be friendly. It’s too late then. Or when you start slamming the door. Sometimes they drive you right up the wall, you want to strangle them but you have to leave that door open because when it’s closed, it’s finished.”

Did she have the same open-door policy with her husband if and when they had their differences?
“He’s a Gemini two people in one. Light and darkness. When it’s dark, I avoid it. Or we make light of it. You know, turn a quarrel into a laugh”.
That sounded like most couples, except did she feel she always got through? For example, once she said: “Nobody knows about my life – or anyone else’s.” Did that mean she was often a stranger to her own husband?
“Who isn’t a stranger at times? Even to himself? It’s a big problem for any two people, especially in marriage communicating. T.S. Eliot said, ‘We die to each other daily’ which is true. We’re constantly changing, there’s a constant re-adaptation taking place. And that is what keeps a marriage alive and, when you catch up, it keeps you in love.”
Is Rainier a good father?
“Very good… excellent. He adores his children. Sometimes he goes overboard in disciplining them, but mostly he’s way overboard spoiling them. He’ll arrive bringing them presents because he hasn’t seen them for 10 days. We went to Spain for the coronation and he spent one whole afternoon saying he had to bring the girls something. I kept saying. They don’t need anything, forget it” – but off he went to get them Spanish records. He adores shopping for them.”

Children adore him

Where was her prince happiest?
“Rainier isn’t very social. He doesn’t enjoy being with a lot of people, or going to parties. He’s happy at home, with his family. He enjoys a few friends with whom he can relax and be himself. He doesn’t like, you know, being on show as the Prince of Monaco. But ask him yourself. I hear him coming.”

There was the sound of happy clattering on the stairs as the Prince’s two daughters rushed to greet him with squeals of joy. Grace was right. Rainier not only adores his children: they adore him.

She left the room to greet him. Then Rainier entered, followed by his family – smiling and extending his hand. He wore a dark pin-stripe suit and, at 52, he’s heavier now – due, he says, to too much work and too little exercise. But he still moves with the grace of a sportsman and the assured manner of a man long accustomed to power. He speaks in low key, with a cultured British accent. His wit is rapier-fast; it strikes and is gone with no facial sign to indicate he was even in combat. One recalls that he has a way with animals and can walk into a lion’s cage.

The Prince was in good spirits. After years of effort, his project Ramoge – to create a pollution-free area between the French and Italian Rivieras – was about to be signed as an international agreement between France and Italy. It was one more victory for the man who, in a 27-year reign, has revitalized a failing Monte Carlo, reclaimed it from stagnant foreign holdings, extended it more than two square kilometers into the sea and raised it into the air with high-rise buildings. This has changed the face of Monaco, drawing some aesthetic criticism, but it has put the 190ha (469-acre) principality of 28.000 people on a sound economic basis. Gambling now accounts for only 2.5 percent of the Monaco income. Monte Carlo has become also an international convention center, where there’s no worn about strikes, labor unrest, or a lack of facilities. The long-range effects of Rainier’s historic reign are yet to be fully recognized.

In the living-room. Rainier turned to Grace, wrinkling his nose. “You know, there’s a funny smell in this house”, he said.

She played it cool

The former MGM star played it cool. “Well. Caroline’s room has a funny smell. I think it’s her dog… would you like a drink of something?”.
“‘No, this is cats”.
“Cats?”, asked Grace, with masterly innocence. “What cats?”.
“Cats… like that”, replied Rainier, pointing toward Mistral, who was on the hillock in the courtyard playing with half a dozen others. “That’s a cat and I smell her.” “Oh dear,” said Grace. “What could it be? Perhaps it’s coming from the kitchen.” “Don’t tell me you’re cooking them down there?”
Stephanie came into the room.
“What are you saying about my cat?”. “Nothing, dear. Go quickly to your room and wash before it’s too late”.
“Already too late,” said Rainier. “The cat’s come and gone”.
“I think it’s this vase of flowers,” said Grace. “I’ll have it changed immediately.”

Rainier smiled, obviously enjoying himself, then explained that the focal point of the cat invasion came from an old couple who live nearby. “They have an ancient American car, parked outside with the windows down. Every day they go tottering out with a ton of cat food that must cost a fortune. The car holds 30 or 40 stray cats. They reproduce and fight and do everything else in that car except one of them now seems to have sneaked in here”.

Everyone laughed, and Grace rose to get drinks. He watched her walk as though he were touching her. I told him we had been talking about their first 20 years and he smiled.
“I’ll bet there were a lot of people who thought we’d never make it,” he said.
“Did you?”, I asked.
Another smile and a nod. which said he was sure of it. “You ask me why?”.

His ideal woman

I did. After all. the so-called “whirlwind courtship” was more like a blitzkreig – from both sides. Consider the facts. Rainier met Grace Kelly on May 6, 1955, when she visited Monte Carlo on a promotion junket from the Cannes Film Festival. At the time, the Prince was in love with French actress Gisele Pascal. He was late and kept Miss Kelly wailing. Once arrived, however, he was a most considerate and engaging host. He gave her a personal tour of the palace which included a quick embrace – with a caged lion. Time passes. Monaco must have an heir or else the principality reverts to France. Gisele Pascal being out of the question, the Prince had to look elsewhere – and he found his girl in the memory of that golden afternoon in May.
Shortly before leaving on a trip for the U.S. he described his ideal woman as… “a girl who is fair-haired, with the sort of subtle beauty that grows on you. She has long, flowing hair, and her eves are blue or hazel, flecked with gold”. She had to be unspoiled, not a glossy beauty, and “an intelligent girl but not an intellectual. There’s nothing more disagreeable to a man than having a wife who knows more than he does on every subject. It’s even worse than being beaten at tennis…”.

“I must be the boss, or else I’m not a man. At the same lime. I’m not a dictator. It takes two to start a fight and two to make a marriage.”

His blueprint fitted Grace Kelly at least physically. A priest travelling with him. Father Francis J. Tucker, confirmed it further. “He said he wanted to marry Grace Kelly and I said, «My Lord Prince, that’s exactly the kind of girl I want you to marry. Get ready to go to Philadelphia»”. Father Tucker, an old friend of the Kelly family, took Rainier to their home, In less than three days, Grace had made up her mind – and so informed Oleg Cassini, who had loved her for two years and, at one point, considered himself engaged to marry her. Three days after that, on New Year’s Eve. Rainier formally proposed to Grace.

So they had little time to really know one another. Later, Rainier said frankly: “It was not love at first sight. Ours was a gradual falling in love. We were both ready for marriage.” At the same time, he would never have married Grace Kelly if he had not felt some love for her and known it would grow. Before leaving, he told his Monegasque subjects that he considered it his duty to marry, “but there’s a higher duty above politics… of a man to be true to himself… I will not marry except for love. I will not agree to a loveless marriage for convenience.”

Grace was in much the same position. “I was a star, but I wasn’t happy. My life was empty. I wanted to marry but it had to be someone who wouldn’t become Mr. Kelly. It was important he be a man and remain one.” So she was not a Sleeping Beauty brought to life by the arrival of Prince Charming. She had at least one eye open. In this sense, they were like millions of others who go into marriage with the hope that today’s dream will match tomorrow’s reality.

There was a big difference, however. Their marriage, unlike others, contained more than normal marital bonds. It anchored them to the rock of Monaco. For if Grace walked out, or remained barren, the Prince would have to go elsewhere or the principality would revert back to its ever-jealous step-parent – France.

Male is dominant

It was this which made their love story so dramatic and while sitting alone with Prince Rainier. I asked how he knew it would work out. “Well, marriage is something of a gamble — isn’t it? Still. I must have reached the point where I felt sure of it. Perhaps it was instinctive.”

The Kelly family also helped confirm his instincts. “The way they lived was absolutely European”, he said. “I mean the rapport between mother and daughter, father and daughter — with the father absolutely the boss. I like that. It’s the way I wanted my marriage to be”. Male dominance, he fell, was natural and right. “I love animals, and observe them closely. The male is dominant in all animal species. It’s just a natural attitude”.

Did he believe that the increase in impotency in modern man was a result of this quality being taken from him?
“Yes. I do…”, Rainier paused, then called into the adjacent room where Grace had gone for the drinks. “Are you eavesdropping?”.

There was no reply and I asked him if it was true that Grace had been of great help to him — beyond their marriage.
“Oh, yes. She came here with fresh ideas and a remarkably clear way of analyzing people. It wasn’t easy for her at first, mind you. And maybe I was a little too impatient – and she did have the children all at once. I don’t think anyone knows how hard it was on her in the beginning … homesick, away from her friends, a new life in a foreign land… she’s essentially a shy person, you know.”

“She says the same thing of you.”
“Yes, perhaps that’s how we help each other. Also she has remarkable intuition. What you call realism. I see as feminine intuition. Women have it more than men. I think men gobble up their instincts. Or they crush or hide or push them back because they don’t have time, or their profession doesn’t allow it, or it’s bad for business – or whatever. So man is losing more and more in modern life. He’s becoming a fabricated animal. But women are different. Besides their mother instincts, they have many others that influence their opinions and their lives.”

Grace returned with two Dubonnets on ice.
“Your husband has been saying nice things about you.”
“I’ll leave immediately,” she said and promptly sat down next to him.

I asked the Prince if he had decided on what he would give his Princess on their 20th wedding anniversary.
“Maybe that year off she keeps talking about.”
“But with you and nobody else,” she said.

He looked at her and again it was as though they were touching. No doubt about it, they did care for each other. But the trips alone were not always possible, as Rainier explained. “You get involved in a sort of conscience case. You have children to yourself for a very short period in life. Then they go off and get married. So we always have a sort of running battle where I say. ‘Let’s try and travel during the children’s vacations so we can take them with us. I’d rather they discover countries or places with us…’. Of course, this conflicts with our getting away alone, but there you have it.”

They are lucky

Looking back at their fabled wedding day, what were their fondest memories? Surely the marriage had its tender moments? Some emotional thought upon entering the church?
“My God, it’s too late”, said Rainier.
“Trapped!”, cried Grace. “No… walking up the aisle, I thought. ‘Here I am. This is a one-way street now. There’s no way out of this
“Twenty years”. said Rainier. “It’s not that long — is it really?”.
“Yes, dear, it is.”
“What do you give on the 20th — paper?”.
“No, honey, crystal”.
“That’s not diamonds, is it?”.
“Well, it could be”, replied Grace. “I never thought of it. How kind of you!”.

Copyright © 1976 Mc’Calls (March 1976)



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