The screen queen turned real royalty was a world away from her regal image, a book by her closest friend reveals.
By PETER SHERIDAN (Published: 09:34, Wed, September 17, 2014)
With her glacial stare, cool elan and frosted blonde mane, Hollywood legend Grace Kelly earned a reputation as a cold, aloof ice princess. Later as Princess of Monaco her palatial isolation and noble hauteur cemented that image in the public imagination.
But a new book by Grace’s closest friend, only now being published decades after the Princess’s death in a car crash 32 years ago this month, reveals the Hollywood icon and regal beauty that few truly knew.
Behind closed doors the fabled “ice princess” was a warm, loving, down-to-earth wife and mother, who away from lavish state dinners craved spaghetti bolognese, loved dancing, playing charades, bingo and knitting.
“For a woman who could have champagne, caviar and foie gras, she also took great delight in peanut butter sandwiches,” writes Grace’s best friend Joan Dale. “She preferred simplicity to glamour, did not put on much make-up or jewellery, loved to be casual in espadrilles and often wore a scarf on her head.”
Grace was the daughter of a wealthy Philadelphia construction magnate and her 1956 marriage to Monaco’s ruler placed her in a sumptuous palace with more than 200 rooms and dozens of servants but she remained frugal.
On a three-week Norwegian cruise with Grace and the Monaco Royal Family just days before the Princess died in 1982, Joan recalls: “Grace had on a mink-lined raincoat. This was the first coat that she had bought with her money from acting and she was still wearing it 30 years later.
“Princess Grace had kept and worn the same maternity dresses for all of her pregnancies.”
Even when travelling in style, Grace was happy carrying armfuls of plastic bags. “Rainier always teased her about looking like a bag lady when she could afford to carry the finest luggage,” says Joan.
Despite the palace’s grandeur Grace and Rainier lived simply beneath its elegant state rooms.
“Many people dream of living in a palace yet the Prince and Princess chose to live in an apartment the size of a regular home,” reveals Joan. “She never wanted to be put on a pedestal and was always very humble.”
Grace, aged 27, had just become Princess when she befriended Joan, 26, in 1956 after Joan’s husband Martin Dale was appointed the US Consul’s Representative to Monaco. The two American women became lifelong friends and Joan wrote about their intimacy in secret journals and letters.
Joan died in 2005 at 74 but this year her daughter Grace – named after the Princess, who was also her godmother – decided the true story had to be told to counter the image shown in the film Grace Of Monaco, starring Nicole Kidman, which will be out on DVD next month.
The film portrayed Grace struggling to learn French and royal protocol, distanced from an emotionally detached Rainier in a strained, humourless marriage.
“It did a disservice to everyone,” says Grace Dale, 47, who now lives in British Columbia, Canada. “Both of them had a delightful sense of humour and really were very much in love. In the movie they had separate bedrooms but in reality there was one bedroom and one bed.”
Joan’s private papers instead reveal a charmed royal couple relishing life’s simpler pleasures. With Joan and husband Martin, Grace and Rainier would escape to their country retreat Rocagel where they could relax away from servants’ eyes.
Each year they all went skiing near Gstaad, Switzerland, and played like carefree children.
“We had cosy family dinners at the Prince’s chalet followed by card games such as gin rummy,” says Joan. “The Prince loved limericks, the saucier the better. We played charades at which Grace was a master. She loved games and jigsaws.” Grace had surprisingly New Age interests – she was an amateur astrologer who analysed friends’ horoscopes and studied graphology: reading someone’s character in their handwriting.
“She was always busy making things with her hands, from her constant needlepoint projects to knitting, crochet, embroidery, pottery and all kinds of handicraft,” writes Joan.
“They both loved practical jokes. One night Rainier escorted a stunning brunette to a palace dinner party, setting tongues wagging. Suddenly there was a burst of laughter and a familiar giggle. It was Grace wearing a dark wig.”
Though Rainier was most regal he kept a pet parrot that swore like a sailor and could imitate a popping champagne cork – a common sound in the palace.
Grace taught Rainier how to prepare an American barbecue with hot dogs, pizza, baked beans and potato salad – but he would always add champagne.
Even a relaxing night at home could be formal. Movie night at the palace screening room was black tie and the friends who popped round to watch films included Cary Grant, Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, David Niven and Ava Gardner.
DESPITE rumours of an affair between Rainier and opera diva Maria Callas and separations in the cause of duty, Joan insists Grace and Rainier were happy.
“You could see the love in their eyes as they looked and smiled at one another. They giggled and laughed a lot and enjoyed teasing each other.”
But like any marriage it had its sorrows. Grace had a miscarriage in 1963 and another in 1967 that meant she could have no more children. “Rainier and Grace were absolutely stricken,” says Joan. “They loved babies, they loved their children and loved each other.”
In an intimate talk during the Norwegian cruise shortly before Grace’s death, “Grace apologised for deluging me with her problems but she was troubled,” reveals Joan. “I am sure there were times in the early years when she felt somewhat like a prisoner in a gilded cage behind the palace walls.
“She told me that all relationships have their ups and downs, and periods of drifting apart and coming back together. She and Rainier both had to travel a great deal and spend time apart because of their increasing duties and responsibilities.”
Over a cup of tea Joan asked Grace if she ever felt that her life was off balance. “Oh, yes, often,” confessed the Princess. “But I try not to let it show.”
Grace Dale recalls her godmother lovingly with childhood visits to Monaco and playing host to the Princess in New York. “I called her Aunt Grace,” says Grace. “She always brought gifts for me. She often gave me dolls, sometimes with matching dresses or nightgowns that I could wear, usually dolls that looked like her or me.”
The Princess died in a car crash on a winding French mountain road on September 14, 1982, and Grace Dale says: “It was devastating for me. My mother never recovered.”
Joan’s private notes reveal her pain: “My heart was broken and my spirit was crushed.
“On our cruise the month before the accident, Grace had been showing signs of tremendous stress and strain from her duties and responsibilities and from the pressures that this world placed on her. I believe this led her to have a stroke that ultimately claimed her life.”
Finally publishing the private recollections “allows people to feel what it was like to be her friend”, says Grace Dale.
“My mother, having been one of her closest friends, can help people to know who this exceptional human being was, not the icon, not the legend, not the actress, not the role, not the person on the pedestal but the actual person.
“Princess Grace deserves to have people know who she truly was.”
© Express (September 17, 2014)