On January 6, 1956, the long leading story on page one of the New York Times read:
PRINCE OF MONACO TO WED GRACE KELLY
The fairytale romance was front page news! It had captured the public imagination “to the point of intoxication.” (1) There was to be a wedding – a royal wedding ! It would be the “Wedding of the Century,” it was predicted.
Grace Patricia Kelly was an Academy-Award-winning actress and America’s #1 box office star. Prince Rainier was Europe‘s most eligible bachelor. It was a marriage made in heaven - it seemed. Behind the scenes, though, a rather down-to-earth business arrangement had preceded the finalizing of the engagement.
The public was swept away by such a whirlwind courtship. After all, Grace and the Prince barely knew one another. Just the previous May, the two had met at a Paris-Match publicity shoot at the Prince’s palace in Monaco. They had exchanged polite words, nothing more. But after that chance encounter, Rainier and Grace began a vigorous correspondence. For the next seven months, letter flew back and forth across the Atlantic.
Over the course of time, Grace and Rainier discovered that they had much in common – their Roman Catholicism particularly and their dissatisfaction with their lives. Both were looking to get married and start a family.
The two were nothing more than pen pals when the Prince, his doctor, and his priest arrived at the home of Grace’s parents, Jack and Margaret Kelly, in Philadelphia on Christmas night, 1955. Grace had flown in from Hollywood for the special dinner visit. Bear in mind, Grace had not laid eyes on the Prince since the spring. Three days later, they were engaged, with Grace’s parents’ approval.
Before Rainier and Grace could officially announce their engagement, though, there were several obstacles to overcome – matters of state, as Grace was marrying into the House of Grimaldi. First, Grace had to submit to a physical exam to determine if she could bear children – heirs to the throne of Monaco. She passed the fertility test.
Secondly, it was the custom among the European aristocracy for the bride’s family to pay the groom a dowry. Jack Kelly, an Irish millionaire whose family was the cream of Philadelphia society, flew into a rage at the very idea. In the end, though, as the marriage of his daughter was thrown in jeopardy, he agreed to pay the Prince a dowry of $2 million.
Finally, Grace had to accept that, in the event of a divorce, any children of the marriage would remain in Monaco with their father.
(1) Glatt, John. The Royal House of Monaco. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1998.
Readers, for more on Grace Kelly on this blog, click here.