Grace Kelly: A Princess from Two Continents

Today we reminisce about

Grace Kelly

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* Published specifically for The 5th Wonderful Grace Kelly Blogathon hosted by Virginie at The Wonderful World of Cinema, Emily at The Flapper Dame & Samantha at Musings of a Classic Film Addict *

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I have sometimes mentioned that I did not grow up being exposed to Classic Film and that it was a passion which came to me a little later in my adult life. As a matter of fact, I did not see many films before the age of 10 because as a child I lived in rural Virginia. We had a simple turn-dial television set that received just four channels: CBS, ABC, NBC & PBS. Since my television watching time was limited, the most I got to see was morning game shows, early afternoon soap operas, and the weekly airing of Dallas. When I was 12 years old, my mother remarried and we moved to the suburbs of Richmond. It was there that I discovered the joy of cable, particularly movie channels like HBO and Cinemax. One could say that it was a match made in heaven! Despite my initial lack of exposure to film, I have always had a strong sense of pop culture. My mother had a penchant for celebrity gossip with her favourite subjects being Elizabeth Taylor – at one time the wife of Virginia Senator John Warner – and the ill-fated Reynolds-Fisher-Taylor romantic triangle. Another preferred topic of conversation close to home was Grace Kelly. As Grace was an American-born member of European royalty, there was a good amount of build-up around her life as a princess. Everyone was endlessly mesmerised about her fairy tale story and became completely inconsolable when she unexpectedly passed away. Over the years, I have gotten to know Grace as an actress rather than just a public figure. More than being a beautiful movie star and Academy Award winner, Grace has touched me by just being herself – a private person.

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Grace Patricia Kelly was born on 12 November 1929 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She grew up in a traditional Irish Catholic family with strict but loving parents and by all accounts had a happy childhood. Her natural, classic beauty made her an ideal model in post-war American while her girl-next-door appeal helped boost her Hollywood career. It also garnered her attention from the opposite sex, allowing her to enjoy many romantic liaisons and bringing her to the attention of a certain Rainier Grimaldi. The unmarried Sovereign Prince of the small European Principality of Monaco, Rainier was actively looking to get married in order to create heirs to the Monégasque throne. Of course, he was also looking for love and companionship so he was thrilled to have hit it off nicely with Grace when they met in May 1955. Although Grace had filmed To Catch a Thief on the French Côte d’Azur almost a year earlier, it is believed that she did not meet Rainier at that “official” time. Whatever the case may be, Grace and Rainier had an understanding of what they wanted relationship-wise from very early on which helped them plan a future together. They were married in April 1956, a little more than a month after production ended on Grace’s last feature film, High Society.

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In becoming H.S.H. the Princess of Monaco, Grace’s film career was effectively put to an end as she took on new responsibilities related to her Kingdom and various philanthropic causes. This was not such an easy feat mostly because of the language barrier that she endured during the first several years of her residency in Monaco. Although Grace had studied French in school and was able to basically converse with others, her level was insufficient and she would have to work for years to master the language. In an interview likely to be from 1959*, she is able to communicate well in French with good sentence flow though she does retain a substantial American accent when she speaks. It is hard to say exactly how she evolved in the language because there are so few documentaries and interviews available to the public. In the various English-language interviews she did over the years, Grace’s refined American accent did soften and it is likely that her accent in French also became slightly more neutral. One thing that she was adamant about was speaking English with her children and as a result of that, they still to this day speak with flat, American accents.

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Grace on how she learned French: “I just learned through osmosis, I suppose.”

The subject of accents when speaking a foreign language can be rather taboo in some cultures. In my experience, the French prefer when a foreign-born subject speaks their language with the least amount of accent possible; going so far as to congratulate you for having a minimal accent. Having an American accent, for example, while speaking French is not exotic or sexy by any means. The pressure to perform can be very great and I imagine that Grace experienced this herself, even with her high social ranking. It can be even more demoralising when you are actively trying to maintain your mother tongue as it symbolises a link between yourself and your native land. The first time that I heard Grace speak in French, I felt a sort of relief come over me because she reminded me of my own self when I first came to live in France and even in my years as a young mother. In the early 2000s, I was trying to self-teach myself the French language by listening to the radio and by watching re-runs of The Young and the Restless. (Who knew that those CBS soap operas would be so handy?) There were times when I ventured out into the city where we lived, very hesitant to try to communicate verbally because I feared negative reactions. One time I went looking for shortening in a nearby grocery store and my failed attempt to find the translation in French became a joke for the employees working there. It was neither the first nor the last time that I would be laughed at by a native French speaker. There is little doubt in mind that there were times when Grace was humiliated because of mistakes or just wanted to never to speak a word of French again. However, she got through it and somehow, I did as well.

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Like Grace, I choose to speak only English with my children in the hopes of them being able to use the language one day either professionally or personally, perhaps even to live in the United States at some point. Although mastering two or more languages is an incredible experience, it is not as easy – or automatic – as most people think. Even Grace found bilingualism to be very difficult especially since her children were naturally inclined to speak French with each other and their father, the Prince. Their English suffered as a result. When this sort of thing happens, you take it very personally because you feel as if you have failed in your duty to transfer your heritage onto your offspring. We know that it is not possible to live in two different countries at one time, particularly when there is a great deal of distance between the two places, but that does not prevent us from trying to create a healthy balance.

“Well, I think I have tried to instil a lot of my own upbringing to their life. We only know from our own experience.”

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On a personal level and as evidenced above, I greatly identify with Grace as an American-born woman who gave up life as she knew it to follow her dream in a new and foreign place. Now that I am a mother and my children are growing up, fully integrated in a European system, I am touched by her views on motherhood and how she felt after having been gone from the United States for such a long period of time. In an interview with French-American reporter Pierre Salinger shortly before her death, Grace opened up about her thoughts on having spent 26 years in Europe and how her life had evolved over the years. In the way that Grace answered Salinger’s questions, it seemed that she had not been asked many questions related to who she was as a person post-Hollywood and post-fairytale princess wedding. At times, she was slightly nervous and hesitant while during other moments her facial expressions revealed a sense of happy surprise, as if she was relieved to finally answer questions of a different, less superficial nature. Salinger did dance around the subject of her film career and of the inevitable suggestion that she come out of retirement but thankfully he did not let it linger. By 1982, when the interview took place, Grace had come to terms with what she deemed as her “two separate lives” – one as an actress, one as a princess. Her tenure as Princess of Monaco had lasted over 4 times longer than that as a movie star, a label that she had always struggled to embrace despite loving the craft of acting.

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For me, Grace Kelly gave as much as in being Princess Grace of Monaco as she did in being a Hitchcock blonde or an enigmatic beauty. Her cultural and ideological differences helped enrich those around her, opening Monaco up to the international scene and helping the Principality continue to succeed as an independent country. Americans were a more interested (even a slight bit) in the goings-on of Europe because Grace, one of their own, was there. She did lead a life of privilege but she gave back on many levels, both as a dutiful princess and as a loving mother. I understand the sacrifices she made that were never recognised by the press who for such a long time focused only on her glamorous past. She gave up everything she had known since birth in an age when there was no rapid way of communication between Europe and America, when it took 2 weeks to travel by boat. Although she travelled back to the United States as often as she could, she spent the majority of her time in Monaco where she undoubtedly sometimes felt lonely and longed for the familiarity of home. Her bravery is marked by the belief in her marriage vows and her living out the promise she made to her subjects, the Monégasque people. It is also evident in the legacy she left behind with her children and the many future generations to come.


17 thoughts on “Grace Kelly: A Princess from Two Continents

  1. What a beautiful and fascinating insight into not only Grace Kelly’s life but your own experiences with language and with classic film!! I was actually disappointed when the article ended and there was no more to read!

    I’ve always enjoyed Grace Kelly’s performances on screen but never delved enough into her life and values, though my mother was always a fan and very upset when she died tragically. She truly was an amazing woman – and may add your own experiences suggest you’re a pretty amazing woman yourself!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Your kind words are so appreciated, Paul. I actually had a sort of mental blockage going on whilst writing this and didn’t feel confident about my work. Sometimes it’s hard to put into words when you feel very strongly about something and that is what happened to me here. For a long time, I have admired Grace from afar without much of the same interest shared here in France. To the French, she was “l’actrice américaine” before being the Princess of Monaco, much like she was considered in the States. I could not help to feel sorry for her that she was not recognised for the many sacrifices she made to become a European. She and I gave up a great part of ourselves (our roots/upbringing) for a better good and it is sometimes hard not to miss that. Grace was indeed an amazing woman and I am glad that I was able to talk more about her on a private level. As for myself, I relish the compliment! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Nice work here. I love Grace Kelly but reading a biography of her made me a little sad. The biography described a lack in her life while she was in Hollywood; something missing that caused her become “involved” with virtually EVERY ONE of her male leads. It also spoke of the lack of gratification she received – at least early on – from her marriage. And then of course her tragic end. I always try to separate my love of a performer from what I’ve learned of their private life but sometimes it’s hard. Good article, though. Tres bien, mon ami.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Many thanks, Gary! 😀
      Oh yes, I know what you are talking about. I’ve long heard about Grace’s sexual friskiness in her youth with some people even saying that it continued throughout the duration of her marriage. My mom would definitely note that especially when referencing Grace’s children and their own “paths” in life. I didn’t talk about in the article out of respect for Grace and also because that was controversial. It has been said that she seriously believed that marriage would come out of her relationship with Ray Milland and Bing Crosby but she ended up in the cold.
      About her marriage with Rainier, it would not surprise me if the beginning was a bit rough on her. He was a very stern, formal monarch and probably only really softened, at least privately, with time. After all, they got married knowing that producing an heir was the most important task at hand although they did have genuine affection for one another. I learned several years ago that the reason that Albert’s illegitimate daughter, Jazmine, was not more involved in her father’s/family’s life was because of Rainier. Albert, by most accounts, has always acknowledged and provided for his children.
      I totally get that it sometimes hard to separate a performer from their personal life, especially when the media wants to portray their legacy as something wholly different. There is no doubt that Grace’s tragic death helped sweeten her eternal name. It’s important to talk about all sides, no matter how uncomfortable the subjects may be.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Good call not talking about that in your article; sometimes that stuff distracts from what you’re trying to get across. And if we didn’t like all the actors and actresses that had sketchy private lives….

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Lovely article, Erica. Sorry you had a difficult time getting used to speaking the French language, people can be so awful it’s crazy. At least you were brave enough to go out in public and try and speak it!

    I both admire and pity Grace for finding herself in the same position with regards to the language barrier. In her case it must have been so much worse because she was a public figure and under great scrutiny all the time.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, dear Maddy! 🙂
      It was a tough beginning but I’m glad to have gotten through it. Thankfully I moved here to be with my then-fiancé, now-husband; otherwise, I might have fled the coop. Nowadays, I really don’t care about having a slight accent and making mistakes, especially since I’m trying hard to keep English alive and at a decent level.
      Grace was indeed under the microscope. I feel very sorry for Charlene because she has been highly criticised here for not jumping on learning French and even after quite a few years now, hardly mastering the language. She spoke French publicly for the first time a couple of years and people made fun of her very thick accent and poor pronunciation. Considering that she and Albert speak English together, I completely understand this discomfort with the language. At least she tries and, in any case, Jacques and Gabriella will be fully bilingual so the next generation of sovereignty will be assured.

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  4. “television set that received just four channels” —> this is the story of my life hahaha! This was a beautiful tribute Erica! It was very interesting how you talked about Grace Kelly’s relation to the French language and how her accent evolved during the year (I talk a bit about that in my article actually!) To be honest, I think it’s cool to hear someone speaking french with an “accent” because it shows that they are making the effort to speak a language that is not their mother tongue.
    Grace and Rainier met at Cannes film festival (it was after the shooting of To Catch a Thief), she mentions in in The Desert Island Discs episode that I reviewed for the blogahton. This solved a mystery hahaha
    Thank you so much for this great contribution to our blogathon! Don’t forget to check my entry 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Aw, thank you dearly, Virginie! 😀
      I, too, think it’s great to have an accent (as a Québécoise, you definitely know!) and always appreciate the effort although most French people want perfection or nothing at all. In the first years of marriage, I actually had in-law family members stray away from me so that they wouldn’t have to speak to me in very broken French. Until my husband’s grandmother’s death, she talked to him when she wanted to ask me a question even after I was able to answer for myself! LOL
      I can’t wait to read your entry and make the parallels between our two articles. It’s funny that they were so close to each other during the shoot without meeting. My husband actually came to the States for an internship in the late ’90s but we didn’t meet until four years after that. Moments like that make you feel very nostalgic. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Beautifully done. Your admiration for Grace Kelly is obvious, but I also have a lot of admiration for you, to relocate to Europe and raise your children with a knowledge of English. It can’t be easy.

    Thank you for sharing this with us. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s so very nice of you to say, Ruth. 🥰 It was not easy to fit 22 years of my life into two suitcases but somehow I made it. A large part of that is thanks to my dear husband who has always been so supportive. It’s funny because my daughters are very much at ease with English but my oldest son rebels against it. Personalities – and the teenage years – can be tough to handle!
      Thank you again for your kind words!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. This is such a beautifully written article, Erica. It is so sad how foreigners are not given credit for trying to adapt into a new country, with regards to the language. You would think the natives would be honored someone wanted to live in their country and learn! It’s quite surprising; however, you and Grace are to be commended for pressing on and not quitting.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That is so kind of you to say! Thank you very much! 😀
      It’s definitely a tough situation and I understand why so many children of migrants who came to New York at the turn of the 20th century, for example, did not want to maintain their langage differences. The pressure to integrate is enormous. I’ve actually had a similar problem with my oldest son who, from a very young age, hated being different from his peers. He did not see eye-to-eye with us that speaking two languages and having two cultures was an advantage.
      I appreciate your support and I’m sure that Grace would have also been very touched. She did it at a time when it was even more uncommon and I imagine that she must have often felt quite alone. Reading your article about her secret beach hideaway was very fulfilling after writing this. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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