Luck Be a Lady! The Classiest Ladies: Grace Kelly, the Early Years


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This week we’re starting a new series–Luck Be a Lady, about the classiest women of my time (Or thereabout). We’ve already looked at one such under the guise of Valentine’s Day: Amal Clooney, today’s classiest lady. At the left is Mrs. Clooney in her day job as a very high-flying human rights lawyer. She is shown be-gowned for an appearance before the European Court of Human Rights.

Today’s classy lady is a woman who does it all–or nearly all. Career as something other than a mere celebrity, lady-like behavior, beautiful, tasteful wardrobe, discreet behavior. Public p.d.a is rare and subdued. Wardrobe malfunctions do not happen.


The first lady in this series is the former Miss Grace Kelly of Philadelphia. Grace was the epitome of a 1950’s lady. She was a  classic, icy blonde, Beautifully coiffed blonde hair, with great measurements–the way women were “known” in that day was by their measurements. Grace was 5’7″ and 34-24-35 (Bust, waist, hips.) Very nice figure in that day before women were expected to look like heroin addicts. She came from a Main Line Catholic family that would boost of two Olympic oarsmen–her father and brother.The Kellys were truly the stuff of American dreams in terms of her father’s business success,  his lovely family and beautiful family home.

When Grace left home to study acting in New York she did it as a lady–she stayed at the famed Barbizon Hotel for Women–a sorority house, if you will, for aspiring, but upper class, fashion designers, literary agents and editor, actresses and perhaps a rare female attorney or similar. Grace modeled and worked her way into acting from this address.


She was, of course, helped by her father’s bank account and her Uncle’s connections–he was playwright George Kelly and was not on good terms with the family. But his name helped Grace get her start. She studied acting and in 1950 had a screen test. Her first big hit was Magambo with Clark Gable. Rumors abound about an affair on set–being a lady in Hollywood in those days meant discretion, but not prudery. There would be more rumors, though Grace was never shown to the world in anything like a compromising position. She remained a lady in public, always.

Grace was always beautifully dressed, manicured and coiffed. Many of her clothes were from leading designers such as Edith Head and Oleg Cassini–with whom Grace supposedly had a serious love affair.  The photo on the right shows them out together. I’ve always admired Grace for being willing to be seen in her glasses! Here’s a nice round-up of her early style hallmarks.


After staring with Clark Gable, Cary Cooper, Cary Grant and other Hollywood leading men and earning an Academy Award, Grace gave Hollywood up to marry His Serene Highness, Prince Rainier of Monaco.

It is this marriage that makes her so interesting. It takes her out of Hollywood and puts her into the European Jet Set back in the day. This was where her “career” as a lady was at its peak. Her simple elegance, shown on magazine covers of the day, made her a true style icon. My Mom had those glasses and wore many an outfit similar to various ones worn by Grace.


Her wedding, in the tiny principality of Monaco was THE Royal Wedding of the 1950s. The story is told in fascinating detail in the book, The Bridesmaids, published in 1989. Written by one of the bridesmaids–whose husband was Grace’s agent–the story is predictably gossipy in tone, but paints a vivid picture of the Grace who went down the isle to destiny. After all, this was the height of the “Mrs. Degree” era for young women. They went to Radcliffe not for a career of their own, but to marry a Harvard man (or, in my family, a Purdue man!). That Grace parlayed an Oscar into a Serene Highness for a husband was the gold standard of this era. (FYI: A Serene Highness is a notch below Royal Highness. British Royals are Royal Highnesses).

Tomorrow we’ll see how Grace truly helped start the Pinterest-Worthiness of Family Life.

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