Luck Be a Lady! Grace Kelly: The Monaco Years

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Photo by Howell Conant.

I firmly believe that Grace Kelly–or the Principality of Monaco’s press office–invented the Pinterst-worthiness of family life. Just look at the portrait above.  Distinguished looking husband, leaning in protectively to cover his family; beautiful mother dressed with understated feminine elegance; sweet daughter in classic smoked dress and a cute little boy in a high-fashion, lapel-less suit and (unseen) knee pants and knee socks–the pocket square an added nice touch. The baby, in white of course, is serene. Perfect. And the former Miss Grace Kelly of Philadelphia will have women believing she did all of this herself–ala The Duchess of Cambridge today!

 

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Grace always exudes effortless elegance. She was never flushed, never has ruffled feathers, if you will. Her children always look like real children–their expressions are not quite perfect. She’s had to jolly them into doing the photo–a later bedtime and foosball with Papa to get Albie to wear the knee pants. A trip for ice cream and a late-night swim with Papa for Caroline. Baby Stephanie just naturally calms herself in Mummy’s arms though, because, well, Grace, that’s why. That sort of Mummy. She’s a real Mother–her children know how far they can push. She doesn’t offer pbj when they turn up their noses at the Sole Meuniere or whine about the pate. But she does allow mini-banana splits in front of the tv for desert. That kind of Mother.

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Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images

For my mother’s generation–those who married at age 18 or at 22 with a newly minted Mrs. Degree in the 1950’s, Grace Kelly WAS style. She was gracious living. She was the ideal mother. She wore the right pearls, the right pumps, the very whitest of white gloves. But you could picture her holding a beautifully planned dinner party with Rainier manning the bar and the children making a brief appearance just as you did at your house–only hers would be the sort of perfect colonial she grew up in. Or, maybe, just maybe a perfect ranch in what is nauseatingly known today as  the Mid Century Modern style. Possibly. My money is on the colonial.

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Photo: AP

Real life was a bit of this and a bit of smoke-and-mirrors. Of course she had nannys, a cook and staff. They weren’t in the photos that graced the covers of the Ladies Home Journal or Good Housekeeping. But when she stepped off the boat or the plane each year with the children for her visit to her parents, SHE held the children’s hands or carried baby Stephanie–not the nanny. You could picture her squatting in the isle of an airplane first class section tying Albert’s tie or re-brushing Caroline’s hair. She’d make a last dab or powder on her own nose and give it all up to God and St. Jude then fix each child with that look and off they’d go into the sea of cameras to be ecstatically happy to see Grandma and Grandpa Kelly and no one would ever know she’d been wanting to pee since 3:30 am. A few years ago, the Daily Mail interviewed Grace’s son, Prince Albert, on his mother. You can read that here and see more lovely photos, too.

But Grace really became the ICON of 50’s era women when her children hit their teen years in the 70s. Why? She gained weight. I kid you not. Grace often looked like she should have gone with the all-in-one and not just a girdle. And you can be sure Grace wore a girdle or at least control-top pantyhose. She was a lady! She was still gorgeous, but there was more of her to love as the ladies liked to say. And, it didn’t go unnoticed that Rainier was not leaning in as far. Or that Caroline really rebelled, or that Stephanie often looked bratty and that dear Albert was about as much of a heart-throb as Prince Charles at the same age (which is to say he wasn’t).

It was Caroline’s rebellion that endeared her to her fans.  See? The said. Even GRACE…. Yes, even Grace. She lived in Paris during the week in those years so the children had an excellent education outside the Principality. The cracks in the marriage–real or imagined–seemed to show. But, look at us, the ladies said. Our marriage isn’t perfect–why there was that time…. They understood. They dieted along with Grace. They tried to be nicer to their husbands. They bought a new dress or nightgown. They pulled for Grace. Her kids troubles’ were the same as their kids’ troubles, though few had a daughter marry a playboy old enough to be her father (the wrong kind of cross-generational marriage!) and few could send the younger ones to a long session at sleep-away camp for the summer.

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Then came that terrible day in 1982 A mother and daughter in the car together. But on that road–that awful curving road from the movie. The road no suburban Mom worth her Buick woody wagon would have let remain without a campaign for guard rails and extra cautious speed limits. Was Grace at the wheel when she died–or was Stephanie? Conspiracy theories raged. The 50s ladies felt a part of themselves die that day. They, too, had taught daughters to drive. They too had fought with moody teens while driving them somewhere. Oh Grace–you can’t be gone. We aren’t old enough to die.

 

 

 

Then came the funeral–oh Poor Rainier! How awful he looked. They had truly been in love, no matter the rumors, no matter the gossipy books. He loved her. He had too–look at his face.

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The 50s ladies have stayed the course. They’ve rejoiced when Caroline found love and cried when the new love was killed. They’ve been the grandmothers Caroline, Stephanie and now Albert’s children never had. They wept when Rainier died. They tut-tutted and what- can-you-do-ed” over Stephanie’s out-of-control life. They struggled with the fashion choices of Caroline’s children as they came of age and now are merrily clucking over Albert’s cute twins. How differently, they say, those kids would have turned out if Grace had lived. I think they are right. Especially Princess Stephanie–a grieving father couldn’t do for her what a mother would have done, no matter how hard he tried. The ladies thought of their own kids, looked at the husband asleep in his chair or staring moodily at golf on t.v. and nod and offer a sad little prayer of relief that their kids–their families–didn’t endure it. They wonder–would Bill/John/Dave/Ken/Al/Jim/Dick/Larry mourn them as tearfully as Rainier had?

I like to think some of those ladies still have the Grace Kelly glasses in a dresser drawer, still have the pearls and gloves tucked away, too. (I also hope they secretly burned the 70’s Grace kaftans, too. For as likely Grace herself knew, they didn’t really hide the weight gain.)  I hope in cedar chests or bookcases or boxes of treasures that some of the ladies still have the magazines or newspaper clippings or scrapbooks of Grace’s  Hollywood career or her Royal wedding or a Ladies Home Journal with her Pinterest-worthy family on the cover. I hope sometimes they take them out and enjoy reliving the stylish days of Grace.

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Want to be as stylish as Grace? This fun book can show you how! What Would Grace Do by Gina McKinnon.

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One thought on “Luck Be a Lady! Grace Kelly: The Monaco Years

  1. sjbraun

    Enjoyed this! Grace was never really on my radar as a teen, although I wish she had been. I do remember photos of her meeting Diana when Di wore the “scandalous” dress. I feel bad for Grace with her husband — and now feel bad for Albert’s wife because of Albert. Always some cross to bear … your points about her being someone for women to look up to, and why, were so interesting.

    Liked by 1 person

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