Grace Kelly: Understated Elegance & Stylish Serenity

Grace Kelly: Understated Elegance & Stylish Serenity

Sarah Coffey
Aug 25, 2010

Over the weekend, I had a house guest who wanted to watch Cary Grant movies and drink champagne cocktails. To Catch a Thief seemed to fit the bill perfectly, and we found ourselves wrapped up in one of the few films where Grant's suaveness is upstaged by his co-star, the inimitable Grace Kelly. Grant famously said of her, "with all due respect to dear Ingrid Bergman, I much preferred Grace. She had serenity."

The Barbizon Hotel for Women, where Kelly lived during her modeling career

Grace Kelly enjoyed a privileged upbringing in Philadelphia. Her father was an Olympic gold medalist and self-made millionaire, and her mother founded the women's athletics program at the University of Pennsylvania. In her late teens, Kelly moved to New York, where she lodged at the Barbizon Hotel for Women, an Upper East Side institution that gave posh young singles a "safe retreat" in the city.

In New York, she worked as a model, had an affair with an older man (an actor/director), and attended the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. She acted in plays and screen tested for films, eventually landing a small role in the police drama Fourteen Hours (1951). Her first starring role came just one year later, in 1952, when she played Gary Cooper's wife in the critically acclaimed Western, High Noon.

Kelly and Louis Armstrong on the set of High Society, 1956

Over the next four years, she would enjoy a brief but brilliant run as one of Hollywood's most celebrated actresses. Alfred Hitchcock enlisted her to star in three of his films in just two years: Dial M for Murder (1953), Rear Window (1953), and To Catch a Thief (1955).

Hitchcock dressed Kelly in Edith Head gowns and placed her in conservative, restrictive settings for two movies — Dial M for Murder is set in a Chelsea apartment decked out in traditional landscape paintings and oversized lamps, while Rear Window takes place in a modest, almost drab, bachelor's one-bedroom. In To Catch a Thief, the sets open up, and she's photographed lounging on the beach in Nice, speeding through the French Riviera in a convertible, and scoping out European mansions for heists. Her natural elegance seems at home in high-style settings and provides sharp contrast when she's filmed in a spare, confined interior.

Kelly and Jimmy Stewart in Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window, 1954

In a 2010 profile, New Yorker writer Anthony Lane commented on Hitchcock as "the figure who wraps together the opposing views of Grace Kelly, and folds them into a single mystery." Hitchcock said that in To Catch a Thief, he deliberately shot Kelly's cool, classical profile and juxtaposed those shots with her aggressive seduction of Cary Grant's character. She comes across as refined and elegant, but far from pristine.

Kelly and Cary Grant in Alfred Hitchcock's To Catch a Thief, 1955

On a trip to the Cannes Film Festival in 1955, Grace Kelly met Prince Rainier III of Monaco and their whirlwind courtship began. Her engagement to the Prince was highly publicized, and much was written about her trousseau and wedding gown, created by Academy Award–winning designer Helen Rose. The two were married in 1956, the year that also marked the release of High Society, a musical co-starring Kelly, Bing Crosby, and Frank Sinatra. It was Kelly's last major movie, as she settled into her new role as Princess Grace of Monaco. In five short years, she had acted in eleven films.

In the 60s and 70s, Princess Grace became a different kind of style icon, championing European designers such as Dior, Balenciaga, Givenchy and Yves St Laurent. She helped to redecorate the Prince's palace, she raised money for children's organizations and threw numerous charity balls, and she founded a Garden Club and served as an advocate of Monaco's arts organizations. Kelly and Prince Rainier had three children: Caroline, Albert (the current Prince of Monaco), and Stephanie.

View of Monaco, where Kelly lived as "Princess Grace" from 1956 to 1982

In 1982, Kelly was driving on a mountain road with her daughter Stephanie in Monaco, when their car crashed. It was reported that Kelly suffered a stroke while driving and lost control of the car. She died the day after the accident, while Stephanie survived.

Her legacy reflects her life — she is best remembered for her films, her fashion sense, and her understated elegance. The Princess Grace Foundation was established in her memory to assist emerging theater, film and dance artists, while in Monaco, Prince Rainer created a public rose garden and dedicated it to his late wife.

Her life continues to fascinate and inspire people — the last few years have seen the publication of multiple books and exhibitions about her life, style, and films. Her former co-star, Jimmy Stewart, summed up her appeal eloquently after her death: "Grace brought into my life as she brought into yours, a soft, warm light every time I saw her, and every time I saw her was a holiday of its own."

The Legacy of Grace Kelly from the New Yorker, January, 2010
Grace Kelly: Style Icon at the Victoria & Albert Museum
High Society: The Life of Grace Kelly by Donald Spoto
Grace Kelly: A Life in Pictures by Pierre-Henri Verlhac
Grace Kelly on Wikipedia

Photos: (1) Screenshot from To Catch a Thief, 1955, used under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons; (2) John B. Kelly, 1920, from the University of Pennsylvania archives, used under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons; (3) Barbizon Plaza Hotel, 1942, Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, NYWT&S Collection, used under "No known restrictions on publication" advisory; (4) Grace Kelly arriving at the Academy Awards, 1956, Los Angeles Times, used under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons; (5) Louis Armstrong and Grace Kelly on the set of High Society, 1956, Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, NYWT&S Collection, used under Creative Commons License 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons; (6) Rear Window / Paramount 1954 via IMDB; (7) To Catch a Thief / Paramount 1955 via IMDB; (8) View of Monaco, 2006 by Hampus Cullin, used under GNU Free Documentation License via Wikimedia Commons; (9) Monaco - Palais la nuit by Flickr member fr.zil used under Creative Commons license 2.0; (10) Grace Kelly: A Life in Pictures, published by Pavilion, 2007, available on

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