5 Things You Didn't Know About Grace Kelly

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From her first major screen role as Gary Cooper's violence-loathing Quaker wife in the classic Western High Noon through her "wedding of the century" and retirement from films to become Princess Grace of Monaco, Grace Kelly made it almost impossible not to stare. Her icy beauty and polished delivery brought something truly unique to each of her parts, so let's take a look at five things you might not know about Grace Kelly.

1. She Probably Could Have Been an Athlete

When Grace Kelly was born in the East Falls neighborhood of Philadelphia in 1929 to Margaret and Jack Kelly, her athletic pedigree was formidable. Jack Kelly, who ran a wildly successful brick company, was also one of the finest rowers ever to dip his oars in the Schuylkill River. He wasn't just a local phenom, though; Jack had three Olympic gold medals in sculling to his credit. He picked up single and double scull gold at the 1920 Games in Antwerp and then defended his double scull gold with his cousin Paul Costello in Paris in 1924. To underscore just how great he was, Jack Kelly is the only rower in the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame.

Kelly's mother, Margaret, was no slouch, either. She had been a world-beater as a collegiate swimmer at Temple and then became a physical education instructor at the University of Pennsylvania, where she became the Ivy League school's first-ever women's sports coach after she organized a basketball squad.

One of Kelly's three siblings, John Jr., was a formidable athlete in his own right; he rowed in the 1948, 1952, 1956, and 1960 Olympics, picking up a single sculls bronze in Melbourne in 1956. John Jr. gave the medal to his sister Grace as a wedding gift.

2. She Turned Down at Least One Iconic Role

In 1954 Kelly was all set to costar with Marlon Brando in On the Waterfront when Alfred Hitchcock, with whom she had successfully collaborated on Dial M for Murder, told her to head to Los Angeles for costume fittings for his new film Rear Window. Kelly jumped at the opportunity to work with Hitchcock and Jimmy Stewart on the film, so the role of Brando's love interest Edie in On the Waterfront went to Eva Marie Saint, herself a future Hitchcock blonde.

Both films became undisputed classics, but it's hard to imagine Kelly didn't kick herself a little at the 1954 Academy Awards when Saint picked up the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her part in On the Waterfront. Of course, the pain probably didn't last too long, as later in the evening Kelly won the Best Actress statue for her role opposite Bing Crosby and William Holden in The Country Girl.

3. Becoming a Princess Wasn't Cheap

rainier-grace-kellyKelly met Prince Rainier III of Monaco at a photo shoot in 1955 when she was leading the American delegation to the Cannes Film Festival, and the two instantly hit it off. After she returned to the States, the actress and the prince corresponded until later that year when he came to the U.S. on a diplomatic tour. After spending three days with Kelly and her family, Prince Rainier proposed, and Kelly accepted.

Things aren't so simple when you're marrying a prince, though. To seal the deal, Kelly's family had to cough up a dowry. Luckily, Jack Kelly was every bit as successful in the brick business as he was with the oars, and he forked over a $2 million dowry to help cover the cost of the wedding. (Seems crazy that Grace Kelly would have to pay someone to convince him to marry her, doesn't it?)

With a dowry like that, what kind of engagement ring does a movie star princess get? A gigantic one. Kelly's was a 10.47-carat emerald-cut diamond with a platinum band. If you want to get a look at the ridiculous rock, watch High Society, Kelly's final feature film. She wears the ring throughout, at one point causing Bing Crosby to quip, "Some stone, did you mine it yourself?"

4. Not Even Hitchcock Could Lure Her Back to Movies

After Kelly's wedding in 1956, she became Her Serene Highness, Princess Grace of Monaco and stopped working as an actress. However, her old director Alfred Hitchcock never gave up on trying to get Kelly to star in another one of his films. Hitchock allegedly planned to use 1962's Marnie as Kelly's big comeback to the silver screen, and the princess agreed to take the part. In March 1962, Monaco's palace spokesman announced that Princess Grace would play the role and then give up acting altogether.

The citizens of Monaco weren't so keen on having their princess return to the movies as a compulsive thief, though. The local press blasted the idea of Kelly making a screen comeback, and France's Charles de Gaulle supposedly pressured Prince Rainier to pull his wife out of the production for fear it would make Monaco appear frivolous. In April, Kelly announced that she was withdrawing from the production, ostensibly due to scheduling difficulties. Tippi Hedren ended up in the title role opposite Sean Connery.

5. She Has a Whole Slew of Tributes to Her Credit

grace-kelly-stampPrince Grace died in 1982 when she suffered a stroke while driving and drove over a steep embankment. (Contrary to rumor, Kelly's family insists that she was not driving on one of the winding roads she and costar Cary Grant zipped down in Hitchcock's underrated To Catch a Thief.) After a royal funeral that attracted nearly 100 million television viewers, she was laid to rest in Monaco.

Nearly 27 years after her death, tributes to Kelly keep rolling in. In 1993 she became the first American actress to appear on a postage stamp, and in 2007 special commemorative two-euro coins bore her profile. Fashion house Hermes' Kelly bag is named after the actress in honor of her penchant for appearing with the high-end purse.

Even though she didn't join in her family's rowing hobby, Kelly also has a sculling tribute in her honor. In 2003, the Henley Royal Regatta, a major rowing event on the Thames that once snootily rejected Jack Kelly's attempt to participate, renamed its women's quadruple sculls race the Princess Grace Challenge Cup.

'5 Things You Didn't Know About...' appears every Friday. Read the previous installments here..

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July 10, 2009 - 8:20am
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