Grace: Her Lives - Her Loves: The startling royal exposé by Robert Lacey

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Grace: Her Lives - Her Loves: The startling royal exposé by Robert Lacey

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Category: Biography
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: John Van der Kiste
Reviewed by John Van der Kiste
Summary: An unauthorised, frank and penetrating biography of Princess Grace of Monaco, the former American movie star Grace Kelly, dealing with her movie career and her subsequent royal life. First published in 1994, this volume has a new author's note although the text does not appear to have been updated.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 339 Date: June 2014
Publisher: Apostrophe
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9781910167380

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Twenty-five years before another so-called fairytale royal romance which turned out to be anything but, one of America’s most beloved screen goddesses crossed the Atlantic and married into the principality of Monaco. The ceremony in 1956 was hailed as the wedding of the year, but like the later and similar event, it was not the happiest of unions.

Robert Lacey has written an incisive life of Grace Kelly, the film star who at the height of her acting career became Her Serene Highness Princess Grace. Born into a Catholic American family of Irish and German descent in Philadelphia in 1929, she was a successful film and TV actress who won one award and was nominated for another by the age of 25. At heart a self-conscious, short-sighted overweight young woman who lacked confidence, she nevertheless radiated the image of a beauty queen to her adoring public. Perhaps more surprising is the revelation that she was rebellious, at loggerheads with her parents for quite some time, and carried on affairs at various times with several married men. One of these relationships was with Ray Milland, her co-star in Dial M For Murder, and it came close to wrecking his marriage.

In 1956 everything changed for her when she met Prince Rainier of Monaco. After a whirlwind courtship, and despite a series of embarrassing articles in the press based on revelations by her mother about her previous romances, they were married in the spring. Although she was technically breaking a contract with MGM Films, it was clearly the end of her screen career. It was generally agreed that it would be neither practical nor dignified for the Princess of Monaco to keep on working as a Hollywood performer, a situation about which her erstwhile employers could do nothing.

Her new life as one of Europe’s most photogenic royals meant a wearying existence in front of the cameras for much of the time. Lacey makes the point that the rulers of two comparable European mini-states, the principality of Liechtenstein and the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, had a horror of personal publicity, and their pictures were never in the papers. Although he had never been fond of the press himself, Prince Rainier apparently cherished the illusion that controlled doses of personal publicity could be turned to his own advantage. Such a policy did not work.

The Grimaldi family had always been somewhat dysfunctional, and Rainier’s early life was not particularly happy. Grace would find herself locked into a marriage with a man who made fun of her, and often belittled her achievements, such as an exhibition of her dried flower arrangements on which he publicly and cruelly poured scorn. In later years he seemed to become jealous of her fame and charm; as the author bluntly says, Rainier believed that he was Monaco, and she was merely the import. As time went by, she came to miss the creativity of the film business which she had left behind, and she was increasingly putting a brave face on her unhappy existence. Even the birth of their children seems to have brought her little joy. At length she found fulfilment in returning to performing on a small scale, giving poetry recitals, and planning to establish her own theatre.

Sadly, she did not long survive the opening of her playhouse, and within a year it was all over. For those who are not familiar with the full details of her last hours, I will refrain from adding the equivalent of a spoiler, but the full story of what happened and the background to it is considerably more complex than the basic facts might suggest. There is also a strange irony in the fact that the then newly-married Princess of Wales made her first official solo visit overseas to represent the British royal family at the funeral. Her married life and the manner of her death would later have close parallels with that of Princess Grace.

Having known very little about her life before I started reading this biography, I was impressed with the depth of Lacey’s research and his portrayal of an interesting, often surprising life. Her reputation was certainly not a spotless one, and it was obviously a difficult existence. Several times, she must have wondered whether she would have been more contented with her life if she had never been to Monaco and continued her acting career instead. As he makes clear in his note at the front, this is not an authorised life, and the family declined to grant him any interviews or provide other assistance. The conventional picture of her, he admits, was a beautiful allusion that liked to be deceived, and it may seem cruel to subject it to an intrusive, harsher analysis – 'but the lady can take it'.

This book is something of a true media experience, or should I say a part of it. There are only two photographs inside, both after the last chapter, but it is described on the back as an enhanced edition in that it provides access to over a hundred pictures online ‘curated by the author’, as well as links to newsreel footage and trailers to twelve of her films. It does however leave this reviewer and no doubt subsequent readers with one question mark. Ostensibly an updated paperback and digital edition of a title published in 1994, with a new Foreword, it includes one and a half pages at the end about Prince Rainier as a widower. He does not pose much for photographs these days, we are told. Considering he died nine years before this edition was published, I’m not surprised.

For an authorised account of her film career, we recommend with reservations High Society: Grace Kelly and Hollywood by Donald Spoto.

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