High Society: Grace Kelly and Hollywood by Donald Spoto

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High Society: Grace Kelly and Hollywood by Donald Spoto

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Category: Biography
Rating: 3/5
Reviewer: Lesley Mason
Reviewed by Lesley Mason
Summary: A somewhat wasted opportunity to provide a real insight into the actress who really did become a Princess.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 256 Date: April 2010
Publisher: Arrow Books Ltd
ISBN: 978-099515371

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In his defence, we must acknowledge Spoto's subtitle. It underlines that this does not in any way shape or form claim to be a biography of the American actress who become Her Serene Highness Princess Grace of Monaco. It is an analysis of her film career: a consideration of the "Hollywood years".

To be honest, though, that's where the defence rests… because it isn't even that. It is, at best, an adoration.

We'll allow the constraints: Spoto had become a personal friend of Grace Kelly, no doubt the Grimaldis still have a certain claim over her and the protection of her legacy may well be legally backed up (although somehow, I suspect Albert, Stephanie and Caroline know all there is to know, and don't care that much about keeping it hidden).

Besides, an author writing a book about a star must also have a good notion on what people who buy that book want to read. They want to know about the person behind the image. They want to know what the industry was really like. Be honest: we want the dirt. Not just the gossip, the reality of fun and hardships of living that life at that time. After half a century it seems a bit ingenuous to assume that there'd be any harm in telling us now.

But this is precisely what we don't get in this authorised biography. And bear in mind, it WAS authorised. "Wait 25 years after I'm gone and then tell the whole story" – or words to that effect – is what Miss Kelly is said to have told our author. It's a shame he only kept the first half of the bargain. He doesn't begin to give us the whole story. He continues to present Miss Kelly as the virgin queen even while acknowledging that at least one or two of her love affairs – and by her own admission she fell in love "all the time" – went beyond the bedroom door. We're not allowed beyond the front door of the shared apartments or hotel suites, never mind into the bedroom. Relationships begin, bloom and end with scarce an acrimonious word spoken on either side.

Yeah. Right.

That's not the Hollywood of the 1950s as other people lived it.

Of course, Grace Kelly might well have been the exception who proves the rule, just as she was the exceptional Roman Catholic of genuine faith who suffered no guilt: her melancholy always had other roots apparently.

Why don't I buy that? She was an independent woman, an intelligent woman, an actress who not only negotiated her own contracts but was prepared to stand up the studio bosses when the "studio system" was still in full flow – and capable of getting away with it. A shrinking violet in affairs of the heart? Unlikely.

I'm disappointed with the book. After reading it I have absolutely no more insight into the woman than before I started. Even the photographs are less than candid. Of the 27 pictures included, 7 are clearly posed, 10 are stills from the films – and the majority of the others are taken on set.

It's hard not to compare this with Miss Kelly's contemporary, Lauren Bacall who produced her own memoir and told us how it really was. Warts and all. What's missing from this version of Hollywood is any semblance of emotion on the part of the protagonist, or critical faculty on the part of the author. Even the descriptions of the films focus almost entirely on plot, with little analysis of context or impact.

It is, as a result, merely bland. The in-slip gives a list of Spoto's other works, mostly biographies of film- and theatre-folk. I won't be rushing out to buy the back catalogue.

Of course there are snippets in here that were new to me. I didn't know Kelly came from such a privileged background, or that her father and brother were Olympic medal winners. I didn't know that being her Serene Highness didn't make her quite as happy as she would have hoped, or that in her early career she'd spent much of her time making TV shows. All interesting stuff… but really, I'd have preferred to have discovered "who" she really was, and how she really thought. I can watch the films to find out what they were about, and make my own critical judgements of them. I wanted this to be about the person.

On balance, I'd say it is one for the fans only.

Further reading suggestion For more film memories, this time from the UK side of the pond, try Alastair Sim: The Star of Scrooge and the Belles of St Trinian's by Mark Simpson – or if you’d prefer a more irreverent look at Hollywood the spook biography Me Cheeta might be worth the time.

Buy High Society: Grace Kelly and Hollywood by Donald Spoto at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy High Society: Grace Kelly and Hollywood by Donald Spoto at Amazon.co.uk


Buy High Society: Grace Kelly and Hollywood by Donald Spoto at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy High Society: Grace Kelly and Hollywood by Donald Spoto at Amazon.com.

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