“A good bad movie.” Gossipped the wags about the controversial Grace Of Monaco, which was savaged after the world premiere during the opening night of the 67th annual Cannes Film Festival. Grace being the beautiful Princess Grace, played by Nicole Kidman. Tim Roth co-stars as Prince Rainier Grimaldi III, Paz Vega as Maria Callas, along with a cast appearing as Alfred Hitchcock, Aristotle Onassis, French President Charles de Gaulle, who boldly battled but failed to annex Monaco for its huge tax revenue.
Directed by Olivier Dahan, acclaimed for his award-winning 2007 Edith Piaf biopic, La Vie en Rose, cineastes buzzed during the festival crush that Nicole never looked lovelier. Luminous. That the settings evoke a fairytale presence, and the couture finery by costumiere Gigi Lepage is Oscar-worthy.
Cartier okayed the jewelry reproductions, Hermes provided the Kelly handbags named after Grace and the scarves, Ferragamo and Jimmy Choo created the shoes.
All the same, heirs of the royal family – Caroline of Hanover, Albert II, Stephanie of Monaco – thumbs-downed the film, lampooning it as “a farce.”
Nicole sympathizes with the “awkwardness” generally inherent with a biopic – “I’m sad because I believe the film has no malice toward the family or particularly towards Grace or Rainier … I understand the protection of the privacy of their mother and father, and I want them to know that the performances were done with love, and if they see the film, I’m certain they’ll find an enormous amount of affection for their parents, and the love story they shared.”
A Philadelphian born in 1929, Grace was crowned Her Serene Highness Princess of Monaco from 1956 to 1982, She died after suffering a stroke and losing control while driving. Princess Stephanie survived the crash.
Of Irish and German heritage, she summered in Ocean City, New Jersey before attaining dual citizenship as a Monegasque and an American.
In our youth, we were privileged to be beachside neighbors with the Kelly family at the seashore, savoring sunny summery days. Grace’s dad, John Kelly, was a construction tycoon, arriving for weekends with mom Margaret, sisters Peggy and Lizanne and brother John. Years later after our Army service, we joined Town & Country magazine as a roving editor under Tony Mazzola’s editorial reign, regularly flying to California to explore articles about the booming Golden State.
Settling ultimately in Los Angeles, we were befriended by the entrepreneurial producer Gant Gaither, who cast Grace during her fledgling acting days in a summerstock production of The Swan. Grace soon achieved an above-the-title status after appearing with Ava Gardner and Clark Gable in John Ford’s Mogambo. Not long after, she won the Best Actress Oscar for her role in The Country Girl with randy William Holden, who pursued her, as did the film’s Bing Crosby.
“I hated Hollywood,” she revealed in time. “Holier-than-thou to the public and unholier-than-the-devil in reality.” She found it “a town without pity … I know of no other place where so many people suffer from nervous breakdowns, where there are so many alcoholics, neurotics and so much unhappiness … I have many acquaintances there, but few friends.”
“I’ll tell you one of the reasons I’m ready to leave,” she confided to an interviewer. “I came to success very quickly … perhaps too quickly to value its importance. Every day I see Joan Crawford who’s been in makeup since 5 a.m., and Loretta Young, who’s been there since 4 a.m. I’ll be damned if I’m going to stay in a business where I have to get up earlier and earlier, and it takes longer and longer for me to get in front of a camera.”
Mercifully, Gant Gaither became a lifelong friend, a popular visitor to Monaco. and entertained Grace during her charitable appearances in Los Angeles.
Chatting with Grace during an intimate soiree at Gant’s hilltop Sunset Plaza Drive villa with its panoramic views of the sparkling city lights, we wondered what she missed about Hollywood. She didn’t hesitate with her reply. “Those great department stores like John Wanamaker in Philadelphia and Bloomingdales and Bergdorf’s … and that lovely soft Kleenex.”
We knew exactly what she meant. In those long-ago days, the European tissue was pulpy.