People of a certain age know all about the stately, beautiful actor Grace Kelly (1929-1982), who became the Princess of Monaco at 25 years old, walking away from Hollywood at the height of her career. It didn’t matter if she was playing an heiress in To Catch A Thief (1955) or a Quaker pacifist in High Noon (1952) or an amusedly detached career girl (a term still used in the 1950s) in Rear Window (1954), Kelly presented herself to audiences with straight back and clipped-voiced self-assurance.
She remains a Film Icon, a remarkable achievement for an actor who only made 11 films.
Should we consider Grace Kelly for status as a Gay Icon? Plenty of the gays resent Kelly because she beat Judy Garland for the Academy Award in 1955. Garland gave the better performance, but as usual they gave the Oscar to the right person in the wrong year.
The 27th Academy Awards that year honored the best films released in 1954. The Best Picture winner, On The Waterfront, was directed by Elia Kazan. It received 12 nominations and eight wins, matching two other films, Gone With The Wind (1939) and From Here To Eternity (1953), though those movies each had 13 nominations.
On The Waterfront was only the third film to receive five acting nominations, and the first to receive three in the Best Supporting Actor category. In the category of Best Actor the was a rematch between New Hollywood’s Marlon Brando and the Golden Age’s Humphrey Bogart following Bogart’s upset victory three years earlier. In a surprise win Brando received his first Oscar for his performance in On The Waterfront. The win was a culmination of four consecutive Best Actor nominations for Brando, starting with A Streetcar Named Desire in 1951, a record that remains unmatched to this day.
Grace Kelly won Best Actress for The Country Girl in an even bigger upset. Garland was heavily favored to win Best Actress for A Star Is Born, but she could not attend the ceremony because she had recently given birth to her third child, Joey Luft. Cameras were set up in Garland’s room, so sure was the likely case of her winning. Groucho Marx later sent her a telegram expressing that her loss was “the biggest robbery since Brink’s”.
Another event that upset the gays at the Academy Awards that year was the title song from the film Three Coins In The Fountain won the Best Song award over The Man That Got Away from A Star Is Born.
The best news that year was that Dorothy Dandridge became the first African-American to receive a nomination for Best Actress.
But in 1954, Kelly was the 25-year-old hot new thing and a nominee the previous year for Supporting Actress for Mogambo, plus two years earlier, she had starred in High Noon, which was nominated for seven Oscars.
Kelly had an amazing year in 1954, starring in five hits: Dial ‘M’ For Murder, Rear Window, The Country Girl, Green Fire, The Bridges At Toki-Ri.
She was the biggest female star of the mid-20th century and she makes the list of Top Ten Box Office Stars of the 1950s at Number Two, sandwiched between James Stewart and John Wayne.
There is a certain irony that Kelly won her Oscar, not for her portrayal of another detached beauty but for playing a frumpy, bossy, belligerent older woman trapped in an unhappy marriage.
Garland was considered a has-been, making her movie comeback with A Star Is Born, her first film in half a decade; and with a reputation in Hollywood for being difficult. Maybe that is why Kelly won the Oscar.
Her talent was obvious, and Kelly was much in demand, but just as swiftly as her film career blossomed, it ended abruptly in 1956 when she married Prince Rainier of Monaco, the tiny principality on the French Riviera.
The year before she was in Cannes filming To Catch A Thief with Cary Grant and it was at the Cannes Film Festival that she met her Prince, a member of the Grimaldis, Europe’s oldest royal family. Their friendship made for good stuff in the gossip columns: Hollywood star meets handsome prince, and both drive off into the Mediterranean sunset. But it soon became clear to everyone that there was more than that to the relationship. He went to Philadelphia to spend Christmas with her family. She went to Monte Carlo to visit him in his 200-room pink palazzo.
In 1956, shortly after she completed the movie musical High Society, they were married in the Cathedral of St. Nicholas in Monaco. It was a media event of staggering proportions. With marriage, she abandoned acting.
Before becoming a movie star and then European royalty, Grace Kelly made her acting debut in 1949 in The Torch-Bearers at the famed Bucks County Playhouse in New Hope, Pennsylvania. The play, a satire of the egos and foibles of community theatre, was written in the early 1920s by her gay uncle, George Kelly.
From what I have read, Princess Grace adored her uncle, and the two were together often, George accepting invitations to Monaco and Princess Grace visiting her uncle at his home in California.
Three years after the The Torch-Bearers, George Kelly won the Pulitzer Prize in 1926 for the play Craig’s Wife (1926). His earlier play, The Show Off (1924) had been nominated for the Pulitzer.
The Kellys were an affluent and influential Philadelphia family. Grace’s father, John B. Kelly Sr., won three Olympic gold medals for sculling and owned a successful brickwork contracting company. As Democratic nominee in the 1935 election for mayor of Philadelphia, he lost by the closest margin in the city’s history. During World War II, he was appointed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt as National Director of Physical Fitness.
Grace Kelly’s brother, John Kelly Jr., created a scandal when in 1975, he began a well-publicized relationship with 28-year-old trans woman Rachel Harlow, after meeting her at “Harlow”, the Philadelphia nightclub she owned. Born Richard Finocchio, she had sex reassignment surgery in 1972 and was well-known in Philadelphia.