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Remembering Princess Grace

Grace Kelly is an Oscar-winner of the past who went on to win ever greater fame as a real-life princess. Rita Braver tells us her story this morning in a Postcard From Monaco: 

The Principality of Monaco sparkles on the shore of the Mediterranean. It’s a place of opulent apartments, a world-class casino, and an income tax-free policy that has drawn one of the world’s wealthiest populations. 

Yet this tiny European city-state, less than one square mile, boasts not only a palace that dates back to the 12th century, but also a tale of love at first sight.

“There’s a famous picture of my -- I think it’s famous, you can tell me that! -- there’s a picture of my parents exchanging glances with the view of Monaco in the background,” said Prince Albert (who now rules over this country). His parents, of course, were Prince Rainier and the American-born Grace Kelly.

Their 1956 wedding was the stuff of fairy tales: The dashing 32-year-old Prince and the beautiful 26-year-old commoner. But she was already Hollywood royalty -- the star of celebrated films like the Alfred Hitchcock thrillers “Rear Window” with Jimmy Stewart, and “To Catch a Thief” with Cary Grant, and “The Country Girl,” with her Oscar-winning turn as the wife of an alcoholic, played by Bing Crosby.

She gave up her career to raise their children -- Albert and his sisters, Princesses Caroline and Stephanie -- as seen in family photos affectionately preserved in her personal albums.

According to Albert, “She was a very loving and caring mother. And she not only made sure that she gave us enough attention and enough love and that we had everything we needed, but she was so caring toward other people, too.”

Prince Rainier III of Monaco, Princess Grace, and their children - Prince Albert, Princess Caroline (left) and Princess Stephanie (center) - in Monte Carlo, April 26, 1976. AFP/Getty Images

And she never forgot her old film world friends: Albert remembers Kelly bringing Gregory Peck, Cary Grant, Alfred Hitchcock and Frank Sinatra to the palace. “Is it true that Cary Grant used to tell dirty jokes when he came here?” Braver asked.

“Oh, yeah,” Albert laughed, “he and my father used to have a have a field day telling jokes!”

The Prince gave Braver a rare personal tour of the Palace, showing where his family played, and the pool designed by his mother. Inside there is history and memories.

The Salle de Garde (the guard’s room), which in the very old days was where officers of the Guard met, is now used as a family room. Albert said his mom didn’t like the way it used to be decorated. So she asked his father if she could redo the room. “We’ve had these blue-colored walls since then.”

And in the formal reception room, Princess Grace still reigns, in a portrait made by American artist Ralph Cohen shortly after her wedding.

Her history is carefully preserved here -- childhood photos, letters, even her passports. And her clothes and jewels! The Cartier Diamonds she wore during a visit with French President Charles de Gaulle; the gown she wore to accept her Oscar; and a dress from “High Society,” along with her engagement ring from Prince Rainier, which she actually wore in the film.

But Prince Albert and his South African-born wife, Princess Charlene, are ensuring that Princess Grace’s memory lives on in another way. After Grace’s tragic death in a 1982 car accident, her husband began the Princess Grace Foundation-USA to give scholarships to students in the performing arts, because she had long provided private support to struggling newcomers.

Braver asked Princess Charlene what the Princess Grace Awards mean to her: “It’s to celebrate Princess Grace’s living legacy for supporting the up-and-coming artists, emerging talent, and giving hope and inspiration to many others out there.”

Prince Albert added, “She knew what young artists go though and what their aspirations are, and sometimes that they don’t have the means to continue their careers.”

Through fundraisers (like one in New York last fall), the foundation has given more than 850 grants over almost 35 years. One recipient: Tiler Peck, now principal dancer with the New York City ballet, who performed at the gala with her husband, Robert Fairchild. 

Past winners include Oscar Isaac (seen in “Star Wars” films), and a roster that boasts Emmy-, Tony-, Oscar-, Pulitzer- and MacArthur Grant-winners.

Just last year, two Princess Grace Award recipients, costume designer Paul Tazewell and actor Leslie Odom, Jr., won Tony Awards for their work on the musical “Hamilton.”

Odom said, “It was an encouragement, a wink from this industry that I love so much, and this business that I was preparing for, saying ‘We believe in you,’ and there might be a place for you here.”

As for Prince Albert, Braver asked, “Do you have a favorite Grace Kelly film?”

“I kind of hesitate between ‘High Noon’ and ‘Rear Window,’” he replied.

Grace Kelly with Cary Cooper in “High Noon” (left), and with James Stewart in “Rear Window.” United Artists/Paramount

And, he says, with Kelly’s last films made 60 years ago, he marvels at the fact that his mother is still so revered: “It’s incredibly rewarding and touching to see how much people still admire her, and that her name still resonates today,” he said.

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