They'd met the year before - in April 1955 - when Grace Kelly headed the US delegation to the Cannes Film Festival; she was, of course, a world-famous actress, hailed as one of the most beautiful women in the world. He was an obscure little princeling - a benevolent despot, but a despot nonetheless - who commanded a tax haven and resort called Monaco which, in those pre-Jet Set days catered to the frantically idle über-rich and the Eurotrash who clung to them in an altogether more discreet way than it can today.
Aside from his title, though, and a degree of swarthy good looks, Rainier III also had a certain Gallic charm, not to mention the sort of confidence that came from being raised in an atmosphere of total deference. Whatever it was, it worked on Kelly. For a woman whose well-guarded love life had been endlessly complicated by the insecurity of actors, and one whose future career depended on her developing the same insecurities - frowning into mirrors to count each new line appearing in her face - she left Monaco on the fateful day they met with a possible escape already in mind.
Returning to Hollywood to film The Swan (in which she would play a princess) Kelly initiated a correspondence with her new royal admirer, during which Father Francis Tucker would play "cupid"; when Rainier visited the US that December - ostensibly on a State Visit - the 32-year-old Prince was coy whenever asked about his matrimonial aspirations, despite the fact that the gossip columns were fairly oozing with innuendo that his real purpose for the visit was dynastic rather than diplomatic. Under the terms of a treaty signed by both France and Monaco in 1918, you see, were he to die without an heir his country (along with its tax-free status) would revert to French control*; seeing as the Grimaldis had been squatting on that rocky hillside since 1297, Rainier had no intention of being remembered by history as the one who'd relinquished it.
It was during December's state visit that Rainier met his future in-laws, and shortly after that their formal engagement was announced; on April 4th, 1956, Grace Kelly sailed from New York City's Pier 84 on board the SS Constitution with 70 members of her family and friends - all paid for by Grace's father Jack Kelly who, thanks to Monaco and MGM, was relieved of his fatherly obligation to pay for the wedding. The ship arrived eight days later, where it was greeted by most of Monaco's 23,000 inhabitants, not to mention a sizable flotilla of pleasure craft, most of them bearing members of the European media. Since the Constitution was too large to dock there, it was greeted at the mouth of the harbour by the Princes' yacht Deo Juvante II.
Having already been dubbed "The Wedding of the Century" - a title it would hold securely until a rival in July 1981 surpassed it - in fact, the wedding of Rainier and Grace was two weddings; the first, held the day before the big event, was a civil ceremony attended by eighty guests in the throne room of the palace, at which Grace wore a dress of rose pink taffeta and Alençon lace, designed by the head of MGM's costume department Helen Rose. Following the sombre affair a luncheon was held at the royal palace, and after that there was a garden party on the palace grounds for 3,000.
The next day Saint Nicholas Cathedral was the scene of one of the most opulent - yet elegant - weddings of all time. The wedding dress, also designed by Helen Rose, was the crowning achievement of her career. Three dozen seamstresses worked in top secret for six weeks creating a demure fantasy of 125-year-old rose-point lace, silk taffeta, peau de soie, and tulle at a cost of more than $7,200. Following the wedding, Princess Grace donated the dress to the Philadelphia Museum of Art in her hometown; it wasn't seen in Monaco again until the summer of 2007, when it was loaned to the Grimaldi Forum for an exhibition timed to coincide with the 25th anniversary of her September 1982 death.
The wedding was performed by Monsignor Gilles Barthe, Bishop of Monaco, in the presence of 600 guests, and watched on television by 30 million more. Elizabeth II is said to have turned down an invitation because there'd be "too many movie stars" there - and were there ever! Cary Grant, Ava Gardner, David Niven, and Gloria Swanson to name just a few, in addition to the Aga Khan, King Farouk, Aristotle Onassis, Conrad Hilton, and W. Somerset Maugham. That evening the newlywed couple hosted a wedding gala at the Opera House.Following the whirlwind of events, the royal couple took a week-long honeymoon aboard the Deo Juvante II; nine months and four days later Princess Caroline was born, but it was not until March 1958 with the birth of the future Albert II that the House of Grimaldi was safe for another generation.
*The law has since been amended to safeguard Monaco's sovereignty, as well as to allow for female inheritance.
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