WORLD

Saying goodbye to a magic legend

MARCI MCDONALD September 27 1982
WORLD

Saying goodbye to a magic legend

MARCI MCDONALD September 27 1982

Saying goodbye to a magic legend

MONACO

She had never wanted an ordinary destiny. And, in the end, her death was a drama as incongruous as her life had been a fairy tale. On a day that dawned a storybook Mediterranean blue, on a tortuous mountain road with a breathtaking hide-and-seek sea view over her realm, a microscopic clot of blood intercepted a latter-day princess on a perilous hairpin curve. And in a blinding flash, her Rover 3500 hurtled into a 15-m ravine in a blaze of tragedy and rumor that will only fuel her legend.

Last Saturday royalty, politicians, movie stars, her jet-set friends and 5,000 subjects gathered under blackbowed flags in Monte Carlo’s St. Nicholas Cathedral. And the legend was put to rest in the glare of the TV lights and flashbulbs under which it had flourished for three decades. With a plot twist that none of her Hollywood scriptwriters would have dared spin, Grace Patricia Kelly, 52, the Philadelphia bricklayer’s daughter, was interred among Europe’s oldest royal family. The ceremony had all the pomp and splendor befitting Her Serene Highness, the Princess of Monaco, the Duchess of Valentinois, Marchioness of Baux and Countess Grimaldi.

In death, as in life, she was the symbol of the ultimate American success story. At 12 she chose the role of Cinderella in an amateur family theatrical and she never swerved from it. Plucked from the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and an undistinguished Broadway beginning by talent scouts,

she carved out an indelible place among the reigning stars. And she did it in a career that spanned only six years and 11 movies: from Fourteen Hours (1951) to High Society (1956), her aptly named last film. It was Alfred Hitchcock, however, who best caught the sensuality simmering beneath her cool beauty in their three films together—Dial M for Murder, To Catch A Thief and Rear Window. He called it “sexual elegance.” Ironically, her only Academy Award came from playing the fading wife of an alcoholic opposite Bing Crosby in The Country Girl.

She had just collected that prize when she was swept off as the chief draw of the 1955 Cannes Film Festival, where the pictorial weekly Paris Match came up with the publicity gimmick of intro-

ducing Hollywood’s No. 2 box-office queen to the Riviera’s reigning bachelor, the moustachioed Rainier III Grimaldi of Monaco. As if in some prophetic hint, the magazine’s car had a small accident en route to Monte Carlo. But out of the hour-long encounter in the gardens of the 13th-century pink palace grew a love story that seemed all the more incredible for being based on authentic emotion. As she told interviewers disarmingly years later, “I just fell in love, that’s all.”

When she steamed back into Monaco’s Horseshoe Bay a year later aboard the U.S. liner Constitution, it was as Cinderella in the flesh. And after the visit to the altar that properly ends all fairy stories—hers attracted the glittering society crowd of Europe and

America and 1,500 photographers—she gave the patina of her unfailing beauty, good taste and connections to a 3-kmlong principality whose chief income derives from gambling and tax evasion. With a conservative’s unflinching sense of duty, she also spun out her perfection with three gorgeous—and necessaryheirs to the Grimaldi line, Caroline, Albert and Stephanie.

Through the years she waved away film offers without regret and vented her artistry in harmless poetry reading and fashioning collages of dried flowers collected at the family’s weekend retreat at Roc Agel, above the rock of Monaco. She had spent the weekend there before she began her fateful drive home with her younger daughter, Stephanie, 17. The ensuing headline speculations about who was driving, whether the car failed mechanically, whether she had been given appropriate medical care and, later, whether the injured Princess Stephanie was, in fact, paralysed, seemed scripted by some gritty, merciless realist who had strayed into the wrong plot line. To a watching world, Princess Grace had somehow seemed immune from such twists of commonplace horror. But in a way, with that tragedy, she achieved an immunity of another sort.

Once, years earlier in a rare moment of candor, she admitted how much she feared growing old. “I don’t understand women of my age who insist it is a beautiful experience,” she said. Last week a cerebral vascular incident on a hairpin turn of a mountain road stopped her in memory at 52, still in the full flower of her fragile golden beauty.

-MARCI MCDONALD in Paris.