America’s Princess

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Many have commented on Grace’s seeming aloofness and detachment on the set, and Conant’s photos capture the faraway look in her eyes. Her thank-you note to Rainier had become the prelude to a clandestine correspondence with the prince, and their relationship deepened with each exchange of letters. In December, Rainier arrived for an unofficial visit to Philadelphia and asked Jack Kelly for his daughter’s hand. Grace, whose father had vociferously reviled all of her prior boyfriends, finally found a suitor Daddy could approve of. A dowry of $2 million sealed the match.

Grace invited Conant to her Fifth Avenue apartment to shoot the first private photos of the radiant couple. Upon meeting Conant for the first time, Rainier is said to have shaken his hand, then torqued it in a playful gesture that was still forceful enough to bring the photographer to his knees. Conant took no offense—they quickly discovered a common interest in scuba diving and underwater photography.

Grace returned to Los Angeles to begin shooting High Society, the musical remake of The Philadelphia Story. Her prince came to visit the set and took a villa in Bel-Air. Unhappy with the cheesy prop engagement ring that MGM wanted her to wear for her role as socialite Tracy Lord, Grace instead put on the 12-carat rock she’d received from Rainier. 

At the end of the shoot, Grace packed up her dressing room and began her farewells in Hollywood. She never made another film. “When we married,” she later told an interviewer, “my husband said, ‘being an actress wasn’t a princess-like thing to do.’”

Before Charles and Diana, there was Rainier and Grace, the first “Wedding of the Century.” In mid-April, a seaplane flew over Monaco, showering red and white carnations onto the harbor, and an armada of small craft raced alongside the SS Constitution, upon which Kelly had sailed across the Atlantic, as it prepared to rendezvous with Rainier’s yacht. Almost 2,000 members of the press had shoehorned themselves into the tiny principality. 

Conant documented the small civil ceremony on the 18th, but skipped St. Nicholas Cathedral for the wedding the next day. The celebration of the high wedding mass by the Bishop of Monaco was televised in black and white to 30 million people, and MGM’s cameras were rolling in color. 

Conant’s absence from the church was neither a slight nor an oversight. Grace needed him to stay behind in the palace, catching more intimate shots before the ceremony that she would permit no other photographer to get. For his part, Conant was happy to set up and to stay out of the mob scene.

It is Howell Conant who gave us our enduring, memorable images of Grace. Simply put, Grace liked the way she looked when he took her picture, and that was precisely his goal. Whether we conjure up Grace Kelly the movie star, or Princess Grace, Her Serene Highness, it is his likeness of her “natural glamour” that we see in our mind’s eye.