On May 6, 1955, in Cannes for the film festival, actress Grace Kelly spoke to the press about an upcoming film, did back-to-back media interviews, went to the hairdresser ahead of a gala dinner held in her honour—and took time out for a roadtrip to Monaco to meet a prince.
The introduction of Kelly and Prince Rainier III of Monaco was brokered by French magazine Paris Match who thought it would make a good story to introduce Hollywood royalty to the real thing. Rainier was running late, and when he arrived, “Grace Kelly gave kind of very discreet American bow, bending her knee, and they shook hands,” said photographer Edward Quinn, who took a few frames of the moment.
The pair—Oscar winner Grace in a long sleeved floral dress and heels, Rainier in a suit and sunglasses—strolled through the palace gardens, with the photographer, a journalist and a royal retinue as chaperones. “I got quite a very nice set of photos,” said Quinn. “Then Grace left, and said to everybody, ‘He is a very charming man.’ And that was the end of it for the time being.”
As the story goes, the American silver screen princess and the real life prince began to write regularly to each other. Just before Christmas, Rainier (accompanied by his family’s chaplain) caught an ocean liner and train via New York to Kelly’s hometown of Philadelphia.
“They were both these wonderfully attractive people that had all this romantic charm, intelligence and wit, and coziness,” Kelly's bridesmaid Judith Balaban Quine said in 2107 book Grace Kelly: Hollywood Dream Girl of the pair’s first real time spent together. “[They were] away from all public focus, walking in the woods, driving through the mountains and talking about life and values—and they fell in love.”
During Rainier’s visit, the pair went to New York and had dinner at the tiny apartment of Kelly’s sister the pair went to dinner in New York at the tiny apartment of Kelly’s sister Lizanne Kelly LeVine and her husband Don LeVine. “He fit in very well—even helped with the dishes,” Kelly LeVine said last year. “Rainier, when we first met him, I think might have been a little shocked with us when we’d say ‘Come on, Rennie,’ you know. But he fit into the family beautifully.”
After one week together—including a snowy New Year’s Eve—the prince proposed with a Cartier engagement ring featuring a 10.47-carat emerald-cut diamond flanked by twin baguettes. Saying yes meant the Rear Window star was, at 26, drawing the curtain down on her career.
She said it was worth it. “When I married Prince Rainier, I married the man and not what he represented or what he was. I fell in love with him without giving a thought to anything else,” said Kelly, the daughter of a building mogul who won a rowing gold medal at the 1920 Olympics.
An engagement ball was held in their honour at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel on January 6, 1956 then Grace headed to California where she was filming High Society. Rainier went with her briefly, then returned to Monaco. When filming wrapped in April, the royal fiancée sailed to Europe on the U.S.S. Constitution with 65 family and friends, her poodle Oliver and 60 pieces of luggage.
As she arrived in Monaco’s harbour, a seaplane belonging to Aristotle Onassis flew over and dropped thousands of red and white carnations, the colors of Monaco, on the ships and crowds below. The festive welcome set the scene for the celebrations to come, which included, according to the laws of church and state, both civil and religious marriage ceremonies.
On April 18 1956, Grace Kelly became Her Serene Highness The Princess of Monaco—along with 140 other titles—during a 15-minute service in the Palace Throne Room which, once it was completed, was conducted again for a newsreel camera.
The bride wore a two-piece pale pink taffeta dress overlaid with champagne coloured lace created by Hollywood wardrobe designer Helen Rose. Like the second wedding gown Rose made for the church service, the dress was handmade in MGM’s studio ateliers and were a wedding gift to the star from studio bosses.
The next morning, Grace floated into Monaco’s Saint Nicholas Cathedral—decorated with thousands of white lilacs and lilies of the valley—in what would become one of the most iconic wedding gowns of all time. Made from 300 yards of antique Belgian lace and 150 yards of silk, taffeta and tulle, it was sewn by 30 studio seamstresses.
While the dress was perfect and the bride composed, the royal groom was so nervous he needed Grace to help him place the ring on her finger. “Mom said it was ‘overwhelming,’ ” the couple’s eldest son and heir Prince Albert told PEOPLE in 2017. “That ‘excited’ or the word ‘overjoyed’ wasn’t strong enough to express her feelings. My father said so too.”
After the service, the newlyweds joined 600 guests including Cary Grant, Aristotle Onassis and Ava Gardner for an afternoon buffet of salmon, chicken, cold lobster, chicken and champagne. The six-tiered wedding cake replicated Monaco’s pink palace in sugar. “It was such an incredible affair,” said Albert.
At sunset, the prince and princess left for a seven-week Mediterranean honeymoon aboard the royal yacht. Albert told PEOPLE that privately they both said “that when they left on their honeymoon and got on the boat, they both just kind of passed out from exhaustion and had a good night’s sleep before they got on with enjoying their honeymoon the next day.”
Over the next three decades, Rainier and Grace built what looked like an enchanted life in their hilltop palace. They welcomed daughter Princess Caroline in January 1957, Albert in March 1958 and second daughter Princess Stephanie in February 1965. As her children grew Grace—makeup-free and in simple clothes made by local seamstresses— took them bike riding by the beach and, in leopard print bathers, taught them to swim.
She also taught them “to be polite and respectful,” Albert told PEOPLE in 2014. “[She] made sure we had private moments. Any free time she had she spent with us.” Their father was the strict one, so “If we needed to ask for something, we'd go to Mom,” he revealed, adding she was “was even more beautiful on the inside.”
During their marriage, Rainier and Grace were shadowed by rumours that their marriage was a business deal brokered to give Monaco an heir—without one, it would revert to France—or to boost the principality’s profile. But Albert said in 2014 he and his siblings always felt their parents’ love was genuine. The biggest misconception about Grace, he said, was “that she was unhappy or depressed or that our parents were at odds. We never had a sense of any of that.”
On September 13, 1982, Grace was driving Stephanie, then 17, in her British Rover 3500 along a snaking road in the Cote d’Azur when she suffered what doctors later called a minor stroke-like episode. The car plunged down a cliff. Stephanie, suffered shock and bruises. Grace, who had sustained multiple injuries, died in hospital at age 52.
Five days later, nearly 100 million people watched a devastated Rainier walk behind his wife’s coffin to the same cathedral where they were married. She was entombed in a marble slab laid in perpetuity with fresh flowers. The prince never remarried, and paid tribute to his late wife by naming streets, libraries and hospitals after her. On the 20th anniversary of her “disappearance”, he wrote, “Princess Grace is always present in our hearts and in our thoughts.”
When he died at 81 from renal and heart failure on April 6, 5005, Rainer—whose children provided him with some scandals and nine grandchildren—was buried next to Grace. “He never really got over her death. It was an irreparable loss,” said Philippe Delorme, a French biographer of Rainier. “It would have been very hard to replace her.”
For more on Grace Kelly and Prince Rainier III of Monaco and the fairytale romances of your favourite royals, pick up a copy of the WHO Collector's Edition of Greatest Royal Love Stories.