A Case Study on Grace Kelly
Classy and sophisticated, Grace Kelly represented something aspirational for American audiences. Her marriage into the Monaco royal family was the ultimate destination of the ‘American dream’, the climbing of the social and class ladder up to the ultimate hierarchy of inherited status. The star system represented this same image of a meritocracy and accessibility into upper class life. By imitating stars, figures of fabricated extraordinary ordinarity, one could hope to become like them. When Grace Kelly became a princess, even that seemed possible. How might her royal marriage be the natural conclusion of star power, or are royalty and stardom oppositional ideas?
Upon the building of Grace Kelly’s image as a star media outlets often shared about her parents to form and give credit to her own reputation. Kelly became known for having ‘the right’ family, a respectable family. Her father, John Brendan Kelly Sr., was an Olympic champion, a multimillionaire, and was involved in local politics in Pennsylvania, her brother was also an athlete and Olympic Medalist; to the public, it appeared that the family she was born into had obtained the American Dream.
Above is the image of one of Grace Kelly’s early advertisements a part of her modeling career. American author Jeffrey Robinson wrote in the popular biography Grace of Monaco of how “her blonde, ‘girl-next-door’ looks— as they were then described — found their way into national advertising campaigns” (Robinson, 18). Grace Kelly was supposed to be an image every woman could relate to. To become a star Grace Kelly wanted to appear as relatable as possible. The ideal star is to be shown as more ordinary than life to be relatable to as many people as possible. Kelly morphed her story to be marketable to American audiences, American writer Thomas Harris wrote on Kelly that “Her wealth, it was always noted, was the result of hard work and determination – qualities admired by Americans who could never tolerate inherited wealth” (Harris, 42).
The series of images above are stills from the sequence introducing Grace Kelly in the Alfred Hitchcock film Rear Window (1954). Kelly’s character, Lisa Carol Fremont, introduces herself for the benefit of the audience; Jefferies’ question of “who are you” is completely rhetorical. L.B. Jeffereies played by James Stewart is uninterested in Lisa, Until he can view her from the window as she obtains evidence, Jefferies does not seem interested in Lisa. He only likes her once she proves herself to be thrilling, but also from a vantage point that allows him to be a voyeur. On the other side of the window, Lisa becomes an object for Jefferies to watch and desire. Her body is more easily consumed from a safe distance.
The whole introduction of her in the film is illuminating parts of her body.
In Rear Window Lisa says “from top to bottom, Lisa, Carol, Fremont” as she turns on three lamps. She is being viewed in parts, instead of as a whole. In the introduction of her character she is being fragmented, she is being objectified and divided. While she is not humiliated like Monroe, the film still uses her body. Biographer Lesley L. Coffin wrote in Hitchcock’s Stars : Alfred Hitchcock and the Hollywood Studio System that “Critics … gave Kelly the most praise, delighted by the way the embodiment of the polished woman joins the spy games” (Coffin, 107).
Grace Kelly also starred in the Alfred Hitchcock film To Catch a Thief (1955) alongside Cary Grant. Grant was to Kelly considered more of a peer than James Stewart was to her when they co-starred Rear Window. Coffin said that because of this “there is no earthly connection for the audience to latch onto with two such idealized stars. Grant and Kelly were of equal stature” (Coffin, 110). This criticism could show a failing of the star system. Coffin is suggesting that casting two large stars could make a film less attainable for audiences to relate too.
Even though stars like Grace Kelly were more wealthy than the average person, they should be relatable. Richard Dyer wrote in his book Heavenly Bodies: Film Stars and Society writes about stars that “they spend more than the average person, but nonetheless they can be, on a smaller scale, imitated” (Dyer, 45). Grace Kelly’s lifestyle was marketed as attainable to the average American. Images of Kelly showed her in an innocent light. As opposed to stars like Marilyn Monroe she wasn’t depicted to be ‘easy.’ Grace Kelly was known for being both wholesome and glamorous in the eyes of her fans. This is a piece to why Kelly is distinguishable amongst other stars as to why she was princess material.
Grace Kelly was shown to be the ideal mate. She was shown as respectable yet sexy, a goal for audiences to reach for. With her fair skin tone and natural blonde hair, Kelly fit the beauty standards. In October 1954 Vogue wrote “There’s Grace Kelly, whose gentle, finebred prettiness is rapidly reversing Hollywood’s ideas of what’s box office.” This comment from a prestigious well respected magazine gave credit to an opinion of Grace Kelly for other publications to reference to. There was a major emphasis from Kelly in the media to share that she was a self made star, she didn’t want her success to be categorized as a product of nepotism. American writer Thomas Harris wrote on Kelly that “There was repeated emphasis on her making it in the entertainment world ‘on her own’, spurning family connections” (Harris, 42).
Her marrying the Prince was largely covered by the media. The New York Times called the prince to be “widely described as the world’s most eligible bachelor.” Their wedding was a live performance for the world to see. It was a major event to see, televised so fans coil tune in at home; “of course she is a movie star, used to being watched; of course, this is a public performance” (Ellis). Her marriage is an example of a personal life being a fabricated extension of her acting career.
Grace Kelly becoming a princess is her embodying the star image, she goes from being royalty in Hollywood to marrying a Prince. Becoming a princess feels like a logical next form for a star. Kelly already appeared to have successfully acquired the most luxurious reverberations associated with the American Dream. This makes her marriage to Prince Rainier III, Prince of Monaco a natural progression.
Bracker, Milton “Prince of Monaco to Wed Grace Kelly” The New York Times. 1956
Coffin, Lesley L. “Hitchcock’s Stars : Alfred Hitchcock and the Hollywood Studio System” Lanham. Rowman & Littlefield. 2014. Print.
Ellis, John “Did Grace Kelly Shed a Tear? The Monegasque Royal Wedding as a Disruptive Television Event” Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision. 2018
Dyer, Richard Heavenly Bodies: Film Stars and Society
Harris, Thomas “The Building of Popular Images Grace Kelly and Marilyn Monroe” Stardom Industry of Desire. 2003
Hitchcock, Alfred. To Catch a Theif. 1955.
Hitchcock, Alfred. Rear Window. 1955.
Robinson, Jeffrey “Grace of Monaco” Da Capo Press. 2014
Vogue A new fashion in beauty 1 October 1954