03 Jan Exclusive: Prince Albert remembers his mother Grace Kelly’s legacy 35 years after her death
This is the year for remembering lost princesses, and Diana isn’t the only one beloved by Americans.
Grace Kelly, the Philadelphia-born Hollywood princess-turned-actual-royal — Her Serene Highness Princess Grace of Monaco — died after a shocking car wreck 35 years ago in September.
Her 1950s-Hollywood era, when she filled screens with her luminous beauty, won an Oscar for her acting and drew millions of worshipful fans around the world, is long gone. But her legacy lives on in her descendants and in the arts foundation they and her Hollywood friends created to honor her and to support emerging artists.
Whatever would she think of Hollywood today? In so many respects, she embodied her name, and these days, with the entertainment industry in turmoil over a coarse sex abuse scandal involving movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, Hollywood could use a little more grace and Grace.
Her son, His Serene Highness Prince Albert II of Monaco, reflects on how his mother would perceive modern Hollywood in an exclusive interview with USA TODAY.
“I don’t know if she would agree with everything going on today in Hollywood or the world in general,” he says. “Some things would irritate her, and she would be uncomfortable.”
Albert, 59, and his wife, Princess Charlene, arrived from his tiny, rich and sunny principality on the Mediterranean in sweltering Los Angeles this week for the Princess Grace Foundation’s annual gala to bestow this year’s batch of awards, including the Prince Rainier III award to filmmaker James Cameron for his contributions to the arts and a new animation scholarship named for Stephen Hillenburg, creator of SpongeBob SquarePants.
Albert speaks passionately about why his mother’s legacy still resonates.
“It was her personality and the way she engaged with people, she touched the lives of so many around the world and not only through her acting,” Albert says. “When she passed away we got calls from all over the world, from countries she hadn’t even visited. It was unbelievable and still is.”
One reason why Grace’s name endures, Albert says, is her eponymous foundation, which over three decades has distributed millions of dollars in scholarships, fellowships and grants to some 900 emerging young talents in film, dance and music. Playwright Tony Kushner won a Pulitzer Prize for Angels in America after he won a Princess Grace award. Other award winners include Tony-winning Leslie Odom Jr (Hamilton) and Emmy-winning Cary Fukunaga (True Detective).
“We (her family and friends such as Frank Sinatra, Jimmy Stewart and Cary Grant) knew it was what she wanted to do; she loved theater, dance and film and she knew how difficult it was at the beginning of careers to make ends meet,” Albert says. “She thought this would be necessary and meaningful to all these young artists to have this kind of support.”
Star ballerina Tiler Peck, 28, says she might not be where she is today but for Princess Grace. She won a Grace dance scholarship in 2004 when she was 14 and in ballet school in New York; in 2013 she won the Princess Grace Statue Award. Today, she’s a principal dancer with the New York City Ballet, one of the youngest ever; she has appeared on Dancing With the Stars, has her own line of dance apparel, and she is the subject of an upcoming dance documentary produced by Elisabeth Moss.
The scholarship “gave me the confidence to really push forward and think, this is a dream that is quite possible,” Peck says.
One of this year’s winners, James Udom, 27, was born in Nigeria and raised partly in the Bay Area and is now finishing up at the Yale School of Drama. He thinks of Grace as “America’s sweetheart,” not least because she inspired these awards.
“It gave me a tremendous amount of respect for her as an activist — she was more than just a pretty face,” Udom says. “She sought to do something for young artists, and in doing so has helped an incredible amount of people. I’m seeing the way it’s being paid forward, which is grace itself.”
Albert is now seven years older than his mother when she died in 1982 after suffering a stroke while driving herself and her younger daughter, Stephanie, down one of Monaco’s famously twisty corniche roads back to the palace from their country retreat in the hills above the blue Mediterranean.
Her son, who recently bought and restored Grace’s Philadelphia-area family home, treasures memories of growing up with a Hollywood star for a mother, including visits from her movie-star friends.
“She didn’t really talk about it that often, but if you asked her questions, she would answer and she had all kinds of fascinating stories,” he says. “It was really strange to be sitting next to your mother (watching a movie) and seeing her on the screen there.”
Her era of royalty-as-fairy-tale has disappeared, too, along with its discretion. In those days, a pregnant princess appearing in public would hide her swelling belly with a large handbag, in Grace’s case, an Hermés bag now known as a “Kelly bag.” On today’s status-obsessed social media, a Kelly bag is for demonstrating your wealth, and few stars feel the need anymore to cover up a baby bump.
Albert and his two sisters, Princess Caroline and Princess Stephanie, were tabloid fixtures growing up but in a pre-social-media world. Today, they feel no desire to share their every moment with anyone with a smartphone.
Still, Albert sees the value in some new technology. He married Charlene, a former Olympic swimmer for South Africa, in 2011, and their twins, Prince Jacques and Princess Gabriella, turn 3 in December. He delighted, he says in Facetiming with them at breakfast the other day.
“It’s a difficult and complex world and one that is different from five years ago, let alone 60 years ago, so you have to adapt constantly.”