Monday, April 16

The Goddess

In her final film, High Society, Grace Kelly, as heiress Tracy Lord, is having verbal fisticuffs with her father played by Sidney Blackmer.  They have been sparring and he is outlining to her the kind of daughter he would like her to be, one by one reeling off traits that she could have that would make her acceptable to him.

"None of which, I have," she purrs.  "I'm just a cold goddess."

"If your vanity thinks in terms of goddesses," he sternly responds.  "You have a good mind, Tracy, you have a pretty face, a fine, disciplined body that does what you tell it.  You have everything it takes to make a lovely woman except the one essential... an understanding heart.

She always was a goddess to me.  She didn't live on Mount Olympus but she did the next best thing by living high on a hill overlooking her postage stamp principality.

She was one of my very favorite actresses and I found her more beautiful than about any woman I've ever seen up there on the silver screen.  Only a couple of actresses approached her breath-taking beauty.  I was ordinarily more attracted to redheads and brunettes but this cool blonde's looks sometimes made it difficult for me to breathe.  Alfred Hitchcock felt the same way.  He was so besotted with her that he became her embarrassing lap dog.

I love this shot

Grace Kelly hailed from Philadelphia and like Tracy Lord, she was born into wealth.  Her father was a bricklayer and amassed a fortune.  He would have four enormously attractive children, a boy, his obvious favorite, and three daughters.  Grace was the one he never held out high hopes for.  John Kelly was a sportsman, outgoing, talented, ambitious.  Grace inherited a couple of those traits and a couple went over her beautiful head.  She would always feel short-changed on his affections and would, as a result, seek father figures in her choice of men.

It always felt to me that many things came easily to her, but she may have felt differently.  She dashed off to New York and found it easier than most to break into modeling and television.  Likewise I don't think she broke a sweat pounding the pavements to be a movie actress.

Astonishingly she only made 11 films.  She had the creme de la creme of leading men, the top directors, best writers, best costumers and great people on her team, if you will, publicists, agents, etc.  She was not at the game all that long when she won a best actress Oscar and against another actress who was heavily favored.  She may not be thought of as being among Hollywood's top actresses but she was a damned good one and if you don't think so, meet me out in the dusty street at sundown. 

We can pretty much disregard her maiden effort, 1951s Fourteen Hours.  It concerned a man about to jump off a tall building and she was in a couple of crowd scenes. 

I personally thought she was miscast as Amy, the Quaker bride to sheriff Gary Cooper in 1952s screen classic, High Noon, directed by the stalwart Stanley Kramer.  Not that she didn't do good enough work, but she seemed younger than a Cooper bride should have been.  Apparently he paid no mind to the age difference because it was widely rumored they had an affair.  Hmmm, she liked older men and he was known to sleep with his costars.  Do you need a calculator?

Grace was under contract to MGM but the studio didn't seem to know what to do with her and some of her best work was on loanout to other studios.  One home job was in John Ford's 1953's sultry Mogambo with Clark Gable.  Still got that calculator?  It was a massive hit, a redo of a prior Gable hit, Red Dust, and gorgeous Ava Gardner was along for the safari.  In the film both women were attracted to him and they had some salty words for one another.  In real life, Grace and Ava would become lifelong friends.  They may have seemed different, but actually they weren't.  And it was Grace's public persona that didn't match her private one. She was the fooler.   With Ava, you got what you got. Grace was more image-conscious.  Both received Oscar nominations.

From now on, there was no acting in crowd scenes or supporting another actress.  The first of her three films with Alfred Hitchcock would begin with Dial M for Murder.  There is much published material on his complete fascination with her and he was without a doubt in love with her.  On her part she was aware of his ardor, perhaps a bit complimented by it but she had it under control.  She was a good student of his genius and was fully aware of how wonderfully he showcased her in films.  Truly, her worldwide fame is due in great part to Hitchcock.

Dial M was a mystery perfect for Hitchcock.  Grace would be the intended victim of a husband who wants her dead, needing the fortune she would leave behind.  Ray Milland played the rascal and he assumed that role in real-life as well.  If the Cooper and Gable affairs were mere fodder for the scandal mags of the day, the one with the married Milland was common knowledge.  Grace suffered some bad press as a result.

As they say... it was a very good year.  That would be 1954.  The first film was her next one with Hitchcock, Rear Window.  One difference in this film is that costar Jimmy Stewart very much loved his wife but he and his lovely costar remained good friends and fully intended to work together again.  He played a photographer confined to a wheelchair who is suspicious of a man across his apartment courtyard who may have murdered his wife.  Grace was Stewart's somewhat unsuitable model-fiancĂ©e who wants more for him and from him than being a Peeping Tom.  The film was a monstrous success.

It is a curiosity why she joined William Holden in The Bridges at Toko-Ri.  It's not that I didn't like it... I did.  It was an great take on a man's conflict with the Korean War but Grace's part was little more than decorative.  She did have an enjoyable fling with Holden in real life.  He, in fact, was deeply in love with her and wanted to marry her after divorcing his wife.  This posed a problem with Grace and her Catholicism.  Another problem was that his sleepovers at Grace's apartment caught the always-roving eye of Confidential magazine, the National Inquirer of its day and Grace was again getting some bad press.

Grace had been quietly dating Bing Crosby which posed a delicate problem for William Holden when all three were signed to film The Country Girl for director George Seaton.  Crosby wanted to marry Grace as well but she found their relationship little more than a fun friendship.  Grace wanted badly to do The Country Girl and in order to do it, she had to agree to do her next film Green Fire at her home studio.  The title role of Georgie in The Country Girl was an actress's dream role and Grace knew it.  Grace would de-glam for the part, something she had never done or more importantly was never allowed to do.

Georgie was a worn-out wife married to an alcoholic has-been actor (Crosby) whom director Holden wants to get back in the acting harness and do a new play.  Georgie is all over the place, one moment encouraging her husband and the next berating him for being such a loser.  In the meantime, falling a little in love with the director.  The role won her the Academy Award.

Getting the Oscar from her former lover

That award was among Oscar's most controversial.  In my opinion Grace richly deserved winning but a lot of others thought Judy Garland should have had the Oscar for A Star Is Born.  I thought Garland, while fabulous, had done that kind of role before; it certainly wasn't a great stretch for her.  But it was a comeback role for the tortured actress-singer and sympathy was on her side.  Grace, on the other hand, had cut down her safety net, looked dowdy (that alone should have gotten her the Oscar) and acted her buns off.  Apparently the majority agreed with my opinion.

The less said about Green Fire the better.  It was about emerald mining in South America and was corny and predictable and nothing more than a B-film.  Dashing Stewart Granger was her costar.  He was happily married at the time to beautiful Jean Simmons (the subject of am upcoming posting) and nothing carnal developed.  Are you still keeping count?

With 1955 came her third and final picture with Hitchcock and my favorite of all her movies, To Catch a Thief.  It was a comedy-romantic-thriller.  I think it was a tad under-rated by the ones who rate these things.  It had the beauty of the south of France, the beauty of its leading lady, the superb character work of Jessie Royce Landis and John Williams and the stylish acting and presence of none other than Mr. Cary Grant.  Grant and Kelly... Kelly and Grant... man, it didn't get much better than that.  What a screen team, much in the same way it would be said a few years later of Grant and Audrey Hepburn in Charade.  Not that Kelly or Hepburn needed a man to make them look good, but Cary Grant holding your hand couldn't hurt, now could it?  Grant was not particularly known for sleeping with his leading ladies. 

Her clothes by Edith Head were about as good as I have ever seen in a modern-day film.  She had three or four striking outfits that look as good and modern today as they did in 1955.

One of the best screen teams ever

The delightful story concerned a reformed jewel thief on the Riviera who is being trailed because he is suspected of a rash of thefts.  He meets Kelly and her filthy rich mother and all kinds of suspicions arise.  He was John Robie, The Cat.  I loved that.

It was on this film that she first met Prince Rainier who was clearly looking her over for wifely prospects.  She had gone to meet him at his pink palace after ballyhooing The Country Girl at Cannes.  She also was engaged to fashion designer Oleg Cassini at the time.  What, you say?  How did he get into the mix?

Grace ultimately cut it off with Cassini and wound up spending more time with Rainier, so much so that she was ignoring her home studio who now realized what they were slow to get... the lady was attracting worldwide attention.  They now had numerous projects lined up for her.  And what film did she ironically choose?  The Swan... in which she played a princess who is torn between marrying a prince whom she doesn't love and a teacher whom she does love.  Hmmm, must have been some good practice for what was to come.  The Swan was handsomely filmed with Alec Guinness and Louis Jourdan at the fabulous Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC.

Then came her final film... the one we started with here... High Society.  Ironically reunited with Bing Crosby and joined by Frank Sinatra, it is the musical remake of The Philadelphia Story.  Filling Katharine Hepburn's big shoes might have seemed impossible, but Grace did it very well.  She even had the chance to sing, along with Crosby, with Cole Porter's True Love.  It was the first 45 rpm record I ever bought.

I was crushed when she left the movies.  She won me over, I left another favorite actress for her and now she's leaving after a mere five-year relationship.  I had been looking forward to her having the leads in Designing Woman and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, roles that eventually went to Lauren Bacall and Elizabeth Taylor, both of whom nailed them.

And of course if I was downbeat because she left Hollywood, we don't even wanna discuss how I felt about her untimely, horrible and mysterious death.

Has anyone noticed how throughout this piece I have called her Grace?  I refer to most other actresses by their last names.  Well, I just noticed it!  It's what one does when dealing with a goddess.


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