Once Upon a Time

Behind the Fairy Tale of Princess Grace and Prince Rainier


By J. Randy Taraborrelli

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From master storyteller J. Randy Taraborrelli comes the powerful and moving story of one of royalty’s most secretive families.

Grace Kelly was swept away when the handsome Prince Rainier, a man she barely knew, asked for her hand in marriage. After a series of relationships with married co-stars, she was exhausted by the show-business lifestyle. If she married Rainier, she would be more than just a movie star, she would be Her Serene Royal
Highness Princess Grace. Once in the palace, however, Grace found herself trapped in a fairy tale of her own making. Forced to make sacrifices that cut deeply into the core of who she was as a woman, she would then surrender her desires and ambitions for her spouse and her children. Grace and Rainier may have been royalty, but they were also husband and wife, and parents- and, as such, just as vulnerable to the conflicts that can contaminate any household. Drawing upon hundreds of exclusive interviews with family and friends, ONCE UPON A TIME portrays its subjects with passion and sympathy, revealing Grace, Rainier, Caroline, Albert, and Stephanie in ways both startling and compelling.


Also by J. Randy Taraborrelli

Jackie, Ethel, Joan: Women of Camelot


Copyright © 2003 by Rose Books, Inc.
All rights reserved.

Warner Books, Inc.,
Hachette Book Group
237 Park Avenue
New York, NY 10017

Visit our website at www.HachetteBookGroup.com.

First eBook Edition: April 2003

ISBN: 978-0-7595-2790-4

For my mother, Rose Marie Taraborrelli

A Word from the Author

If you could talk to the person you were twenty years ago, what would you say? Would you advise your younger self to forge a new and different path? Or do you think that the person you've become, the place in which you find yourself today, is exactly as you had planned?

When I began writing this book, I set out to tell the story of two people from disparate backgrounds brought together by a strange twist of fate to then share a life that was, I thought, as close to a true fairy tale as anyone could imagine: A famous actress, Grace Kelly of Philadelphia, gives up a successful career for the man of her dreams, Prince Rainier III of Monaco, to live royally at his side, as his Princess. Obviously, I was aware that the story would have a tragic ending because of Grace's untimely death. However, as I dug deeper, I found the tale to be far more complex than what first meets the eye. I discovered that it is also about choices, consequences, regrets, and, ultimately, acceptance.

Grace Kelly, at the top of her profession, was a woman ahead of her time, a person accustomed to blazing her own path, making important decisions about her life, refusing to become stuck in any circumstance—whether romantic or career-related. When this particular Cinderella was presented a glass slipper by her Prince Charming, she did what many women would do: She stepped into it, eagerly … and into his world. It was a perfect fit, or so they both thought. However, once the Princess got to the Palace, she was in for a big surprise. The illusion of perfection that surrounded her life in Monaco hid certain harsh realities: her imperfect marriage, her imperfect husband, and, eventually, her imperfect children.

For reasons explained in this book, Grace found herself trapped, unable to make a hasty exit as she had always done in the past when dissatisfied with a choice. Rather, she was caught in a strange place thousands of miles away from friends and family, and far from her career. The world she once knew and loved was gone forever, a casualty of her failed attempt to meld fantasy and reality.

Captive in a fairy tale of her own making, Grace felt she had ruined her life. It was only with the help of Rainier that she would then make some important and tough choices. She would learn that love is more than just a passion. It is an obligation. It is a commitment. While her world would still not be perfect—whose is?—she and her husband would bravely face future challenges, make the best of them, and have twenty-six years of marriage to show for their efforts, for better or worse.

While Princess Grace's circumstances are obviously extreme, her story is universal. Sometimes, the real challenge of living has to do with making a life that seems to no longer work … work. All of us have had hope that was, over time, transformed into regret. The secret is to not succumb to those regrets, but to rise above them, and then get on with things … just as Princess Grace did and, as you'll learn here, Prince Rainier continues to do, to this day.

It is my hope that, through the pages of this book, you will step into their world and get to know Grace and Rainier as real people, not only as royalty but as a man and woman courageous enough to face their demons, admit their shortcomings, and come to terms with their choices. She transformed a lost and lonely prince, product of a cold and loveless bloodline, into a kind and gentle leader. He helped the woman he loved find a way to say good-bye to the past and feel at home in the present. Together, they faced the future, raising three children who will, one day, continue their dynasty.

The story of Grace and Rainier begins as many fairy tales do: two young people drawn to each other, unaware of what awaits them, filled only with hope for the future … once upon a time.

J. Randy Taraborrelli
Los Angeles
March 2003

When love beckons to you follow him … though his voice may shatter your dreams as the north wind lays waste the garden …. Even as he is for your growth so is he for your pruning.




The Kellys

Grace Patricia Kelly was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on November 12, 1929, the third of four children to John—better known as Jack—Brendan Kelly and Margaret Majer Kelly. It is not difficult even today to come across Philadelphians who have fond memories and fascinating anecdotes about local legend Jack, recently described by a journalist there as "one of the greatest characters in the history of the City of Brotherly Love." The son of an immigrant farm boy from County Mayo, Ireland, Jack promoted the myth that he had started out as a poor bricklayer, quit high school to help his parents and nine siblings, started his own company, and then worked his way up the ladder of "hard knocks" until finally becoming a millionaire. In truth, Jack did quit high school, but only in order to have more time to practice sculling on the Schuylkill River, not to support his family. He did, eventually, lay bricks, but not on his own, at least not at first. He actually worked for two older brothers, Patrick and Charles, who had already established their own successful construction company. When the ambitious Jack later started his own company, "Kelly for Brickwork," he did so in competition with those brothers. Eventually Charles went to work for Jack, alienating Patrick and causing a huge family rift.

Jack Kelly was a man to whom image was paramount. He realized that his rags-to-riches story had great appeal, especially in 1935 when, at the age of forty-five, he was the Democratic candidate for mayor of Philadelphia. Although he lost that election—the Republicans had held the office for the previous sixty years—he garnered more votes than had any Democrat before him. He was a popular, formidable man in Philadelphia, and would remain so for decades.

While most of the Kellys simply accepted Jack's fibs as an element of his image-making mentality, George Kelly was always the one dissenting voice, the brother eager to set the record straight. An award-winning playwright, his successes included The Torch-Bearers (his first Broadway hit in 1922), The Show-Off, and Craig's Wife (for which he won a Pulitzer Prize). Jack's stories of an impoverished background were completely at odds with George's version of his own childhood. In truth, George could be as pretentious as his brother, but in his own way. For instance, he fabricated the story that he had been privately tutored; he had actually attended public school like the rest of his family. Though fastidious, a man of impeccable manners with an obsession for the proper serving of high tea, George couldn't escape his and Jack's background: They were middle-class, at best.

What needs no embellishing, however, is that Jack Kelly was dedicated and persistent enough in his practicing to finally win a gold medal in sculling in the 1920 Olympic Games, after having been previously excluded from competition at Henley. His medal, his ready wit, and his good looks would take him far. When he wanted to start his own business, he did not have to scramble for seed money. Instead, his brothers supplied the funds, George as well as Walter, a noted vaudevillian performer. (There had also been a sister, Grace, who had show business aspirations and for whom Grace Kelly would be named. Sadly, she died at the age of twenty-three of a heart attack while ice skating.)

Though the Kelly family was wealthy, because theirs was "new money," it denied them certain status. Jack and Margaret longed for acceptance into the ranks of Philadelphia's elite, but they would never achieve it, no matter the balance of their checking accounts. The highest stratum of Philadelphia society at the time consisted of White Anglo-Saxon Protestants—WASPs—and that was it: No other ethnic group was allowed entrée. Working against the Kellys was the unavoidable fact that Jack was son of an Irish immigrant. At the time, Irish Catholics were thought of as the "working class," looked down upon, regarded as inferior by the snobbish Philadelphia high society—and nothing galled Jack and Margaret more than the inequity of such a caste system. (It is ironic that in Grace's last film, High Society—a remake of The Philadelphia Story—her character, Tracy Lord, is a member of the same social circle that considered her to be invisible when she was growing up.)

Though not accepted in the "inner" circle of Philadelphia society, Jack Kelly was a true bon vivant and raconteur, a man brimming with clever anecdotes, everyone's best friend, the life of any party. Tall, muscular, and strikingly handsome, with receding dark, wavy hair and penetrating, aquamarine eyes, Jack always wore custom-fitted suits made for him by the best tailors in the business; he wouldn't even put his car keys in his pockets for fear of ruining the contours. Though about as nearsighted as a person could be, he refused to wear prescription glasses because he felt he looked better without them. Passionate about politics, Jack was an early supporter of Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt—who had once described Kelly as "the handsomest man in America"—and campaigned for him in Philadelphia, where Republicans outnumbered Democrats ten to one. After he was elected President, Roosevelt remembered Kelly's support by making certain that the Public Works Administration offered work to Jack's Kelly for Brickwork company, which soon became one of the largest construction companies on the East Coast. Jack was also a close friend of George J. Earl, Pennsylvania's first Democratic governor in fifty years, elected in large part because of Jack's having stumped for him.

Margaret Majer Kelly, Grace's mother (called "Ma" in the family, short for Margaret and not a diminutive of "Mother"), was also an intriguing person, with noblemen in her German ancestry who could be traced back to Württemberg in the sixteenth century. The Majers had lived at Schloss Helmsdorf by Lake Constance before emigrating to Philadelphia. In 1914, when she was fourteen, Margaret met Jack Kelly at the Turngemeide swimming pool, a German club located at Broad Street and Columbus Avenue in Philadelphia, while the two enjoyed a recreational swim. Jack, a member of the swim team at Turngemeide, was ten years Margaret's senior.

Athletic, eye-catching, and full of life, the fair-haired Margaret held the distinction of becoming the first female athletic coach for coeds to be hired at the University of Pennsylvania. Also a local swimming champion, she went on to teach athletics to students at the Women's Medical College. Margaret also enjoyed a modestly successful career as a model, though it was not a vocation to which she was devoted, preferring instead to set her sights on traditional family goals. She married Jack Kelly on January 30, 1924, nearly ten years after first meeting him, at which point she converted from Protestant to Catholic. Margaret and Jack went on to make a formidable team: passionate, ambitious, determined—and both image-conscious, sometimes to the point of distraction, at least according to their friends and relatives.

In Margaret's view, Jack was the most fascinating, best-looking man in the Philadelphia metropolitan area, and no one would dare hint otherwise to her. Never, say those closest to her, did she think anything less of him, even though he was known to enjoy the occasional extramarital dalliance. However, "naive" would not have been a word to describe this strong-minded woman. She was well aware that her husband was unfaithful to her. "He's the kind of man women tell their secrets to," she once confided, "and, then, the girl wants him, he wants her, and that's that." As long as her husband was home when she needed him to be there, she would ignore his outside romantic entanglements, continuing to love and admire him. Anyway, divorce created scandal, and Margaret would have none of that. In situations such as hers, financial security was the supreme reward for feigning ignorance. If she ever challenged Jack about any of his consorts, the argument stayed strictly between them; no one close to the family seems to have any memory of open marital discord between the Kellys. Perhaps it was because she could not control her husband that she then tried to exert so much power over her offspring. The couple had four children in nine years: Margaret (Peggy) in September 1925; Jack Jr. (Kell) in May 1927; Grace on November 12, 1929; and Elizabeth Anne (Lizanne) in June 1933.

Margaret had her life just as she chose to live it … but at what cost? Though she acted the part well, she wasn't always the happy woman she presented to the world. The knowledge that she wasn't enough for Jack would eat away at her self-esteem, cause her to become brittle and, with the passing of time, unable to access honest, heartfelt emotions. Few knew the full extent of the emotional wounds beneath the surface of her sociable, polished persona. How would it look to outsiders if they were to discover the truth about her, about her marriage? Therefore she would never allow herself to lose control and would always keep others at a distance.

Still, Margaret was a woman with impeccable taste—and there was a great deal to be said for such an attribute if one hoped to move smoothly in society circles. Her table was always beautifully appointed with fine china, the food always delicious, exotic, and elaborately served. The consummate hostess, she was hospitable, personable, chatty, and witty. Servants at her parties were instructed to casually meander about in order to create an easy atmosphere. "I don't want my guests to think they [her employees] are afraid of me," she explained to a relative at a holiday party one year. "Though, in truth, they had damn well better be," she concluded with a wink.

Jack and Margaret's colonial manse at 3901 Henry Avenue, in the East Falls section of Philadelphia across the Schuylkill River from the Main Line, was built brick by brick by Jack's company, Kelly for Brickwork. Boasting seventeen opulently appointed rooms, the house sat on parklike, beautifully manicured grounds, along with a tennis court, a game room, and garage space for expensive antique automobiles. It was a showplace, an estate to which the four Kelly children could proudly invite friends for extravagant parties, a place where all were encouraged to engage in athletics.

Jack, always the competitive "man's man," was a strong believer in physical fitness.* He had hopes that his brood would be the most athletic on the block, and three of his offspring were qualified for that challenge. Grace, though, was a disappointment. Eventually, when she got older, she would become a fairly good swimmer and tennis player, but mostly in an unsuccessful bid to please her father. As a young girl Grace lacked the self-assuredness that was one of the defining characteristics of the rest of the Kelly family. She was the child who would trip on her own feet while running up the stairs, bloodying her chin in the process. She was the needy girl with the runny nose who never seemed quite healthy; she had a cold for what seemed like ten years. She was the scared kid who hid behind Mommy's skirt as Daddy begged her to "at least try" to dive into the deep end of the swimming pool. More than once Jack demanded to know, "What's Grace sniveling about now?" It was as if the family had a secret meeting, took a vote, and decided that Grace was the odd one out.

This family dynamic led Grace to retreat within herself as a child and create a rich world of fantasy. The reality that she was an unwelcome guest in her own home would inspire her to dream of a different life, a life in which she was the center, where she was noticed, where she mattered. However, all the childhood reverie couldn't change the circumstances of her early youth: Grace grew up lonely, timid, and feeling like an ugly duckling in a family of swans.

A Complex Family

Past accounts of Grace Kelly's life have suggested that she was unloved by her parents. While there is no doubt that Grace had a difficult childhood, family interactions are far too complicated to be painted with broad strokes of the brush. Whether trying to understand the Kellys of suburban Philadelphia, the Grimaldis of Monaco, or any familial unit anywhere, a family's internal dynamics are difficult for spectators to fully understand.

Actually, Jack and Margaret loved all of their children. However, as often happens in families, they had their favorites, and Grace didn't place on top of either preferred list, most especially her father's. Because she was such an anomaly in the family, Jack barely knew what to do with her, how to handle her. He was even a bit fearful of her. In his view, she was so fragile that "if you look at her the wrong way, she'll probably start bawling," as he once put it. No doubt, there were times when young Grace felt unappreciated in her family, even disregarded and unloved—but they were her family members nonetheless, and she never ceased to adore them unconditionally.

Grace would always have a complex relationship with her mother, to whom she gravitated as a result of her father's disaffection. However, as much as Margaret cared for her daughter, it was difficult for her to be demonstrative emotionally, not only to Grace but to all her children. Margaret was reserved and detached, almost to the point of frostiness. She was fine as long as one didn't expect her to give much of herself. If one did, she would close up like a clam under attack. Also, like her husband, Margaret was rigid, tough-minded, principled, and determined to instill a sense of propriety in her offspring, often at the expense of tenderness and understanding. However, she and young Grace would often be seen walking on the beach at the family's Ocean City, New Jersey, summer home, immersed in long conversations. Family photos show them looking as if they adore one another. Of course, when someone on the other side of a camera says, "Smile," people usually do just that. Still, while other accounts of Grace's life have portrayed Margaret as being an unfeeling mother, a more accurate version would present a trait that Grace and her mother shared. Each of these women, in their own right, had an emotional intuition; an ability to see both the joys and injustices handed them. Sadly, the injustices far outweighed the joys: Margaret, an unhappy spouse married to a man who needed more than she was able to give, and Grace, a lackluster child, living in the shadow of overachieving siblings. While these women had the same knack for emotional understanding, they wouldn't speak of their deep pains. Such discussion would have been considered self-pitying—and more was expected of them than that.

It had always been the eldest daughter who filled Jack and Margaret's world with sunshine. Grace's sister Margaret, born in June 1925, was known as Peggy, although to her adoring father she was always "Baba." Peggy was tough, she was smart, she never cried (or certainly not in front of Jack, anyway). Mention Grace to Jack, and he would inevitably find a way to turn the conversation around to Peggy, the pretty one, the funny one, the one who would go on to make him proud. She actually was quite a woman, well-known among friends for her splendid Irish sense of humor, her disarming charm. As a young woman, Peggy was a prize-winning amateur artist; her father marveled at her talent. Jack had great expectations for Peggy, and could hardly imagine Grace doing anything worthwhile with her life. Grace was "a good girl," "a nice girl," "a pretty girl" … and whatever she would do with her life would probably, at least in her father's view, not be anything that would shake up the world. She'd probably marry someone who didn't have much going for him, Jack reasoned. They'd have a few kids, and then, if they were lucky, maybe one of those children would amount to something, but not Grace.

Peggy and Grace had their places in the pecking order of the family, as did Lizanne, born Elizabeth Anne, in June 1933 (and sometimes also known as Lizzie). Though not as funny or as athletic as Peggy, Lizanne was the more personable sister, or at least that was the opinion of most adults who visited the family's home. She too dabbled in acting, appearing in a few theatrical productions in the Philadelphia area, though she never took it seriously. She was an observer, a girl with uncommon common sense. From an early age, she had a deep, intuitive understanding of the family's dynamics. "I knew Peggy was the favorite and Grace was the one trying to win favor," she now says. "I fell in the middle of the girls somewhere, mostly as a witness to all of the drama. I was the one who sat back and tried to figure it out, rather than be too affected by it."

Once, when Lizanne was five, she got so angry with Grace that she locked her in a cupboard. "I hoped she'd start kicking and screaming, just lose her composure. But hours went by with no sound. In exasperation I unlocked the door. Grace didn't even look up. She just said, 'Hi, Lizzie.' She had been playing with her toys for all that time. She seemed to have been born with a serenity the rest of us didn't have."

No matter what little sibling rivalries occurred among them, the four impeccably behaved Kelly children were always close, and would remain so throughout their lives. They rarely exhibited any jealousy of one another. Rather, they were protective of each other, sometimes even forming secret alliances of understanding against their parents, as children of complex families often do.

Outside the family, Grace seemed fun-loving and giggly to a small number of friends, but her shyness made her appear cold and aloof to those who did not know her well, especially to her peers in junior and senior high school. By the time she was about twelve, she began wearing glasses for nearsightedness, an eye condition she shared with her father. Small, thin, shy, and bespectacled, she certainly wasn't one of those girls found in the popular clique at school. "Grace was an ugly duckling when you consider how damned good-looking the rest of the family was," said Jane Wooster Scott, who was a childhood friend of Lizanne's and later became friendly with Grace in New York. "She was the plainest of them all. Her brother was drop-dead gorgeous! Actually, they all were."

Grace became interested in acting around her twelfth year. In 1942, she appeared in Don't Feed the Animals, staged by the Old Academy Players, a small theater group near the family home in East Falls. Though Jack and Margaret were impressed by Grace's natural ability, they were also certain that she was going through a phase, one that she would, hopefully, soon outgrow. Jack couldn't find the time to pay much attention to Grace's acting anyway. His focus, when not on Peggy, was on the tall, rugged, and handsome "Kell," born John Brendan, Jr., in May 1927, the golden son destined to balance the scales of history for the Kelly family.

As it happened, Jack had never gotten over his exclusion from the Diamond Sculls at Henley in 1920 by an interpretation of nineteenth-century rules (which have since been changed) whereby a man who performed manual labor—and Jack was considered a bricklayer—was thought of as having an unfair advantage in strength over "better-bred" English entrants, or "gentlemen."*

Later that year, he took his revenge at the subsequent Olympics by beating his English rival and then triumphantly sending his rowing cap to Buckingham Palace. However, that victory was not retribution enough for him. He insisted that Kell take up rowing, even though the boy didn't much like the sport at first, preferring football. Father personally began training son when he was seven years old, intent on turning the youngster into a personal instrument of vengeance aimed at winning at Henley. Kell was constantly encouraged to excel in sculling, at the expense of any other hobbies, or friends—or anything else—in his young life.

After coming in second in his first race, Kell would eventually win the Diamond Sculls Regatta at Henley in England, which would certainly make his father proud even if it would do little to enhance their relationship. (Kell would also go on to win a bronze medal in the 1956 Olympic Games.) "The old man pushed the hell out of me," Kell once recalled.


On Sale
Apr 1, 2003
Page Count
512 pages

J. Randy Taraborrelli

About the Author

J. Randy Taraborrelli is a respected journalist, a recognizable entertainment personality, and in-demand guest on many television programs including Today, Good Morning America, The Early Show, Entertainment Tonight, and CNN Headline News. He is the bestselling author of thirteen books.

Learn more about this author