Screen Sirens of Hollywood: Grace Kelly Rules the Movies

This article and other features about the stars of Tinseltown can be found in the Post’s Special Collector’s Edition, The Golden Age of Hollywood. This edition can be ordered here. 

The headache with any story is usually beginning it. That is not the trouble with the Grace Kelly story.

The tough thing about the Kelly story is this: You run yourself black in the face tracking down everyone— including Grace herself—who can give you an angle on her. You talk to those who’ve worked with her, those who are related to her and those who are her friends. And when you have finished all this, she is still such an elusive subject that writing about her is like trying to wrap up smoke.

When I sat down to talk to the woman herself, her face was expressionless. I saw only the surface of her eyes, not into them. She was poised, cool, collected and wary. She said nothing—unless I asked her a question first. Once or twice, even when I put a direct query to her, she smiled and didn’t answer. However, little by little, she began to come out from behind her private Iron Curtain.

She said that when she met Fred Zinnemann, who had directed her in her first Hollywood venture, HIGH NOON, he had given her some kindly advice. “You ought to learn how to speak to people and what to say to them when you meet them,” he said. Later, she discovered that such advice from Zinnemann had its hilarious aspect, for he himself is so shy that after those sage words, he had almost nothing to say. To make things even clammier, they were both working with Gary Cooper, who had been known for years as the Hollywood actor least likely to be chatty. It was only after Cooper’s discovery that Grace was even shyer than he that his talk moved out of a mumble, and he made so bold as to take her to lunch.

No unusual twist in the Grace Kelly story was involved in her becoming a member of the cast of HIGH NOON. It was simply that, rated o her performance in one Broadway play, THE FATHER, and her countless appearances before the slowly moving and ruthless eyes of TV cameras, her agents convinced those who were casting the film that the Philadelphia girl—who has since been described by one picture maker as having “stainless-steel insides” and who reminds one picture maker of “a cool stream in a mountain hideaway”— was a good bet.

I asked her how she happened to appear in the test Fox had made of her, the test that had had such a profound influence upon her life. “After a brief appearance in FOURTEEN HOURS,” she said, “Metro offered me a stock contract. Other studios did too, but I wasn’t interested. I could earn more modeling. Also, I wanted to try my luck on Broadway. I read for so many plays, I lost count of them. People were confused about my type, but they agreed on one thing: I was in the too category—‘too tall,’ ‘too leggy, ‘too chinny.’”

The Move Into Film

About that time she was studying acting with Sandy Meisner, who taught dramatics at the Neighborhood Playhouse and classes on the side. One day Grace was starting for her class when the Fox New York once called to say, “We want you to come over and see one of our directors, Gregory Ratoff. He’s going to direct a movie called TAXI. He wants to test you for it.” She wore an old skirt and an old shirt. Her hair wasn’t curled. She was minus makeup. But she said, “I’ll stop by.”

When she walked in, a man from her agency was there. “All the other girls looked cute and sweet in high heels,” she told me. “I looked so terrible, my agent was embarrassed. But when Mr. Ratoff saw me, he said, ‘Perfect.’ This was a switch. My whole life people had been telling me I was imperfect. ‘What I like about this girl is she’s not pretty,’ Mr. Ratoff said. My agent insisted, ‘But Mr. Ratoff, she is pretty.’ Mr. Ratoff would not be talked out of it. ‘No, no, no, she is not!’ he said.

“When I took off my coat and he saw my old shirt and skirt, he was in ecstasy. ‘Magnificent,’ he said. ‘Cannot you speak with an Irish accent?’” Apparently this was what was expected of her, and although she’d never spoken with an Irish accent, she said, “Of course.” en she went home and worked on it. After the test was made, Ratoff wanted her for TAXI, but the man who produced it didn’t, although Fox had a contract all ready for her to sign. So that was that.

However, John Ford, who was directing MOGAMBO, saw the Fox test and decided she’d do for his picture. “MOGAMBO had three things that interested me,” she said. “John Ford, Clark Gable and a trip to Africa with expenses paid. If MOGAMBO had been made in Arizona, I wouldn’t have done it.”

I asked her about an anecdote that had been given quite a play in the press. It had to do with her knitting a pair of socks for Clark Gable and hanging them on his tent on Christmas morning while they were on location for MOGAMBO. The way it had happened was different from the printed version—as such things have a way of being. She had tried to knit a pair of socks for Gable, but, like many another knitter with good intentions, she hadn’t finished them in time. “When I realized that I wasn’t going to make it, we were out in Tanganyika, in the middle of nowhere,” she told me, “and I couldn’t buy anything for him. So I stole a pair of his own socks. Each day I stole something else from him. On Christmas Eve I filled one of his socks with his own things and hung it up. It was a silly gesture, but he liked it. I am very fond of Clark.”

Another rumor I had heard was that while they were on-location for MOGAMBO, Gable had gotten a cable from a London columnist and had read it to Grace. It said: “Rumors sweeping England about your romance with Grace Kelly. Please cable confirmation or denial.” “This,” said Gable, “is the greatest compliment I’ve ever had. I’m old enough to be your father.”

Although I’m not good at a personal probe, I asked her about it anyhow. “I should think he would have been able to overcome that feeling,” I said.

Instead of answering, she smiled and didn’t say anything.

But she was forthright when she talked about the way she felt about Hollywood. “At times I think I hate Hollywood,” she said. “In New York you can go anywhere and people respect your privacy. In Hollywood, they don’t. When Bing [Crosby] took me and my sister, Peggy, out to dinner, the papers made a circus out of it. Poor Bing. He couldn’t relax and have a pleasant evening with eight photographers around him. We had to leave.”

I asked her if anyone had told her they thought her aloof. “Lots of people have,” she said. “But until I know people, I can’t give much of myself. A year ago, when people asked me, ‘What about you?’ I froze. I’m better now, but I’m still not cured.” In fact, she said, the first time she met Alfred Hitchcock, who directed her in REAR WINDOW, DIAL M FOR MURDER and TO CATCH A THIEF, she said she could think of nothing to say to him. She remembers, “In a horrible way it seemed funny to have my brain turn to stone.”

That remark made me think of a thing Alfred Hitchcock had told me when I’d asked him for a few human- interest stories about incidents that had occurred during the making of TO CATCH A THIEF: “I have no anecdotes about Grace. To create anecdotes, people must do either silly things or funny things. Of course, there are the kind of phony anecdotes the publicity man assigned to the unit thinks up, but the really funny things one does or says do not happen on schedule. Anecdotes grow with the years, like the rings on a tree. And Grace hasn’t many years. However, she has a quality that is far more important. She can play comedy not sexily but elegantly. It’s a quality most women do not have. It has already taken her a long way. It may even take her to the top.”