Fifty-six years ago today, on April 19, 1956, film actress Grace Kelly married Prince Rainier III of Monaco in a religious ceremony in St. Nicholas Cathedral, Monaco-Ville. The Civil Ceremony took place the preceding day in the Palace throne room. The famous Valenciennes rose point lace, silk taffeta and tulle wedding dress, a gift from MGM costume designer Helen Rose, has been seen by a whole new audience this past year as it travels the world as part of the Grace Kelly: From Movie Star to Princess exhibition of Grace’s dresses, correspondence and movie memorabilia. The wedding was more than an opportunity for Grace to showcase her elegant sense of style. The marriage began a period of revitalization for Monaco under the leadership of the princely couple.
When Rainier first succeeded to the throne on the death of his grandfather, Prince Louis II, in 1949, neither his family nor his principality were well regarded on the international stage. Rainier’s mother, Princess Charlotte, lived in Le Marchais, the Grimaldi estate outside Paris with her lover, former jewel thief René Girier and transformed the stately house into a home for former convicts. Rainier`s sister, Princess Antoinette, was jealous of his prerogatives and attempted to seize the throne in 1950, to rule as regent for her young son.
In 1949, 95 percent of Monaco`s economy was derived from gambling, fuelling a society that author Somerset Maugham described as “a sunny place full of shady people.” Rainier set out to revitalize the principality`s economy, encouraging tourism and foreign investment. The marriage of Rainier and Grace was crucial to this transformation. Film footage of “The wedding of the century,” which was broadcast around the world, showcased the French riviera as a desirable vacation destination. The four hundred reporters who accompanied the bride to Monaco praised the principality’s warm climate and scenic location on the Mediterranean coast. Visits from Grace`s friends in the film industry including former To Catch a Thief co-star Cary Grant fuelled the popular perception that Monaco was a glamorous place to visit. Gambling revenues now comprise less than 5% of Monaco’s economy.
While previous Princesses of Monaco developed a reputation for self indulgence or political intrigues, Grace engaged in the charitable patronage that enhanced the public profile of princesses throughout Europe. She revived the practice of charity balls at the palace, inviting her friends from Hollywood to increase the visibility of these events. She also served as President of the Monaco Red Cross, and founded The World Association of Children’s Friends, a non-profit organization that promotes the rights of children worldwide. Her daughter Princess Caroline is the current patron of this organization.
Grace also engaged in extensive cultural patronage, giving Monaco a worldwide profile as an artistic centre. She was patron of the International Television Festival, the Monaco Arts Festival, the opera, the ballet and prestigious art exhibitions, and founded a theatre that bears her name. Examples of her own artistic dried flower arrangements were displayed in galleries and eventually sold to raise money for her charities.
From their marriage in 1956, Rainier and Grace led the economic and cultural revitalization of Monaco. The principality now has a diverse economy encompassing tourism and foreign investment and hosts numerous cultural festivals, exhibitions and events. With the marriage of the current reigning Prince, Albert II to South African Olympic swimmer Charlene Wittstock in 2011, Grace’s legacy of charitable patronage continues. Princess Charlene presides over the annual Red Cross ball and the Rose Ball, which raises money for the Princess Grace foundation.