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Grace Kelly: A Woman of Ambition

On November 12, 1929, Grace Kelly was born to champions. Her father won three Olympic gold medals in sculling, and his construction company became one of the biggest on the East Coast. Her mother, a former cover girl and competitive swimmer, was the first woman to teach PE at the University of Pennsylvania. According to Vanity Fair, Grace Kelly predicted her future at an early age. She told her sister Peggy, “One day I’m going to be a princess.”

All grown up, her life in limelight began on Broadway when in 1949 she played the daughter in The Father. But her voice was too soft for the rave reviews it would take to move up in theatre. Film seemed like the answer--Kelly was extraordinarily photogenic. In 1952, Kelly got her big break playing the wife of an anthropologist in John Ford’s Mogambo, with Alfred Hitchcock’s Dial M for Murder soon after. As she rose, Kelly navigated the tricky world of Hollywood with aplomb: she negotiated a seven-year contract with MGM that allowed her to live in Manhattan every other year, giving her access to Broadway. And by 1955, Kelly was the year’s highest-earning female star.

Kelly was also known to follow her heart. Vanity Fair says, “Judged in retrospect, not by 50s standards but by feminist ones, she was as self-possessed about her sexuality as she was about her work.” And in 1956, she pursued passion when she left Hollywood to marry Prince Rainier of Monaco. Their union was called “The Wedding of the Century,” and it was broadcast live to more than 30 million European viewers by MGM.

Both in Hollywood and Europe, Grace Kelly was an icon of elegance. She revealed her affinity for independence when, in an interview months before her death, Pierre Salinger asked about the smallness of Monaco. Does the country really matter? He wondered. Kelly responded succinctly: “For me, it has a great significance because I believe in the individual, and here we’re able to deal with the individual.” She went on to describe a picnic to which the entire constituency was invited. Grace Kelly dreamed big, and the fairy tale came true. Get a look at her iconic life in the gallery above.

All images via Getty