Today, the enchanting Grace Kelly would have been 90 years old. It always makes me sad to think that she could still be with us. This brings many questionings, such as what would be her approach to the world now, how she would have continued to make Monaco an attractive place, what would have been her relationship with her grandchildren, etc. Over the years, people have paid tributes to the beautiful lady, and she’s still part of cinephile’s collective memory. Grace Kelly was (and still is) an icon, someone who marked the world with her grace (!), sense of fashion, short but notorious acting career, and more. Like every year since 2015, I dedicate November 10-12 to my Wonderful Grace Kelly Blogathon that I’m hosting on my main blog, The Wonderful World of Cinema. This year’s edition is particularly special, not only because it marks what would have been Grace’s 90th birthday, but it’s also the 5th edition of the blogathon. I have the pleasure to be hosting it with Emily from The Flapper Dame and Samantha from Musings of a Classic Film Addict.
I like to go off the beaten tracks when I contribute to this blogathon. I was very proud of the little questionary that I conducted among Grace’s fans last year. If you haven’t read it yet, I really recommend you so. This time it’s not only me speaking; I was giving the mike to a community of Grace Kelly’s fans from all ages.
One of my favourite things about Grace Kelly is that I like all her films. Of course, she didn’t make many, but these are some I can easily re-watch over and over again. By the way, can we just all agree that The Swan is SO UNDERRATED? However, because it precisely was a short (but brilliant) Hollywood career, once you’ve seen all her films, well, you’ve seen them all. There’s always the pleasure of re-watching them over and over again, but you never get the satisfaction of discovering a new one every year. Actually, it’s not EXACTLY true that I’ve seen all her films if you include The Children of Theatre Street (Robert Dornhelm and Earle Mack, 1977) for which Grace Kelly did the narration. It’s not Grace acting anymore, but, at least, it might give you a little satisfaction. The documentary received a nomination for Best Documentary Feature at the Academy Awards. Grace Kelly also appeared in a TV movie called The Big Build Up (William Corrigan, 1952) and various tv shows, especially in the early 50s. However, I did a bit of research to see if these were available to watch anywhere online and, unfortunately, my result hadn’t been very conclusive, nor for the TV movies and nor for the TV shows. So, if any of you knows a way to watch them, please let me know!
Grace Kelly also appeared on radio on a few occasions (maybe not as frequently as other movie stars like Orson Welles or Bob Hope). For example, she was a guest on The Bob Hope Show and the host of episode 283 of Family Theatre, “Stopwatch Finale”. You can listen to these here.
Of course, when she participated in these radio and TV programs, Grace didn’t know her acting career would be over soon. As a princess, Grace was, obviously, a big part of the media. As we’ve mentioned her few appearances on radio, what I would particularly like to focus on today is her guest appearance on Desert Island Discs in April 1981. This was a year before her tragic death. Desert Island Discs was launched by freelance broadcaster Roy Plomley who had the idea for this program while he was relaxing at home in his pyjamas (1). The first episode was aired on BBC in 1942 with the unimitable Vic Oliver as the first guest. (2) Over the years, Roy Plomley, Michael Parkinson, Sue Lawley, and Kristy Young presented the program. (3) Lauren Lavern hosts it now. (4) This is, without a doubt, one of the longest-lasting radio shows. The principle of the show is quite simple: each week, a guest is invited to present eight recordings he or she would bring if dropped on a desert island. The discussion doesn’t only revolve around the musical choices but also around the person’s life and career, which make the listening most enriching. We estimate the British radio show’s audience at 2,8 million auditors. (5) Experts named it “the greatest radio program”. (6)
I haven’t gone through many episodes yet. As a matter of fact, apart from Grace Kelly, the only other episode I remember listening to was the one with Margaret Lockwood. Margaret was twice a guest on the program but, unfortunately, only one of the episodes seems available to listen.
I listened to Grace Kelly’s episode yesterday, so all the discussion is pretty fresh in my memory. Since BBC broadcasted the episode in 1981, the host was then Roy Plomley. As we inform us at the beginning of the program, this episode was retrieved from The British Library’s video collection. The original show was rebuilt as the version from the library didn’t contain the eight records. Discs from the BBC Radiophone Library were used to do so. (7) The reconstitution was smoothly done, and it doesn’t sound like one. So, good job!
What particularly stroke me as I was discovering Grace Kelly’s musical tastes was her voice. Grace Kelly had this voice I could recognize everywhere, but I came to realise that this was probably her young lady’s voice as it sounds so different in the show. It’s difficult to explain how it changed, but I feel it showed that Grace Kelly had spent a considerable time among royals. She had always expressed herself very well, but the tone had changed. Mind me it wasn’t a bad thing. It’s actually very agreeable to listen to. Of course, in her films, Grace was in her 20s and, in Desert Island Discs, she was 51. So it’s possible that her voice changed over the years. But then, maybe she decided to adopt a more “radiophonic” voice for the occasion. Because there’s this interview that ABC conducted in 1982 where she sounds much more the way we are used to. On a few occasions, she names French names, such as Chopin, and her pronunciation is impeccable. After all, she did learn French when she became the princess of Monaco as it is the state’s official language. You can learn more about it here. Anyway, listening to Grace on Desert Island Discs and Roy Plomley’s beautiful and smooth British accent is a real treat to the ears!
Grace Kelly’s eight pics are particularly eclectic and show a certain variety. She introduced her choices with a record by Fred Astaire, “You’re Easy to Dance” with from Holiday Inn, and “You Make Me Feel So Young” crooned by Frank Sinatra, a song Plomley qualifies of “one of Sinatra’s best”. Grace Kelly reveals her great admiration for Fred Astaire both as a singer and a dancer when introducing “You’re Easy to Dance With” (I love how she pronounces the name of the song).
Grace Kelly’s selection includes a few “classics”. Here, I use classic in a general way because not all old instrumental pieces are classical music. The first one among these is “Berceuse in D Flat Major” by Chopin which seems to be dear to Grace’s heart. The second one is “Viola da Gamba Sonata No. 1 in G major” by Bach, interpreted by renowned Canadian pianist Glenn Gould and cellist Leonard Rose. Grace also included Hayden’s “The Clock” or “Symphony No. 101 in D major”. Among the three, this was my favourite. It’s a piece of music that sounds very “royal”. I would have imagined Grace entering a ball on the sound of this music!
One of the more unusual choices of this list was “The Proud Horse” monologue from William Shakespeare’s Venus and Adonis. It was an excerpt from the album Birds, Beats and Flowers that Grace recorded with British actor Richard Pasco. He’s the one reciting Shakespeare’s monlogue with dynamic and theatrical passion.
Her choice of Don McLean’s “On the Amazon” was the more “modern” piece of the selection. Grace chose it as it appealed to her sense of humour as she explains to Plomley. And, finally, the last choice highly amused me: Aram Khachaturian’s “Sabre Dance”! Grace needed something lively for her trip on the desert island. Well, she can’t go wrong with that! On my side, I’ve always associated this energetic music to Billy Wilder’s One, Two, Three, one of my very favourite films. I wonder if Grace liked this film as well! It’s also perfect music to listen to when you need to hurry. So, once again, I imagined Grace Kelly hurrying in Monaco’s palace to prepare herself for some official evening.
Grace Kelly’s taste for the art was undeniable. For the music, she discusses Monaco’s great devotion for this art, with its Orchestra, the numerous concerts (including those in the palace’s courtyard), the operas, etc. She also reveals a childhood hobby of piano playing which, unfortunately, didn’t last long! Concerning her career more directly, when the time comes to discuss High Society, Grace’s describes Cole Porter’s music as “delightful”. Grace herself used to sing a little, one of the example being her beautiful “True Love” duo with Bing Crosby in the 1956’s musical. And then, it became a habit during car rides.
I didn’t know much about that, but Grace also had a passion for dance! Well, her interest in the ballet was obvious (not only because she narrated a documentary about a ballet school, but also because she did a bit of it as a child). More interestingly, she also had a high interest in modern dance. She danced age 15-16 and actually applied to a dance and drama college but was put on a waiting list because this was post-war time and the money was invested in scholarship for the G.I’s returning home instead of the young girls eager to pursue an artistic career. So, the idea was soon abandoned. I believe this short dancing “career” contributed a lot to Grace’s undeniable elegance!
Of course, Grace Kelly’s real love of her life was acting, both in films and in plays. Her taste for the stage art came from her uncle George Kelly, a Pulitzer Price’s winning playwright, and her uncle Walter Kelly whom Grace said to be “a great monologist”. Through the Desert Island Discs episode, Grace tells us more about her childhood going to the theatre and the ballet, how she decided to become an actress at the end of high school, her time at The American Academy of Dramatic Art in New York, her first job at Summer stock theatre in Pennsylvania (where she played in a few of her uncle George’s plays), when she played Raymond Massey’s daughter on Broadway in The Father, etc.
If Grace didn’t have the chance to go back to films or theatre after she married Rainier III and became the new princess of Monaco, recitals were now a new way for her to express herself theatrically without having to live the principaty for too long. She found a lot of advantages and comfort in this performative activity.
Grace also discusses her passion for flowers, flower pressing, and nature. The Garden club she formed in Monaco was for her a way to encourage the respect of nature and to bring pleasure and comfort for people. Because Grace obviously cared about people as she makes us feel through this fascinating interview.
Because yes, she doesn’t only talk about herself in this interview. She speaks highly of her former colleagues of the movie industry, her co-actors and actresses, the movie directors, etc. She also discusses her family and their passion for sports (Grace was more interested in theatre!), and her Irish heritage.
She also gives a lot of information about Monaco proving her great knowledge about her second home country. She tells us more about the forgotten but fascinating history of the place, its geography, the palace where she lives, the important stamp industry, etc. Interestingly, Monaco used to be only accessible by boat, which makes this castaway concept highly appropriate!
When Roy Plomley asks Grace is she could live on a desert Island, this one is hesitant. Maybe not forever, but her former girl scout experience and her knowledge about knots and stars would definitely have help. Grace liked to be alone in a crowd but maybe not alone in the middle of nowhere! However, it might not be that bad with those wonderful recordings to listen to! Grace concludes this episode by perfectly showcasing her delightful sense of humour and, once again, undeniable love for performative arts: if she could bring one book with her on the island, it would be a collection of George Kelly’s plays, this way she could spare time playing all the parts! Just imagine this scene!
Although I’ve been a fan of Grace Kelly for many years, I learned a lot more through this episode of Desert Island Discs. And it felt great to learn about Grace’s life through her own perspective instead of the ones from documentaries or books. One of the elements that probably surprised me the most is the fact that Grace occasionally was a school teacher before going to New York! I’ll let you listen to the show to understand the context.
I hope this article made you want to listen to it! The great thing about radio is that you can listen to it while doing something else; cooking supper, taking a walk, or while you’re doing your grocery store shopping as it was the case with me!
Click HERE to listen to the full episode. You’re in for a treat!
And I invite you to read the other lovely entries written for this blogathon:
Happy heavenly birthday enchanting Grace!
(1) “The History of Desert Island Discs.” BBC Radio 4, https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/articles/59YrnYM0Tw8J7WJ0MGKVfh7/the-history-of-desert-island-discs. Accessed November 12, 2019.
(5) “Desert Island Discs ‘greatest radio show of all time’.” BBC News. 12 February 2019, https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-47204636. Accessed November 12, 2019.
(7) “Princess Grace of Monaco.” Radio, Desert Island Discs, BBC Radio 4, April 24, 1981, https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p009mv7w. Accessed November 12, 2019.