On 5 January 1956, from her parents’ house, Grace Kelly announced her engagement to Prince Rainier III of Monaco.
“A big day in Philadelphia when millionaire John B. Kelly’s daughter, film star Grace Kelly, announces her engagement to Prince Rainier, the 32-year-old ruler of the pocket state of Monaco. A pretty famous pocket at that, it consists almost entirely of Monte Carlo. In a few months, Miss Kelly will be ‘Her Serene Highness Princess,’” the British Pathé newsreel narrator said.
The announcement was made first in Monaco, then several hours later at a photocall in Philadelphia, which Rainier was present for. Jack Kelly, Grace’s father, announced the news at a luncheon at the Philadelphia Country Club. That night, the newly engaged couple attended a ball in their honour at the Waldorf Astoria, themed around Monaco – the ballroom had been hastily decorated to mimic the look of the Prince’s Palace.
In a memoir published after Grace’s death called The Bridesmaids, her bridesmaid, Judith Balaban Quine wrote that “Once their engagement was formally proclaimed, had a Martian landed on earth, that alien would surely have believed that the sun rose and set and the tides rolled in and out on the basis of the lives of two earthlings named Grace and Rainier.”
In the memoir, Balaban Quine recalls her decades long friendship with Grace and specifically, how all of the bridesmaids for her 19 April 1956 wedding knew her and what happened in their lives.
“The New York Times had consistently consigned announcements of engagements, weddings and births to a discreetly placed page at the rear of its first or second section. To ‘make’ the Times society page, one of the principals or certain family members had to be people of wealth, accomplishment, social standing or commercial or intellectual success. Actresses were usually excluded from the society page, as it was called.
“Yet even The New York Times wrote about Grace and Rainier’s betrothal on its serious front page. This public obsession with Grace and Rainier continued well into the New Year of 1956, infiltrating the psyches, hearts and dreams, as well as the dining rooms, bedrooms and offices, of nearly every American over the age of five.”
Once Grace and Rainier’s engagement was announced, it was carte blanche on news stories about the couple and all aspects of their lives. According to Donald Spoto’s biography of Princess Grace, there were near-constant stories about her in the papers from that day onward, and they didn’t abate until well after the wedding.
“Prince Rainier’s royal cabinet wants the wedding to be in Monaco, Grace’s mother wants it to be in Philadelphia, and Grace? ‘I don’t mind either way,’” according to the British Pathé engagement newsreel.
Later that month, competing stories from Monaco and Philadelphia were printed with each camp arguing where the nuptials would take place. On 11 January, Grace said that the location was still not set. On 16 January, the court officials said that the wedding would take place in Monaco. On 17 January, Grace’s mother was reported as saying that the details still weren’t confirmed.
Grace fielded a few questions at the Idlewild Airport about her wedding dress, with a reporter asking if it was true that the dress design had been changed. Grace replied in the negative, that it had never changed, and that she didn’t know where the reporter had got that information. She also contended with stories about whether she’d be able to bring her dog over – either by airplane or steamship – with her to Monaco (he accompanied her on the SS Constitution).
Though Grace demurred at interviews and admitted that she hated the press intrusion into her life, her mother, Margaret, didn’t have the same qualms.
In February and March, she was purported to have written a series of articles about Grace’s life, though Spoto says they were ghostwritten and Margaret never read over them before they were published. Sensitive information about Grace’s early life and her romances were splashed out in the newspapers for anyone to read. Grace was reportedly furious.
Time Magazine wrote a long story about Grace in mid-January and there were articles about her in every issue – which ran weekly – until July. The press had frequent access to Grace until she boarded the SS Constitution in early April to sail to Monaco.
Aboard the ship, the press was kept separate from Grace and her family, and it wasn’t until they complained well into the trip that they were given access for a daily photocall.
After the wedding, the press office at the palace fielded all requests for stories about the couple.