EXCERPT: 'High Society: The Life of Grace Kelly'

Read an excerpt from Donald Spoto's new book.

ByABC News via via logo
September 28, 2009, 2:27 PM

Nov. 4, 2009— -- Donald Spoto gives readers a fresh look at Grace Kelly (1929–1982) in his new book, "High Society: The Life of Grace Kelly." Spoto chronicles her early years in an affluent Philadelphia neighborhood and moves on to her glamorous Hollywood career, which lasted until she became the wife of Monaco's Prince Rainier. She enjoyed a rich life as a royal, raising three children and working hard for the arts. She died in a car crash at the age of 52.

The noted film biographer draws on his hours of face-to-face interviews with the Academy Award-winning actress and her co-stars, including James Stewart and Cary Grant.

Read the excerpt below, and then head to the "GMA" Library to find more good reads.

During our last meeting, I asked Grace Kelly Grimaldi if she planned to write an autobiography or to authorize a writer to compose her life story. "I'd like to think I'm still too young for that!" she said with a laugh. Without any hint of a dark premonition, she then added, "Donald, you really ought to wait until twenty- five years after I'm gone, and then you tell the whole story." I have honored her request for a delay: Grace left us in September 1982, and I started work on this book early in 2007.

I spent many hours with this remarkable woman over several years, beginning with our first meeting during the afternoon of September 22, 1975; in a short time she offered me a friendship that deepened over the years. At our introduction, at her home in Paris, she was preparing to relocate from her apartment on the Avenue Foch to another residence nearby. There were packing boxes, and movers working with quiet efficiency, and my tape recording of that afternoon indicates that there were only three brief interruptions in our long conversation.

First, an elderly attendant, the only servant I saw that day, inquired what he might offer for refreshment, and Grace asked if I would like tea and biscuits. Then, a few moments after we began the interview, Grace apologized as she went over to a sliding glass door to the terrace, to admit her cat, eager to check out a visitor. Later, Grace's youngest child, ten- year- old Princess Stéphanie, emerged from her room. "Mommy, I can't find my yellow sweater."

Grace told her to try the obvious place—the drawers of her dresser. Stéphanie returned a few moments later, unable to find the beloved sweater. Grace excused herself, went to Stéphanie's aid and returned moments later, the wardrobe problem having been quickly resolved.

The matter had not been attended to by a servant, nor had one been looking after the child during my visit. "I hope you don't mind these little interruptions," Grace said that afternoon. "We just don't like the idea of turning the children over to nannies and minders. We like to help them ourselves—and then of course we know what to tell them when they ought to do something on their own. They don't always have everything done for them, I can tell you that!"

My visit that day was an important part of the research for my first book, The Art of Alfred Hitchcock, the first full- length treatment of all the director's movies. Knowing that she gave interviews but rarely, I had not much hope when I wrote from my home in New York to Grace's secretary at the palace in Monaco. Up to 1975, my writing résumé listed only a few magazine articles and one essay in a book—hence I had little hope for an interview with the princess, who was constantly besieged with such requests.

Two weeks after I wrote, however, I received a reply from her secretary, Paul Choisit, asking if I would like to meet with Her Serene Highness in Paris that September. You bet I would. I went to visit Grace shortly after spending two weeks with Alfred Hitchcock, while he was directing (as it turned out) his last film, Family Plot, that summer of 1975. I told him that I had an appointment to interview Grace. "That should be interesting," he said with a wry smile.

My first conversation with Grace that September afternoon was mostly about her three films for Alfred Hitchcock, made between July 1953 and August 1954. Her memories were sharp, picturesque, amusing and full of telling anecdotes. That day and later, she also spoke about other directors, especially Fred Zinnemann and John Ford, mostly to compare their methods and manners with Hitchcock's. There was no doubt about her deep respect, affection and acute understanding of Alfred Hitchcock the director and the man. Later she also spoke quite frankly to me about her life and about incidents for which she asked my confidence "as long as I'm around," as she said. I gave her my word.

At that first meeting, Grace impressed me with her total lack of affectation and of anything like a regal manner. She wore a simple navy blue suit and, as I recall, very little jewelry. She put on no airs, she was funny and ironic, she had an extraordinary memory for detail, she told some delightfully risqué tales of Hollywood, she was realistic and completely unstuffy—and she was as interested in my life as I was in hers. I was completely at ease with her. We sat on a comfortable sofa, and we sipped tea and munched delicious little cookies, on and off, all through the afternoon until dusk.

But there was one enormous surprise for me as I prepared to depart.

As we came to the end of the afternoon, Grace asked if anyone was going to write a foreword or introduction to my work. I replied that, as The Art of Alfred Hitchcock would be my first book, I had given no thought to the matter of a foreword by anyone—I had been lucky just to find a small independent publisher. "I am constantly asked to endorse products," she continued, "and to comment on books, or to say something about a movie. I cannot do that, for many reasons. However, in your case, I would make an exception. If you will send me your manuscript when it's finished, would you like me to write a foreword to your book?"

In December, I sent her the final draft of The Art of Alfred Hitchcock, and on January 16, 1976, a diplomatic courier arrived at my New York apartment, bearing her introduction to the book and a charming cover letter: "I am enclosing the foreword," she wrote, "as well as the galley sheets that I very much enjoyed reading. It will certainly be a great book about Alfred Hitchcock." The book was published in August of that year, with Grace's remarks right up front. Thirty- three years later it is still in print. Doubleday purchased it from the original publisher; foreign translations appeared; and Grace's introduction still honors my debut as a writer. Her generosity was a significant addition and brought the book attention from some who, I am certain, would otherwise have ignored it. And yes, she said, of course I could exploit both her words and her name in promoting the book.

In the summer of 1976, Grace invited me to the palace in Monaco, where I presented her with the second copy of the published book—the first, of course, went to Hitchcock. It was a torrid, humid day, and she returned from her country house especially for our reunion. As I was shown into the family quarters, Grace was standing in an orange chiffon outfit, trying, with difficulty, to fasten a bracelet. "Oh, Donald," she said, smiling and extending her wrist when she saw me, "would you please help me with this?"

"What shall we have to drink?" she said afterwards, as we settled onto a settee facing open French doors to a terrace and trying to catch a breeze. We decided on sparkling water. That day I also met Princess Caroline, who came in, fresh and alarmingly beautiful, and briefly joined us. Her mother was proud to show off her intelligent, poised daughter, then a university student in Paris. I was booked into Grace's schedule for an hour in the late morning, but she insisted that I remain for lunch.

From 1975 until Hitchcock's death in 1980, I was a kind of go- between, delivering messages back and forth from Monaco to Hollywood during my various visits with Hitch and Grace. With the probable exception of his wife, he did not easily confide in anyone—but I was an acolyte, and he dropped the mask of diffidence with me, especially at the elaborate lunches prepared just for the two of us in the dining room of his offices at Universal Studios. At such times he was more frank than if we were doing a formal interview. He rarely laughed, but I saw tears run down his face when he spoke, for example, of his recently deceased sister.

Grace, on the other hand, was consistently more forthright and unguarded once she felt confident of my trust. I think this was one of the reasons she offered to write the foreword to my book, and to entrust me with details of her association with Hitch and of her life and career.

When Grace died, I was asked by National Public Radio in the United States to compose and broadcast a tribute to her. It was one of the most difficult assignments of my life, before or since. I spoke briefly of our friendship and of our many conversations about the great and small things of life.

The book you are holding is the story of a working life, from Grace's days as a model and television actress to her final film, made not long before her death. Although that last movie has never been released, it leaves no doubt that Grace was one of the foremost talents of her time, our time, any time. I am fortunate to be able to treat this last, unavailable movie in considerable detail here, as well as a wide selection of her television appearances, which have been, up to now, completely ignored by biographers.

With very few exceptions, Grace's story has not, I think, been generally well served by writers. Apart from an astonishing array of factual errors and omissions, there has been an accumulation of imagined events and fantasies about all kinds of things—love affairs particularly, most of which turn out to be utterly without basis in fact. She was, as I have written here, certainly a healthy, beautiful young woman with normal desires— and most of all, a deep capacity to love and to be loved. As she told me, she "fell in love all the time" before she married Prince Rainier of Monaco. But falling in love did not always mean falling into bed. I have tried to correct the record on this and other more important issues, without fudging the truth—she would have hated that.

Grace's achievements were singular in several ways—not least in the sheer volume of her movie work within a very short period. She worked for two days on a film during the summer of 1950, and then—from September 1951 to March 1956—she appeared in ten films in just four years and six months. But there was a one- year hiatus during this period, so it is more accurate to state that she made ten films in forty- two months. By any standard of assessment, that is a formidable record. In addition, she also appeared in no fewer than thirty- six live television dramas and two Broadway plays between 1948 and 1954.

High Society: The Life of Grace Kelly has been a privilege to write, for it is both a testament to our friendship as well as a biography. To exploit a cliché: Grace was far more than just a pretty face.

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