April 19, 2006 -- Fifty years ago today, one of the most-famous weddings in history took place when Grace Kelly married Monaco's Prince Rainier III.
By marrying into the ancient aristocracy of Europe, the glamorous 26-year-old Hollywood star made the ultimate cultural conquest.
To meet her prince, Kelly arrived in style, sailing to Monaco on the USS Constitution with her triumphant army of bridesmaids, journalists, and a poodle given to her by actor Cary Grant. Kelly and Rainier were virtual strangers, having only met twice before.
Rainier was a 32-year-old bachelor-about-town who had decided it was time to get serious and produce an heir to the throne so his country wouldn't revert to France.
He had first met Kelly when a magazine photographed the two of them together as a publicity stunt. Kelly was annoyed that Rainier was late, and Rainier admitted it wasn't love at first sight.
"I don't really believe in love at first sight," he told Diane Sawyer in 1997. "I think true love has to be based on something."
When asked whether she was the most-beautiful woman he had ever seen, Rainier replied, "Well, surely. Yes. I think probably fairly obvious."
At their civil marriage service, in the historic throne room, Kelly looked tired because she and Rainier, together for just the third time in their lives, had sat up and talked all night.
The next day, at the Catholic ceremony at a cathedral, Kelly looked regal in 450 yards of silk and lace. Already a fashion icon, Kelly was catapulted into a new realm, thanks to her wedding dress.
"The whole thing was made at MGM wardrobe studios under top-secret conditions," said H. Kristina Haugland, associate curator of costume and textiles at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. "Thirty-five people worked on it for six weeks, MGM said, and all of them were sworn to secrecy because everyone wanted to find out what the dress would look like."
The Philadelphia museum is currently exhibiting Kelly's dress and accessories to commemorate the anniversary of the 1956 fairy-tale wedding. Kelly donated her dress to the museum soon after the ceremony, but this is the first time the gown has been on view since it was part of the museum's 1997 exhibit "Best Dressed: 250 Years of Style."
Visitors can also see Kelly's rose point lace-and-pearl wedding shoes. Haugland confirmed a rumor about them.
"I was able to verify one story, and that is that a copper penny was concealed, in fact, by the shoes for good luck," said Haugland, author of "Grace Kelly: Icon of Style to Royal Bride."
"You can't see or feel it. We were able to X-ray the shoes, and indeed that X-ray reveals that penny that's built very comfortably inside the shoe so she would have that luck without having to feel the penny inside of her slipper."
Among Kelly's wedding accessories on display is a tiny prayer book, a gift from a family friend, that she carried on her wedding day.
"It was fairly common for devout brides to carry a small prayer book and Grace Kelly was very devout, and I think she felt that this was in keeping with the solemnity of the occasion," Haugland said.