Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Tragedy of Grace Kelly

Friday was an odd kind of day for me.

I spent much of it working with journalism students, which isn't the odd part because I usually do that on Fridays during the school year, but my thoughts kept returning to that mid–September day in 1982, when I heard that Grace Kelly had suffered a stroke while driving in Monaco and died after crashing the vehicle.

She was perhaps the most beautiful woman I have ever seen, and, at 52, she was much too young to be dead — even though she had been away from Hollywood for more than 20 years.

She gave up the life of a movie star to become a real–life princess — although I suppose just about anyone who saw her as a young woman would say that she always had a somewhat regal bearing.

But she retained the common touch.

"I just love Grace Kelly," Jimmy Stewart, her co–star in "Rear Window," said at her funeral. "Not because she was a princess, not because she was an actress, not because she was my friend, but because she was just about the nicest lady I ever met."

Everyone loved Grace Kelly. I never knew anyone who didn't.

I remember the first time I saw "Rear Window." It had been re–released to theaters to mark the 30th anniversary of its original theatrical release so I went to see it on one of my days off.

It was a glorious thing to behold on the big screen. I could see for myself what my parents had always told me — that Hitchcock was meant to be experienced on the really big screen. No TV screen, no matter how large, could really do justice to a Hitchcock movie.

The reviewer in the local paper had seen it in all its restored splendor, and he promised his readers that Grace Kelly was "as beautiful as you remember."

Since it was my first time to see the movie, of course, I had no memory of her in it, but I had seen other movies in which she appeared — "High Noon," "Dial M for Murder," "The Country Girl" — and I looked forward to seeing her in it.

I was not disappointed.

Kelly's role in that movie was much more complex than it may have seemed on the surface. For that matter, Kelly herself was more complex than she may have appeared to some.

There was a shyness to her that was often concealed by her smoldering beauty, and there was a mind–bending life–imitates–art quality (or should that be art imitates life?) to Grace Kelly. She played a princess on the screen, then became one in real life.

But she was always a princess in the hearts of her fans.