In early 1955, Howell Conant was hired to photograph Grace Kelly for Photoplay magazine. A successful fashion photographer, Conant was nervous. He knew little of movie stars, and Kelly—who a few weeks later would win a Best Actress Oscar for The Country Girl—was a star of the moment. The actress, seeing his uneasiness, took charge. “This is my good side,” she said. “Now light it as you know how, and we’ll be done with it.”
He knew how, and they were never done with it. Kelly liked Conant’s modest manner, and what started as a morning’s work grew into a lifetime assignment. After the announcement of Grace’s engagement to Rainier in 1956, she had Conant join her aboard the S.S. Constitution for the trip to Monaco. For the next 26 years, at the Grimaldis’ invitation, he was the Palace’s unofficial court photographer, making dozens of trips from his U.S. home and taking thousands of frames. Many are published for the first time in Conant’s new book, Grace, from which these pictures were selected.
A decade after Kelly’s death, the photographs are Conant’s best tribute to his friend. “She wanted to be remembered as a lady,” he says. “And that’s precisely what she was.”
The hand up meant “Don’t take my picture now!” in a shot snapped before Grace and Conant worked out their pact of trust.
Every movement was a telling gesture,” says Howell Conant of Grace’s “dancer’s body awareness.” The young actress did nothing—not even check her makeup, with sister Peggy’s help—without style.
Sailing to Monaco for her wedding, Grace had to tame poodle Oliver’s jealousy when she found this weimaraner in her cabin. A gift from Philadelphia friends, the new dog had already soiled the rug.
Shown dodging a lens-man aboard ship, Grace later said she should have gotten “a battle ribbon” for coping with the 1,600 members of the press who covered her 1956 wedding.
Acting out a toothpaste ad slogan, “Watch the danger line,” as her team’s captain during a shipboard game of charades, Grace was so spirited that the heels of both her pumps broke. She ended the evening in her stockinged feet, doing a razor-sharp impersonation of Zsa Zsa Gabor.
Despite the merriment among the wedding party aboard the ocean liner S.S. Constitution, Grace admitted her nervousness to a friend. “The day we left,” she said, “I felt as if I were sailing off into the unknown. I couldn’t help wondering, ‘What’s going to happen to me? What will this new life be like?’ ”
A year after Caroline was born, Grace and Rainier romanced anew during a Swiss vacation. “Never in their marriage,” says Conant, “had they had this much quiet time together.”
Their early years were filled with playfulness,” recalls Conant. (Left, Grace vamps in Rainier’s big cap, before he snatches it back, below.) But the marriage took work. “All marriages require adjustments,” the Princess once said. “Especially ours. There were so many changes to be made all at once.”
To the family’s delight, Grace brought an Irish clan-size fuss to Christmas. She wrapped every family present herself and collared her husband to help decorate the tree.
Rainier liked to pilot his 138-foot yacht, Deo Juvante II, through high seas and rough waters, but Grace got seasick. She preferred single-handing a smaller craft around Monaco’s magnificent harbor.
Grace was about to devour a perfectly pared orange when Conant told her “some ridiculous story and she broke down laughing.” He rarely photographed from under her broad jaw—her “only flaw,” says Conant. He often hid it with a collar, a dog or a baby.
What others did every day—making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches—Grace did for fun during a 1967 family holiday in Jamaica, although there was a staff of seven for the family of five.
A few years later, Caroline took sister Stephanie for a toddle in the palace courtyard.
The daily two-or three-hour palace lunch, part of the slow Monégasque pace Grace found hard at first, was more fun if baby Caroline could be there. “Grace was a perfect mother,” says Conant.
Though one friend said the Grimaldi children’s upbringing was “Victorian,” play was definitely on the agenda. Grace got hold of Caroline’s gigantic shades, worthy of a great big movie star, at the family’s country “palace” in France.
Grace and Caroline romped on a trampoline at their country house shortly before Caroline’s 1978 wedding to Philippe Junot. Grace, says a palace insider, was “not very disturbed” when they split two years later.
Conant’s favorite picture of Rainier and Grace was taken in 1980 at Roc Agel, the family’s country house in LaTurbie, France. They were “relaxed, happy, contented together,” he recalls. “He was the only guy in the world she could have married. Anyone else would have ended up being called Mr. Kelly. Not Rainier. He is a man’s man, and they were close.”
Every year, Conant took the formal family portrait for the Grimaldis’ Christmas card. At the 1967 sitting, Rainier characteristically plopped a light reflector on the photographer’s head to loosen up the group as another lens-man snapped this shot. Conant was home in Rhode Island packing for Monaco to take the 1982 portrait when he heard about Grace’s death. He left immediately for the funeral via Concorde, leaving all his cameras behind.