By Joshua Hammer
January 09, 1984 12:00 PM

As royal weddings go, it was to be a startling departure, far from the storybook extravaganza that joined her mother, Grace, and Prince Rainier in 1956—and, it was hoped, equally far from her own lavish false start with philandering Frenchman Philippe Junot in 1978. With dispatch and in suspiciously low profile, Monaco’s Princess Caroline, 26, was to end her three-year reign as the world’s most sought after divorcée last Thursday by marrying Stefano Casiraghi, 23, an Italian Concorde-cruising playboy who has been cavorting with her in Italy, France and America for the last six months. Fewer than 50 family members and friends planned to attend the 15-minute civil ceremony followed by luncheon at Monaco’s pink palace, held almost exactly one year after the end of the official mourning period for Princess Grace.

The wedding plans were light years away from those five and a half years ago, when 600 celebrants—including Gregory Peck, Frank Sinatra and the Aga Khan—flocked to Monaco for Caroline’s first wedding. This time no sumptuous nuptial ball was scheduled. There were to be no public appearances at the palace window, no fetes in front of the casino, no glittering array of gifts. “They want to keep it as quiet as possible,” explained palace spokeswoman Nadia Lacoste. “But despite the subdued nature of the wedding, happiness has finally returned to a family which recently has had its share of personal tragedies.”

There was some question, however, as to just how elated the Grimaldi family was over their in-law-to-be, and according to Jack Kelly, Grace’s brother, no one on the Philadelphia side of the family was alerted to the wedding plans. They learned about them in the newspapers.

“Everybody thinks Caroline’s pregnant,” confides one Princess watcher, citing Prince Rainier’s decision to proceed with a civil ceremony that might antagonize staunch Catholics in his realm. It had been expected that the family would wait for a Vatican annulment of Caroline’s first marriage, which ended in a divorce in 1980. “At this point her father doesn’t care about the scandal of not marrying in the Church,” claims the source. “But to the Church, Caroline is still Mrs. Junot.”

So far, Caroline’s big-boned build (she is 5’8″) shows no sign that the leering gossip of a pregnancy is correct, and palace spokesmen have indignantly denied the rumors. But reports continue to surface that the Princess is at least three months pregnant, heightening the whiff of grand scandal. Meanwhile, jet-set cocktail parties in Paris buzz with the snide quip: “Junot who the father is?”

To many Caroline watchers, the real mystery is how the Princess could have become so deeply involved with Casiraghi—generally viewed in Cöte d’Azur social circles as a spoiled gadabout and jokingly called “Fancazzista” by his Milanese friends—after an Italian phrase roughly meaning “He doesn’t do a bleeping thing.” His father is a wealthy oilman from Fino Mornasco, near Milan, who has real-estate and construction investments. But Stefano, the youngest of four children, is described only as “handsome, extravagant, athletic and close to royalty”—and, by those who know him, as a rake who loves to lavish money on his conquests. “Stefano would come to pick me up in the evening and say, ‘Pinuccia, would you like to have dinner in Paris?’ ” said Pinuccia Macheda, 24, a girlfriend of five years whom he jilted for Caroline. “And if I agreed, we would catch a plane, and a couple of hours later we’d be sitting in the latest ‘in’ restaurant ordering oysters and champagne.” Says one insider: “He’s fine for a flirt, for an affair, but not to marry when you are Princess of Monaco. Caroline is a very sweet girl, but not very quick. And she mixes up sex with love and marriage.”

Pals believe that the tempestuous Caroline began seeing Stefano as “a way of getting back” at her then amour, Robertino Rossellini. The 33-year-old son of Ingrid Bergman and director Roberto Rossellini had been caught by paparazzi caressing a scantily clad starlet, Isabella Ferrari, in a motorboat off the Greek isles in July. Rossellini denies the incident was the cause of the breakup. “There was never real love or great passion,” he has said. “It was finished long before she met Casiraghi.”

In any event, the pair, who first met about a year ago at Jimmy’s disco in Monte Carlo, had already begun to click when they ran into each other on the Riviera last summer in the presence of Pinuccia Macheda. “I felt right away there was something in the air,” Macheda said, “even though at the time she was with Rossellini.” Shortly after, Stefano gave Pinuccia an extravagant birthday party at Villa d’Este near Milan, presented her with the keys to a new Volkswagen Rabbit and promised to meet her two weeks later at Porto Rotondo in Sardinia. But on the way, his yacht encountered Princess Caroline’s off the coast of Corsica, leading to a memorable tryst at sea. “We didn’t see Caroline and Stefano for five days,” said one crew member on the princess’ yacht.

During the past four months, the couple has been sprinting around Paris in Caroline’s Autobianchi and “lived like man and wife at her place in Paris,” according to one photographer. The Grimaldi stamp of family approval was given, however grudgingly, last fall, when Stefano was invited to go pheasant hunting at Rainier’s 17th-century Château de Marchais in the Aisne, 75 miles north of Paris—of Caroline’s suitors post-Junot, only Rossellini had been accorded that privilege. Rumors of a royal marriage swelled with Stefano’s Dec. 9 appearance in the royal box at Monaco’s annual International Circus Festival. The official announcement was released Dec. 19 in a tersely worded two-sentence statement which was strangely devoid of enthusiasm.

If the royal family is suppressing its doubts about Caroline’s future with her Italian lover, the skepticism of the couple’s acquaintances is open. “He’s a sweet guy,” says one friend of Caroline’s, “but he’s certainly not up to playing Prince Consort to Princess Caroline. God help him.” Grumbles another acquaintance: “Junot at least had a terrific personality. Even Guillermo Vilas [with whom Caroline had a dalliance in 1982] had a lot more to offer than Stefano. And you should see his friends—their conversations are pretentious and mostly about money.”

Following the wedding ceremony, the couple is scheduled to be swept up in a flurry of activity, and, says spokeswoman Lacoste, “Stefano will expand interests in his father’s business and will step up his role exporting Italian shoes and textiles to the United States.” But once the novelty has worn off, the success of the marriage may ride on Caroline’s ability to curb Stefano’s wanderlust.

Those who know him best, alas, are less than optimistic. “Stefano is a bit presumptuous,” said Pinuccia Macheda. “He thinks he can fool the whole world. I was fooled, but now I’ve opened my eyes. As far as his story with Caroline goes, it may well end up in a lot of silliness.” But Caroline, like the other members of the Grimaldi clan, is headstrong and determined to have her way. As the reluctant father of the bride once observed: “A lot of people around this family think that Caroline is the one most like me.”

Written by JOSHUA HAMMER, reported by JOEL STRATTE-MCCLURE in Paris and LOGAN BENTLEY in Rome