September 28, 1987 12:00 PM

When a freak auto accident claimed the life of Princess Grace in September 1982, her immediate family appeared numbed by the tragedy. The faces at the funeral said it all: Her husband, Prince Rainier, was stunned, son Albert grave and strained, daughter Caroline pale and shadowed with grief. Grace’s younger daughter, Stephanie, who had suffered a fractured neck vertebra in the wreck, was unable even to leave her bed; still in shock, she would be confined to Princess Grace Hospital for another 10 days.

The Grimaldi family recovered slowly. For Rainier, in particular, the process was excruciating. Friends say it was not until the birth of Caroline’s first child, Andrea, in 1984, that he seemed to be released from his grief. Yet if the mourning is over, Grace is hardly forgotten. The fifth anniversary of her death was marked last week (Sept. 14) with a private mass at Monaco’s palace, and her presence is still felt everywhere in the sun-washed Mediterranean outpost.

Rainier guards her memory fiercely. A suggestion by an Italian prelate that she be considered for canonization left him apoplectic; apparently he feared she would be transformed into a morbid icon for the masses. New guidebooks and postcards no longer have Grace’s photograph because, as one merchant says, “the Prince, very sensibly, does not want to commercialize his wife.” Nor does he want anyone else to. When Grace, James Spada’s too-revealing biography, was published this year, not a single Monégasque bookstore admitted stocking it. The Sunday Times of London excerpted the raciest bits, but the offending issues never made it to local newsstands.

Grace’s work—most notably, the task of lending mystique to the vest pocket principality by the French Riviera—is being faithfully carried on by her children. “They have a hard act to follow,” notes one Monégasque, and they are all well aware of it. The once-headstrong Caroline, 30, is now a respectable, if glamorous, matron and—in the best royal tradition—has produced three babies in rapid succession. Mercurial, rebellious Stephanie, 22, has dabbled at being a model, singer and businesswoman. Even the reticent Albert, 29, dutifully establishing himself as Rainier’s successor, has become a minor international presence. Each of them, to one degree or another, has inherited Grace’s outstanding trait: the ability to attract—and to hold—an audience.

It is Caroline, perhaps, who has changed the most dramatically since her mother’s death. She has impressively replaced Grace as Monaco’s leading lady; the embarrassment of her 27-month marriage to Philippe Junot, the French playboy 17 years her senior whom she wed against her parents’ wishes in 1978, is now a faded memory. Though she was three months pregnant when she married wealthy Italian-born businessman Stefano Casiraghi in 1983, she has been a model of decorum ever since. She has devoted herself to Grace’s myriad causes—the Red Cross, the Monte Carlo Ballet and the Princess Grace Foundation among them—as well as to her own growing family. Her second child, Charlotte, was born in August 1986; her third, Pierre, arrived Sept. 5. “Caroline has pulled herself together,” a friend observes. “She is taking control of her life.”

Intimates give Stefano, 27, credit for her newfound stability. Despite the inevitable gossip—a German magazine recently printed a photo of Stefano kissing a “mysterious” redhead who proved to be a next-door neighbor he was greeting in the Continental fashion—Caroline’s second marriage seems to be working. The Casiraghis are often seen holding hands in public, and not long ago paparazzi caught Stefano sinking his teeth affectionately into Caroline’s bottom as they lay on the deck of a yacht. Shy and uncomfortable among strangers, Casiraghi, who runs a Monte Carlo-based construction company, attends official family functions obligingly, if not with enthusiasm, and the once-cool Rainier is said to have warmed to his son-in-law.

Both Caroline and Stefano have their separate passions. His is racing high-speed Cigarette boats; Caroline loves the ballet, opera and, of course, collecting Dior by the closetful. Dior designer and old family friend Marc Bohan creates a dozen outfits per season for her; she adds more from his ready-to-wear collection. Conveniently, Stefano has financial ties to Dior’s several Monaco boutiques.

At Clos Saint-Pierre, their apricot-colored villa near the palace, Caroline and Stefano live simply, by royal standards. Although her small staff of servants includes a nurse, Caroline devotes a great deal of time to Andrea, 3, Charlotte, 13 months, and tiny Pierre. She bathes them, supervises their menus and never spends more than two days away from them. Often seen around Monaco with her children in tow, she takes them to see the doting Rainier nearly every day. Like Grace, she frets about her children becoming spoiled. “Her kids are not [royals] but simply Casiraghis, and that’s the way she wants them brought up,” says a friend.

Caroline’s sporadic attempts to play surrogate mother to Stephanie, to whom she has never been close, have been less successful. Last winter, Caroline invited her sister for a two-week stay in the French resort town of Deauville. Once there, the two had little to say to each other. “They don’t speak the same language,” says the friend. “There is a rivalry between the sisters that will always be there.”

There has also been talk of another sibling rivalry, this one between Caroline and her brother, Albert, over who will eventually assume power in Monaco. Caroline’s camp says the rumor is nonsense. “She has three children and already complains that her schedule is full,” says one close friend. “The last thing she wants is more responsibility.”

Albert, it seems, may share her reluctance. While Caroline has thrown herself into the task of replacing Grace, Albert appears to be in no hurry to step in for Rainier. Cousin Christine de Massy says Albert is enjoying the wait. “It’s giving him a little more time to be independent,” she says. “Once he takes over, any semblance of freedom comes to an end.”

Albert has an increasing number of official duties; he goes to cabinet meetings, organizes sporting events and is president of both Monaco’s Red Cross and the principality’s Olympic Committee. But he has said that he would retreat into private life if he could. Rainier has set no date for his own retirement, and the situation seems delicate. “[Rainier] made a big mistake by announcing that Albert would take over ‘when he is ready,’ ” says a friend of the younger Prince. “It now appears that Rainier will stay in power until he dies, and it makes Albert look like an incompetent dunce, which is not the case.” Indeed, some wags have taken to calling him, “Albert the Unready.”

An enthusiastic athlete who hopes to compete in the bobsled competition in next February’s Winter Olympics, the likable and popular Albert is not above dropping in unannounced to chat up local shopkeepers. In the words of a friend, he is “simply too nice.” He is good friends with Caroline’s husband and dotes on his nephew Andrea, who calls him “Bébert.” And though it would appear they have little in common, Albert is said to be Stephanie’s closest ally. “Albert sympathizes with her reluctance to be a princess and her desire to head in her own direction,” says his cousin Christine.

Bow ties and receding hairline aside, Albert is considered one of Europe’s most eligible bachelors and, as such, must endure endless speculation about his love life. His name has been linked (sometimes speciously) to a succession of plausible women—Brooke Shields, Catherine (Dynasty) Oxenberg and Lady Helen Windsor, daughter of the Duke and Duchess of Kent. He even went to dinner in New York with the then-unknown Donna Rice in 1981. Yet he seems to have formed no close attachments. Albert’s latest companion, Mary Wayte, 22, from Mercer Island, Wash., won a gold medal in the 200-meter freestyle at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. Last month she was seated next to him at Monaco’s Red Cross Ball, the highlight of the social season. “She is a normal, average, frail-looking blonde,” says a friend of Albert’s. Inevitably, the newspapers began talking engagement, but no proclamation has been made and none is expected.

Not that claims haven’t been staked on Albert’s affections. Italian actress Patrizia Pellegrino, 23, told the press that she met Albert in 1983 and had an affair with him that ended last May. “Albert is the most wonderful of lovers,” she said. Also in May, West German porn actress Bea Fiedler told reporters that she was expecting a baby fathered by “either Albert or a nice model named John.” Albert denied knowing the woman.

Nice guy or no, the Prince has encountered the occasional shady companion. Last year, Albert went on a cruise with an old school chum; the friend fell in love with a moneyed beauty, and to finance the burgeoning romance borrowed $16,000 from a nightclub owner, claiming he was acting in Albert’s behalf. When the debt went unpaid, the businessman informed Rainier. Albert said he knew nothing of the loan, and Rainier ordered a police investigation that led to a cocaine bust. Albert’s pal promptly denounced several other well-bred coke users, and several scions of good Monégasque families had to pay fines and serve short prison sentences.

That contretemps aside, Albert is no match for Stephanie when it comes to stirring up scandal. In the past year alone, she conducted a brief, torrid romance with actor Rob Lowe before taking up with one Mario Oliver (ne’ Jutard), a French-born Los Angeles nightclub owner who was accused in 1982 of raping a 19-year-old college student at a Bel Air party. Oliver eventually pleaded no contest to a reduced charge of sexual battery; he has admitted having sex with the woman, but insists it was she who pursued him. For her part, Stephanie recently told the Los Angeles Times, “Mario has his defects. He has some dark spots like everybody. Nobody’s perfect.”

The twice-married Oliver’s checkered résumé has hardly endeared him to Rainier, who is generally appalled by his daughter’s taste in men. “The fact that she didn’t bring [Oliver] to the Red Cross Ball obviously indicated that he doesn’t have her father’s approval,” says one palace intimate. But Stephanie has yet to admit that Rainier may be stonewalling her shaggy beau. This summer, she said tactfully, “[He] has not met my father because the opportunity has not presented itself.”

While she awaits such an opportunity, Stephanie, tan and taut, is living the life of a California dilettante. Until a few weeks ago, home was a two-story rented Benedict Canyon house that she shared with Mario, his pal Roger Lagneau and three dogs. Their master bedroom had a four-poster with mirrors on the canopy, and the dining room, says Paris Match, resembled “the Hall of Mirrors [in Versailles] redesigned by the Aztecs.” Friends now report that the group have found new digs near Coldwater Canyon.

She and Oliver have a small circle of friends, most of them French-born. When the lovers venture out, it is usually to Prego, Silvio’s or Mario’s trendy Vertigo, a hangout for such Hollywood types as Mickey Rourke, Eddie Murphy and Rod Stewart. There had been rumors that Stephanie had a drinking problem, but of late she has been spotted at Vertigo sipping nothing stronger than Coca-Cola.

Whatever the rigors of her private life, Stephanie has hardly been idle professionally. Last January, she bought out pal and partner Alix de la Comble and is now sole owner of the thriving swimwear company Pool Position. Already a pop star, her single, Besoin, sold five million copies in Europe and her album went gold, outselling even Madonna‘s Like a Virgin there. She has enlisted manager Joe Ruffalo, whose clients have included Prince, to help her hit the charts in America. And she is considering becoming an actress, reportedly because of Grace, and is taking lessons because she wants to start off well, out of respect for her mother’s memory. Last month she was spotted at coach Nina Foch’e studio, where her classmates included Hugh Hefner’s live-in, Carrie Leigh, and Victoria Sellers, daughter of Peter Sellers and Britt Ekland.

Like her siblings, Stephanie has a casual style that seems distinctly American. She zips around town in a black VW Rabbit convertible, does her own grocery shopping (often after midnight) and works out at an au courant health club, where she reportedly asked that she not be called Princess on her membership card. She also haunts shops like Beverly Hills’s Cibaud, which she visits “every two days,” according to owner Georges Cibaud. She favors size-four minis with zippers, sporty jackets and oversize sweaters, and she spends about $1,000 a month on Italian shirts and Blanc Bleu sweaters for Mario.

More than any of Rainier’s children, Stephanie seems to have been marked by the trauma of Grace’s death. She is angered by persistent and ill-substantiated rumors that she, not Grace, was behind the wheel of the Rover that careened off a cliff in the South of France, and she has confided in a French magazine: “I’ve had enough of hearing that I killed my mother because I was driving.” Still, she told Paris Match that the darkest days are behind her. “Without ever forgetting her, without ever removing the pain,” she said, “this enormous wound is beginning to close. Princess Grace’s personality and my youth make it heal very, very slowly.”

Clearly, through good times and bad, Grace remains a powerful and abiding presence for the high-profile brood she left behind. “She was the motor of the family,” Rainier said recently. “She was very much loved.”

—Written by Michelle Green, reported from Monaco, Paris and L.A.

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