August 25, 1980 12:00 PM

The tablecloths were sky-blue linen, the centerpieces silvered roses. Pinpoint blue lights twinkled like stars above the dining room. The meal began with Russian caviar and ended with a bravura performance by Frank Sinatra. It was the Red Cross Ball, the apex of the social season in Monaco, but the 1,000 socialite and celebrity guests were distracted by a solemn question that could not be ignored: Was the marriage of the princess and the playboy finally over? The answer was provided early in the evening when Princess Caroline arrived with her parents, Prince Rainier and Princess Grace, and her brother, Prince Albert, but not her husband, Philippe Junot. He was 1,400 miles away in Turkey, traveling with a stunning young brunette he identified as his secretary, but whom others recognized as Facio Giannini, daughter of a Costa Rican diplomat. It remained for a palace spokeswoman the next day to confirm the obvious—the marriage is over, and divorce or annulment “undoubtedly will be the eventual next step.”

Even at their storybook wedding two years ago, skeptics predicted the glamorous couple could never live happily ever after. In fact, friends say Caroline panicked at the last minute. “If you want, we can call the whole thing off,” her mother is said to have told her, but Caroline apparently felt she had passed the point of no return. In recent months Junot, 40, has been with other beautiful women, while the 23-year-old princess has been linked with Robertino Rossellini, 30. (“She’s very much in love,” says an intimate, “but it’s too early to think about marriage.”) Ultimately, the union with Junot was broken not with a bang but a whimper. Guests at the Red Cross Ball reported that the princess was subdued. Instead of joining her father on the dance floor after her mother and brother opened the ball in traditional style, Caroline remained at her table, smoking and greeting friends who stopped by. When Sinatra sang the romantic Strangers in the Night, Caroline lowered her head, apparently fighting back tears. Her husband’s announcement to the Istanbul press earlier that day had hardly been gallant. “Everything is finished between Caroline and me,” he said. “We are both free to do as we please.” Caroline could hardly have been surprised, though. According to palace spokeswoman Nadia Lacoste, the couple separated in June for two months and agreed to split permanently early in August. “Caroline will get over it,” Lacoste predicts. “She is not one to let her arms dangle. It is a united family, and they will protect her as they have always done in the past.”

Meantime, Caroline has given up her visits to Regine’s Monte Carlo disco, New Jimmy’s, her usual late-night haunt, and the Beach, an exclusive club where she customarily suns. Her low profile is in contrast to the flamboyant figure cut by her husband. His public interviews and apparent philandering could even jeopardize chances for an eventual annulment, since one of the principal conditions for a papal declaration of nullity has always been discretion on the part of the couple. Friends believe that Philippe may be pushing for a generous financial settlement. One palace observer has suggested that Princess Grace consult Queen Elizabeth about the negotiations that culminated in the Princess Margaret-Lord Snowdon divorce, but doubts that the Grimaldis are in the mood for diplomacy. “Caroline is young and impatient,” the observer says, “and Rainier probably wants to put an end to the whole affair as quickly as possible.” Junot, a veteran of the high-stakes Monte Carlo gaming tables, may be a hard man to bluff. “Philippe has nothing to lose,” says one prominent Monaco resident, “and he may be ready to fight it out.”

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