September 21, 1992 12:00 PM

WHEN OUR PICTURE EDITOR M.C. Marden, first examined the photographs of Princess Grace that Howell Conant was about to publish in his forthcoming book, Grace, she was, she says, “astonished and excited. It was like hunting treasures in an attic, one wonderful surprise after another.” Although Marden had used Conant’s photos of Princess Caroline in the magazine before, “I had no idea he’d had special access to this extraordinary view of Grace’s life, both before and after her marriage,” she says. “It’s hardly typical to see Grace the movie star with her hair wet, Grace the Princess jumping on a trampoline, or Grace as doting mother. The kind of intimate photojournalism we do every week in the magazine was something he and Grace had pioneered back in the ’50s and ’60s.”

Marden and her staff had a hard time selecting 35 images to buy from the 167 in the book and an even harder time deciding on the 22 we’re printing this week. And because the colors—of Grace’s eyes, her hair, the Caribbean, the Mediterranean—are so extraordinary, we are breaking tradition for only the second time in a regular weekly issue (the first time was in our June 22 issue this year on Princess Diana) to print several in color.

Conant, 75, a third-generation portrait photographer, learned his trade in Marinette, Wis., in his father’s studio. “The first thing I remember,” he says, “is washing a baby blanket after a photo session.” He studied at the Art Center School in Los Angeles, and at the University of Wisconsin, and was part of Admiral Nimitz’s renowned Navy photographic unit during World War II. Later he became a fashion photographer in New York City.

Grace Kelly, then near the end of her acting career in 1955, was the first major movie star he was ever assigned to photograph, and he admits he was “awestruck.” Her admiration for his underwater photography helped them establish a rapport. When Grace sailed to Monaco a year later to marry Prince Rainier, Conant sailed with her and stored his cameras in her stateroom while other photographers could only peep through the porthole. Winning the Prince’s trust as well, Conant followed the Grimaldis on holiday, took intimate snapshots and formal portraits of their family, and for 26 years he remained their trusted friend.

Still in touch with Prince Rainier, Conant and his wife, Dorothy, divide their time between Block Island, R.I., and Carefree, Ariz. They have four children, none of whom take pictures professionally.

Conant’s memories of Grace, who died 10 years ago this week after an automobile accident, are nothing but fond. “She was a perfect wife and mother,” he recalls, “almost as good as my wife.”

His photographs, says Marden, “embody what fascinates everybody about celebrities—seeing them lead their real lives.” Few have done that as beautifully as Grace, and we are proud to have these images in our pages.

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