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Famous Friendships: The Kennedys & Grace Kelly

An American beauty and Hollywood-star-turned-princess living in Monaco, the crown jewel of the South of France, and a young and stylish Presidential couple inhabiting a White House dubbed “Camelot” –it was no question that these 20th century icons would cross paths. Both Princess Grace of Monaco and the Kennedys were American royalty, albeit of different sorts, and thus they made a perfect match in friendship. Though they only met a handful of times, their connections left an indelible impression on Princess Grace. In 1965, she described the depth of their connection to the JFK Presidential Library, which had commissioned a series of interviews to commemorate the late President. Princess Grace was chosen as one of its subjects in hopes that her perspective could help immortalize the life of the late President and cement his legacy. Her words paint a portrait of kindred spirits; though she and the First Family lived often separate lives, their shared perspectives and proclivities made their meetings all the more momentous.

Parallel Paths

Though Princess Grace and Jackie Kennedy did not meet in their youth, both grew up with some crucial similarities. Each girl was painfully shy, an anomaly in their large and boisterous families. Each broke away from the molds that had been set for them–Grace ran towards New York and drama school, while Jackie rejected the notion to be a mere debutante, talking her way into a journalism job with the Washington Times-Herald. Of course, perhaps the biggest similarity may be how these once-bashful women married into a dynasty: Grace with the royal family of Monaco and Jackie with the Kennedys, American royalty if there ever was any. These parallel trajectories explain some of their alikeness down the road, similar actions that were filtered through each woman’s unique sensibilities. Both women were connected by similar wills, poise, and destinies long before they met.

Left: Grace Kelly in her 1954 Oscars gown designed by Oleg Cassini (Life Magazine) Right: First Lady Jackie Kennedy on a state visit to India in 1962, her ensemble designed by Cassini (Life Magazine)

This is exemplified in Princess Grace and Jackie’s styles–both iconic in their own ways, but with a secret connection that was laid in place years before the two met. Both turned to the same designer, Oleg Cassini, to craft their timeless ensembles. Cassini was wowed by Grace’s presence and performance in 1953’s Mogambo and soon thereafter began designing for her as the two struck up a romantic relationship. However, the partnership did not last, and Princess Grace began to favor Givenchy and Dior after her marriage to Prince Rainier in 1956. Jackie, however, stuck with Cassini for years as he “dressed [her] for the part” of the world’s

most famous First Lady. As the era of television dawned, political figures had to be as memorably dressed and put-together as movie stars. No doubt that his work with film stars like Grace primed Cassini for this fashionable partnership with Jackie down the road.

A Fateful Meeting

Given their social standing, it was inevitable that Princess Grace and the Kennedys would soon cross paths. There are press records that they all attended the Imperial Ball, an annual charity gala in New York, in 1956. This event was the day after Prince Rainier and Grace Kelly's engagement, so the couple was the talk of the town. However, her ring was not the only one garnering attention that night–John F. Kennedy won a diamond and sapphire ring in a raffle, his card drawn from a drum by none other than the soon-to-be-Princess.

The newly-engaged royals choosing raffle winners (including future President Kennedy!) at the 1956 Imperial Ball

Princess Grace recalls formally meeting Jackie and her sister Lee Bouvier Kennedy at a society dinner a bit earlier in the Eisenhower administration. At that party, the sisters hatched a plan to connect Grace and Jack Kennedy. According to her interview, at the dinner a group thought it would be hilarious if Grace surprised Kennedy, who was recuperating in the hospital, dressing up and pretending to be a new nurse. Though Grace was actually a bit embarrassed about performing the prank, the future President recognized her right away and made her feel at ease. In the Library interview, she emphasized “his humanity and interest in everything“ that permeated all of their interactions.

Life In The Public Eye

As both the Kennedys and Princess Grace ascended in the public consciousness, they were both under an intense media spotlight. The tabloids often sought to pit the Princess and the First Lady against each other. Gossip columnists smelled a rivalry whenever the two women undertook similar projects. Anything–from the women’s different styles to a candid, coquettish look captured on camera–was subject to scrutiny from the media and the public alike. However, the reality was always far less salacious. For instance, on Valentine’s Day 1962, the First Lady gave a tour of the White House in an effort to give a sneak peak of the $2 million restoration of the White House that she had helped curate in the first year of her husband's presidency. It was aptly titled A Tour of the White House with Mrs. John F. Kennedy. A year later, in a direct response to Mrs. Kennedy’s White House tour, Princess Grace was inspired to give a similar broadcasted tour of her home in Monaco. It was called A Look at Monaco and featured her children Caroline, Albert and Stephanie. Each tour was wildly successful and further cemented the similarities between Princess Grace and Mrs. Kennedy rather than pit them against each other like the press would have wanted.

Princess Grace and Jackie greet outside the White House when the Monaco royals visited in 1961 (Bettman-Getty)

Writer Jim Hoffman makes the cogent point that much of the media fervor was the tabloids creating mountains out of molehills. Both women were already similar in a lot of ways, from their early lives to personal interests to public roles, so it should come as no surprise that there were parallels in their public actions. In any case, neither Princess Grace nor Jackie ever had a bad word for the other. Though these women in high-pressure situations may have been in some form of competition with each other, it was one built on mutual respect and admiration, a sort of mid-century “game recognizing game.” In the 1965 interview, Grace has no ill words for Jackie, calling her and Jack “an appealing and attractive young married couple.”

A Shared Commitment

Princess Grace speaks directly to one of their shared interests in the interview–both couples’ promotion of the arts. She noted that the Kennedys’ youth positioned them to better appreciate and uplift the cultural landscape in the United States. The Kennedy administration created federal positions to promote the arts in the scope of federal projects, such as in the architecture of federal buildings. The couple’s personal interest in the arts also had benefits for the whole country. At a White House dinner party that gathered influential figures in the arts and politics, French cultural minister André Malraux cut a deal to loan the couple the Mona Lisa, which was viewed by over a million Americans when it was displayed in US museums in 1963.

Jackie Kennedy and French cultural minister André Malraux at the 1962 White House dinner where they negotiated the Mona Lisa loan (Abbie Rowe, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum)

Princess Grace was evidently pleased with the Kennedys’ work in this sphere, agreeing heartily when Paul Gallico, the interviewer, likened them to the Bourbons and the Medicis, well-endowed dynasties whose financial and cultural support allowed the arts to thrive during pivotal moments in history. She strove to embody similar ideals in her own philanthropy in Monaco. Though she often worked anonymously, in 1966 she founded La Fondation Princesse Grace, which undertook a variety of humanitarian and cultural projects in Monaco. It was this philanthropic spirit that inspired her family and friends to found the Princess Grace Foundation in 1982, which has elevated the profiles of emerging artists in theater, dance, and film for the past 40 years.

Connections Both Social and Diplomatic

As both Princess Grace and Prince Rainier and the Kennedys were the heads of their respective homes, it was inevitable that they would meet again in a diplomatic rather than purely social context. The Monaco royals traveled to the White House in 1961 for a luncheon so high-profile it was documented by the New York Times, Time, and Life. Though the couples dined on spring lamb and soft shell crab and wore their best, this was not a purely social outing. Princess Grace spoke seriously with the President about the Red Cross’ reputation abroad. Though Grace was worried she’d “talked his ear off,” President Kennedy was a careful and attentive listener and wanted to investigate the matter further. After the political talk, he surprised Grace by correctly guessing her dress was designed by Givenchy, his eye keener than most other men of the era. Grace and Jackie also connected here, bonding especially over their shared desires to keep their children safe from the persistent paparazzi. Another layer to the similarities between Grace and Jackie–each had daughters named Caroline born in 1957.

The Monaco Royals and the First Couple meet at the White House in 1961 (Abbie Rowe/White House Photographs)

Though there is little documentation of meetings that followed this one, the interview makes it clear that Grace continued to feel a strong connection to the Kennedys. Tragically, this was never felt more acutely than in the wake of President Kennedy’s assassination in 1963. Grace described how she and other Americans living abroad were struck by his death; in regions grappling with waves of anti-American sentiment, it was only then that they could recognize the confidence and hope that JFK had instilled in their home country. Princess Grace was so affected that she made a pilgrimage to President Kennedy’s gravesite three days after the state funeral. In the wake of such tragedy, Princess Grace found hope in looking to the future and what the impact of the President and his wife would be to generations that follow. She hopes that their example “will inspire those who follow to have the strength and the will to accomplish his unfulfilled dreams.” Given the multitudes inspired by this family and the connection they shared with Grace, it’s safe to say that those dreams are on their way to fulfillment.



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