On March 30, 1955, Grace Kelly glided onto the stage of Los Angeles’s Hollywood Pantages Theater in a blue-champagne gown to accept the Oscar for Best Actress in The Country Girl. That year, the 27th Annual Academy Awards appeared to have produced an overnight success with the young actress. But before she was palling around with Elizabeth Taylor and Marlon Brando, Grace Kelly was just an actress trying to make it in the industry, hoping someone would recognize the artistic potential in her. The opportunities that allowed for her success were what she hoped to someday provide for other emerging creatives.
After trading the Oscars for the Princely title in 1956, her humble career beginnings and deep empathy for others naturally progressed into philanthropy, where she dedicated the rest of her life to helping others. And in that typical graceful fashion, she often worked anonymously.
With the formation of La Fondation Princesse Grace in 1966, which supports Monégasque cultural and humanitarian efforts, she began her most complex role to date. After her death, His Serene Highness Prince Rainier III of Monaco chose to honor her legacy by forming The Princess Grace Foundation-USA in 1982 as a continuation of her supporting the arts in her native country.
Wherever Princess Grace was, a flock of A-list friends and longtime admirers weren’t far behind. The Princess Grace Foundation-USA’s board of founding members consisted of a group almost as dazzling as the cast of a Hitchcock film. Members included Gant Gaither, John Johnson, H.R.H. Princess Caroline, H.S.H. Prince Albert II of Monaco, H.S.H. Princess Stephanie, William Rogers, Mary Wells Lawrence, Hon. John F. Lehman, and Lynn Wyatt. Old-time friends and former co-stars Frank Sinatra and Cary Grant, who frequented the glamorous Red Cross Galas and balls held by Grace, were also among the founding members. Princess Grace starred alongside Sinatra in Charles Walter’s 1956 Musical Comedy High Society, and the pair quickly created a bond that would last a lifetime. While it was easy to adopt the superficiality of Hollywood, Grace always strayed as far away as she could, and Sinatra later noted that, “Her name reflects the lovely woman she was…Grace.”
Some of her other selfless ventures as Princess of Monaco included being named President of Monaco’s Red Cross in 1958, opening the Princess Grace Hospital, and founding Monaco-based nonprofit organization AMADE Mondiale. But, it was her lifelong passion for the arts that fueled her to form La Fondation Princesse Grace, and for her family and friends to form The Princess Grace Foundation-USA, which has awarded more than sixteen million dollars to over eight-hundred young artists and over one-hundred institutions nationwide.
The Princess Grace Foundation-USA's Award winners include many recognizable names that sometimes grace notable award stages themselves. Tony and Grammy Award-winning performer Leslie Odom Jr., before he blew away Broadway audiences and critics with his depiction of Aaron Burr in Hamilton, is among the many recipients. Much like the Princess of Monaco herself, who in 1947 was training at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in Manhattan and working modeling jobs on the side at John Robert Powers agency to pay her tuition, following the acting dream was a financial struggle for Odom Jr. As such, when he was given a Princess Grace Award, it was life-changing. “I want other people starting out to have the same encouragement, to have the same opportunity that I got because it was a real turning point for me,” said Odom Jr.
Another recipient of the award is Stephen Hillenburg, best known for creating the popular animated show Spongebob Squarepants. In 2001, he received a grant from The Princess Grace Foundation-USA, which funded his thesis film. “It meant a lot. They funded one of the projects I'm most proud of, even with SpongeBob,” said Hillenburg. “It provided me the opportunity just to make a film that was personal, and what I would call independent, and free of some of the commercial needs.”
In 2005, after his father, Prince Rainier III, passed away, the Foundation welcomed the High Patronage of His Serene Highness Prince Albert II of Monaco who continues to honor his mother's legacy and has been instrumental in the Foundation's continued success. Since its beginning, the glamorous Princess Grace Foundation-USA Awards Gala has been an annual event, keeping the spirit of Princess Grace’s glamour alive, as well as her brilliant efforts.
In 2019, two-time Tony Award Winner Brisa Trinchero was appointed as CEO of the Princess Grace Foundation-USA by Prince Albert II, leading the Foundation in exciting new directions, still with the mission of supporting extraordinary talent of up-and-coming artists in theater, dance and film.
Grace once said of herself, “I would like to be remembered as someone who accomplished useful deeds and was a kind and loving person. I would like to leave the memory of a human being with a correct attitude and who did her best to help others.” Through the tremendous work and generosity of The Princess Grace Foundation-USA, her legacy shines on.
Photo Credits: Getty Images, Princess Grace Foundation-USA, Marlon and Grace