"The Girl in the White Gloves" by Kerri Maher
Updated: Dec 2, 2020
The living legacy of Princess Grace has for decades inspired fans from around the globe. From American girl in Philadelphia to Oscar winning actress and ultimately Princess of Monaco, her life and her passions have influenced the aspirations of millions. Her incredible journey also inspired author Kerri Maher to create a new work of historical fiction, The Girl in the White Gloves. Maher’s novel tells a tale as imagined through the poetic lens of Grace herself, where not everything about being a Princess is as perfect as it may seem...
Read an exclusive interview and excerpt from the book to dive into this riveting tale!
Q: What inspired you to base your latest novel on Princess Grace?
A: My mother was a huge Alfred Hitchcock fan, and two of her favorites were Rear Window and To Catch a Thief, so those two movies were part of the fabric of my childhood. After finishing The Kennedy Debutante, when I was thinking of interesting women to write about next, Grace came to mind very quickly—I knew little about her, but what I did know presented some interesting questions. Why, for instance, did she only make a handful of movies in the 1950s, but not later? What was it like for an American girl to marry European royalty? With just those two questions, my novelist-brain kicked in and told me to start looking into the answers. It didn’t take much research to discover that Grace Kelly was even more interesting and multi-faceted a subject than even those two juicy questions suggested.
Q: What's your favorite Princess Grace story?
A: There are so many! I love that despite how busy she was before her wedding, she made time for all her bridesmaids and friends on the ship from America to Monaco, hosting manicure nights and tea parties in her rooms. I love that she was an independent woman from a very early age—even though her family had plenty of money, she was financially independent from them by the age of 18, when she put herself through the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City by modeling and acting in television dramas. There are also a few gems from later in her life, and her unexpected return to the stage, but those are spoilers I can’t drop here!
Q: What was the most surprising thing you learned about her during your research?
A: I think it was the fact that she never set out to be a Hollywood star; she really wanted to be a stage actress. She studied very seriously to be on Broadway at the Academy, then later with Sanford Meisner. She went on audition after audition, but was often disappointed. She was a struggling young artist! This was something I could relate to, since it took me a very long time to get my first book published. When Hollywood came calling for her, she took parts in movies reluctantly, but ultimately came to love that world.
Q: If you were having supper with Princess Grace at the Hotel de Paris in Monaco, what one question would you ask her?
A: I had the pleasure of dining there when I was in Monaco two years ago doing research! My parents and I had a delicious, memorable meal there! But if I was with Grace, I’d love to ask her what film or stage roles she wished she’d been able to play and why. She was slated to play Maggie in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, but was waiting for the show to complete its Broadway run before the movie could start filming. She got married and had to back out, and so Liz Taylor wound up playing the part. I wonder if that role would make the list?
Q: At that meal what would you eat/drink?
A: I am usually a total foodie, but if I was with Grace, I think I’d order whatever she was having! On second thought, since she and I share a love of burgers, maybe I’d ask if she had a favorite burger joint nearby, and we’d escape with our coupes of champagne for a burger!
Q: Why do you think Princess Grace’s story is relevant to readers today?
A: There are so many ways in which her life is relevant in the 21st century: the difficult ways she had to separate from her loving but domineering parents, her struggle to define herself in her career, to adjust to motherhood, to keep her marriage alive and well. Daughterhood, career, marriage, parenthood—none of these were easy for her, just like none of them are easy for us today. She also had to cope with being in the public eye all the time, which she hated—and I think this resonates with today’s users of social media. In some ways, in these days of Facebook and Instagram and Tik Tok, we are all “famous.” And though we put so much of ourselves out there for public consumption, there is a profound disconnect between our public and private personas, just as there was for Grace.
Q: Do you plan to stay engaged with the Grace Kelly community?
A: Of course! I feel invested in her as an icon, role model, and muse. I’d love to continue learning more about her, and stay connected to others who are interested in her.
Continue to read an exclusive excerpt from
From THE GIRL IN WHITE GLOVES published by arrangement with Berkley, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © 2020 by Kerri Maher. 1952
“Did you really just order our meal in Swahili?” Clark Gable asked. Grace blushed and giggled. He sounded exactly like he did in the movies, with that pat-on-the-back attitude in the slightly nasal tone. Not many men could speak like that and still be sexy. But this was Clark Gable: dark hair, tan face, trim mustache, and all. And his shoulders were huge, Grace was pleased to note. Quite a specimen, even though he was old enough to be her father.
“I had quite a lot of time to study on the plane,” she said, smoothing the napkin in her lap.
“Grace is a master of impressions, so it’s not at all surprising to me that she’s a natural with languages, too,” added Ava Gardner, whom Grace had met once or twice at parties in Hollywood. It was good to see her again, and in such fine humor with her husband, Frank Sinatra, along. “Couldn’t pass up a chance to see Africa on a boondoggle,” Frank told Clark when the older actor had greeted him with surprise in the lobby of their hotel.
“This I have to see,” said Clark, now fastening his famous eyes right on Grace. Mortified, she blushed again and looked down at her napkin. Was she really here, in Africa, shooting a John Ford movie with Clark Gable and having dinner with Ava Gardner and Frank Sinatra?
“Oh, no,” she said, shaking her head and looking down at her plate as her cheeks burned. “I need much more wine before I can attempt that.”
“Well, fill her glass, then, fellas!” Clark said, grabbing the neck of the bottle on the table and filling her mostly full goblet to the brim.
“Mr. Gable, back home we have a name for men like you who try to get the ladies drunk,” Grace said with a coy reprimand in her most ladylike lilt.
“My dear, you can call me anything you like if you do an impression of Gary Cooper for me tonight.”
Grace swallowed. “We’ll see,” she said.
Frank raised his bottle of beer and said, “Nice work, Clark.”
The evening proceeded at the same merry pace under the most starlit night sky Grace had ever seen—zillions of little white twinkles competed for space in the blackness above. Their party reclined in woven cane chairs on the patio, enjoying the sultry November night. It was impossible to believe snow flurries had been falling in New York when she left, and here she was sitting in a linen dress. Harder to believe she’d be twenty-three in a few days. In some ways, she felt like a girl—eager for Clark Gable’s approval and yet nervous about getting it or, worse, not getting it—and in other ways she felt ancient, as if she’d like nothing better than to take her leave and get a good night’s sleep in preparation for the challenges ahead. She knew it was essential for her to play the former and not the later, so she drank just enough wine to feel loose and hid her yawns behind her fingers.
Before dessert’s end, she rose to Clark’s challenge, doing an almost silent spoof of Gary Cooper’s Marshal Cane that had everyone in stitches.
“Yes!” exclaimed Frank, as he clapped appreciatively. “I thought he looked exactly like that.”
“Constipated?” laughed Ava.
“You said it, not me, sweetie.” And he kissed his wife hungrily on the mouth.
The immediate repartee of the cast made for a great environment on the set. Though most scenes required many takes, as John Ford was as much a perfectionist as Zinnemann, no one minded, as it was so much fun to chat in the shade of the Meru oak trees, or visit the animals and learn about elephants and monkeys and even a lion cub from the skinny men who tended them. Their skin was so black, Grace reflected, Fordie and Josephine’s complexions seemed closer to her own than to theirs.
Though a few of their equally dark countrymen were employed to help John Ford on the set, Grace felt uncomfortable with the way they were treated—when one of the men who always showed up in a freshly pressed white shirt and khakis asked one of the cameramen a question, Grace noted that the cameraman brushed him off, saying, “If I have time, I’ll show you later.” Grace doubted later would ever show up.
All the fine restaurants where they ate were populated entirely by white foreigners like her and serviced entirely by black locals, who silently filled water glasses, cleared plates, and fetched coats. She recalled the Stork Club and wondered what Josephine might have to say about Africa.
Grace liked it best when the cast stayed the night in hotels, as the beds and room temperatures were far more comfortable than those of the so-called luxury cabins in which they slept down the river. At least the huts had the benefit of putting Grace and her fellow cast members in more authentic frames of mind to play characters who were out of their element in the wilds of Africa—except for Clark, of course, who frequently played men who could rough it with the best of them, then clean up nicer than the tidy intellectual who had no hope of winning the girl.
Grace wondered if she’d ever get to play a part like the one Ava was playing—sultry and wisecracking, just wanton enough in her capris and blouses unbuttoned just so, her short hair revealing the kind of neck any man would want to kiss down to the collarbone. Only on Broadway could she pull it off, Grace suspected, where typecasting wasn’t as prevalent and actors could even break out of time-worn ruts. Her breasts weren’t big enough to play that kind of role on celluloid, even if she could drop her voice to sound like she smoked a pack a day. That’s just not you, Gracie. Stop being silly. There seemed to be a chorus of people telling her that in her head.
Mogambo’s good times—days of productive work and nights of food, drink, jokes, cards, and charades—lasted through her birthday, Thanksgiving, and Christmas, with the additional treat of Ava’s birthday on Christmas Eve. Around New Year’s, though, the novelty had started to wear off. The truth was, the script was only so-so, and everyone had grown weary and started pining for the comforts of their American homes. Grace herself had started to dream about hot baths in her claw-foot tub. They all wondered if Ford’s direction and Gable’s star power would be able to carry the film, aided in some small way by the rest of their contributions.
It was hot and everyone was soothing insect bites or upset tummies, mistrusting certain foods or not taking their cocktails with ice unless the poor waiter could guarantee the water had been triple boiled. Frank started drinking too much beer because he didn’t have enough to do, and Ava was getting annoyed that he wanted to be with her all the time she wasn’t on set. “I need some time to myself, you know?” she said to Grace in the ladies’ room of the hotel, where she was meticulously applying cherry red lipstick to her full lips, and adjusting her wide neckline for maximum effect. Grace touched up her own coral lipstick, then smoothed down her lace pencil skirt, and reflected jadedly that these parallel colors and fashions said it all about the differences between them—on-screen and off-.
On one of the first nights of 1953, Grace and Clark were the only ones left at their table, the rubble of another dinner strewn over the white tablecloth. Clark was smoking one of his cigars, and the mulchy-clovey scent perfumed the air around them.
“How are you faring, Kelly?” he asked, looking not at her two seats down the table but at the curl of white smoke he’d blown into the night.
“I’m doing well. Thank you.” She paused, suddenly feeling a butterfly flit against the walls of her stomach. It wouldn’t do to reveal to Clark Gable that she still had to pinch herself some mornings to remind herself that she wasn’t dreaming, that she really was where she was, in the company she was in. “I’m enjoying the picture and everyone in it, and I learn something new every day. Did you know that elephants can recognize themselves in a mirror, and they avoid eating the leaves of certain trees because they don’t like the ants that live there?”
Clark sniffed and bobbed his back. “Your enthusiasm is wonderful to behold, Kelly.”
He sounded so . . . It wasn’t patronizing exactly. It was more nostalgic.
“What about you, Clark? Are you enjoying yourself?” she asked.
“I prefer the company to the picture,” he said, looking over at her with a bittersweet half-smile. “You remember, I’ve already done this movie. More than twenty years ago. You know you’re a dinosaur when you start doing the same movie a second time around. And they have to make you look younger by picking girls the same age they were the first time around.”
“I think it shows your staying power,” Grace disagreed. “And isn’t it a compliment to think that men everywhere who are your age wish they could be you?”
Clark laughed, and looked up at the sky. “Oh, but they don’t. Not really. I’m a fantasy, same as you. The ladies want to be with me, and the gentlemen want to be me. But only for the two hours it takes to watch the picture. In the end, they’re happy to go home to their spouses and meat loaf.”
Grace raised an eyebrow. “Do you mean you’d like to go home to meat loaf?”
“Maybe,” he said. Then, with a laugh that was clearly at himself, he said, “Don’t listen to me, Kelly. I’m just an old rambler.”
Feeling emboldened by their sudden intimacy, Grace asked, “What kind of fantasy do you think I am?”
“That’s easy. You’re the untouchable society girl. Too beautiful to actually go after, but men will think the most vile things about you in their private moments.”
“I thought they were happy with meat loaf?”
“You got me, Kelly. Yes, they are. But when they get unhappy with it, they can dial up their fantasy of icy Grace Kelly and what they could do to defrost you.”
“Defrost me? How terrible. Is that really how I come across?”
“It’s a good thing, Kelly. Not many girls can do what you do. Vivien could, but her version was more hot-blooded, like she could scald you if you got too close.” He said this with such admiration Grace ached to understand why.
“Do you think I could ever play a part like the one Ava’s playing?”
“See now, you’re not asking the right question. You should be asking why you’d even want to bother. You’re the untouchable, the prize. Why be the girl next door?”
“The challenge,” she said in earnest. “I want to be a versatile actress.”
At this, Clark really had a good laugh, and Grace felt twelve years old, stupid.
“We all have our limitations,” he said. “And someday you’ll realize that what you’ve got isn’t worth trading.” He took a long drag on his cigar. They sat in silence for a few minutes, Grace feeling frustrated that she couldn’t figure out anything to say that wouldn’t make her appear even younger and more naïve.
When he finished his cigar, he stubbed it out with hearty satisfaction and turned to her to say, “Time for bed.”
His eyes lingered on her for just a moment too long, and Grace felt her skin, every inch of it, flame up. What would it be like to feel those shoulders moving above hers? Feeling suddenly beautiful, wanted, powerful, she returned his gaze with what she hoped was sufficient invitation. An on-set romance with Clark Gable? What girl would turn that down?
But he stood up with a yawn, put his large, warm hand on her shoulder, and said, “Good night, Kelly.” Then, without looking at her again, he headed to his room, leaving Grace to wonder what on earth had just happened between them.
Finished The Girl in the White Gloves?
Read our exclusive interview with Brenda Janowitz, author of The Grace Kelly Dress, as part of our author series.
Courtesy of Paramount Pictures, Princess Grace Foundation, Getty Images, Courtesy of Universal Studios Licensing LLC, Metro-Goldwyn-Maya (MGM), Kerri Maher, @beckyinthebookshelves