Grace and Kate. Kate and Grace. Could there be two stars from Hollywood’s Golden Age any more different from each other than these two? Both of these women made their indelible mark on film history with their individuality, remarkable talent, and unwavering determination. As different as they were, there still are many notable similarities. My purpose in this post is to uncover those similarities, thereby giving us a double take of these two legends.
-Images are in the Public Domain unless otherwise noted-
The Early Years
Images: https://forums.thefashionspot.com/threads/grace-kelly-3.207135/page-30 (left); Pinterest (right)
Grace was born into a wealthy family in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Her father, Jack Kelly, was a three time Olympic champion rower who encouraged his family to participate in any and all manner of athletics. Grace’s mother was a champion swimmer who became a physical education teacher for ladies at the University of Philadelphia. She also modeled for a number of years.
Every summer the Kelly family retreated from the hustle and bustle of Philadelphia by vacationing in Ocean City, New Jersey. In Ocean City they enjoyed the beach, boardwalk, and quiet life along the shoreline.
When Grace was a teenager she was part of her school’s hockey and swim teams, and she loved to dance.
Young Grace dreamed of being an actress; however, her parents were not keen on the idea. At nineteen, they permitted her to go to New York to study acting so she could get it out of her system. Little did they know she would be quite successful, and that it would change the course of her life.
Image: Pinterest (right)
Kate was born in Hartford, Connecticut, to a prosperous family. Her father, Thomas Hepburn, was a doctor at Hartford Hospital, and her mother was the director of the Connecticut Woman Suffrage Association. Her family had a summer home in Fenwick, a borough of Old Saybrook, where the Connecticut River flows into the Long Island Sound. Kate’s father believed in the importance of physical activity, and Kate learned boating, fishing, and swimming at an early age. She also grew an affinity for tennis and golfing, becoming a state semi-finalist in the latter.
While attending her mother’s alma mater, Bryn Mawr College, Kate grew interested in acting. She participated in some of the college plays and decided that was what she wanted to do. Her parents weren’t entirely thrilled, but Kate pursued her dream nevertheless.
Negotiations, Camera, Action!
In 1952, Grace was offered a role that she simple couldn’t refuse. Mogambo would give her the chance to work with two of her heroes, John Ford and Clark Gable, and the film would be shot on location in Africa; however, in order for her to accept the role she would be tied in to a seven year contract with MGM. Grace made two stipulations: that she could return to her first love, the theater, one out of every two years, and that she would be permitted to live in her apartment in New York City. MGM agreed to the terms, proving that Grace, though still very new to Hollywood, could call the shots.
In 1942, Kate really was the woman of the year. Having collaborated on the story with a playwright, she brought the idea for the film to the studio heads at MGM. She demanded a fixed sum for her services as well as for the story writers. When the terms were met, she also chose her director, Stevens, and co-star, Tracy.
“I was fearless…and lawless.”katharine hepburn
Woman of the Year (1942) was Kate’s first film with Spencer Tracy, and it was so successful that it led to a series of films they made together, (nine in total) as well as the blossoming of their legendary romance. Kate also signed a contract with MGM during the making of the film.
The Philadelphia Stories
When Grace Kelly set out for New York to pursue her acting career, she applied and was accepted to the American Academy of Fine Arts in New York City. After making her Broadway debut and completing her training at the academy, she played Tracy Lord in The Philadelphia Story for her commencement performance.
Images: https://www.charlestoncitypaper.com/HolyCinema/archives/2018/02/09/3-good-reasons-why-you-should-skip-the-fifty-shades-trequel-and-see-high-society-instead-this-v-day (left); https://www.marieclaire.co.uk/fashion/10-of-grace-kelly-s-most-beautiful-on-screen-outfits-21124 (right)
In 1956, Grace was cast in the film version of the play with a few changes. High Society, as it was now called, was a splashy Technicolor musical, made in the grand MGM fashion. As Tracy Lord, Grace was given a duet to sing with co-star Bing Crosby. MGM wanted to bring in a singer to dub Grace, but Bing insisted that Grace had a good voice and that she could carry her part. The result was pure magic! Grace and Bing’s tender duet, “True Love”, won a gold record – an amazing feat for someone unknown as a singer.
High Society turned out to be Grace’s last film in Hollywood – a fine swan song for the actress who in five, short years rose to the top. When filming was complete she started making preparations to leave America to marry her fiance, Prince Rainier of Monaco.
In 1939, Kate was at an all time low in her career. She had just endured a series of flops which had earned her the label, “box office poison.” She was determined to make a come back and turn things around. A friend of hers, Philip Barry, had just the thing. He wrote a play with her in mind for the lead character. The Philadelphia Story opened on Broadway and was a smash with Kate playing Tracy Lord, the haughty, flighty socialite. Kate had made a risky business move in the venture, but it paid off. She did not ask for a salary, and instead asked for a percentage of the play’s profits. Kate’s boyfriend at the time was the multi millionaire Howard Hughes. He purchased the film rights to the play for her, setting her next move in motion.
Kate sold the rights to MGM studio chief, Louis B. Mayer, for $250,000. Other studios had offered her more, but Kate wasn’t after money; she wanted creative control. In exchange Kate got her pick of the director, producer, cast, screenwriter, and she would play the lead once again.
The Philadelphia Story (1940) became Kate’s ticket back into the ranks of beloved star, and she continued acting into her eighties. She said of her character, “I gave her life, and she gave me back my career.” The film won two Oscars and endures as one of the most loved classics of all time.
Images: Pinterest (left); https://baghunter.com/blogs/news/princess-grace-kelly-history-of-hermes-kelly-bag (middle); Pinterest (right)
Grace is known for her classic, feminine, elegant style. Whether a star or a princess, she always dressed the part beautifully. When she became a bride, she stunned the world with her wedding dress, forever setting the prototype for bridal wear. When pregnant with her first child, she used her beloved Hermes handbag to hide her baby bump. Shortly thereafter, it became known as the “Kelly bag” and remains as such till this day.
Kate never followed anyone else’s style – she created her own. She brought menswear inspired clothing into the spotlight, making it more fashionably acceptable for women. Kate loved wearing wide leg trousers, loafers, blazers, and collared shirts. These looks were worn by Kate in her films and her fans imitated her style, setting a trend that has lasted for decades.
And there you have it…two extraordinary ladies that made their place in history by living their lives unapologetically, with a lot more in common than one might think.
Thank you for reading and for visiting The Classic Movie Muse!