Grace Kelly, Model
Exclusive Post by Mary Mallory, Author of Living with Grace
Born November 12, 1929, Grace Kelly grew up in the affluent East Falls neighborhood of Philadelphia as the third of four children of John B. “Jack” Kelly and Margaret Kelly, successful in their own right. Jack won 3 gold medals in the 1920 and 1924 Olympics as a rower before becoming a wealthy brick company owner, while Margaret possessed a great track record in swimming before becoming coach and instructor for the University of Pennsylvania’s Physical Education Department’s women’s teams.
Overprotected and coddled, Grace was considered “the least likely to succeed in the family” by her father due to her klutzy and unimpressive athletic skills. She tried to follow along, though her heart wasn’t in it, drawn instead to the arts and theatre. While she failed to become a world class athlete, Grace learned valuable lessons from her father that later served her well in her modeling and acting career, such as discipline, dedication, focus, and never giving up. As her mother would say, “The Kelly family has been rich mainly in industriousness, ingenuity, and talent.”
Grace instead focused her time in acting and the arts, a love she came by naturally. Her uncle Walter played a judge in vaudeville/stage skits for years while her uncle George worked his way up from actor/director to successful playwright of such plays as The Torch-Bearers (1922) and The Show-off (1924). He won the Pulitzer Prize for Best Play in 1926 for Craig’s Wife.
George and Grace both shared a love of arts and culture, which he nurtured and developed, expanding her interest in theatre. After taking ballet and actinng lessons, and appearing in such plays as Don’t Eat the Animals in 1942, Grace set her sights on becoming a great stage star. Grace decided to enter the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York to study acting after failing to get into Bennington, her first choice. Pulling some strings by dropping her uncle’s name when she auditioned with a scene from The Torch-Bearers, Grace won a spot in 1947, though her father hoped “it was only a whim” and she would eventually return home to Philadelphia.
Instead, Grace felt right at home, independent for the first time. She threw herself wholeheartedly into her classes, fencing, drilling, and improving her voice by losing her twang and changing her accent to the more mid-Atlantic/British one she grew famous for. Grace impressed friends with her drive, with one later declaring, “Knows where she’s going. Driving herself like a streamlined racing car.”
Grace took jobs such as modeling to support herself while in school, determined to show her independence and her love of acting to her parents, who viewed it as only a hobby. Following her lifelong traits of focus, drive, and determination, Grace never stopped hustling, making the rounds of commercial and production houses, dropping off head shots and auditioning for jobs. Once started, she never seemed to let up, seeking out high class products and national advertising campaigns in which to take part. Grace later remarked, “Thanks to some lucky breaks in landing choice assignments in modeling jobs, I’ve been able to support myself fairly well.”
Her perky, fresh-faced look quickly landed her jobs promoting beauty products. Grace appeared in well known magazines like Saturday Evening Post, Collier’s, Ladies Home Journal, and Good Housekeeping for such products as face cream, soap, shampoo, and toothpaste. Grace’s perfect white teeth “graced” ads for such companies as Pepsodent and Ipana, while her natural complexion helped sell Ivory and Cashmere soap. Her golden locks promoted such companies as Halo and Prell.
At the same time, Grace posed for ads promoting typewriters, underarm pads, stationery, and even coffee. She even posed for stories in magazines like “How to Fold a Sweater” in a 1948 Good Housekeeping issue, Butterick patterns, and appeared on three covers for Redbook magazine in 1950, one as an American Airlines flight attendant. At one point, Grace earned $15,000 a year from all her modeling assignments, providing a nice income while she pursued acting jobs on Broadway.
As Grace began landing parts in television shows in 1950, she moved away from modeling to concentrate on succeeding in TV, displaying the same intensity in seeking out roles as she did in landing magazine jobs. Just like her father, life was a giant competition for Grace, exceeding her previous success while also conquering new fields and competitors. In the early 1950s, Grace quickly rose to the top in television, working with major stars and creators before becoming a film icon in the middle of the decade.
–Mary Mallory for Classic Movie Hub
Mary Mallory is a film historian, photograph archivist, and researcher, focusing on Los Angeles and early film history. She is the author of Living with Grace: Life Lessons from America’s Princess. She also co-authored Hollywood at Play: The Lives of the Stars Between Takes (with Stephen X. Sylvester and Donovan Brandt) and writes theatre reviews for The Tolucan Times and blogs for the LA Daily Mirror. Mallory served on Hollywood Heritage, Inc.’s Board of Directors, and acts as a docent for the Hollywood Heritage Museum. You can follow her on twitter at @mallory_mary.
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