“It’s Not Just Who But When…”
This statement was made by an acquaintance of mine some years ago when the question was prompted, “Who would you like to meet more than anyone else?” And from that very moment I fully and completely realized how important timing is when it comes to the reality of a person. Often the ideal timing is that ideal cusp where the fame is new and surprising to the person themselves. Where they are overcome with both the humility of that responsibility and possibly even embarrassed by it. It is certainly when they are most thankful. And certainly ever since that initial conversation I’ve always reiterated when it comes to any such list, “It’s not just who but when…”
Now as a wrinkle, this ongoing series of portraits will only specifically deal with the women of the last 75 years of so who I consider to be the Most Beautiful and Alluring in the world. I’m well aware that the internet can quickly descend into a game OMG SHE’S HOT, LET’S OGLE HER! (though ogle is probably not used that often) and we find ourselves skirting into objectifying and ultimately even exploitative territory. Please know that that is anything but the goal here. The goal is reflect on moments in time, go over some film and television history, talk about the nature of image, and engage the subject of sexuality in media forms. And yes, most of it will be in adoring circumstances so don’t expect much of sterile criticism, but that is definitely the world of thought it will be coming from.
This ongoing series will attempt to go chronologically.
It’s amazing what a couple of Hitchcock movies can do for a actress’s legacy.
Let’s be honest, acting is not really Grace Kelly’s legacy, is it? After all, this is a woman who ended up being an honest-to-god Princess.
Grace Kelly was probably too beautiful to be confined to a normal life. She had the kind of beauty that doesn’t exactly feel real. If you asked someone to sketch an ideal version of a “pretty blonde lady” it would probably look like her: pristine, bright and colorful, free of imperfection. This is not to imply that Grace was a bombshell type mind you. She wasn’t Marilyn. She wasn’t overly curvaceous. Nor sultry. Grace Kelly was elegant. Shapely, but slender. Statuesque. She truly had this eponymous grace… Gosh… Here I am, hurling around adjectives like someone who can’t articulate a coherent narrative, but oddly it feels like the best approach…
… Impeccable… Perhaps that’s the best word.
In my previous piece on Elizabeth Taylor I mistakenly made it seem like Taylor was the defining style icon of this era. It was the wrong appraisal: Taylor had a defining and highly influential look, but it was Grace Kelly who was THE style icon of the time. So much so that fashion and clothing were synonymous to her identity.
Let’s do an exercise. Those of you who are familiar with her, picture Grace Kelly in your head right now. How does she look?
I bet her clothing and hair is a big part of what you picture. There’s no singular facial trait (like with Julia Roberts you’d go “big smile”), she just had a perfect symmetrical face. So it’s about the look. She had a few different looks, but we likely know them all. She would most likely be wearing white. She could be wearing a stunning evening dress with a large, conservative skirt, but a liberal reveal of her shoulders. She’s most likely wearing diamonds. Her hair could curve into an elegant wave, or be pulled straight back with a bit of volume. She could be going to a fancy cocktail party, she a fancy dinner, or be the belle of the ball. It wouldn’t matter because she’d never be under-dressed for an outing, would she? It’s all so classic. You have your more casual looks as well though. Maybe, she could see her lounging on some fancy sailboat. White khaki shorts. A modest sweater. Sunglasses. A forerunner to Jackie O. The air of the distinguished. The yachting crowd.
There’s a reason you can picture Grace so easily. It’s because we all have the same iconic images in burned into our minds. Her physical presence and style are inexorably tied together, and specifically tied up with something very important in addition…
There’s this popular cliche about how men like to worship women from afar. It’s not necessarily voyeurism, but more of an ingrained belief that the immaculate feminine perfection can only be maintained in absolute form from a distance (otherwise you see the imperfections). Other kinds of figures give us shortcuts around the imperfections, often upfront. Unlike television stars, the buddy-like comediennes, or even the hapless airheads, who are considered approachable and accessible, the “movie star” is the perfect example of the effects of that distance. We go into darkened theaters and stare up at these amazing specimens with our mouths agape. It is there that the distance becomes a chasm. And with someone like Grace Kelly: whose looks are so perfect, with every bit of her definitive flair of upper class style which we (generally) so desperately envy, that chasm instead becomes a vast expanse.
We love her, because it’s almost inconceivable to be her. So really, what other choice is there?
Back to Hitchcock.
Did you know that Grace Kelly only starred in movies for 5 freaking years?
I bet you didn’t know that. She’s considered one of the great movie stars of our time after all. But just five years of work: Two bit parts in FOURTEEN HOURS (1951) and HIGH NOON(1952). She erupted on the scene as “that beautiful blonde woman who stole the scenes from Ava Gardner” in MOGAMBO (1953). The next year was a big one as she starred in five freaking movies alone. GREEN FIRE and THE FIRE OF TOKO-RI. Then she starred in two consecutive Hitchcock classics, DIAL M FOR MURDER and REAR WINDOW. !!!. She didn’t even do all that much in them, but they have virtually defined her screen career. She’s often considered the ideal model of “The Hitchcock Blonde.” I guess it helps that both are just outrageously good movies. The fifth film of that year? THE COUNTRY GIRL, which earned Grace Kelly a freaking Oscar. You haven’t heard of it (most likely) because it’s not all that good. But really, that’s often what people win Oscars for, their not-so-good work at the just-the-right time. I’ve gone on my “oscars just being awards for previous performances and politics” rant before so I won’t again… but please note that this forgotten, blah performance prevented Judy Garland for winning in A STAR IS BORN and Audrey Hepburn for winning in SABRINA. Ugh. Moving on… Grace seemed sort of weary of a lot of the attention that came after all this. She didn’t look forward to raising kids like this (and she wanted kids). So she only did three more films (which I honestly haven’t seen so I can’t really comment), but at the end of 1956 she hung up her acting shoes for good. She was 26.
Again. She was 26…. Whoa.
Of course it helps if you meet the Prince of Monaco and he falls hopelessly in love with you. Anytime you can get the fairy tale ending I say you go for it. If only to see what it’s like, right? She never really acted again, though she was tempted by her old friend Hitchcock a few times. Instead, she did all the princess/stately duties. She did an immense amount of humanitarian work (the funniest of which was breast feeding advocacy thing). She gave birth to Princess Caroline. Basically, she got to be a princess.
Given everything we’ve discussed… A fitting conclusion for Grace Kelly, isn’t it?