I know it won’t make me anyone’s favorite person to draw Grace Kelly’s legacy into the gray zone, but the Roman exhibition of her handbags and things, and the new biography by Donald Spoto, and The New Yorker piece tied to both of them, have all blown her harmless, sugar dusted contribution right out of proportion.
Despite her Academy Award (in 1954, for The Country Girl), Grace was by and large an unreliable actress; as a style icon, she was, despite her glamour, purely status quo; and though she had that golden sort of Beverly Hills beauty that wins people parts in movies, hers was refined to the point of anonymity, like one of those über-coiffed hedges outside of Versailles.
What she did have, however, was niceness in abundance. In that way I think of her as I do Gregory Peck. They cornered the market on indistinct distinction.
How else would a blonde get a part in a Hitchcock movie? Certainly not by showing personality, independence, texture, wit, verve or any of the other qualities we look for in an actor. Like Eva Marie Saint, Tippi Hedren, Kim Novak, Janet Leigh, and a whole other fistful of blondes, Hitchcock fell for Kelly’s opacity, which, in a picture like To Catch a Thief (1955), he transformed into a site of sexual suspense. Watching her, we wonder, is she going to do it? Is this ice princess going to melt?
It’s all part of Hitchcock’s sadistic game with himself, and when his pieces are in the right places it can be really fun to watch. But don’t for a second fool yourself into thinking Grace was ever more than a star pawn on the master’s board.
Even in Rear Window (1954), her best film, Kelly turned out half a person. Molly Haskell wrote, “she is more committed to their relationship than Jimmy Stewart, but there is not much in her chic vacuous personality to commit.” When I was younger, I would have disagreed. I would have thought Jimmy was crazy not to drag himself out of his wheelchair and onto Lisa Fremont. But now I think he was onto something. At least Raymond Burr had a mysterious briefcase.