Marilyn, Grace Kelly and a Royal Rumour

Royals: Keeping the Crown, a new documentary on Curiosity Stream, explores the rumour that Prince Rainier considered courting Marilyn before marrying Grace Kelly, People reports.

“According to University of St. Andrews historian Dr. Chandrika Kaul, ‘Prince Rainier is now 32, and the idea that he might lose his principality if he doesn’t marry well and produce a male heir is uppermost in his mind. Prince Rainier was advised that he would do well to marry a Hollywood “princess,” and [capitalise on] all the celebrity and fame that went with that marriage,’ says Dr. Kaul. ‘What Monaco needed was to revive its tourism trade. It made perfect economic sense.’

According to Keeping the Crown, Monroe was the first suggestion on the prince’s list — but the Some Like It Hot star had an overly sensual image, which struck her from the list. Eventually Rainier found a Country Girl in actress Grace Kelly, when the two-time Oscar winner was in the region for the 1955 Cannes Film Festival. She was invited to Monaco by Paris Match for a photo shoot at the royal palace that just so happened to be hosted by a regal tour guide in Prince Rainier himself.”

Princess Grace of Monaco, 1959

This is a rather over-simplified version of events (for one thing, Marilyn hadn’t yet made Some Like It Hot in 1955.) In truth, the idea was cooked up shortly after she moved to New York, and while flattering, I suspect Marilyn valued her newfound independence too much to enter the insular, regimented world of European monarchy. Whether her name was ever mooted to Rainier himself remains unclear.

This curious story was recounted by Anthony Summers in his controversial 1985 biography, Goddess: The Secret Lives of Marilyn Monroe.

“The year 1955 also saw an embryonic scheme to marry Marilyn off to the head of a European royal family – an idea supported by Aristotle Onassis. The millionaire was concerned because one of his favourite watering holes, the principality of Monaco, was going through a slump. The fashionable set had started going elsewhere. Onassis thought they might return if Prince Rainier married a suitably glamorous foreigner, and asked a friend, George Schlee, to cast around for brides in the United States. Schlee consulted Gardner Cowles, publisher of Look magazine, who happened to be a neighbour of Milton Greene in Connecticut.

‘I suggested to Schlee that it might be a good thing to marry off Rainier to a movie actress,’ Cowles said. ‘He asked if I had anybody in particular in mind. I said, “Well, Marilyn Monroe is at the peak of her fame, and she’s staying nearby. Let’s put the idea to her.”‘

Princess Marilyn of Monaco? That night, as the Greenes and Marilyn drove home, the atmosphere was one of huge hilarity tinged with the realisation that the proposition was serious. For a while there was much chatter about Prince Rainier, who was quickly dubbed ‘Reindeer.’

The idea fizzled altogether when Monaco’s royal household announced that the prince was going to marry another actress, Grace Kelly. Marilyn added her own postscript. She telephoned Kelly with congratulations, adding, ‘I’m so glad you’ve found a way out of this business.'”

Fleur Cowles with Marilyn in 1953

Gardner Cowles would also claim that Marilyn told him, “Give me two days alone with [Rainier] and of course he’ll want to marry me” – a typical ‘Monroeism’ that sounds like a line from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Gardner’s wife at the time was Fleur Cowles, editor-in-chief for Look, who had met Marilyn during her first photo shoot with Milton Greene in 1953.

Fleur mentioned Marilyn’s weekend-long visit in her 1996 memoir, She Made Friends and Kept Them, recalling that Marilyn spent most of her time chatting with another guest, the elderly philanthropist Bertha Spafford Vester. Interestingly, Cowles – a good friend of Princess Grace – does not mention the Rainier story in her account of Marilyn’s visit.

Marilyn chats with Bertha Spafford Vester at the Cowles’ home in Connecticut

Following her separation from Gardner Cowles, Fleur left Look but kept his name professionally. In February 1956, she attended Marilyn’s press conference at the Savoy Hotel. Marilyn married Arthur Miller that summer, and went to England to shoot The Prince and the Showgirl. During this time, she met Fleur again at a party hosted by playwright Terence Rattigan.

As for Marilyn’s supposed telephone call of congratulations to Grace Kelly, this cannot be verified. The two women once unknowingly shared a flight from New York to Los Angeles, with Grace seated in economy class and Marilyn sleeping in a compartment up front. There is no further evidence of their having met, either during Grace’s Hollywood years or thereafter.

However, for a while they shared a publicist, Rupert Allan, who sent Marilyn a postcard from the royal wedding in April 1956. The postcard was found in Marilyn’s filing cabinet after her death, and was sold for $768 at Julien’s Auctions in April 2021 (see here.)