Fatal Legacy of a Beautiful Riviera

Grace Kelly pictured at the height of her fame in Hollywood
Grace Kelly pictured at the height of her fame in Hollywood

by Ray Setterfield

September 14, 1982 — Former Hollywood actress Grace Kelly, who became Princess Grace of Monaco, was killed in a car crash on this day. The accident happened near the spot where another famous American, the dancer Isadora Duncan, died on the same day, but half a century earlier, also in a motoring tragedy.

Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Grace Kelly was to become renowned for her beauty and elegance. She starred in movies such as High Noon with Gary Cooper; Rear Window with James Stewart; To Catch a Thief with Cary Grant; and High Society with Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby.

In 1955, while attending the Cannes Film Festival, she met Prince Rainier III of Monaco. They were married the following year and Grace gave up acting for a glittering life as a royal princess based in the beautiful French Riviera.

In 1982, while driving to the royal palace with her 17-year-old daughter Stephanie, she had a stroke, lost control of the car on a steep, winding road and the vehicle plunged 120 feet (37 metres) down a mountainside.

Stephanie, who failed in her attempts to gain control of the car, received injuries to her back but her mother was far more seriously hurt and unconscious when paramedics arrived.

Doctors at the hospital where she was taken were unable to resuscitate her and Prince Rainier agreed the following night that her life support system should be switched off. At 52 years of age, her Serene Highness Princess Grace of Monaco was dead.

Nicole Kidman starred as the princess in a 2014 movie, Grace of Monaco. It infuriated the Rainier family who, after reading the script and seeing the trailer put out a statement: “This film cannot be classified as a biopic. The trailer is a farce and confirms the totally fictional nature of this film [which is] based on erroneous and dubious historical references.”

The critics hated it, too.

Isadora Duncan, born in San Francisco in 1877, was to become known as “the mother of modern dance”. Performing barefoot and wearing loose-fitting tunics, her dances were characterised by expressive and free-flowing movement and gesture.

Initially unsuccessful in the United States, she moved to Europe where her fame and popularity grew, playing to packed houses in Budapest, Vienna, Berlin and Paris. She lived much of her short life on the French Riviera.

It was there, on September 14, 1927 – precisely 55 years before the death of Princess Grace and just a few miles from the scene of the former actress’s fatal car plunge – that Isadora met a young man sitting in an open-air Bugatti sports car.

Never one to hold back, Isadora asked him to take her for a spin. The New York Times reported what happened next:

“Affecting, as was her habit, an unusual costume, Miss Duncan was wearing an immense iridescent silk scarf wrapped about her neck and streaming in long folds, part of which was swathed about her body with part trailing behind.

“Neither she nor the driver noticed that one of the loose ends fell over the side of the car and was caught in the rear wheel.

“The automobile was going at full speed when the scarf of strong silk suddenly began winding around the wheel and with terrific force dragged Miss Duncan, around whom it was securely wrapped, bodily over the side of the car, precipitating her with violence against the cobblestone street.”

Isadora’s neck was broken and she died instantly. She was 50. After her death her work was carried on by some of her six adopted daughters, known as “the Isadorables”.

Today, the work of the innovative dancer is celebrated principally by Lori Belilove who founded the Isadora Duncan Dance Foundation in 1979 and the Isadora Duncan Dance Company in 1989.

Published: October 11, 2017

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