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The Mysterious Enduring Appeal of Grace Patricia Kelly

04/01/2013 12:26 pm ET | Updated Jun 01, 2013

It all began during my teenage years. I was gawky, shy (something I shared with the teenaged Grace Kelly, I would later learn) and, being something of a loner, I spent my weekends watching old black and white movies screened on Saturday afternoon TV. The quality varied: macho westerns in sepia; mawkish melodramas; outdated farces -- they didn't float my boat. But occasionally I struck gold and never more so than when I caught my first glimpse of Grace Kelly playing Georgie Elgin, the wife of an alcoholic Bing Crosby in The Country Girl, the role which saw her win the Academy Award for Best Actress in 1954. Her Oscar-worthy, dramatic and engaging performance drew me in, and that was it, I was hooked on Grace, the 1950s and all things retro.

Ironic really, that the role where she tested her acting skills by channeling herself as a dowdy, put upon, drably-clad wife, would be my first introduction to her. Because for me, as for her many fans, Grace Kelly is synonymous with glamor, the very incarnation of ice cool sophistication. Yet there was something in that downbeat role that had me hunting out Grace Kelly movies on VHS and adding Grace Kelly postcards to my Marilyn Monroe and James Dean collection -- and so began a lifelong devotion to cinema's sultriest star.

Just what is it about Grace Kelly that causes hearts to flutter and newspaper columns to fill, thirty long years since she died in an automobile accident? Well for a start, though she only made eleven movies over the course of a few years, for a time in the mid 1950s Grace Kelly was the undisputed Queen of Hollywood. Then, in 1956 when she swapped her tinsel town crown for a real one when exchanging 'I dos' with Prince Rainier III of Monaco, she became a true-life princess, forever etched in the history books. In the twenty-first century Grace's star still twinkles: There's an Olivier Dahan directed biopic in the offing in 2014 with Nicole Kidman in the starring role, and elsewhere, in the fashion world, with Autumn/Winter 2012's focus on retro glamor, (as seen at the Lanvin and Michael van der Ham shows,) the influence of Grace's timeless elegance on the catwalk is still marked (and marketable). Moreover, Grace Kelly's wedding to Prince Rainier III in 1956 remains a touchstone for wedding spectaculars, the dress worn by Catherine Middleton at her marriage to England's Prince William in 2011 being testament to this. In general, Grace remains the unchallenged embodiment of glamor, style and poise and given the continuing love and affection for her movies, the mystery of her enduring appeal, is well, not a mystery really, but a slam-dunk.

It could be argued that a renewed interest in Grace also ties in with a general wistfulness in the zeitgeist for the manners and mores of a more sophisticated era. Grace had an aura which said "look, don't touch," and she was both feted and reviled in her day for being an ice queen, fizzing with untapped sensuality -- a lesson in understated charm which I'm sure could benefit most modern women. Sure, there are some who would decry such coyness as outdated, an anathema to the rules of modern dating, so it might be time to reveal that Grace was also known as somewhat of a man-eater, reputed to have taken her close-ups with her co-stars a little too close on more than one occasion. Fun-loving, witty and wise, here was a woman that knew that playing hard to get often meant not-getting, and so she went after the men she wanted with steely blue-eyed determination. I should also point out here that my pining for all things retro isn't draped in a rose-tinted desire to see women dressed in pinnies, one eye on what's cooking in the oven, the other on the front door, waiting for hubby to get home. Grace certainly wasn't that way inclined. Even when ensconced in the Palace of Monaco, Princess Grace worked hard for her charities and philanthropic causes, albeit playing her happiest role at the same time -- as mother to her three children.

In fact, before she had a family, Grace was the very epitome of a successful modern woman. Though most of us can only dream of the success she achieved in her career, or indeed of marrying a true Prince, there's a list as long as Grace's elegant white-gloved arm as to what the modern woman can learn from her life: We can stand on our own two feet, that's one. Grace was determined to make it on her own, and did not reply on her family's wealth and status to help with her early career; we can learn the art of negotiation (Grace fought hard over her contract with MGM in the early days, at a time when the word of the studio was sacrosanct), that's two; we can play nice and work hard (Grace's reputation as a diligent hard-worker made her her directors' darling; she was, of course, Hitchcock's favorite). Last but not least, Grace, like her name, was graceful and gracious at all times, her Grace Kelly Look oozing simple charms which could said to be characterized by good grooming and immaculate taste.

As a role model for modern woman, then, trying to negotiate life's bumpy path, we can do no better than to be steered by Grace, whether in a royal carriage or that open top car in To Catch a Thief, is up to us, but with a sprinkling of elegance, a dash of good-grooming, by playing nice and effusing good manners, we can all inject a little Grace into our daily lives. I know I do, and I have the lonely teenaged me and her love of old movies to be ever thankful to for that.