I met Grace Kelly several times. It was the mid '50s, and I was the publicity guy for the Newport Jazz Festival, an iconic event held every summer in Newport, Rhode Island. Started in '54 by a Boston jazz pianist named George Wein, it was originally held on farmland owned by Elaine and Louis Lorillard of the cigarette family. It quickly became a gentle monster of a music event and moved to the city stadium, where it continued until crowd riots in '61 ended the original version. I received a phone call from an executive at MGM Studios in Hollywood saying they were making an all-star movie called High Society which was set at the Newport Jazz Festival and they needed an expert on that event. I spent several weeks on the set, never really contributing anything to the film, which was entirely photographed on the sound stages.
The picture starred Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, and Grace Kelly. It was her last film before she married Prince Rainier III of Monaco and became Princess Grace, the consort, and it was released three months after her marriage. Producer Sol Siegel payed Cole Porter $250,000 for an original musical score ("True Love," "You're Sensational").
I hung out with Louis Armstrong, playing himself, and we planned his 75th birthday party at Newport the following July 4th at Newport. And several times I was introduced to Grace on the set. Enchanted by her, as was every man who came into her ken. Every man.
All of this came back to me yesterday at the Hotel Bel- Air, where Montblanc publicist Caroline Graham and partner Charlie Windisch-Graetz assisted Montblanc International with a huge brunch party to introduce the Collection Princess Grace De Monaco Montblanc of watches, jewelry and pens as a benefit for the Princess Grace Foundation USA. Coincidentally, I had dinner last night with Leslie and Evie Bricusse, who are part-time residents of Monaco and close friends of Prince Albert, Grace's son and head of the foundation. Prince Albert and wife Charlene arrived at the collection mid-afternoon and she left with a stunning pair of Montblanc earrings. The collection of time pieces, and writing instruments is beautiful, embellished with filigree petal-cut stones honoring the Grace de Monaco peach rose, created in 1956 on the occasion of her wedding. (Florist David Jones created the large floral arrangements for the event -- Jones had designed Grace's wedding bouquet.) Caroline told me that in its 29 years the Foundation has awarded over $8.5 million to nearly 600 theatre, dance and film artists in the U.S., with Montblanc now contributing significantly to the Foundation. In the '80s, I visited the Cathedral in Monaco and bowed my head at the crypt where Grace is buried. Lovely memories of a rare, gracious and spiritual woman. And I left the event yesterday with a splendid bottle of Montblanc eau de cologne.
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