Robert Lacey's "Grace" is a book that can't seem to decide what it wants to be.
Is it a balanced biography of Grace Kelly? A sex-filled expose of a Hollywood starlet? Maybe an investigation into the car wreck that claimed the life of Princess Grace?
Unfortunately, it comes closest to being a tawdry strip-show. Mr. Lacey most often exhibits a prurient interest in the sex life of the woman who would marry Prince Ranier of Monaco.
Mr. Lacey's account of Kelly's childhood lacks substance. He barely scratches the surface of the character of Jack Kelly, Grace's bricklayer father, who he paints as having enormous influence on the person Grace Kelly was to become. The father, a 1920 Olympic gold medalist in rowing, pushed his children to excel and forced them to toe a moralistic line that he himself had eschewed by womanizing.
His depiction of Grace's staunch Catholic upbringing, including her education at the hands of nuns, is lackluster and sketchy. It seems as if Mr. Lacey wasn't as interested in Kelly's early life, except as it pertained to sex.
Though she described herself as a late bloomer, Kelly was not, according to Mr. Lacey's account. He quoted one unnamed date as saying, "I am sure she was still a virgin when she graduated. But I reckon that she had done just about everything else." No proof is offered as to how this person verified the state of her maidenhood.
Mr. Lacey's primary goal in writing about Kelly's teen-age romances was to let readers guess when Kelly lost her virginity. (He says she slept with an unnamed friend's husband just after moving to New York to begin classes at the American Academy of the Dramatic Arts.)
Time and time again, Mr. Lacey says, Kelly made plans to marry. She was repeatedly thwarted by her parents, who considered none of her suitors good enough for her.
From that point in the book, Mr. Lacey appears obsessed with chronicling every time Kelly had sex (with Clark Gable, William Holden, Oleg Cassini, Ray Milland). By his account, her sex life was so busy that one is left to wonder when Kelly had time to begin, let alone succeed in, an acting career.
Yet she made 11 films, beginning with a bit part ("lady in lawyer's office") in the 1951 "Fourteen Hours" and ending with a starring role in "High Society" in 1956. Her other films included "High Noon," "Mogambo," "Dial M for Murder," "Rear Window," "The Country Girl," "Green Fire," "The Bridges at Toko-Ri," "To Catch a Thief" and "The Swan." In the last film, she played a woman who must decide whether to marry a prince.
In real life, the choice came easily to Kelly.
She met Ranier when she was in France for the Cannes Film Festival. Paris Match wanted to get a picture of her meeting the prince.
Kelly didn't want to do the photo shoot and circumstances worked against it, too. Due to a strike, there was no electricity for ironing the dress she wanted to wear. So she wore a black taffeta dress with a huge floral pattern and pulled her wet hair back from her face. (Yes, there is a picture of this in the book.)
Prince Ranier wasn't excited about the meeting, either, he later said. He kept Kelly waiting for an hour.
It was an inauspicious beginning to their romance, which blossomed in their subsequent correspondence. The prince was the man who Kelly's parents felt was good enough.
The dizzying wedding preparations frayed tempers. After one all-night party, Grace and Ranier escaped the madness.
"The drove up into the picturesque French villages of Eze and La Turbie, getting out of the car to wander between the sleeping houses, hand in hand, climbing the steep cobbled alleyways to find a spot where they could rest. . . . They watched the sun come up over the green-blue waters of the Mediterranean. . . . The pair of them had successfully demonstrated, if ever there had been any doubt, that they were very much in love, and that there were two real people at the heart of the often undignified circus going on down below."
But this fairy-tale had an unhappy ending. The couple grew apart, but there was no talk of divorce. Grace Kelly quietly began spending time in her Paris house in the mid-1970s, and the couple began living separate lives. Mr. Lacey says that Kelly began romances with younger men.
Her children were her life, but Mr. Lacey gives very little information about their upbringing, except (again) for the sex lives of Princess Caroline and Princess Stephanie.
Mr. Lacey says that Kelly and Stephanie were arguing when Kelly drove her car off a narrow, winding road. The accident killed Kelly and cast her as a tragic heroine.
The dust jacket of "Grace" hints at "new details about the accident and the circumstances surrounding Grace's medical care and death."
But there is no proof to Mr. Lacey's sketchy speculation that the care given to an injured Kelly was inadequate.
He ends the book with where-are-they-now summaries on the royal family, common information available from newspapers and magazines. He was doubtlessly hampered by Kelly's family's refusal to cooperate in his effort.
In the end, in trying to be several things, Mr. Lacey's book ends up succeeding at none.
Jo Bremer is a copy editor for The Sun.
Author: Robert Lacey
Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons
Length, price: 463 pages, $24.95