“Grace of Monaco” starring Nicole Kidman has just premiered at the Cannes Film Festival to controversial reviews. Now read the true story why Princess Grace was offered the role of Marnie by Alfred Hitchcock and subsequently had to decline.
“In 1961, an MCA agent intimated to Hitchcock that Kelly was interested in returning to films under his aegis. Hitchcock’s response to the Boston Sunday Globe was typically nonchalant: “I didn’t hear a word from her at the time. In fact I have not communicated with her by letter or phone regarding the deal. But three weeks ago I was told that she wanted to play the role and please let the announcement come from the palace at Monaco instead of from my office.”
Emile Cornet, a palace spokesman, made the announcement to the world on March 19, 1962. There had been numerous reports during the marriage that the princess would resume her acting career. At one time Prince Rainier issued a formal denial stating that his wife was finished with filmmaking. As Rainier’s wife, Grace had become one of the most titled women in the world. In addition to being the Princess of Monaco, she was the Princess de Chateau-Porciean, twice a duchess, nine times a countess, three times a marquise, and six times a baroness. Cornet concluded, “We are certain she won’t make another film after this one.”
That same day, Hitchcock’s office issued the following press release: “A spokesman for the Prince of Monaco announced today that Princess Grace has accepted to appear in a motion picture for Mr. Alfred Hitchcock to be made in the United States this summer.” London journalist Peter Evans of the Daily Express later interviewed Hitchcock in his limousine, en route to Bodega Bay, where he was filming The Birds. “I never went after Grace you know,” Hitchcock confided.
I saw her and the prince several times over dinner in Paris. I am too much of a gentleman to mention work to a princess. That would be most uncouth. But I waited and finally she came to me. It happened this way. I brought this novel called Marnie and simply could not find an actress suitable for the part. So I sent it to her agents in New York—she always kept her agents, you know—and they passed it on to her. Then a week ago I was told that she would do it, just like that. I have not even spoken to her about it, not even a wire. I suppose I should send a wire, congratulations or something.11
“People, you know, have quite the wrong idea about Grace,” the director continued. “They think she is a cold fish. Remote, like Alcatraz out there. But she has sex appeal, believe me. She has the subtle sex appeal of the English woman and this is the finest in the world. It is ice that will burn your hands, and that is always surprising and exciting too.” When asked whether the princess would have any love scenes in Marnie, Hitchcock replied, “Passionate and most unusual love scenes, but I am afraid I cannot tell you anything beyond that. It is a state secret.”
“Congratulations!” wrote Leonard Kaufman of the Lewin/Kaufman/Schwartz agency in Beverly Hills. “I always said for years that this business needs more sex!” The news that Grace Kelly was returning to the cinema initiated tremendous excitement. Winston Graham remembers getting off a plane and reporters running toward him, asking whether the princess was going to be starring in the film version of his novel. There were journalists ringing his home in East Sussex from all over the world and knocking at the door for almost a week. Princess Grace’s decision to return to filmmaking pleased Graham’s literary agents. A large demand for the serial rights of Marnie from newspapers and magazines in London and abroad followed the announcement from Monaco. The novel had already been serialized in Home before publication. Only a star as big as Princess Grace could cause two serializations, remarked a spokesman for Graham’s agents.
The announcement also started a studio contract row. Metro Goldwyn Mayor claimed that their contract with Kelly was merely suspended and not canceled when she left Hollywood in 1956; therefore, she could only make films for them. On March 23, Joseph R. Vogel, an MGM representative, sent a letter to Hitchcock pointing out that since Kelly’s contract had not lapsed with the studio, they should have participation in the film. Previously, MGM had loaned Kelly to Hitchcock and Paramount Pictures for the films she had made with them before her retirement. Hitchcock’s reply was that because the contract was made in 1953, by law it could only last seven years.
Kelly’s salary for Marnie was another favorite angle for discussion. The princess would reportedly earn $1 million plus a percentage of the film’s profits. According to Hollywood film circles, finance was the true reason that the Rainiers decided to participate. Prince Rainier dismissed the suggestion that Grace was making the film to help Monaco as “ridiculous nonsense.” The simple fact was that Hitchcock agreed to schedule the filming with the Rainier’s annual vacation to the United States: “My wife wanted to see her family, so we decided to spend a month in America with the children.” He added that Princess Grace turned down Hitchcock’s first offer to make Marnie but eventually agreed when the director changed the film schedule to coincide with her vacation plans.
On March 20, the San Francisco Evening Standard reported that Kelly would not be paid a definite salary but would receive a percentage of the finished film. Hitchcock stated that he did not know whether Grace had decided to return to Hollywood because of a shortage of money: “Personally, I don’t think so, although many people will jump to this conclusion. How can she be accused of this when her own family fortune is supposed to be so large. I think the trouble is that too many people, including the English, love stories about failures.”
The princess, possibly piqued by press criticism for her return to filmmaking, announced in a palace statement that she would use the money to establish a charitable fund. On March 23, her following words appeared in The Times: “In the same way as some priests or nuns perform common artistic, musical, or sporting tasks, for example, with the aim of raising funds for their work, I feel I am able to return to the cinema for a film with the charitable aim of aiding needy children and young sportsmen.”
Everything seemed to be falling into place. Grace Kelly was genuinely tempted, and Prince Rainier, who was very fond of Hitchcock, favored the project. Then amid all the anticipation, on April 23, 1962, Hitchcock announced that filming of Marnie was postponed from August 1 of that year to the following spring or summer. He cited the reason for the delay as being the short time elapsing between the completion of his current film The Birds and the starting date of Marnie. It was hoped that the film would be shot during Princess Grace’s annual vacation from the palace next year. Shortly afterward, another statement was issued from the palace in Monaco announcing that the princess was withdrawing from negotiations to star in the film.
In an interview published by the newspaper Nice Matin, Grace said she had dropped plans to appear in Marnie because of the schedule difficulties. When asked whether she might appear in other films, the princess replied, “I don’t like to say definitely, but it’s obvious that the same problems as Marnie would arise.” She had planned to make Marnie while vacationing in the United States with her family, later in the year. Then Hitchcock found he could not begin the film until next year. “I could only have done it if my husband and the children had come with me. This was impossible. Going on with the plan created too many problems so I called Mr. Hitchcock and said I could not do it.”
Psycho screenwriter Joseph Stefano, whom Hitchcock had contracted to start writing a treatment from the novel, remembers being called into the director’s office: “He informed me that Miss Kelly has changed her mind. I think Hitch was more hurt than angry. He had invested his very special passion in something over several weeks. He was abruptly informed that she wasn’t going to be involved, and his comment was, ‘They probably got the money from somewhere else.’”12
What’s evident from Stefano’s testimony is that Hitchcock at the time believed that Kelly withdrew because Monaco’s financial obligations were fulfilled through other means, rather than her acquiescing to the citizens of Monaco who had objected to the princess playing a thief on the screen. “I never heard that theory, and I doubt that Hitchcock ever did,” Stefano stated. “He was just informed that she wasn’t going to do it. He seemed to be under the impression that she was making the movie because Monaco needed the money, and all of a sudden they didn’t need it and she wasn’t going to make the movie. He was very disappointed and very angry.” However, Hitchcock later publicly remarked, “I thought I had Grace for my new film, Marnie, the story of a girl who’s a compulsive thief, and Grace wanted very much to play it, but the conservative element in Monaco—they didn’t want their princess working in Hollywood, so Grace bowed out.”
Stefano tried to persuade Hitchcock from shelving the project by suggesting that he could name five actresses who would be sensational in the title role: “I thought of Eva Marie Saint. I thought that she would have been even deeper than Kelly. But Hitchcock said, ‘I’m not interested. Let’s put this on the shelf and find something else.’ I was disappointed because I thought it would be a very good movie.”
The real reasons for Kelly’s withdrawal, which Hitchcock later came to accept, can be found within the Marnie files of the Hitchcock Collection. An October 8, 1962, research memo, instigated by Hitchcock, reads, “Expiration date of treaty of friendship between France and Monaco. On April 11th, France renounced the ‘Good Neighbor’ Administration and Mutual Assistance Convention of December 23rd 1951, between the two countries. This will affect taxation, customs, postal services, telecommunications and banking which could cease to exist in six months, as of October 11th 1962.”
The French government was putting pressure on Prince Rainier over the prospect of heavier taxes on Monaco, and he didn’t want to leave the country until the matter was settled. President Charles de Gaulle was irritated over Monaco’s free and easy tax system which included no income or corporation taxes. This subsequently lured many foreign firms and individuals, including Frenchmen, to the prince’s sovereign soil. To make Monaco fall in line with the French tax system, de Gaulle ordered the withdrawal of the 1951 convention governing French-Monacan relations under an older treaty. Monaco had six months to negotiate a new one and otherwise faced economic loss of its French-controlled water supply and electrical and telephone services. To maintain these crucial links with France, the prince was forced to compromise and to make concessions that altered the privileged status of his principality. In the process, Grace Kelly had no choice but to abandon the cinema definitely.”
Extract taken from “Hitchcock and the Making of Marnie” Revised Edition