Post Mortem July/August 2005

A Gentleman, of a Kind

Prince Rainier of Monaco (1923-2005)
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The Grimaldis had been intermittent rulers of their patch of the Côte d'Azur for three centuries before deciding, in 1612, to make themselves "princes." But unlike other European princes, Honoré II, Seigneur de Monaco, opted to be styled not "His Royal Highness" but "His Serene Highness." For the last two decades of Prince Rainier's long reign over Monte Carlo, few highnesses had less to be serene about.

His American wife, who'd brought celluloid glamour to a realm where the real thing had been in short supply, died after a car crash in 1982.

His older, "sensible" daughter married unsuitable Euro-playboys.

His younger, wilder daughter—now an older, wilder fortysomething—preferred consorting with butlers, gardeners, elephant trainers, and a Portuguese trapeze artist. Her marriage to her bodyguard collapsed after he was captured on film guarding somewhat too closely somebody else's body—that of Miss Bare Breasts of Belgium. Princess Stephanie was herself no slouch in that department, as the most casual student of European photojournalism of the late twentieth century would confirm. For a few months after using the high-speed Internet in a Paris hotel, I regularly woke up to spam e-mail containing extensive pictorials of Her Serene Highness giving us the full Monte, naked on a beach and engaged in the act of, ah, self-pleasuring. Possibly she was between circus acts at the time. At any rate, Stephanie's youngest child has a father whose identity, for whatever reason, cannot be made public. It's presumably not the elephant trainer, or Princess Grace's old Hollywood pals would have been round to serenade the kid with "Born in a Trunk."

If his daughter's life in middle age appeared to be one unending audition for Desperate Royal Housewives, Rainier's son, in contrast, declined to produce an heir or indeed any evidence that he was much interested in the principal activity likely to lead to that happy event. As The New York Times nudgingly reported, "Prince Albert, meanwhile, has been linked to a long list of high-profile women known for appearing on the arms of middle-aged bachelors. There have been no signs of anything like a romance." Hmm. But just as you think the Times is trying to tell us something, His Serene Highness concedes in a notarized document that he's fathered a child in Paris by a Togolese woman. Oh, come off it, you cry. How many euros did that scam cost? But it's true: they've matched the DNA. It's his best career move in decades.

Easy lay the head that wore the crown, but underneath a profound sadness etched itself into Rainier's face. He aged a quarter century in the couple of years after Princess Grace's death, and as the eighties rolled into the nineties it sometimes seemed as if the entire House of Grimaldi's sense of itself had careered round the hairpin bends on the Grande Corniche and plunged over the cliff with his beloved wife.

His was the worst-timed death since Aldous Huxley expired on the day of President Kennedy's assassination. Europe's longest-reigning monarch shuffled off a couple of days after the pope, and so, though his nuptials had been hailed as the wedding of the century, his passing wasn't even the funeral of the week. Nonetheless, in the half century between the Duke of Windsor and the Princess of Wales, he was, briefly, the only member of a European dynasty to capture the imagination of the American public.

W hen Fred Astaire began his partnership with Ginger Rogers, Katharine Hepburn observed that he gave her class and she gave him sex. With Prince Rainier and Grace Kelly, she gave him class and sex, and it wasn't entirely obvious what a stiff, moustachioed chap never exactly dashing even in his youth brought to the table. Monaco was, in Somerset Maugham's unimprovable summation, "a sunny place for shady people," and exposed to the light they didn't bear too-close scrutiny. Jack Kelly, Grace's father and a respectable self-made millionaire in the Philadelphia construction business, couldn't have been less impressed if she'd come home with one of Princess Stephanie's circus acrobats: he's reported to have said, "I don't want any damn broken-down prince who is head of a pinhead country that nobody knows anything about to marry my daughter." And who can blame him? If you'd married off Lana Turner, Betty Hutton, Mitzi Gaynor, or any of the other livelier Hollywood cheesecake into a European royal house, you'd have had the premise for a lame B-comedy. But Grace Kelly was already more regal than most real princesses, speaking the queen's English with an amused, languid, rarefied overarticulateness that the queen couldn't get away with. As Frank Sinatra sang to her in High Society,

I don't care
If you are called the fair
Miss Frigidaire …

She was certainly the most glacial of Hitchcock blondes, cooler with Jimmy Stewart than any leading lady before or after. In the last great group shot of Euro-royals before her death—at the Prince of Wales's (first) wedding in 1981—she's carrying herself with far more sense of her royalness than, say, the queen of the Netherlands, never mind Their Royal Highnesses the Duchess of Gloucester and Princess Michael of Kent.

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