Thursday, May 27, 2010


(c) By Polly Guerin
Dear Grace: You were the personification of the well groomed, white gloved, classic beauty, seemingly always in control and turned out with band box perfection. In an era (1950’s) when manners and breeding were paramount characteristics of refined sensibilities you served as an icon for countless women who tried to imitate your style. Born to the role of movie star and princess your brand of kindness and your delightful personality were legendary as was living your life to its fullest with smoldering fire and sexual elegance. As mere admirers other women dreamed of finding their gallant prince but you did, and became Her Serene Highness the Princess of Monaco.
Even before meeting her prince Grace was a true princess. She was tall, slender, with icy blond hair and cool blue eyes that gazed out at the world with poise and All-American girl perfection. Born in Philadelphia on November 12, 1929 into a charismatic Irish-Catholic family, her father Jack Kelly’s sporty, competitive persona must have inspired Grace’s drive and determined desire to succeed. Despite her parents’ disapproval Grace wanted to be an actress from an early age, but her determination was steadfast and she somehow managed leave home and head for New York City. While attending the renowned American Academy of Dramatic Art at 120 Madison Ave., in the historic Murray Hill enclave of Manhattan, she began taking acting classes and working as a model. Many roles would define her serene persona and in her graduation performance she was aptly cast as Tracy Lord, the privileged heiress in The Philadelphia Story. Grace was talented, albeit aided by her stunningly beautiful face, which gazes out of the photograph posted at the Academy in the graduating class of 1949.
Grace did not hatch the dream of becoming a movie star without resources. Grace had a theatrical family legacy that included her Uncle Walter Kelly, who was a successful vaudevillian and George Kelly, a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright. It was George who encouraged her dream of acting but he did warn her about Hollywood’s feudal studio system. Grace’s first small acting roll was in the film “14 Hour,” but this film did not spiral her career forward, it was High Noon, 1952 that put her in the spotlight. The Los Angeles times would write that she “came seemingly out of nowhere,” but the truth of the matter is that her “sexual elegance” caught the eye of John Ford and Alfred Hitchcock. She acted in a couple of films including Mogambo with Clark Gable and Ava Gardner. Grace's rumored romances with leading men fueled the gossip mongers with relish. Undaunted by such knowledge when she and Gable had an affair during the filming of Mogambo, Grace replied nonchalantly: “What else is there to do if you’re alone in a tent in Africa with Clark Gable?” Her rise in Hollywood was swift. She acted in seven movies for Hitchcock, winning two Golden Globe Awards and an Academy Award. She was riding high on her career when her starring role as a film star was serendipitously cast in another direction.
As destiny would have it Grace was at the Cannes Film Festival in the South of France when she met Prince Rainier of Monaco. He too, found in Grace Kelly the perfect woman he was looking for. During filming of MGM’s The Swan, she had been exchanging letters with the Prince Rainier Grimaldi, ever since she met him in 1955. Grace seemingly slipped with fairytale ease into love with the Prince. Perhaps the timing was right and cast of lovers perfectly paired because Grace had made it perfectly clear to her intimate circle that she did not want to become an aging beauty in Hollywood.
The little principality of Monaco was decked out like a wedding cake; the palace was as pink as a bridesmaid’s gown. The two were married in an extravagant ceremony in 1956. It was the first multi-media press event with a slew of reporters and photographers on the ship that took Grace and her entourage of 66 to Monaco. Her arrival was met with hails of enthusiastic onlookers and greeters. It was a dream come true, a win win situation, the movie star became a Princess and for Grimaldi the prospect of the birth of a child would secure Monaco’s independence from France. The festivities were filmed by MGM and broadcast live to more than 30 million viewers in worldwide.
It was during her pregnancy with her first child Caroline that Grace adopted an accessory by Hermes, a large square handbag made of pigskin that she used to shield her belly from the public. In her honor, Hermes christened this bag, ‘the Kelly,’ which even today remains an icon of impeccable good taste. Her role as a mother and as a Royal was consuming, and Rainier discouraged any filmmaking roles. Some say that it was not a ‘fairytale’ marriage, but who knows. Was real life ever meant to be so perfect? Grace’s marriage obviously had the same ups and downs, joys and disappoints as all other women who dreamed of a fairytale marriage.
One never knows what exactly happened that glorious sunny but fateful day of September 13, 1982. Dismissing the chauffeur Grace was driving the car because she was headed for the dressmaker and had put dresses that needed to be altered across the back seat. While driving that treacherous road it seems that she suffered a small “warning’ stroke and she lost control of the car. Sadly that car crash silenced the life of her Serene Highness the Princess of Monaco.
Even today Grace Kelly’s imprint is felt on the world of fashionistas who covet her famous looks, her image of poise and perfection. She dressed cool and collected, her makeup was understated and her hair clean and shining, and her clothes were immaculate, a perfect lesson for any young woman today. No miniskirts for this Princess. She wore knee grazing pencil skirts with tiny waists and sexy jackets, or a simple classic ball gown devoid of jewelry. The effect was stunning and a classic example of controlled elegance. Grace Kelly was in every aspect: classy, sophisticated, discreet and forever remembered as a true Princess.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010


By Polly Guerin

Dear Belle: Your legend goes far beyond color borders and crossed into history's archives as one of the most revered librarians. You ascended upward into elite society and crossed the great divide as the triumphant African American personal librarian of the prestigious J.P. Morgan Library. At a time when even most white women were denied job opportunities or discouraged from pursing work outside of their home you carved out a remarkable career. The year was 1905 when J.P. Morgan engaged your services, shy of five years before the suffragettes won the vote by the 19th amendment to the Constitution in 1920. Segregation was rampant at the time, but your light complexion enabled you to pass for white. Vivacious, intelligent and shrewd Belle da Costa Greene is an amazing art deco heroine in the annals of American women’s achievements.
In some people’s lives ‘luck’ plays an important card of good fortune, and that was the case with Belle ad Costa Greene. J.P. Morgan had realized that his book collection had become too large for his study and engaged Charles F. McKim to build him a library to the east of his Madison Avenue brownstone. At that time J.P. Morgan’s nephew, Julius Spencer Morgan, a Princeton alumnus who was an advisor to the library, understood his uncle's need for a librarian and introduced Greene to America’s great titan of industry. She did not come to meet J.P. Morgan without credentials. Greene had been working at the Princeton University Library in Princeton, New Jersey and had honed skills that would serve her well at the Morgan Library. No doubt the brainy Belle impressed the great financier, but she was also quite beautiful and possessed a certain sensuous quality due to her exotic complexion, which helped her to pass as white.
The opportunity presented itself and Morgan hired her as his personal librarian. However, over and above her physical attractiveness, Morgan trusted her expertise not only because of her bargaining power with dealers, but also for her keen knowledge of illuminated manuscripts, of which Morgan had a vast collection. Trusting in her expertise, Greene had carte blanche to commit huge portions of Morgan’s fortune to establish the Morgan Library as one of the premier private collections. Throughout her tenure she would spend millions of dollars buying and selling rare manuscripts, books and art.
Greene seems to have passed over the boundaries of the racial divide more for reasons of ambition and opportunity and made the Morgan Library her lifetime career. . Alas, Greene never married but devoted her life to the development of the Morgan Library. In the role of Morgan’s emissary, Greene was determined to make Morgan’s library pre-eminent in the collection of manuscripts, bindings and the classics. She had the enviable position of being in the center of the art world for over 43 years, and every dealer coveted her friendship. As a result she moved with ease in elite society and enjoyed the company of the super rich patrons of the arts.
With Morgan’s largesse, Greene’s unlimited means attracted attention as did her bearing and fashionable style of dressing. Known for her designer wardrobe, she once declared, “Just because I am a Librarian, doesn’t mean I have to dress like one.” On trips to Europe her lifestyle was lavish and unprecedented. When she traveled she stayed at the best hotels—Claridge’s in London and the Ritz in Paris. It is said that she would even take along her thoroughbred horse, which she rode in Hyde Park in London. In friendships she favored affairs with rich or influential men, especially art scholars and dealers. She enjoyed a Bohemian freedom and had a long list of lovers. Asked if she was Morgan’s mistress, she is said to have replied, “We tried!” Rumor had it that she had her most lasting romantic relationship with the celebrated United States art critic, Bernard Berenson.
Even after J.P. Morgan died in 1913, Greene continued in her role with J. P. Morgan’s son, who bore the same name, continuing to build and overseeing the collection. Following J. P. Morgan's death she also became the director of the library. Her society and art dealer contacts made her a formidable collector and established her privileged status as the most respected librarian of the era. J.P. Morgan left her $50,000 in his will, reportedly $800,000 in modern money. Not so bad for a woman of African American decent, albeit she passed for white. Her incredible journey spanned 43 years from 1905 to 1948, the year that she retired. She died two years later in New York City.
Whispers and rumors about Greene’s passing were common throughout her life. In order to pass Greene and her mother, Genevieve Ida Fleet, who also had a light complexion, changed their name. They added “da Costa,” claiming to be part-Portuguese to account for their exotic complexion. Greene was born Belle Marion Greener (1883-1950). The family’s background was solidly-established in Washington, D.C. black bourgeoisie society. Her father Richard T. Greener, also very light-skinned, was a distinguished lawyer and public figure and the first black undergraduate to receive a degree from Harvard in 1870. Greener was also appointed dean of Howard University Law School. He separated from his family in 1890.
The story of Belle Marion Greener/Belle da Costa Greene reminds us, that underlying her finest achievement as J.P. Morgan’s librarian, was her talent, her shrewd intelligence, her tenacity and drive to realize her goal to make J.P. Morgan’s library the pre-eminent private collection in New York City and one of the most outstanding reference libraries for scholars worldwide.

The Morgan Library & Museum is located at 225 Madison Ave. (36th & 37th Streets) New York, NY 10016.