November 17, 2013

Exhibit, castle in Pennsylvania tell of grand times

Grace Kelly fans and others will find plenty of other attractions in a visit to Bucks County.

By Robert Digiacomo
Special To The Washington Post

Grace Kelly would have approved.

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Fonthill, a rambling, poured-concrete mansion, was built in Doylestown, Pa., in the early 20th century without blueprints for Henry Mercer, owner of Moravian Pottery & Tile Works. It is part of the Mercer Mile, which includes the Tile Works and a museum to house Mercer’s folk art.

Rosemary Taglialatela/2Days Photos

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A dress that Princess Grace wore to a 1969 ball is part of the Grace Kelly exhibit at the James A. Michener Art Museum in Doylestown, Pa.

Natalie Wi photo

Additional Photos Below



“From Philadelphia to Monaco: Grace Kelly – Beyond the Icon” runs through Jan. 26. Admission is $18; $17 seniors; $16 college students; $8 ages 6-18.


Combination ticket for Fonthill and Mercer Museum $20; $12 ages 6-17. Fonthill visit by guided tour only, reservations recommended.


That thought ran through my mind as I surveyed the tasteful retrospective on the Hollywood princess turned real-life royal at the James A. Michener Art Museum in Doylestown, Pa.

“From Philadelphia to Monaco: Grace Kelly – Beyond the Icon,” which runs through Jan. 26, touches on Kelly’s brief but memorable career in the movies while focusing on her much longer roles as the wife of Prince Rainier III of Monaco, the mother of three children and a champion of the arts and culture.

For a Philadelphian like me, the exhibition conjures up plenty of memories of this local girl who made really good.

The daughter of an Olympic gold medalist rower who owned a construction company, Kelly grew up among the upper middle class in Philadelphia before moving to New York and later Hollywood to pursue an acting career.

In less than five years, she reached the pinnacle of big-screen success, winning the 1954 Academy Award for Best Actress for “The Country Girl” before giving up Hollywood to marry her prince.

During my childhood in the 1970s, Princess Grace regularly adorned the covers of my mom’s magazines and the gossip pages of the newspapers. There were sightings of her in the summer at the Kelly family vacation home in Ocean City, N.J., and one final public appearance in her hometown in the spring of 1982 at a film festival in her honor.

Later that year, she died at age 52, after suffering a stroke while driving to her vacation home in the south of France.

The exhibition, which is being mounted at the Bucks County museum an hour north of Philadelphia in cooperation with the Grimaldi Forum Monaco and Montreal’s McCord Museum, mixes the personal with the official.

The installation of about 40 dresses and couture gowns and dozens of objects maintains the air of decorum one might expect from a blonde starlet who stood out in 1950s Hollywood for her white gloves, cool reserve and understated sense of style.

“I’ve been accused of being cold, snobbish, distant,” acknowledged Princess Grace, according to one of a series of quotes adorning the walls of the exhibit space. “Those who know me well know that I’m nothing of the sort. If anything, the opposite is true. But is it too much to ask to want to protect your private life, your inner feelings? Lots of things touch me and I don’t want to be indiscreet.”

The case for Kelly as an icon of elegance is easily made in the main display of her frocks by such major designers as Yves Saint Laurent, Givenchy and Marc Bohan for Christian Dior, and her signature “Kelly” bag by Hermes.

A special room is dedicated to her storybook 1956 wedding, with her shoes, a silk-covered “Bride’s Manual” and other items on display. (The wedding dress itself, created by MGM costume designer Helen Rose under “top-secret conditions,” is too fragile to be exhibited, according to Philadelphia Museum of Art curator and Kelly expert Kristina Haugland.)

At the same time, Princess Grace was known to – gasp! – wear dresses a second time. Or, as Haugland put it, she was “as loyal to old clothes as to old friends.”

The real woman behind the fashion plate also comes through, via family photographs and mementos and glimpses of life behind the palace gates. The former Grace Kelly could just as easily dress the part of a mom in a scarf and a casual blouse and pants and didn’t mind being photographed that way.

Normal life for her wasn’t quite like yours and mine, however. Video clips show her children mingling with such old Hollywood pals of hers as Cary Grant, Bing Crosby and Alfred Hitchcock. In one note, Queen Elizabeth II expresses her admiration for the princess’ “sweet children”; other correspondents include opera diva Maria Callas and legendary cabaret entertainer Josephine Baker.

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Additional Photos

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A 1967 photo of Princess Grace and her son, Prince Albert, is among the mementos in the Doylestown exhibit.

Natalie Wi photo


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