Grace Kelly was known as America's Princess, a glamorous movie star and the ultimate Hitchcock blonde who fled the Hollywood spotlight at the height of her fame to wed European royalty, Prince Rainier of Monaco. Diana Spencer was declared the People's Princess, a shy British beauty who came from aristocratic stock and fulfilled the fairy-tale fantasies of a nation by marrying Prince Charles.
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Long after their tragic deaths, both women have a special place in the hearts of many — as evidenced by a pair of biopics expected in theaters within months of each other. Naomi Watts stars in Diana (opening in the U.S. on Nov. 1), while Nicole Kidman takes the lead in Grace of Monaco (moved out of the holiday lineup to open in early spring).
The fact that the two Australian actresses playing Princess Diana and Princess Grace are best friends in real life is just one of several bonds that tie these legendary women together.
Children of Privilege
Grace Kelly was born Nov. 12, 1929, to a wealthy family and hung out with the high society crowd.
Diana Spencer was born July 1, 1961, already bearing a royal lineage as a member of one of Britain's oldest families.
Grace was the daughter of Jack Kelly, an Olympic gold medalist in rowing, a business mogul and a politician, who favored her older sister and brother while disapproving of her acting ambitions.
Diana was the fourth child of John Spencer, Viscount Althorp. Her parents had hoped for a male heir — an infant brother, John, had died a year before — and her arrival was said to have put a strain on the marriage.
Grace found her calling onstage at age 12 and attended the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York. Her father caused her to split with first beau, a Navy man, and Kelly engaged in a string of romances with older suitors — including affairs with nearly all her big-screen leading men, starting with Gary Cooper in High Noon and ending with Bing Crosby in High Society.
Diana was considered a mediocre student who loved the arts, exhibited community spirit and enjoyed working with children. After attending a Swiss finishing school, she worked as a nursery assistant, a helper at a preschool, a nanny for an American family living in London and a kindergarten teacher.
After 11 films, including a 1954 Oscar-winning turn as Bing Crosby's dowdy spouse in The Country Wife, Kelly met the 31-year-old Prince Rainier III of Monaco while doing a photo shoot at his palace in 1955. They began exchanging letters and Rainier, who was under pressure to produce an heir, went to America in December of that year to meet her family. He proposed three days later.
Prince Charles had been seeing Diana's older sister, Lady Sarah, but began to focus on Diana after they both were guests at a country getaway in 1980. That led to a sailing weekend on a yacht and an invitation to Balmoral, the royal family's Scottish residence, to meet Charles' family. After a courtship in London, the prince, 34, proposed on Feb. 6, 1981 — although the engagement was kept secret for several weeks.