Grace Kelly exhibit explores icon's life

A Toronto exhibit spotlights actress-turned-royal Grace Kelly, style icon and Hitchcock muse.

The world knew Grace Kelly as Alfred Hitchcock's icy cool muse and an international icon of style and elegance, but a new exhibit in Toronto hopes to shed further light on the actress-turned-royal.

TIFF Lightbox's Grace Kelly: From Movie Star to Princess is a chronicle of Kelly's life, told through her personal correspondence, famous fashions, films and a trove of memorabilia. Highlights include letters from "Hitch," the original Hermès purse that was eventually named for Kelly, her Oscar for The Country Girl and home videos peppered with famous faces. 

"She was something of a pack rat and actually kept just about everything that was related to her life, career and family, including every Playbill from all the theatres she was in early in her career and telegrams from friends and family," said Lightbox artistic director Noah Cowan.

Royal visit

Though the doors open to the public on Friday, Kelly's son and his new wife — Monaco's Prince Albert II and Princess Charlène — travelled to Toronto for a private reception to officially open the show Wednesday.

"Of course you see the glamour, her incredible sense of style and taste, but you also discover some of her personal correspondence, some of the artifacts, some of the objects that were part of her everyday life," the prince told CBC News Wednesday evening.

"I think it's a great insight into the great personality that she was, the incredible generosity of her heart and spirit."

'Something about her bearing, about the way she carried herself — even in her early life — suggested she knew she was destined for greatness'—Noah Cowan, TIFF Lightbox

Almost three decades since her death, Kelly retains her appeal, with Cowan likening her fame to "the Holy Grail of celebrity."

"Something about her bearing, about the way she carried herself — even in her early life — suggested she knew she was destined for greatness," he said in describing her enduring legacy.

Though her movie career was brief — she made 11 films in just five years — Kelly drew fans with her plucky, poised, confident and intelligent persona, according to Cowan.

"Kelly constructed a brand out of her own personal strengths. She didn't try to do anything artificial. She know who she was, she knew why people were interested in her," he said.

"She was very aware of what she was doing at any given time, but was always herself, and so I think that’s why women especially continue to have this strong identification with her."

Intense scrutiny

Scrutiny of the Hollywood starlet intensified with her engagement and then marriage to Monaco's Prince Rainier III. The couple's lavish wedding is a core element of the Toronto exhibit, which has as its highlight the meticulously crafted replica of Kelly's wedding gown (created because the original is too fragile to travel). The show's final section delves into Kelly's life as princess of Monaco.

"There was an attention to beauty inside and out that really was a hallmark of Grace Kelly's later years," Cowan said.

Alongside the exhibit, TIFF Lightbox will showcase Kelly's films in two programs: the series Icy Fire: The Hitchcock Blonde, which will include Rear Window, To Catch a Thief and Dial M for Murder, as well as Grace on Screen, comprising other titles from her short Hollywood career, from her 1951 debut in Fourteen Hours to 1956's High Society.

"So whether she was wearing a beautiful couture dress, whether she was reciting beautiful poetry, whether she was tending a beautiful rose or working with the International Red Cross on a special project, I think it was an extension of her work in film and an extension of her own personality."

Toronto is the sole North American stop for Grace Kelly: From Movie Star to Princess, which combines elements of recent exhibits at London's Victoria and Albert Museum as well as the Grimaldi Forum Monaco. It will stop in Australia before returning to the Grimaldi palace.

Grace Kelly: From Movie Star to Princess continues in Toronto through Jan. 22.