High Society: The Life of Grace Kelly by Donald Spoto

September 9, 2013

high society Summary (from the publisher): Drawing on his unprecedented access to Grace Kelly, bestselling biographer Donald Spoto at last offers an intimate, honest, and authoritative portrait of one of Hollywood’s legendary actresses.

In just seven years–from 1950 through 1956–Grace Kelly embarked on a whirlwind career that included roles in eleven movies. From the principled Amy Fowler Kane in High Noon to the thrill-seeking Frances Stevens of To Catch a Thief, Grace established herself as one of Hollywood’s most talented actresses and iconic beauties. Her astonishing career lasted until her retirement at age twenty-six, when she withdrew from stage and screen to marry a European monarch and became a modern, working princess and mother.

Based on never-before-published or quoted interviews with Grace and those conducted over many years with her friends and colleagues–from costars James Stewart and Cary Grant to director Alfred Hitchcock–as well as many documents disclosed by her children for the first time, acclaimed biographer Donald Spoto explores the transformation of a convent schoolgirl to New York model, successful television actress, Oscar-winning movie star, and beloved royal.

As the princess requested, Spoto waited twenty-five years after her death to write this biography. Now, with honesty and insight, High Society reveals the truth of Grace Kelly’s personal life, the men she loved, the men she didn’t, and what lay behind the façade of her fairy-tale life.

Reaction:

I knew nothing about the life of Grace Kelly prior to reading this book (beyond the very basics: she was an actress/princess; died in a car accident), so it was all new information to me and as such, mostly kept my interest from beginning to end. Now, I’ve read some other reviews complaining that Spoto doesn’t deliver anything that couldn’t have been garnered from other sources, so longtime fans of Kelly might not get as much out of this as I did.

My initial reaction is that Grace Kelly seemed like a very nice, decent, upstanding person. The portrait painted by Spoto is one that is a far cry from the Hollywood divas of today. Grace seemed down-to-earth and real, and I loved that she was known for speaking her mind — even to the likes of John Ford and Alfred Hitchcock. Though they didn’t always listen to her, at least she got her two cents in whenever possible.

I also liked that Grace genuinely wanted to explore her talents as an actress. She wasn’t simply in it for the money or the fame. She wanted to work on good projects with good directors and co-stars. She wanted to be free to pursue theater roles if MGM didn’t have anything for her. And she always wondered how far she could have gone if she hadn’t given up the Hollywood life to become Princess Grace of Monaco.

But while those parts of the book were great, I did have problems with this as a biography. First, Spoto hardly included any personal details at all, particularly after Grace became a princess. Her royal life remains a mystery to me, which shouldn’t be the case after reading a book by someone with so much access.

That brings me to the second big problem I had with High Society. Spoto admitted from the start that he considered Grace Kelly a friend. Because of this relationship, he ends up treating her with kid gloves throughout. He never mentions anything negative, and goes out of his way to offer Grace extra praise — even for her roles in films that ended up being flops (the blame, for Spoto, always lay elsewhere than with Grace). To say that this book is written with bias is an understatement.

And finally, I didn’t think Spoto needed to reproduce such long stretches of dialogue from Grace’s films (particularly “To Catch a Thief”). While I didn’t mind the extended analyses of some of Grace’s major works, reproducing the dialogue served no purpose, especially since Spoto’s point was to showcase Grace’s comedic timing. How is that possible when the reader is simply getting words on a page?? It was a waste of space.

Rating:

The subject matter of High Society is definitely intriguing, even so many years later. Considering Spoto’s access, this book should have been a veritable treasure trove of heretofore unknown facts and tidbits about Grace Kelly’s life. But that’s apparently not the case at all. Though the information was new to me, even as I was reading, I could tell I wasn’t getting anything earth-shattering. Still, the content was interesting enough that I can give this one 3 stars out of 5.

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