The royal couple succeeded in keeping their developing romance secret until Prince Rainier sailed for America, proposing seven months after their first meeting
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Prince Rainier and Grace Kelly in 1956
| Credit: AP Photo

Grace Kelly and Prince Rainier of Monaco's royal marriage continues to fascinate. The modern fairy tale involving a prince and a Hollywood actress remains a love story for the ages. Now, 67 years after the couple's first meeting, their son Prince Albert is shedding new light on their storied encounter.

Kelly and Rainier's meeting was orchestrated in part by Gone with the Wind actress Olivia de Havilland. Recalling her role in the pairing, the Oscar winner, who died in 2020 at the age of 104, told PEOPLE in 2017: "I'm tempted to think it was destiny." 

On May 4, 1955, de Havilland and her husband, Paris-Match editor Pierre Galante, were traveling by train to Cannes. When Galante learned that Kelly was a fellow passenger, he was "struck" by the idea that the actress should meet Prince Rainier, de Havilland recalled.

When the train arrived in Cannes, de Havilland ran to catch Kelly to suggest the meeting.

"Grace struck me on the first encounter as a rather reserved, self-possessed, well brought up young woman," de Havilland said, recalling their fateful exchange which occurred "on the small platform between the dining car and the next carriage when I overtook her to ask if she would agree to a meeting with Prince Rainier."

"She immediately agreed but made the highly professional proviso that such a meeting must first be approved of by the studio sponsoring her visit to Cannes: MGM."

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Grace Kelly, Olivia de Havilland, Pierre Galante and MGM public relations manager Elias Lainière arrive at Cannes station in 1955
| Credit: Edward Quinnn, © edwardquinn.com

With Kelly's "immediate agreement" secured, Galante set to work. He telephoned Kelly to announce Rainier had invited her to his palace at 4 p.m., the following afternoon. Explaining her required presence at a Cannes cocktail for her film at 5:30, she declined. Later, when Galante called back saying Rainier had consented to move their meeting up to 3, Grace relented.

The morning of the pair's meeting started badly — and got progressively worse.

Waking late, Kelly washed her hair before discovering a labor strike had cut off all the festival city's electricity. No hairdryer, makeup lights or iron. With two cars waiting downstairs outside The Carlton hotel, Kelly pulled her hair back, arranged it with flowers, put on her one unwrinkled outfit (a thick silk taffeta "Easy To Sew" floral model she'd worn a year earlier for McCall's Patterns) and of course, finding the elevators without power, rushed down several flights of stairs, to meet Galante and a carload of photographers.

A fender-bender with photographers in a following car delayed them and when they eventually arrived at the Palace, Rainier wasn't there. 

According to Prince Albert, Rainier's aide-de-camp welcomed Kelly, but for 55 minutes, it was the palace's maitre d'hote Michel Demaurizi who "heroically" kept Grace occupied. 

As Albert recently recounted to Paris-Match, Demaurizi walked her through the rooms of the palace's grand apartments, where he "shared his fascination for Napoleon, lingering in front of Empire-period masterpieces" collected by Rainier's grandfather Prince Louis II. 

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Grace Kelly and Prince Rainier in 1956
| Credit: Keystone/Getty

The clock was ticking and Kelly was due back for a reception in her honor at Cannes. "It was nearly 4 p.m. when my father finally appeared in the royal antechamber. A few shots were made. The famous handshake photograph, posed," Albert said.

When Rainier invited Kelly to see his 225-room palace, she replied she'd already had the full tour. "As the whole visit was already done, there was nothing left for the prince to show — except the gardens," Albert added.

The couple walked ahead, speaking privately, outside the earshot of photographers and journalists, as they toured the gardens and Rainier's private zoo. "The atmosphere changed," Prince Albert said. "The couple relaxed."

The royal's menagerie housed a Bengal tiger and three monkeys, and Rainier took pride in "showing off two injured lions he'd picked up during a cruise on the African coast.

"My father, at ease, let his charm work and a dialogue began," he added.

There was, however, Grace's reception in Cannes and "no time for a glass of champagne, not even time for a signature in the Palace's Visitor's book," Albert added. "It's as if the date of May 6, 1955, wasn't going to remain in the annals of the Principality."  

Prince Albert of Monaco
Prince Albert
| Credit: Manuel Queimadelos/Quality Sport Images/Getty

In contrast, the McCall's Patterns floral dress worn by Kelly that day has since "become legendary." According to Albert, it is "carefully preserved" as part of the Palace's collection. 

When the pair's visit ended, Grace rushed back to Cannes. During her drive, she described the prince as "charming" de Havilland noted. "Afterwards, Pierre praised how flawlessly Grace endeavored to observe the protocol required for presentation to the prince."

"I guessed things had gone wonderfully well by Grace's manner upon returning from her presentation to Rainier," said de Havilland, who also attended the late Friday afternoon cocktail party in Cannes. "When she took her place at the head of the receiving line at the American reception, instead of offering her hand for a handshake, Grace extended her hand as if offering it to be kissed. She was in a state of enchantment."

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Princess Grace and Prince Albert in 1958.
| Credit: Princess Grace and Prince Albert in 1958.

After their initial meeting, Kelly and Rainier began a private correspondence. Despite rumors, they largely succeeded in keeping their developing romance secret until Rainier sailed for America, proposing seven months later during Christmas.

"What happened between May and January? How did my parents reconnect?" Albert asked in his Paris-Match interview. "As with any good story, a veil of mystery should revealed. My grandmother Kelly gave me the story involving the stay in Monaco, during the summer, of the Austins — friends of the family." 

Though Father Francis Tucker (a Vatican-appointed priest from Delaware who served as Rainier's "father confessor"), is thought to have played cupid between the couple behind the scenes, Prince Albert says that Margaret "Ma" Kelly also credited Russell and Edith Austin "with facilitating the idea of a reciprocal interest and feeling" between the lovers. 

The couple, who were neighbors of the Kellys at the Jersey Shore in the summer, were vacationing in France and hoped to attend a Monaco gala. Learning the July event was sold out in advance, the Austins decided to send an appeal to Rainier's palace, "as friends of Grace." Their request landed on Father Tucker's desk. 

Having played a hand in the beginning, de Havilland "was not particularly surprised by the [engagement] news, but I was particularly charmed by it," she recalled. Expecting the birth of her daughter, she was unable to attend "the wedding of the century" in Monaco alongside Galante.

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Prince Rainier and Grace Kelly on their wedding day
| Credit: AFP/ Getty

They would only cross paths one other time. 

"I saw Grace Kelly only once in the long years after our meeting on the train and Cannes," said de Havilland. "I was lunching with an American friend at a restaurant in Paris and saw Princess Grace at a table across the room with Princess Caroline, then about 10 years of age."

"When they finished and were leaving, Princess Grace very graciously came to my table to greet me. Of course, I rose and curtsied."

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Until her death, de Havilland maintained a rigorous schedule and correspondence. Days after her recollections were first pûblished by PEOPLE in 2017, she sent this author an unexpected note that read: "The story of Grace and Rainier makes very good reading, doesn't it? It has enduring appeal."