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G + 4 : Rainer III - The Prince who brought Glamor to Monaco

Updated: Jul 24, 2023

Crazy weather continues today. Very foggy for a summer day. There is too much humidity in the air. At least the fog provides some shade. Testing the new wines last night made us sleep a bit longer. At 8.30 am though, the temperature was perfect for exploring Monaco. Some of us made it to the Casino, the other group walked to Monaikos, the old Greek town which is now the residence of the Grimaldi Family. We could not leave early anyway. The Captain had to wait for supplies which arrived at 10 am. After Covid, Monaco is busy again. Americans, Canadians and Brazilians are back. So are the Arabs. And even the Chinese.

The Port of Monaco this Morning - Sun just getting through

When hiking up Monaikos, we came across the bronze Statue of Prince Rainer III, who would turn 100 this year, but passed away in 2005. Rainer became Prince in 1949 at the age of 25. He was young, full of energy and had no money. The times from 1914 to 1945 were rough for Monaco. It was so bad that its population shrunk by 20%. Due to two World Wars and the Great Depression, tourism had collapsed, revenue from the casino had dropped precipitously, the hotel industry was bust. The occupation by Italian Forces on the 11 Nov 1942 topped Monaco’s streak of bad luck. Monaco was “liberated” on 3rd September 1944 by two young GI’s who came by jeep for a drink at the Tip Top Bar. They were the only two people with cash. The Germans had left the week before and pocketed everything of value.

Prince Rainer III would turn 100 years in 2023

Prince Rainer’s Bio is interesting. He was born in Monaco but spent most of his teenage years abroad. After boarding school in England and Switzerland, he studied in unoccupied Montpellier, France, where he got his BA in 1943. He continued at the Science Po in Paris, but the invasion of Normandy in June 1944 interrupted his studies. The Allies liberated Paris in August 1944. Young Rainer never got his diploma.

Instead he volunteered for the Free French Army of General De Gaulle. As intelligence officer in the rank of 2nd Lieutenant, he apparently cut a dashing figure in his combat fatigues. Would love to have a photo. He saw some action in Alsace for which he was decorated. In 1947 he was promoted to captain and was made a Chevalier de la Legion d’Honneur on the recommendation of former French Prime Minister Leon Blum. Prince Rainer was already well connected.

The Prince of Monaco and Gisèle Pascal during a night out in 1951

More important than his “official” career was his private life. In 1943, still in Montpellier, Rainer met the French actress Gisèle Pascal with whom he had an on and off relationship for ten years. Officially they were together from 1947 to 1953 but it had started already in 1943. She was not a superstar but played important roles like Marie Antoinette. During Rainer’s time in the French Army, she had a short liaison with Yves Montand. But as soon as Rainer was discharged, they were back together. The Prince always had some “pocket” money which allowed him a flashy lifestyle. He was well dressed, lived in nice apartments, could travel and had fancy cars. The couple was a good fit. She showed him what celebrity meant and how it could be used. He paid for their life style at the time when movie stars did not make a fortune yet.

The young Prince in his first Year - here seen inaugurating a new Building

On 9 May 1949, Rainer had to become serious. Just before his 26th birthday, he succeeded his grandfather Louis II as Prince of Monaco. Whilst Rainer had learnt a great deal about what you could achieve once famous, the royal court was not pleased with his relationship. Gisèle was considered unfit, too plebeian, for the throne. She was – with trumped-up charges – accused of being infertile. A no-no for someone who was supposed to produce an heir. In 1952, the Royal Council advised Rainer not to marry Gisèle. The relationship ended. But the young ruler had understood the power of celebrity. He would use glamour to put his little principality on the map. Gisèle had a daughter 10 years later.

The very first Meeting between Grace Kelly and Rainer III in his Palace in 1955

With little money to invest and Monaco’s main bank bust, Rainer needed help. It came from the oil billionaire Aristotle Onassis, the man who later married Jacky Kennedy. His oil shipping business turned supremely profitable with the motorisation of Europe. Onassis invested in Monaco's bankrupt bank. He wanted to turn Monaco into Europe’s Las Vegas. A vision the young Prince Rainer did not share. He did not want to repeat the experience from 1918 – 1945. It was too painful. He wanted more than just gamblers and dreamt of a diversified, service based economy for the rich and powerful.

Onassis came to Monaco for its zero Income TAx

With no money in his Treasury, something had to be done. Prince Rainer was always fascinated by the Cannes Film festival. But he could not simply copy it. With the help of Paris Match, a French Newspaper, he invited Grace Kelly for a visit. She was on her way to the Cannes Film festival in 1955. It was totally arranged. Charming Prince Rainer gave her a private tour. And began – advised and supported by Onassis – to charm the future Princess Grace. Whilst we know about the romance, a lengthy marriage contract was negotiated in the background. Grace Kelly’s father had to fork out a dowry of USD 2 million to get his daughter married. He was a millionaire and could afford it. Rainer needed the funds. Grace and Rainer suited each other. He needed her fame. She wanted to be a princess.

Princess Grace's Dress was sponsored by MGM, Prince Rainer

had designed his own Uniform based on Napoleon III's Designs

The Royal Wedding took place on 19 April 1956. The world watched. It was the first televised wedding with 30 million viewers – what a number! Almost nobody owned a TV in 1956. It was early TV days. 3’000 photographers attended too. Hollywood bought the film rights. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer sponsored her wedding dress. 500 special guests were invited – the whole "who is who" came to Monaco. Rainer and Grace had put Monaco where they wanted it to be – on the world map.

State Visit in Washington DC in 1961 - Kennedy also knew how to play the fame game. He once said "the dresses of my wife get more attention than my policy speeches". He knew fully well why he had married the beautiful Jacqueline Bouvier.

Over the next few years, the couple worked relentlessly to keep Monaco in the head lines. Princess Grace had found her dream job. Everybody wanted to be seen with her. She was the unchallenged star of the couple's many state visits after their wedding. As head of the Red Cross of Monaco she also was frequently in Geneva and had something to say. That a mini state smaller than Central Park with fewer citizens that the village I grew up in gets invited to lunch in Washington DC by the most powerful man of the world says it all. The fame project had succeeded. Princess Grace was the star and Rainer knew it.

The Grimaldi in 1961: Caroline, Stephanie, Grace,

Rainer and Albert

The couple had three children over the years to come. They were every week in all the illustrated papers of the world. I remember seeing their pictures all the time. The rich and famous loved them and came to Monaco - paying no income tax also helped. Making his principality famous worked so well that Prince Rainer could even ditch Onassis, the man who had bailed him out, and become his own man. By law, Onassis' stake in Monaco’s Bank was diluted. He became a minority share-holder. By that time though, Onassis had moved on to different pastures and started chasing Jackie Kennedy.

The Port of Monaco is full of Super Yachts of Billionaires from all over the World

Monaco continues this flirt with glamour to this day. The rich and famous flock to the place as in the decades before. Personally, I wonder why. It is just a big town with zero income tax and a casino. It is neither beautiful nor affordable. But people still think it is glamorous.


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