Watch the trailer for 'High Society' (1956)
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She was the perfectly poised picture of elegant perfection, an ice queen on screen who would become real-life royalty off it. Kelly’s glorious final film appearance in High Society is back on TV this afternoon but behind the scenes she was nothing like her cool and controlled public image. Gore Vidal once said, “Grace almost always laid the leading man. She was famous for that.” On this particular movie, she was reputed to be having affairs with four different men, but this time not with Bing Crosby. Their affair had ended in an embarrassing hotel room showdown when he gallingly found her in bed with the very star who had just beaten him to an Oscar.
Kelly’s reputation left many wives and girlfriends of her co-stars nervous and suspicious. 1953’s High Noon was only her second film but co-star Gary Cooper’s girlfriend Patricia Neal was assured by him that his leading lady was actually having an affair with director Fred Zinneman. She later told her biographer: “Of course it was Gary who was having an affair with her!”
It was most likely both. Cooper himself rather crudely said before his death: “She looked like a cold dish with a man until you got her pants down. Then she’d explode.”
Kelly was infamous for pursuing much older men, usually attributed to her difficult relationship with her overbearing and cold father. Cooper and Clark Gable were 28 years older, Crosby 26, while Sinatra was as mere 14 years her senior. At 18, she had an affair with her drama teacher Alan Richardson, who ended it when she showed off an emerald-studded bracelet from Prince Aly Khan which had a X-rated meaning.
Richardson said: “I’d known several other girls who had the same bracelet. When Aly Khan had a date with a girl he used to give her a cigarette case with one emerald in it. When he [slept with] her he gave her the bracelet.”
The pattern was set and became an open secret in Hollywood, although the actress herself almost never addressed the rumours. However, when Kelly and Gable starred in Mogambo and she famously alluded to their affair, saying, “What else is there to do if you’re alone in a tent in Africa with Clark Gable?”
Gable always protested that “nothing happened” but co-star Donald Sinden described accidentally walking in on the two of them having sex in Gable’s tent. When filming moved to London, Gable set up a discrete hotel room for them to continue seeing each other.
James Stewart is one of the few stars with absolutely no Kelly rumours attached. Possibly because his wife Gloria Stewart, taking no chances, drove to and from set every day and often stay around to watch filming as well.
That same year, Kelly also filmed The Country Girl with Crosby and, yet again, an affair ensued.
Crosby actually hadn’t wanted her for the role of his on-screen wife, believing her “too beautiful.” Beauty aside, Kelly’s performance would win her the Best Actress Oscar and she would also start an affair with her leading man, who used his friend Alan Ladd’s house for their assignations.
It became so frequent, Ladd apparently complained: “Doesn’t he know any place else where he can go at night?’ There must be hotels or motels…”
What Crosby didn’t know was that Kelly was also still seeing actor William Holden (who had an infamously open marriage), as well as Clark Gable and a brief dalliance with David Niven.
Niven famously revealed the affair on the Michael Parkinson show when he recalled meeting Kelly’s husband Prince Rainier of Monaco, who laddishly asked him who had been his best lover.
“Grace, of course,” Niven replied, before hastily adding: “Er, Gracie Fields.”
At the 1955 Oscar ceremony on March 30, Crosby went to Kelly’s hotel room at around 3am, perhaps to distract himself from losing to Marlon Brando for On The Waterfront.
Hollywood commentator Darwin Porter said: “Bing Crosby arrived for a showdown with Grace. Instead of that, he found a nude Marlon in her bed.”
Apparently, the two men came to blows, and then Crosby found himself back on set opposite Kelly from January-March 1956 in High Society.
Although the couple sing the iconic ballad True Love to each other in the movie, it was his co-star Sinatra who apparently bedded the blonde beauty off-screen.
George Jacobs, Frank Sinatra’s personal valet from 1958 until 1968, was asked about the rumoured affair but would only say the pair remained close and that Sinatra would later visit Monaco “to support her charity work.”
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