Prince Rainier and Grace Kelly greet each other as she arrives in Monaco on April 12, 1956, before their wedding.
In the December 2004 issue of Vogue, the writer John Seabrook retold the story of how his parents met in 1956. They were on board a ship called the SS Constitution, crossing the Atlantic from New York, which was carrying Grace Kelly to Monaco, where she would marry Prince Rainier III in an extraordinary, internationally publicized two-day event that took place 60 years ago, with a civil ceremony on April 18 and a lavish religious ceremony the day after. Seabrook’s father was a guest of the Kelly family, and his mother was a reporter on assignment. The Vogue piece, titled “Marriage of the Century,” was a nostalgic timeline of his mother and father’s courtship, but it was underscored by their relationship to Kelly and the immense amount of attention paid to what the press was calling the “wedding of the century.”
Media swarmed and buzzed around the movie star and the prince. MGM, in a deal made with Kelly once she asked to break from her contract, filmed the event. Two ceremonies were held, one civil and one religious, the reception for the former having been attended by around 3,000 citizens of Monaco and the latter ceremony by 700 guests that included Conrad Hilton, Cary Grant, and Ava Gardner. Kelly’s dress was created by Academy Award–winning costume designer Helen Rose and took approximately 30 seamstresses three weeks to make, using 300 yards of antique lace and 150 yards of taffeta, tulle, and silk. This was the royal wedding spectacle before all of the rest—before the masses started gluing themselves to the TV at 2:00 a.m. to catch that first glimpse of Princess Diana in the carriage, or before women began copying Kate Middleton’s Sarah Burton–designed gown.
And to think that Seabrook’s parents experienced their own romance on board the SS Constitution, rubbing elbows with a woman who, after her wedding, would be the rightful owner of more than 130 royal titles. The writer’s father even gave an after-dinner toast on the last night of the journey: “I think we lucky few who were privileged to be on board this ship will mark these eight days as a turning point in our own lives and remember this crossing as a passage into a country that we had heard tell of but didn’t know for certain existed, until now—the country of true love.”
Once they arrived, 1,800 photographers and reporters were waiting at the port. They captured Kelly exiting the ship and entering into her prince’s arms, 80 pieces of luggage and her poodle Oliver in tow. The 26-year-old American beauty would soon become Princess Grace of Monaco, and, as Seabrook’s mother would report and his father would remember fondly, the wedding would go down in history as one of the most dazzling of our time.
Above, a look at newly sourced images of the wedding ceremonies, some tender moments before the nuptials, and the snapshots from the SS Constitution.
Prince Rainier and Grace Kelly greet well-wishers in the Monte Carlo palace courtyard prior to their civil ceremony, April 18, 1956.
The civil ceremony of Prince Rainier and Grace Kelly at the Palace of Monaco.
Princess Grace arrives at Monaco’s Saint Nicholas Cathedral for her wedding to Prince Rainier, April 19, 1956.
Prince Rainier and Grace Kelly sit before the altar during their wedding ceremony at Saint Nicholas Cathedral, April 19, 1956.
Prince Rainier and Grace Kelly kneel before the altar during their wedding ceremony at Saint Nicholas Cathedral, April 19, 1956.
Princess Grace and Prince Rainier as they leave Saint Nicholas Cathedral after their wedding ceremony, April 19, 1956.
Prince Rainier and Princess Grace during their wedding lunch, April 19, 1956.
Prince Rainier and Princess Grace on the palace balcony, April 19, 1956.