Monaco was once regarded as a seedy bolthole — “a sunny place full of shady people”, according to the writer Somerset Maugham. Enter Prince Rainier III, the stocky, pencil-moustached monarch who, from his palace on the Rock, had a plan to transform the world’s second smallest country… (Spoiler: he kept the climate.)

Among the intriguing historical what-ifs — suppose Archduke Franz Ferdinand had decided to bypass Sarajevo that day? Suppose Hitler’s early watercolours had received such praise that he’d opted for a quiet life as a Sunday painter? — one is especially diverting: what if Prince Rainier III of Monaco had won the hand of Marilyn Monroe instead of Grace Kelly?

The idea of Princess Marilyn isn’t as fanciful as it seems. It was Aristotle Onassis, keen to invest in the principality, who first had the idea that Rainier should improve Monaco’s image by marrying an American film star. Monroe was informed, but declared herself nonplussed. “Give me two days alone with him and of course he’ll want to marry me,” she said, but her demurral was perhaps coloured by her misapprehension that Monaco was in Africa. It left the way clear for Kelly. She’d fallen for the Côte d’Azur while filming Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief with Cary Grant in 1954, so when she turned up the following year for a photo session at Rainier’s salmon-coloured palace, perched atop Monaco’s elevated mountain known as the Rock, she was predisposed to fall for the man who lavished attention on her, initiated a fervent correspondence, and cajoled his Irish-American chaplain, one Father Tucker, to write to her: “I want to thank you for showing the prince what an American Catholic girl can be, and for the very deep impression this has left on him.”


    Stuart Husband


    February 2020


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