When, in May 1949, Rainier Louis Henri Maxence Bertrand de Grimaldi became the 33rd ruler of the Grimaldi dynasty that seized Monaco in 1297, the odds were stacked against him turning a speck of territory narrower than New York's Central Park, tucked between the French Alps and the Mediterranean, into a mini-Manhattan.
The coastal fief had reaped the rewards of gambling being illegal in France from 1836 to 1933, but the year of his accession, the Société des Bains de Mer (SBM), a real estate corporation which ran the casino, several hotels and various other tourist attractions, registered serious losses, not least thanks to competition developing elsewhere on the Riviera after the war. The Monte Carlo casino was reeling from a 75 per cent operating loss and a 90 per cent decrease in visitor numbers compared to pre-war figures.
It was two very disparate figures that shaped Rainier and Monaco’s fortunes from here on. Soon after his coronation, an audacious ruse became the talk of the former Genoese fortress that was the Prince’s Palace: that Rainier should marry an American film star, in order to bolster Monaco’s profile as a global destination. Marilyn Monroe was pulled back from pole position for the Princess of Monaco role when she revealed, in the course of her tepid response to the proposition, that she thought Monaco was in Africa.
Shortly afterwards, though, a more than viable alternative came along when heiress and silver screen doyen Grace Kelly – who had fallen for the south of France the year before, while making Alfred Hitchcock's To Catch a Thief with Cary Grant - turned up at Rainier’s palace in May 1955 for a photo session. A smitten Rainier was dogged in his attempts to arrange further meetings.
“Never was so much journalistic talent focused for so long on an event that in the last analysis boils down to two people uttering the words ‘I do,’” wrote Hollywood columnist Dorothy Kilgallen of the nuptials of Prince Rainier and Grace Kelly, which took place the following year. Ava Gardner, Cary Grant and Gloria Swanson were among the guests at an occasion that drew an estimated international audience of around 30 million people. Grace, aged 26, took on 140 new titles, which took 25 minutes to read out.