A princess to filmgoers

Before she married the Prince of Monaco and left Hollywood forever, Grace Kelly was as devoted to the movies as any other great star.

Indeed, she met Prince Rainier at the Cannes Film Festival, while in France to shoot ''To Catch a Thief'' for Alfred Hitchcock. Even after royalty and parenthood became her main occupations, she made brief side trips into the entertainment world - as when she narrated the charming documentary film ''The Children of Theater Street'' or made an appearance at a Lincoln Center tribute to Hitchcock.

But she was mostly an elusive figure in the period between her 1956 wedding and her passing in Monte Carlo last week -- a figure to be seen in glimpses, no longer savored on the Technicolor screen for 90 or so star-struck minutes. Still , her reputation stayed intact with moviegoers old enough to remember her glory days and younger fans who discovered her via late-night TV and revival theaters.

Though she appeared in only 11 films, many of them were major works by top directors. Fred Zinnemann made her a star in ''High Noon'' with Gary Cooper. John Ford developed her screen personality in ''Mogambo'' with Clark Gable. Hitchcock guided her through the brilliant ''Rear Window,'' the romantic ''To Catch a Thief,'' and the 3-D experiment ''Dial M for Murder,'' which has recently been revived in movie houses. Yet her effectiveness didn't depend on the presence of a world-class filmmaker. When she starred in ''The Country Girl'' with a less renowned director in 1954, she won an Academy Award for her portrayal of a wife trapped in an unhappy marriage.

Coming from a prosperous Philadelphia background and marrying into an even more lavish life, she found time in between to become the definitive embodiment of the dignified, self-sufficient woman who seems chilly at first -- the type of so many Hitchcock heroines -- but has a heart full of warmth and sensitivity just waiting to be discovered by any leading man worth his salt. She was a princess to moviegoers long before she became one in real life.

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