The Unexpected Way Meghan Markle Is Following in Grace Kelly's Footsteps

Both gave up acting careers to marry royalty—and now Meghan is inching back into the arts in the same way the Princess of Monaco did decades ago

By Natalie Finn Mar 31, 2020 7:33 PMTags
Watch: What's Next For Meghan Markle After Royal Exit?

The idea of Meghan Markle continuing to pursue acting as a member of Britain's royal family was always a long shot.

Though at this point having a working actress in their ranks would be one of the least scandalous things to have occurred over the past 30 years, no one—including Meghan—seemed to seriously consider it. In fact, the Suits star let it be known early on that she was perfectly happy to shutter her lifestyle website, abandon her personal Instagram account and retire from her career to pursue the life of service enjoyed by full-time working royals.

That little experiment lasted less than two years.

It wasn't the desire to serve that gave out, of course, but rather the ability of the local press to let her do so with a modicum of peace.

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Less than two months shy of her and Prince Harry's second wedding anniversary, the couple are currently hunkered down in Los Angeles with their son, Archie, and Tuesday, March 31, is their exit date, the day on which their official business is no longer official royal business.

Even their Instagram account, Sussex Royal, has shared its last.

"As we all find the part we are to play in this global shift and changing of habits, we are focusing this new chapter to understand how we can best contribute," read part of what turned out to be the farewell post from this account—which isn't entirely a shock since part of their agreement with the queen was that they would no longer invoke their HRH titles or any variety of the term "royal" in their future business and charity endeavors after March 31.

"While you may not see us here, the work continues.

"Thank you to this community—for the support, the inspiration and the shared commitment to the good in the world. We look forward to reconnecting with you soon. You've been great!"

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Reconnecting virtually is all anyone is going to be doing for the foreseeable future amid the global COVID-19 pandemic, which has national, state and local leaders encouraging people to stay home—and which has basically shuttered production in Hollywood, minus whatever can be done via the likes of Zoom and Google Hangout.

But while we don't yet know in what capacity the couple formerly known as the Duke and Duchess of Sussex are going to pop up physically, we know we'll be hearing from Meghan as the narrator of the upcoming Disneynature documentary Elephant.

When Harry (it's just Harry now, people) told Disney chairman (then CEO) Bob Iger at the London premiere of The Lion King that his wife "does voiceovers," he wasn't just making idle chitchat.

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So, is this the beginning of Meghan's return to her artistic roots?

Of course, narrating a nature film made to support Elephants Without Borders' conservation efforts (wildlife preservation being a cause close to both Harry's and his brother Prince William's heart) is a far cry from booking the lead in the next big Netflix series. She isn't exactly an actress again. But... the thespian heart wants what it wants.

And now that she and Harry are working on being financially independent (they're paying for their own security and everything), and don't exactly need to talk about royalty in order to enjoy the boost from their royal ties... Maybe more projects like this are exactly what Meghan is hoping for.

Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty Images, Hulton Archive/Getty Images

When she and Harry first got engaged, comparisons were instantly made with Grace Kelly, who on April 18, 1956, became Princess Grace of Monaco—an ascension that required her to leave her relatively short-lived but already iconic and Oscar-winning career in Hollywood behind.

Of course comparisons were made, because how many of these American-actress-marries-royalty-abroad stories are there?!

Yet even Princess Grace, who had three children with Prince Rainier of Monaco (their eldest, Prince Albert, is currently recovering from the novel coronavirus) and remained—despite all sorts of reports of trouble in paradise—as royal as could be till her shocking death in a car crash in 1982, considered getting back in the acting game.

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And she almost did.

When he started developing the film in 1961, Alfred Hitchcock wanted Kelly to play the lead in Marnie, about a thief who thieves and can't stay in one place for long because she's repressing hideous trauma from her past. Kelly, who had starred in three films for Hitch, was onboard, and supposedly her husband was too, but ultimately the people of the then financially strapped Monaco objected to the idea—even when she planned to donate her entire $800,000 salary to public charities. The role ultimately went to Tippi Hedren, who had previously starred in The Birds for Hitch, and Marnie eventually came out in 1964.

But Hollywood didn't want to let her go just yet.

ABC/Getty Images

In 1966—10 years after High Society, the final film she made under contract at MGM, came out—she made an uncredited appearance in the introduction of the star-studded The Poppy Has No Smell. Broadcast in the U.S. on ABC, it was one of four movies commissioned by the United Nations in that Cold War era to promote a message of global unity and peace. This one carried a warning about drug addiction and the international drug trade.

"The poppy has no smell, not even the smell of evil," the film begins with Kelly holding one of the lively orange flowers. "It's just an ordinary flower. Bright, innocent-looking."

And yet, that's where opium comes from, kids.

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She didn't start acting again, but Princess Grace continued to have plenty of camera time in TV specials and news programs about Monaco and the royal family, playing the most elevated version of herself, often alongside her husband.

But eventually—having made assisting artists in film, theater and music one of her priorities as a royal—she took her talents back to the studio as a host and narrator for documentaries.

Peppercorn-Wormser Film Enterprises

Credited as Princess Grace of Monaco, she narrates 1977's The Children of Theatre Street, which follows the student dancers at the Kirov School of Ballet in Russia. Throughout, it features Kelly's unmistakable voice, that elegant accent that always suggested a trace of the Continent but was really just her patrician upbringing in Philadelphia.

Peppercorn-Wormser Film Enterprises

She's also on camera, introducing the film from the Opera House in Monte Carlo. "In 1923, the year my husband, Prince Rainier, was born," Princess Grace opens the film, "his father, Prince Pierre, offered this theater as a home and sanctuary to a group of young dancers who had suddenly met with financial difficulties whilst creating a revolution in the ballet throughout Europe."

So, there was an organic link to that film—as there is with Meghan and Elephants, considering how close to the cause her husband is—but still, it may have been the start of something.

In 1979, Grace starred as herself in a short film called Rearranged (her husband appeared as "Flower Decorator") that was screened in Monaco in 1982, and ABC was interested in shooting more scenes and turning it into an hour-long TV special. But then the princess died on Sept. 14.

Family Theater Productions

Her final appearance, in Family Theater Production's The Nativity, aired posthumously that December, the similarly iconic voice of her To Catch a Thief co-star Cary Grant explaining that "it was in fact, that last film she was to make. And as such, becomes a fitting memorial to her memory."

Asked by journalist Pierre Salinger in an interview that June for ABC's 20/20, which would turn out to be her final television interview, what it was like as an American to have spent the last 26 years in Europe, Princess Grace agreed, "One sees things differently, certainly. I keep contact, naturally, with my family and my friends. I make a great effort to. My friends are very important to me. I go often to the United States and I'm very eager to keep up with what goes on there—and I think it's fairly easy for most Europeans to do.

"I don't think Americans keep up with what's happening in Europe very much," she added with a smile.

Tim Rooke/Shutterstock

Asked what some of the major differences she saw between how Europeans and Americans lived, Grace said, "I think people here, especially in Monaco and on the coast here, live each day as it comes a little bit more. And they're not quite in such a hurry and such a rush."

No one's in a rush anywhere at the moment, other than scientists, doctors, hospital staff, first responders and everyone else considered to be on the front lines of both fighting COVID-19 and those, such as delivery people and food providers, keeping civil society afloat.

And Meghan and Harry are no different. Whatever they were planning to get off the ground as soon as their term as working royals expired today has been delayed indefinitely while the world copes with this crisis.

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But, life will get back to normal eventually, and Meghan—however unintentionally—finds herself in a similar spot as Princess Grace did, though the timeline has been condensed due to the rapid fashion with which Harry and Meghan's attempt to stomach the relentless scrutiny devolved into not being able to handle it.

Meghan didn't need to stop being royal to find herself in demand, as Princess Grace was throughout her life, but now that she and Harry have quit The Firm, she can entertain a wider variety of offers than she would have been able to while working for the queen.

Those offers will keep coming and, knowing her husband, "She Does Voiceovers" Harry, he'll support her every step of the way back to... wherever she hopes to go.