It began with my Aunt Patty. On a lazy Friday early evening, she was telling me about a Grace Kelly documentary she’d recently watched. She mentioned how surprised she was to learn that the Golden Age movie actress had a romance life that was far from matching her innocent public persona.
Kelly’s free-wheeling social life, prior to her own marriage, included not only single men, but married men as well.
My aunt had got my curiosity up about Grace Kelly, the star who won an Oscar for her role as a neglected wife in the 1954 film “The County Girl.” So I began researching the blue-gray-eyed star known for her elegant, yet simple beauty.
I quickly found that one morning in January 1956, Kelly, like my aunt, was shocked to be learning the details of someone’s love life. Unlike my aunt, however, Kelly was not watching a documentary–she was reading a newspaper.
And again unlike my aunt, the world-famous actress was not learning about someone else’s romantic life. No, Grace Kelly was reading about her own list of social connections, most of which the Philadelphia-born actress would not want publicized.
The Herald-Examiner piece was a 10-part series that romantically linked Kelly to several Hollywood stars, such as Gary Cooper, Clark Gable, Ray Milland and Bing Crosby.
Author J. Randy Taraborrelli described the scene in his book, “Once Upon a Time: Behind the Fairy Tale of Princess Grace and Prince Rainier.”
Kelly was having breakfast in bed when she caught sight of the print headline, “My Daughter Grace Kelly: Her Life and Romances.” Kelly was mortified.
Perhaps more shocking to the actress, who appeared with Cooper in the 1952 film called High Noon, was that her own mother was the one dishing out the scandalous tales.
The scene played out inside her bedroom in the home she was renting. Taraborrelli’s book identified the rental house as being in Pacific Palisades but gave no address. To find it, I had some old-fashioned detective work to do.
Using the Internet, I landed on a 2004 Palisadian-Post article written by Bonnie (Graveline) Worley, who lived on Chapala Drive and was a kid growing up in the Palisades during Kelly’s stay. “We had celebrities in our neighborhood,” Worley wrote. “Grace Kelly was renting a home on Alma Real.”
This was a break in the case to find Kelly’s address.
Luckily, I was able to locate Worley. The first thing I asked her was if she had any personal memories of Grace Kelly’s stay. “I don’t have anything interesting for you,” Worley responded, but she did point me to where Kelly lived. It was either at “231 Alma Real or 241 Alma Real.” Worley added that Kelly rented the house from the gentleman “who built the Lear Jet.”
This last informational nugget matched a Chicago Tribune newspaper clipping from December 1955—”Grace Kelly found a house in Pacific Palisades, and expects to move in the first week in January. It belongs to William Lear, electronics expert.”
Eager to help, Worley told me that William Lear had a daughter named Shanda Lear. I was soon in touch with a friendly Shanda, president of Lear Electric Boats and a Big Band singer. Shanda informed me that Grace Kelly indeed rented her family’s house at 231 Alma Real Drive.
At last, I had Kelly’s movie star home address in the Huntington.
Shanda explained that the Lear family was abroad for about a year beginning in October 1955. Her father Bill Lear rented the home to Grace Kelly at the start of 1956. It was a time period when the five-foot, seven-inch actress would have been recently seen on the screen in “To Catch a Thief” (1955) and would soon be seen in “The Swan” (1956).
The Lear family moved back into the house in Fall 1956, so Kelly’s stay at the house was less than a year.
Shanda “grew up in the home” but was too young to remember much about Grace’s stay there. “We thought it was nice,” she said, “but my family comes from show business, so we didn’t think it was that impressive.” She does remember her father describing Grace Kelly as “pretty.”
After the Lear family retook possession of the home, Shanda told of her father putting a sign above his bed. It read: “Grace Kelly and Bill Lear slept here.”
Shanda generously sent a picture of the picture-perfect Lear family inside their Alma Real home in 1955.
The photo shows the living room that Grace Kelly herself would be lounging in within a few short months. The oyster-blonde actress would also be able to lounge in the backyard pool the house featured.
Asked when she last viewed her childhood Alma Real home, Shanda said, “Oh, a few years ago I drove by it.” Any changes since Grace lived there? “I didn’t see much change. But [there] may have [been] changes. It’s hard to see much from the street.”
Shanda suggested I contact John Melstrom. It was a name Bonnie Worley too had mentioned.
Just who is this mysterious John Melstrom?
Both Shanda and Worley said Melstrom was someone who lived directly across the street from Grace Kelly while she was on Alma Real. Wow! I had to find this man! Thankfully, both Shanda and Beverly helped put me in touch with Melstrom.
During a phone chat, Melstrom told me he did indeed live across the street from Kelly. But, in junior high at the time, he was too young to care and too many years had passed for him to remember much about the Hollywood celebrity across the street. Did he ever see the star?
“Nothing jumps out where I [remember] saying, ‘There’s Grace Kelly.’ But I’m sure that I saw her.”
Mostly, Melstrom recalled with a laugh, he remembers his mother “being nosey.” She would go to a window in their home that faced directly across the street from Kelly’s house.
“My mom would lift a blind up to watch the comings and goings of the house,” he said
Grace Kelly would marry Prince Rainier III of Monaco in 1956, the same year she moved into and out of the Palisades.
Although her stay in the community was brief, she will always be thought of as Palisades royalty.
Michael Oldham, co-author of Movie Star Homes: The Famous to the Forgotten and author of the novel The Valentino Formula and Flashback Los Angeles: Postcard Views, Then and Now can be reached at HollywoodLandings@sbcglobal.net.
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