By Alex Shoumatoff
I wrote this back in l997, when the Grimaldis were celebrating their 700th anniversary on the Rock. It is being published here, now, for the first time. Prince Ranier’s death a few weeks ago reminded me of its existence. He was a lovely man, and we really hit it off. His eccentric family– his sister with her stray cats, the Victorian interest in natural history, the grandfather the oceanographer– reminded me of my own, and indeed we discovered that we were distantly related, through the Beauharnais. Plus Igor Markevitch, a closer cousin, had been the conductor of the Monaco Philharmonic for many years, so Ranier recognized that I was not another trash-seeking paraparazzo and introduced me to some of his oldest and closest friends. This is another unexpected turn on the dance floor of loss– the death of a prince, the resurrection of a lost piece from a different kind of oblivion, the tenacious struggle for survival of a family and of the culture it invented, “a sunny place for shady people,” in Maugham’s famous description.
“Monaco c’est le top,” gushed the gorgeous, young masseuse in fetching Franglais. She worked at The Thermes Marins de Monte Carlo, a futuristic spa adjacent to the Hotel de Paris. Her job was to administer “thalassotherapy,” slathering warm, brown, ground seaweed all over her wealthy clients’ bodies and wrapping them in plastic sheets. It was not hard to imagine James Bond on her table. The entire 482-acre principality of Monaco resembles a set for a James Bond movie, which it has been, in fact, three times–movie titles tk. The Hotel de Paris, where I was staying, is the grande dame of Old World luxury hotels. Built in 1864, it is a white Belle Epoch confection of cupolas, porthole windows and caryatids resembling ship figureheads. There are 250,000 bottles, on a kilometer of racks, in the wine cellar. In the restaurant you can order up a bottle of Petrus Pomerol l945 for a mere 49,000 francs ($10,000). Every time I went up the grand staircase to the hotel’s front door I imagined myself colliding with Winston Churchill or Jacques Offenbach, Jules Verne or Marlene Dietrich, or perhaps Edward, Prince of Wales, incognito with his latest paramour. While I was staying there, one of King Fayed’s sons had taken an entire floor for the month, and many of the 41 deluxe suites were rented to the new Russian rich (we will avoid the loaded term Mafia).
My fifth-floor balcony looked down on the harbor bristling with yachts, including the 335-foot Atlantis II, which had once belonged to Stavros Niarchos, the Greek shipping magnate. Prince Rainier, Monaco’s head of state, told me it was currently being chartered out by Niarchos’s three sons and daughter. The Van Gogh, Renoir, and other Impressionist paintings that had made the boat a floating museum were stashed in a bank vault, he had heard, and replaced with copies. Niarchos had been a frequent visitor to this elegant little country on the Cote d’azur, but unlike his rival, Aristotle Onassis, he never invested in it.
Early in the morning, from my balcony, I watched the sun rise out of the sea, bathing the harbor and small thicket of high-rises behind it in a rose wash that slowly ascended up the corniche–the limestone crags that loom two thousand feet above. Monaco consists almost entirely of this small, perfectly scalloped, intensely built-up bay, enclosed by two points: the Rock, where the prince’s palace is, and Monte Carlo, with the casino and the Hotel de Paris. On the other side of the Rock is Fontvielle, the new sixty-three-acre residential and light-industrial district that Rainier built out into the sea in the early eighties, increasing the principality’s size by 14%; on the other side of Monte Carlo are the artificial beaches whose gravel he trucked in date tk. The beautiful pastel villas and gardens with needle cypresses that one sees on vintage travel posters have largely disappeared. In their place tower glass-and-steel apartment canisters containing the pieds de terre of “people who have made a pisspot of money elsewhere,” as one woman characterized the more than 20,000 foreigners who have established residence here. The draw: no income, property, or inheritance taxes since 1869.
Among “Rainier’s guests” have been thirty-five tennis stars, including Boris Becker, Bjorn Borg, and Vitas Gerulaitis (who moved out in the late ‘80s after the acrimonious end of his affair with Ranier’s eldest daughter, Princess Caroline). To obtain citizenship as a foreigner you have to open a $100,000 bank account and pass muster with the selective Rainier. The Shah of Iran was not welcomed after he lost his throne, even though, during his glory days, he had helped add luster to Rainier’s royal reputation by including him in his circle. But Placido Domingo is here, as are Ringo Starr, Julian Lennon, Claudia Schiffer, Karen Mulder, Karl Lagerfeld, and Helmut Newton. The Duke and Dutchess of Bedford come for two months of the year, go to the galas, spend a lot of money, and are well-liked.
The casino and what Prince Rainier described to me as “a certain confidentiality” practiced by Monagasque banks have attracted some unsavory types over the years. Arms-dealers, money-launderers for the Colombian cartels and the Italian Mafia (the businessman Enrico Baggiotti, who is wanted by the Italian government for money laundering, is still at liberty here) have slipped through the screening process, lending credence to Somerset Maugham’s famous description of Monaco as “a sunny place for shady people.” Maugham himself lived for many years in a villa on nearby Cap Ferat. The principality has also been a haven for artists: Ravel, Picasso, Cocteau, Balanchine, Bakst, and Anthony Burgess all produced important work here. Colette was a longtime resident of “this little country whose borders are flowers.”
Some years back Prince Rainier explained that his goal, when he inherited the throne 48 years ago, was to transform a sleepy colony of overwintering British and White Russian emigres into “a reduced model of perfection.” To a remarkable degree he has succeeded. Monaco’s economy, measured in terms of annual turnover, rather than g.n.p., is currently about five billion dollars and though it is impossible to verify (no one has to declare his earnings), the per capita income may well be the world’s highest. The streets of Monaco are purged of all malodorous funkiness. Policemen, in uniforms designed by Karl Lagerfeld, and closed-circuit cameras are ubiquitous. There is one carabinier for every 67 residents. If you are going to be run over here, it is probably going to be by a Mercedes.
This modern-day fairy tale owes much to Rainier’s marriage in l956 to the Hollywood movie star Grace Kelly. Grace was one of the best things that ever happened to Monaco. She was glamorous and dignified as a first lady, and she dedicated the second half of her life to being the perfect wife for her prince. He, his children, and the country have never really recovered from her death in an automobile accident on the corniche tk years ago.
In l963 Rainier reluctantly agreed to the formation of an eighteen-member National Council, elected every five years by those Monégasques with voting privileges (currently about eight hundred how determined tk), thus making him in theory a constitutional monarch. But there is no mistaking who is the boss of the Rock- le propriétaire, as everyone calls him; he refers to himself as the C.E.O. He is Europe’s senior monarch, and the House of Grimaldi, of which he is the thirty-third head, is the continent’s oldest unbroken dynasty. This year it celebrates its 700th year in power. In two years Prince Rainier will have been on the throne for fifty years, making him the longest-reigning, and in many ways the greatest Grimaldi of them all. Far more powerful dynasties have bitten the dust after much shorter runs, and only six of the myriad European mini-states have survived into the modern era, the others being (one recalls from the most from the most spectacularly colored and exotic specimins one’s childhood stamp collection) Andorra, San Marino, Luxembourg, Leichsenstein, and the Vatican. What is it about this little Faberge egg of a country, only half the size of Central Park, that has enabled it to hang in there?
There is nothing esoteric about the Grimaldis,” a marquis of my acquaintance told me. “They had position in the court of Versailles, but in Parisian society their circle is not the top. They’ve always been considered a little louche. In the first place, they are not royals, but serenes. You can’t compare them with great titles of France, the grandees of Spain, the English dukedoms, the princes of Germany, Austria, and Italy. But now that the Italian royal family has married down, and the Windsors have been besieged by scandal, the Grimaldis, by default, are serious aristocracy.”
“The peculiar thing about the Grimaldis,” explained the Comtesse de Chantrelle (as I will call her), “is that they don’t to have to make calculated marriages to better their strain. They can marry commoners, they can marry for love, they can marry whomever they want, and they have, repeatedly, which sort undermines the whole premise of aristocracy, so they’ve always been considered a mongrel lineage.”
Like the Windsors, Rainier’s children have had difficulty connecting with suitable mates. Albert, the prince héritier, is thirty-nine and still unmarried, and according to the Comtesse de Chantrelle is “curiously lacking in backbone and personality. People say he’s gay, and he keeps denying it.” His once-divorced, once-widowed elder sister, Caroline, has lately been having a stressful affair with the married Prince Ernst of Hanover, which caused her hair to fall out in clumps last October, or so everyone was saying. Meanwhile her rebellious kid sister Stephanie had married her bodyguard, Daniel Ducruet, á la Patti Hearst. But last August, paparazzi photographed and videotaped Ducruet in flagrante with a former Miss Nude Belgium beside and in a pool at Cap D’Ailles, just up the French coast. The photos were splashed all over the Italian magazine, Eva Tremilla, and the 90-minute video of their poolside passion was aired on a Rome porno station. Prince Rainier was reported to have had a crise cardiaque when he was shown the proof of his son-in-law’s dalliance. Princely wrath expediting the process, Stephanie and Ducruet were hastily divorced.
Rainier is seventy-three years old. He underwent double-bypass surgery two years ago, and people have been asking him for the last ten years when he is going to step down and pass the baton to his son. But the Prince probably intends to stay on the throne until his golden anniversary in l999. One of his hobbies is making drawings of circus clowns, the greatest one having been named Grimaldi. He supposedly has had an r.v. custom-made for his retirement, in which he plans to follow the circus. He is a talented sculptor, and an internationally recognized authority on primates. He doesn’t play golf anymore, however.
Rainier and Grace shared a passion for golf, and they used to play at the Monte Carlo Golf Club, below Mont Agel, up on the corniche. Robert, the old Irish pro, who has been there since l947 recalled their lively rounds with David Niven, Bing Crosby, Dean Martin, and Frank Sinatra. “I was the prince’s [golf] doctor,” he told me. “I had him down to a fourteen [handicap]. He’s never got over Grace’s death. Her clubs are still in the clubhouse. He never even picked them up.”
At the Cathedral in Monte Carlo last January, where a Te Deum was sung for the family on the 700th anniversary of their ancestors’ storming of the Rock on January 9, l297, Rainier seemed a broken man; at one point he appeared to be dozing off, which he is famous for doing at official functions. Virtually all his closest friends are dead, including Noel Coward and Niven.
Ranier is often depicted in the press as a cold, brooding autocrat given to violent fits of temper. His son is said to be so intimidated by him that he stutters in his presence. So it was with some trepidation that I entered his office in the crenelated tower of his palace. The Prince was sitting at a table, looking dour. But, after a few minutes of polite small talk, he brightened visibly and began to reveal a quality that my grandmother used to call “coziness.” Still, he seemed perfectly aristocratic, as one would expect the possessor of 147 titles, among them the Duc de Valentois, Comte de Carlades, Baron de Oalvinet, Baron du Buis, and Sire de Matignon to be. He spoke an improvised, continental version of upper-class English and was brimming with anecdotes. One was about Churchill, who, toward the end of his life, was a familiar sight on the sidewalks of Monte Carlo, as he painted the sea and puffed on his perennial cigar. No one bothered him. One evening he came to the palace for a screening of Lawrence of Arabia. “I knew that man,” Churchill had said with mischievous twinkle in his eye.
“The British aristocrats would come for two or three months in the winter,” Rainier recalled. “They’d play tennis and ride horses in white flannels. I remember the Flêche d’Or, which brought them, and the Bleu Wagon Lit, which would depart Paris every evening; its cuisine was superb. But Monaco was affected by the success of skiing and winter resorts, and the opening up of flights to the Caribbean.. “That was the first challenge,” Rainier explained : “to adapt Monaco from a winter to a summer resort. We weren’t equipped for summer tourism. In the nineteenth century women had wanted their skin to remain light. Now they began to take bains de soleil, and their husbands were being given paid holidays in the summer months.” So Rainier brought in gravel and created the artificial beaches of the Monte Carlo Beach Club in 19tk.
What about Monaco’s reputation as a haven for questionable financial activity? I asked. In the casino a few months back certain croupiers had been discovered easing the odds for some appreciative Italian businessman. It wasn’t Mafia money, but “black money,” undeclared income the businessman could say they won at the tables.
“I asked my attorney to make an inquest and he said maybe there is some money laundering, but– I always remember his expression–. ‘it is being done in an artisanal, not a big manner.’ To do it on a big scale, you’d have to own the casino, so I was tranquilized on that subject.
“The extent of dirty money that comes in here is greatly exaggerated,” he went on. “The banks are told not to take money that they are not clear where it comes from or they will be in trouble. A commission watches over this.”
It was Rainier’s proud boast that the casino, in the fifties the principality’s greatest moneymaker, now only provides four percent of its revenues. “The nature of gambling has changed,” he observed. “I was in Las Vegas with Albert, and I noticed they couldn’t get up a baccarat table. It’s the same here. It’s hard to make up a table with 6-7 gamblers who will play all night long any more.”
After Grace’s death, Ranier devoted himself to the one other thing that mattered to him, being the Builder Prince and turning what he called a pays d’operettes, a country of operettas, into what he described as “not only a nice place to live, but to work.” Today there are over a hundred light industries and twenty thousand wage earners.
The press started to get excited after Ranier was seen a few times with the flamboyant “business princess” Ira von Furstenberg, but he has never given serious thought to remarriage. When I brought up the death of Grace and its effects, the familiar look of grief-stricken devastation came over his face, and he fished out a thin cigarette from his jacket pocket and lighted it. “Her death has been very tough on the children, which is obvious,” he explained. “One can’t replace a mother. One can be a good father, but there is a gap. What I can’t understand is the resurgence of nasty books in America that say Grace was not happy and I was fooling around all over the place, which is absolutely untrue and grotesque. And that she became a drunk. We had the same laughs and the same attitude about each other right to the end—even more so, because the children were becoming teenagers. She was deeply involved in social and charitable events. I’m astonished by this dreadful man Lacey [Robert Lacey, author of Grace, published in 19tk, one of several recent books that chronicled her many premarital affairs and estrangement from Rainier toward the end]. Why try to destroy a very beautiful image and a wonderful person?” Rainier had wanted to sue Lacey but his advisers had dissuaded him with the argument that the suit would only boost sales. The book, excerpted in VFtk, claims that Grace sought comfort from at least four young lovers when her looks started to fade and her weight ballooned as she hit fifty.
I saved his daughters till last. “Stephanie is very much wounded for this [the Ducruet affair] to happen to her,” he said. “But the fact of having these three children [ages tk] and herself dedicated to them— that may be the good part of it. I find her much more self-conscious and self-dependent. I always felt that it should be a rule as a parent to leave the door open. However one feels and whatever is said, kids have to know home is home and that they can come back any time they want to.”
At this point rumors were still flying about the filming of Ducruet and the former Miss Nude Belgium. The general consensus was that it must have been a coup monté, a set-up. I heard from several sources that Rainier himself may have been behind it; he wanted to get rid of the Ducruet. It was true that Rainier had made it hard on other men who had married into the family like his sister’s first husband, the Monégasque tennis star, Alecko Noghes, and Phillip Junot, Caroline’s philandering first husband. But to get rid of Ducruet in a way so embarrassing to the family was preposterous.
“I don’t want to talk about Ducruet,” the prince said, sparing me the discomfort of having to ask about the rumors. “When he says he was set up in Ville Franche, you don’t go and stay there and get undressed. That’s not being trapped. But,” he added, “it’s probably just as well that he’s out of the family.”
None of Ranier’s children are currently married. This is also true of Rainier’s sister, Atoninette, and her daughter, name tk. Some attribute the difficulties to a curse put on the Grimaldis, by a young woman, spurned by an ancestor centuries ago. She supposedly became a witch and decreed that no Grimaldi would ever be happy in marriage.
In the family tree there have been plenty of good old-fashioned sibling rivalries and Dynasty-type family feuds. Ranier’s nephew, Christian de Massy, laments that he was born into “a legacy of father hating son, mother hating daughter, children hating parents, sisters hating brothers, a tradition in the blood of our family of constant conflict.”
There was a particularly vicious period at the beginning of the sixteenth century when Jean II, the seigneur of the Rock, was stabbed to death by his brother Lucien, who was in turn killed by his nephew. Lucien was a friend of the Florentine diplomat Nicolo Machiavelli, author of The Prince, the ultimate treatise on political immorality.
In the 17th and 18th centuries the Grimaldis spent most of their time at the court in Versailles, where they were important foreign princes et pairs, and at their beautiful Chateau Marchais in Champagne, an hour and a half outside of Paris.
“The essential reign,” Rainier told me, “was that of Charles III [1818-1889]. He decided to develop the quartier of Monte Carlo, which was then olive and lemons groves. The bold scheme worked because Charles had the idea to exploit roulette, which was banned in France. After a railroad was built in 1868, the casino at Monte Carlo really took off, particularly with the Russian aristocracy. One night in l911 no less than four Romanoff grand dukes were seen dining at the Hotel de Paris. The Russians came down in private railroad cars and lost millions in a night. “A few Russians— the most reckless gamblers in the world—constitute the elite of Monaco society,” the Daily Telegraph reported in 1870. “To be a Russian count, or better still a countess, is to have the homage of every croupier. Waiters fawn… Officials salute. They have the most perfect facilities for ruining themselves”
The Thursday night I visited the casino, the only customers were a smattering of low-stakes Russians and Hungarians. The decor was fabulously rococo, whorehouse red predominating. I felt in the presence of a dying vice receding into history like, say, the fashion for laudanum drops. This is one of the last places where you can play baccarat or chemin de fer. I had to force myself to remember that this was where Mata Hari was unmasked, where Dick gave Liz an eye-popping tk-carat diamond necklace. The atmosphere was cheezy—the only place in Monaco I encountered that didn’t live up to the glamorous image. It’s probably been that way from the beginning. Here is Guy de Maupassant on the casino in l887 : “Around the tables a horrible riff-raff of players, the scum of the continents and of society, mixed with princes or future kings, ladies of the world, bourgeois, usurers, wasted young women, a unique melange on earth…”
Charles III’s son Albert I (Ranier’s great-grandfather) succeeded him upon his death in l889. An austere, imposing man, he married a well-born Scotswoman, Lady Mary Victoria Douglas-Hamilton. At this point things get a little murky in the family bloodline. According to one source, Mary Douglas-Hamilton became pregnant, not by her husband, but by the dashing Hungarian Count Tassilo Festetics de Tolna, She gave birth to a son, Louis, in 1870 in Baden Baden on her honeymoon, and left her husband after only a few months of marriage to live with the count happily ever after. So if Louis is not a Grimaldi, neither are Rainier and his children. Regis Lecuyer, the curator of the palace archives, seemed highly uncomfortable with this line of inquiry. “All I know from the archive is that Albert the First was the father,” he said. “I’ve heard of the Count Festetics, but gossip doesn’t interest me. I don’t know how it got started.”
What is known is that Louis bore no resemblance to Albert, and that Albert despised him. Louis, like many an unwanted son, joined the French Foreign Legion, where he repeatedly demonstrated fearlessness and sangfroid in life-threatening situations. Later, in Paris, he fell in love with Marie Juliette Louvet, who was working in a nightclub in Monmartre. In l898 Louis and Marie had a daughter, Charlotte, known in the family as Mamou. Lecuyer had no information, and no photographs of Marie Louvet, la blanchisseuse, the laundress, as the Comtesse de Chantrelle, and others familiar with the Grimaldi family tree, call Louis’s paramour.
Mamou was Louis’s only child, and it soon became apparent that she was the only heir in sight. If there isn’t any heir, Monaco reverts to France according to the treaty of l861. So Albert legitimized Mamou when she was twenty. To make her more respectable, she was married to Count Pierre de Polignac, a society dandy. Mamou and Polignac had two children, Antoinette in l918, and three years later, Rainier. Once the heir had been produced, Comte de Polignac was eased out. He lost even visitation rights after his 15-year-old daughter Antoinette accused him of abusing her. Mamou and Polignac divorced in l933.
At the end of her life Mamou took up with a famous jewel thief, René Gigier, formerly France’s public enemy number one, known as the Walking Stick, due to his peculiar stiff, hobbled gait. She even brought Gigier to Rainier and Grace’s wedding. Princess Caroline strongly resembles Mamou, who had no interest in running the principality. Upon her father’s death in l948, she abdicated immediately in favor of her son, Rainier III.
Rainier’s sister, Princess Antoinette, known in the family as Tiny, lives in a modest villa under the corniche in outlying Eze sur Mer with thirty-five old or abandoned dogs, eighteen stray cats, and, when I called on her, two young maids from Yorkshire. “She’s completely mad,” one of them told me. The livingroom had an almost overpowering dog odor. Tiny greeted me in the foyer, chasing two dachshunds behind a gate. “Bloody dogs. Excuse my language. My grandfather was in the foreign legion.” Family photos took up every available surface, snaps of her young self at galas, of her third and last husband, the balletmaster John Gilpin, who supposedly had danced the best Spectre de la Rose since Nijinsky.
“My grandfather Louis brought me up,” she told me. “He was a love. On summer holidays in Switzerland he would take us out in his bright yellow Hispano-Suizza convertible. He would sit in front with the chauffeur, Rainier and I in back with nanny (Kathleen Wanstall, a cousin of Churchill’s), waving at and pretending to know the dumbfounded Swiss. You know the Swiss are not particularly rapid. My brother and I had great fun doing naughty things. Grandfather would take us to Franz Carl Weber’s famous toy shop in Lauzanne and would tell the attendant to ‘give them whatever they want.’ While we were choosing, he would sit down, take out his pince-nez, put his silver tobacco case on one knee, his case with papers on the other, then he would wet his fingers and roll himself a cigarette, pinching off the tobacco on the fag end. The Monégasques loved him because he was very simple. He fretted for the Foreign Legion.”
Late in life, at the age of 67, Louis took up with a buxom actress thirty five years his junior named Ghislaine Dommanget, whom he married three years before his death and to whom he left everything. Rainier successfully blocked the will, using his power as absolute monarch and the argument that his father’s fortune was not personal but belonged to the Crown and was therefore not his to give away.
Hoping there would be photos of her grandmother, la blanchisseuse, I asked if I might look through a row of albums on a shelf. She took them out. Their edges had been chewed into shavings by mice who were nesting behind them. Tiny said, “One’s never sort of bothered about that part of the family. I don’t even know the name of my grandmother.
“My mother was a character– strong-willed, her own person,” Tiny went on. “Mother founded a home in Menton [up the coast] for the White Russians who were milling about. Lost souls, they were totally helpless. They didn’t even know how to lace their shoes. In those days Monaco was very elite, and one had to be frightfully posh. Mother threw galas to help the Whites Russians and got involved in Diaghilev’s ballet. [The ballerinas] Tcechinskaya and Karsavina would come up to the palace and teach us steps, and my grandfather would imitate Nijinsky’s famous leap to amuse us.”
Anne Edwards, in her book The Grimaldis of Monaco, with which the palace was extremely displeased, claims that when Rainier was born, Tiny felt cheated out of the throne, and in the early fifties, before Rainier married Grace, she spread rumors that his then mistress, a French actress named Giselle Pascal, couldn’t have children. She even supposedly plotted a coup to put in her six-year-old son Christian. When she later married her second husband Jean-Charles Rey, the fiery head of the Monégasque opposition, she continued to work actively to undermine and unseat her brother, according to Edwards, and to Christian’s even more distressing memoir, Palace, for which he was banished from Monaco. But when I brought up this period of her life, Tiny said, “It’s absolute trash that I was trying to get the succession for Buddy [as Christian is known in the family]. I’ve always been perfectly satisfied with my own lot.”
Buddy is the blackest of the family black sheeps. Even Albert, the most compassionate of Buddy’s generation, had nothing good to say about him. “He’s pretty much of a bum,” Albert told me. “He blew it in every sense of the word, not only with the book, but he gave a lot of mean interviews.” Albert wasn’t sure where Buddy was, maybe Italy, he said, but Tiny claimed he was living in Miami, about to have a baby with his fourth wife, “a very nice colored girl from Jamaica. I’m going to be the grandmother of a little black boy and it’s going to be fun.” But she didn’t have his number. She said to try the consul in Miami. But there isn’t any Monaco consul in Miami. (There was a Christian de Massy in Miami information but his number was unlisted.)
I asked Tiny if she saw much of her brother these days. “Very seldom,”she replied. “But when we do see each other, it’s always like we had just been together the day before. I’m always behind him, whatever position he takes politically or with our kids. His kids are much younger, more independent, and more spoiled, but I’d throw myself over the deep end for them like I would my own. Rainier and I were very close as children, but in sovereign families always people try to get between to get the power”.
Fluent in six languages, an avid reader and supporter of the arts, Princess Caroline is the most intellectual of Ranier’s children. But she is also a tough cookie. What’s she like? I would ask people who knew her. (Furious at the coverage of her most recent affair, she is giving no interviews to the press.) “Trés sympatique,” they would invariably say. But dure? “Oui.”
Caroline is often remembered for her youthful rebellious phase–at the age of twenty, to get out of the palace and to spite her mother, as she would later say, she married the 38-year-old boulevardier Phillipe Junot. According to her shoe designer Christian Louboutin, “Junot and another old playboy Alix Chevassu decided one night to marry the girls most en vue. Alix married Maria Niarchos, the only daughter of Stavros, and Junot took Caroline to the altar. It was very jet set.”
After sixteen months the marriage was over. According to Louboutin: “In the mid-eighties [her younger sister] Stephanie started getting media, while Caroline had divorced Junot and disappeared, so the media dropped her. So she had time to reconstruct a new elegance and beauty while the attention was on Stephanie. When she reappeared she was completely transformed.”
. After several liaisons (including Guillermo Vilas) she fell deeply in love with Stefano Casiragi, a rich, handsome, Italian three years her junior. They married and had three children. On August 3, l987, he got into a sixty-foot-long speedboat shaped like an elongated shoe box and flipped at 120 mph, killing himself instantly. It was several years before Caroline was ready for another relationship—with the 37-year-old British actor Vincent Linden. Linden adored her children, and after five years it got to the point of marriage, but Linden balked at the nine points to which he had to agree in order to join the family, among them converting to Catholicism (he was Jewish), wiping his feet on entering the throne room, and not speaking to Rainier unless spoken to.
Caroline’s latest beau is Prince Ernst August of Hanover, a forty-two-year-old German nephew of Queen Elizabeth and the head of the German House of Hanover. He is rich, with a fortune estimated at $162 million. The trouble is that Ernst is already married—to the beautiful Chantal Hochuli, a daughter of the high Swiss bourgeoisie. Supposedly, last fall Chantal had a big scene with Caroline, asking her to leave her husband alone, and telling her she was destroying the lives of the Hanover’s two innocent children, Ernst, 13, and Christian, 12. This so upset Caroline, or so those in the know were saying, that a few weeks later, her hair began to fall out in clumps. The medical term was alopecia areata, la pelade nerveuse, thought to be related to stress or a sudden shock. Prince Albert tried to calm everyone down: “It’s a skin problem, a dermatology thing. It’s nothing serious, and her hair will grow back… Other than that, she’s fine,” he told tk.
Alopecia, your basic baldness, is a dominant trait, i.e. it is transmitted directly from generation to generation. An obvious predisposition comes from the Kelly side. Grace’s father was bald, and Grace herself had very thin hair, which she often braided with artificial hairpieces. Albert is almost completely bald. When and if the hair of a person visited by alopecia areata will grow back is completely unpredictable. Areata means patchy, and Caroline’s baldness was not of the chic Michael Jordan/Sean Connery variety, so she cut all her remaining hair off, apparently in the presence of Ernst. One of her daughters applied the shaving cream, claims someone who got it from someone who was there.
Valerie La Londe, a close friend who has a country mas near Caroline’s in St. Rémy, told me that the alopecia had nothing to do with Ernst’s wife. “She caught a skin thing in Turkey,” explained La Londe. The entire subject has become somewhat moot, because “now her hair is growing back really well,” the palace told me. And indeed recent public appearances show that her hair is cropped, but dark-brown and healthy.
“Caroline has her own tastes and values,” the photographer and writer Francois Marie Banier told me. “Everything she does, she does perfectly. We first met in l974 when she was only a little girl, but already showed extraordinary strength of character. When she speaks about her life she is very frank and honest. She knows values. She is very attentive to others; she’s completely other-directed and absolutely pas conventionelle. When I was with her in St. Remy she was playing with her kids [names and ages tk] morning noon and night in extremely creative ways. She’s completely different from celle des magazines. Sometimes she comes to my atelier to talk literature. One time I went with her and Agnes Good to a Jasper John show and we discovered she already knew a lot about him.”
The latest news in Caroline’s quest for happiness is that the paparazzi, with whom she has struggled for control over her life from the day she was born, have finally, if unwittingly, done her a good turn: one of them caught her and Ernst smooching in a field of wildflowers. When the photo ran in Paris Match, Chantal was so infuriated that she sued for divorce, paving the way for Caroline to wed the man her mother pointed out years ago as the perfect husband for her.
Prince Albert’s first impression, as everyone had warned, was not impressive. Our first meeting took place in the Monaco Embassy in Paris. He seemed strangely lacking in pizazz. One of my uncharitable colleagues had gone so far as to call him a “dork.” He wears glasses, giving him a Clark Kentish appearance. During his early thirties, the curly locks of his youth receded from his frontal and parietal regions, and he is now, at thirty-nine, bald on top. Two years ago, on a dare from the captain of the Italian bobsled team, he shaved his hair off completely-an interesting footnote in light of his elder sister’s experience.
After fifteen minutes of our meeting he started to yawn uncontrollably, which I found rather surprising in that Royals are supposedly taught to listen attentively, heads cocked, no matter what you are saying. Was this some kind of hereditary narcolepsy? I wondered, recalling his father’s penchant for falling asleep in public. In the middle of a long disquisition on the history of Monaco’s relationship with France, Albert completely forgot what he was talking about. As I left, he shook hands with me twice. . If his father is a fox, Albert is more like a springer spaniel. The things people say about him, that he is completely accessible and unstuffy, are absolutely true. But he is also bland. Grace was slightly bland. Albert is really bland. The second time we met in the palace, however, Albert began to relax, and I started to get a warm feeling about him. He is even, in his own way, quietly charismatic.
Rainier obviously put more pressure on him as only son and heir than on the girls, but it was Grace who was “the government,” as Rainier put it. Her approach to the children was, according to Buddy, “velvet-gloved discipline.”
After tk boarding schools and Amherst College, Albie, as he is known in the family, did a stint as a tk at Morgan Guaranty in New York in 19tk. For most of his adult life, though, he has merely been waiting to ascend the throne. Passionate about sports, he has put his own stamp on the principality as the president of its swimming, track, and bobsled federations and of the yacht club (where he feels most at home, a friend of his told me). He has a black belt in judo and is the only member of the International Olympic Committee who has competed in the games (his bobsled came in 35th at Lillehammer in 19tk). Once at a black tie ball at the Waldorf in New York my friend the marquis went into the men’s room to find Albert doing push-ups on the floor, with his bodyguard standing by.
Albert blames his not being married on the paparazzi, who, he claims, have unsettled his various girlfriends, especially the American swimmer Mary Wayte, a Sharon Stone-lookalike who won a gold medal the l984 Olympics. Albert was crazy about her, he says, and evidently she felt the same way about him, but “she was one of the ones who got scared.” That his bride would inevitably be compared to Grace makes this not an easy family to come into.
Albert takes after his mother, which may account for his almost feminine softness. As Buddy wrote: “Albert continues to astonish me in how he resembles his mother in his correctness, his sense of balance, order, and dignity.” This has given rise to speculation that he is gay. “There were rumors about boyfriends when he was in the Marines,” the Comtesse de Chantrelle told me, “and a moment when he was said to be having an affair with Pierre d’Arenberg id tk, but I’ve never been under his belt, so I wouldn’t know.”
At our second meeting we addressed the rumors of his homosexuality. Prince Albert had clearly heard them before.
“Several things happened,” he explained. “Part of the rumor originated in Paris. Some guys were jealous that I stole their girlfriends.”
So they put out disinformation.
“Secondly, I have lots of gay friends who are artists, very creative people, and people see pictures of me chatting with some of them at a gallery opening, and they conclude I am gay, too. And at official events for a long time my parents did not want me to bring any dates, so people automatically assume I’ve never seen him with anybody so he must be gay.” In fact Albert has been seen with many beautiful women, including Catherine Oxenberg and Claudia Schiffer, about whom he said, “We’re just friends. We only had a few dates.”
“I’m nearing 40,” he went on. “It would be nice to have kids. I don’t want to be too old for them. I’m getting pressure from friends and from Caroline’s kids, and Caroline would love to retire as first lady.” Privately the palace has been spreading word that Albert will marry this year. Obviously, a big wedding would be a nice cap to the septicentennial.
At a buffet lunch for invited guests at the auto museum after the Te Deum, I found myself sitting next to Albert, Stephanie and Rainier’s libel lawyer, Thierry Lacoste, who told me that Albert can’t go to California because he would have to face a paternity suit there. I was amazed that Albert’s lawyer would reveal this sensitive piece of information to a total stranger, and a journalist at that, which he knew I was because I had told him so. Maybe this was a planned leak, a clever attempt to beef up Albert’s lusty hetero image. But it wasn’t planned seating. Lacoste and I just happened to sit down at the same table. If there is a child in California, this could change the succession. As it now stands, if Albert has no children, or were not to become the prince for some reason, the line of succession would go to Caroline, then to her eldest son, Andrea. But a child who could be proved to be Albert’s would be legitimized, as happened with Mamou, and then it would go to him or her.
“I don’t think Albert will have the guts, intelligence, and toughness of his father,” the Comtesse de Chantrelle told me. “But you never know.” This retiring late-bloomer could even become a great ruler. Rainier was extremely shy when he took the throne at the age of twenty-six, and he only “revealed himself in stages,” as I was told by Raoul Bianceri, the president of the Societe des bains et mares, which owns the Hotel de Paris, the casino, the golf club, and everything that makes Monte Carlo the chic resort that it is.
Stephanie is the most complex of Ranier’s and Grace’s children. “Obviously a disturbed kid,” pronounced a person who knew her. An adorable tomboy, the apple of father’s eye, she was spoiled rotten. Even as a child she was unmanageable. “I could have struck her with a gong and it wouldn’t have made the slightest difference,” her mother recalled. Following Caroline couldn’t have been an easy act for either Stephanie or Albert because, as Tiny told me, “There’s a lot of Caroline.” Once Grace came upon Caroline holding Stephanie upside down, about to dunk her head into a toilet bowl. So perhaps Stephanie learned early on that the way to get attention was to be an enfant terrible. Buddy recalls that she “behaved like a little girl long past the age, sulking and sucking thumb until she was fourteen.”
As a tk year old, she was in the car when it crashed, killing her mother-there were even rumors that Stephanie was driving. What followed was a most difficult phase, as she moved to Los Angeles in 19tk. Having gone out with the relatively respectable sons of the actors Alain Delon and Jean Paul Belmondo and with Rob Lowe, she fell in with what the Comtesse de Chantrelle called “a collection of creeps.” She got engaged to Mario Jutard, a twice-divorced club-owner with a criminal record (for rape plea-bargained down to tk), then to Jean Yves Lefyr, an ex-boyfriend of supermodel Karen Mulder, whom she ditched for Ron Bloom, a scruffy record producer 16 years her senior. Then she took up with a property dealer??? who allegedly had a record for fraud and whom she sued for the cost of their 19tk engagement party.
Sexy in a masculine, Amazonian sort of way, square-shouldered, long-legged, and muscular, she become a sort of Princess Rock and Roll . She had a hit single, name tk, designed a line of swimwear, Pool Position, launched her own fragrance, name tk, and was on her way to becoming a top model until the career was nixed by her father. Buddy wrote in l986 : “Today Stephanie does not exactly project the classic image of the young, aristocratic family girl reassuring and gratifying her parents. Unlike Caroline, she does not enjoy being a princess. She is resolutely, aggressively modern, endowed with a futuristic allure and beauty. Dressed in leather or in her disco outfits… she seems to step out of a space-age fairy tale.”
None of her relationships or her careers took, and in l991 she returned to Monaco, where she soon became involved with Ducruet. According to a friend of the family, it was just like the Whitney Houstin/Kevin Costner movie, Bodyguard. Ducruet was a local boy, a native of Beausoleil, who had joined principality’s security force after being a fishmonger. Already married, he betrayed his post and seduced Stephanie. They had two daughters, Louise and Pauline, out of wedlock, and while she was while was pregnant with their third child, and Ducruet was having a child by another woman, Stephanie lobbied her father strenuously for permission to marry him. Finally Rainier consented. “She worked hard on him,” a palace source told me. “Ducruet had very low-class attitude. Stephanie rebelled against the rich and famous people that she had to live with, people who seemed to be unreal. But Ducruet’s type was even worse, he was opportunistic. He could have learned the lessons of the palace, how to say thank you and to drink a cup of tea, but he didn’t make the slightest effort.” The wedding invitations were uncrested, and only 30 close friends attended the private ceremony, at which a grim-faced Rainier supposedly said, “This young man has put my daughter back on the right path.”
Last summer Stephanie sank $3 million into a clothing store with a restaurant called the Replay Cafe in partnership with her husband and his brother, Alain. It is on the Rue Grimaldi, in the quartier of La Condamine, right below the palace.
The European press was rife with speculation about who could have set the fishmonger up until last January when Paris Match revealed what really happened. Two years earlier, while still a bodyguard, Ducruet had bodily ejected the famous paparazzo Stephane de Lisiecki from a Palace event, and de Lisiecki had plotted his revenge ever since. He hired Fili Houteman, who was working as a topless dancer, to seduce Ducruet last summer at the SPA Francorchamps formula race in tk, in which Ducruet was a contestant. He gave Fili his cellphone number there. A month later, with everything in place, Fili called and said she was at a villa with a friend and there was something she needed to talk to him about right away. Ducruet went there with his bodyguard, Alain Launois. Fili took him out to the pool, where two still and one video photographers were secreted behind blinds. The couple put on a riveting show of naked lust, and the photographers captured every moment of it. “When I saw Fili posing with her sunglasses on her head and her gut sucked in, I knew it was a coup monté,” Christian Louboutin told me. “No one pities anyone so stupid.”
I stopped by the Replay Cafe at lunchtime, hoping Stephanie would be there. Since her divorce she’s been throwing herself into the business and can often be found at the store where she’s a big draw for secretaries on lunch breaks and tourists who come to see her behind the cash register. (Her private secretary had already made it clear she not want to be interviewed. She has made no comments about Ducruet except a terse “His life no longer has anything to do with mine.”) The cafe is part of a chain of 150 Replay clothing stores started five years ago in Italy by Stepahnie’s friend, Claudio Buziol. It was Stephanie’s idea to add a restaurant to the Monaco store.
Ducruet and his brother still came in all the time, a man behind the sales counter told me. According to the New York Post, Ducruet was “said to be weighing an offer of one million to make hard core porno with Fili.” But in June, as a guest on a German talk show, he trashed the set and stormed off, when Fili suddenly walked on.
A bartender at Le Texan, a night spot in La Condamine, told me, “Ducruet lost everything. He got two hours of pleasure for fifty years of regret. Stephanie has recovered. She threw a big party the night of the divorce [October 4] and danced at Jimmy’s till three o’clock in the morning.” Last tk Paris Match ran a spread of a bikinied Stephanie romping with her kids on a beach on St. Maarten. She was alone, except for a bodyguard (not the one I met in the Replay Cafe), a femme libre. To celebrate her freedom she had gotten a new tattoo, a discreet flower on her left wrist. As Albert told me, she is doing more ceremonial work these days, taking over First Lady duties when Caroline is out of town. She owes her dad.
Why has the press coverage of the Grimaldis become so abusive? I asked Gonzague St. Bris, the editor of Femme and a self-described Monacologue, or Monacologist.
“At the court of Versailles there were pamphleteers who examined the vices of the court, who was sleeping with whom, le coté romanesque,” he explained. “The chronicles of St. Simon and the Comtesse de Ségur were of much higher quality. They were belles lettristes, literary antecedents of Proust.”
Today’s paparazzi, however, are a different breed. The term was invented by the great Italian moviemaker Frederico Fellini, who showed a pack of journalists following around Anita Ekberg in 8. “The top paparazzi,” St.Bris told me, “are only half a dozen. They have no fear and are completely immoral, like mercenaries or cold-blooded contract killers.” One good indiscretion, one peak behind the curtain, one sensational scoop can be worth a hundred thousand dollars, many times more than a prize-winning combat picture. The magazines calculate whether it will still be profitable, after the anticipated lawsuit, to publish the picture.
It was Paris Match, St. Bris reminded me, that brought Rainier and Grace together in the first place. “The dynasty was started by a photojournalist, which is why they feel they own the story [of the Grimaldis],” he explained. “It was idea of Pierre Galante, who was married to Olivia deHaviland, to have Grace, who was at Cannes for the film festival, do a shoot at the Palace with Rainier. We will take Grace to Rainier to make une belle photo.”
But all the bad press doesn’t seem to cause any resentment in Monaco; The Monégasques, as far as I could tell, seem still to love their princely family. The present fascination with the Grimaldis, St. Bris theorized, has to do with “the transplantation of daily unhappiness to big people. Le malheur of people at the top brings people closer to them. Monaco, au fond, is a l9th century novel of Balzac or Dickens. But when the royals have more problems than we do, it becomes a problem.”
Monaco and Prince Rainier have survived far worse crises than bad press. In the late fifties Aristotle Onassis arrived on the scene and before anyone realized what was happening, he had become the majority shareholder of the Société des bains et mer. “Onassis was interested in profit, and the S.B.M. is an old lady,” the prince recalled. “He said we must do away with the Salle Garnier [Charles Garnier’s opera house, finished in l875, a masterpiece of deuxième empire neo-baroque excess, with bronze angels and nude limestone voluptuaries; operas, concerts, and ballets are performed in it but there are only three hundred seats] and put in a big modern opera house. He already had some architects up his sleeve. But I was dead against it.” It ended with Rainier in l964 nationalizing the S.B.M. by creating out of the blue 600,000 new shares, which were to be held by the state. A simple move but a very effective one: Onassis was no longer the majority shareholder, and he sold his shares and steamed out of Monte Carlo in his yacht the Christina shortly thereafter. “But with all the trouble,” Rainier continued, “we remained on good terms. He was a pleasant man.”
A more nerve-wracking crisis “when General De Gaulle got angry with us” had come to a head four years earlier. Many of France’s wealthiest citizens had established residency in Monaco to avoid paying French taxes and the government was losing millions of dollars, so De Gaulle threatened to terminate the l863 treaty recognizing Monaco’s sovereignty. To avoid being “asphyxiated,” as Ranier put it, he agreed that French residents would no longer be tax-exempt. “And there again it passed over,” he reminisced. “I was young and maybe got angry. A few years later De Gaulle came for an official visit, and he insisted on seeing the children. Grace charmed him. In Paris he often invited us to dinner.
“Now there is a new possible crisis,” he told me : “the European Union and la monnaie unique. The union could require all residents, being members of the union, to pay taxes like the French. That’s why we’re staying out of it. But how are our treaties with France, which are all in francs, going to be affected ? What will become of the compte de partage [at present 95% of the principality’s revenues come from its share of this French value-added tax on any business transacted within its borders], which recession-plagued France is threatening to reduce. If our customs disappear, what are we going to do? France can’t stay out of the EU, but we can’t be asphyxiated or drowned. This is a problem for all small countries with no resources. There have to be a few small exceptions. It is important that we represent certain securities for our investors. Last year we had 80 billion francs [$32 billion] in our banks. A third of the investors were in France. If we can’t give the advantages we now offer, attractive interest rates and a certain confidentiality-not the complete secrecy the Swiss used to offer, but the certainty your money is not going to be investigated for no reason at all—I don’t know how we will survive.” Even more ominously the SBM lost $30 million last year and looks as if it will be in the red again this year.
Yet Rainer is optimistic a way will be found. “My ancestors were very inventive. Each time they found the right way, and they were helped by important women who came into the family.” Even Ranier, it seems, is putting his chips on Albert finding a stunning new princess, a successor to Grace, for the next chapter in the Grimaldi’s 700-year-long old fairy tale.