By EW Staff
Updated April 14, 1995 at 04:00 AM EDT

It was a fairy-tale wedding almost too perfect to be true, right down to the storybook setting. On April 18, 1956, in the palace of 32-year-old Prince Rainier III of Monaco-a domain the prince once described as ”368 acres of Mediterranean scenery”-His Serene Highness married a commoner of sorts: Grace Kelly, 26. ”The only thing that seems to happen is that I get happier and happier,” the actress gushed shortly before the big day. Although the blond-haired, blue-eyed Philadelphian was not of royal lineage, her past was not without titles or distinguished leading men. Among the 11 films in which she had appeared were 1952’s High Noon, with Gary Cooper; 1955’s To Catch a Thief, with Cary Grant; and 1954’s The Country Girl, with Bing Crosby, for which Kelly received a Best Actress Oscar. But with one ^ word-”Oui”-in a Roman Catholic service at St. Nicholas Cathedral one day after the civil ceremony at the palace, she effectively turned down all future roles for that of Her Most Serene Highness Princess Gracia Patricia of Monaco. The 20,000 or so Monegasques uttered cries of joy for the newlyweds-mixed, no doubt, with sighs of relief. An interruption in the House of Grimaldi line, established in 1297 by Otto Canella, would force the luxurious principality 30 miles down the coast from Cannes to become a French protectorate-with commensurate tax and military obligations. Only an heir could prevent that. The Monegasques were not disappointed. On Jan. 23, 1957 (9 months, 5 days after the royal wedding), the couple announced the birth of a girl, Caroline. The little princess’ siblings soon followed: Prince Albert, on March 14, 1958, and Princess Stephanie, on Feb. 1, 1965. As with many royals, headlines affixed themselves to the Grimaldis, particularly the jet-setting daughters, whose dalliances provided substantial grist for the gossip mill. Albert proved deft at avoiding the limelight, graduating from Massachusetts’ Amherst College in 1981, serving in the French navy, and being named by his father next in the line to the throne. Eventually, rumors circulated about a breakup of Rainier and Kelly, continuing right up to the day of Grace’s untimely death at age 52, on Sept. 14, 1982, from injuries sustained in a car accident on a windy mountain road in Cap-d’Ail, France. Accounts of the crash further tainted the royal image. Some placed lone passenger Stephanie (who was injured in the wreck), then 17 and too young to drive legally, behind the wheel. Though the stories were never substantiated, the incident remains a sad epilogue to a fairy tale that could not last forever, leaving Rainier, now 71, ruler of a land less enchanted than it once may have seemed. *