More Kellys: Grace and Favours

Father and son, Jack and Kell, in the boat tent at Henley in 1946.

18 May 2017

Tim Koch produces what is now the fourth part of the two-part Kelly story:

After the third HTBS piece on the Kellys of Philadelphia was posted, I remembered a nice eight-minute U.S. television news report linked to the publication of Dan Boyne’s, Kelly: A Father, A Son, An American Quest (2008) that we had put up in 2013. It is certainly worth revisiting, plus it gives me a chance to post some pictures that I did not use previously – and to spread some gossip.

This picture of Jack Kelly Sr. on the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia in 1920 is usually tightly cropped – but this is the full version.
Another of the many pictures that were taken of one of Kell’s early sculling lessons, c.1937.
Jack and Kell, Henley 1946.
Kell, Henley 1946.
Kell by the press box, Henley 1946.
The ridiculously beautiful Grace Kelly.

The problem with writing about Jack and Kell and their sculling activities is that the story of Grace, actress and princess, is much more appealing, even to a hardened rowing historian. Thus, any connection between Grace and the sport is to be milked for all it is worth. I previously mentioned that Bert Bushnell, one half of the winning 1948 Olympic double, once managed to secure a date with her, and now rowing journalist, Chris Dodd, informs me that Tony Rowe, winner of the Diamond Sculls at Henley in 1950, also took out the lovely Miss Kelly.

1946: Grace christens Kell’s new boat while father Jack looks on.

There have been many books published about Grace’s many other gentlemen friends. Most are ‘hack jobs’, but one, High Society: Grace Kelly And Hollywood by Donald Spoto, may have a bit more credibility as it is based on hours of interview tapes that he collected from his subject prior to her death in 1982. Spoto names a string of famous Hollywood men that Grace had ‘discreet affairs’ with, but he also includes the Shah of Iran in the lucky group. As Grace ended up marrying Prince Rainier of Monaco, she clearly liked older men and men who had their own country. However, Spoto also has good stories about some relatively unknown ‘friends of Grace’.

In the late 1940s, Grace had a two-year relationship with one of her acting teachers, but there was tremendous pressure from her family to end it. When she took him home to meet her Catholic parents, her mother went through his personal effects and found his divorce papers and a packet of condoms.

A plaque in the Little Angel on the Bridge pub in Henley shows where Grace once stood – proving that there is interest in her vertical as well as her horizontal.

A review of Spoto’s book in the Daily Express says this about her affair with actor, Gene Lyons (it would be racist to add ‘without irony’):

An Irish Catholic, Lyons might have met with her parents’ approval if it hadn’t been for the fact that he was an alcoholic.

Spoto also repeats the famous (though dubious) tale frequently told by suave British actor, David Niven. Allegedly, well into his marriage to Grace, Prince Rainier once asked Niven, who had been his most exciting lover? He started to reply ‘Grace’ but, catching himself and changing his answer as he spoke, he actually replied: ‘Grace….ee Fields’. Luckily, Rainier had never heard of the working-class Lancashire singer and so did not realise the unlikelihood of such an encounter.

As her brother, Kell was one of the few men who was nonchalant about being kissed by Grace Kelly.

Of course, Jack and Kell also had busy social lives and Grace’s Eurotrash children kept the gossip columns and paparazzi busy for many years. But that is enough puerility for now…

Prince Albert of Monaco (centre) on the Schuylkill in 2003. Inside knee between the arms, Your Serene Highness.


  1. Apropos Grace Kelly and publicity, she could also be discreet. One March morning in 1971 I happened to be in the vicinity of Putney Embankment so I took a drive down to see if there was any Boat Race activity as the annual Varsity match was a few days hence and my coach at The Tideway Scullers School, Lou Barry,,was also CUBC’s finishing coach that year. I parked up,walked along the towpath and sure enough there was the Cambridge ‘Blue’ Boat about to set off on an outing with Lou in attendance, standing in the coaching launch with a couple of other Boat Race ‘heavies’ and accompanied by the unmistakable figure of Grace Kelly, Princess Grace of Monaco, as she was then.
    Lou was his inimitable ,charming self, a discreet bow and he took her hand and showed her to a seat in the bows of the launch and off they went.
    There had been nothing in the press about her being in town and there was nothing in the press the following day. When I spoke to Lou that evening, he was discretion itself. Said , as far as he knew, she was on a private visit to London, was a knowledgeable fan of the sport, there was one American in the crew, a lad from Pennsylvania Uni, and she wanted to take a look. No more, no less as if it was all in a days work and the matter was dropped.
    I have often thought, in this age of camera phones and social media. how impossible that sequence of events would now unfold.

  2. I think it is wonderful that there is still rowing in both the Kelly and Grimaldi families. In January this year, Sean Drea hosted an interesting group of rowers including Prince Albert of Monaco and his first cousin J B Kelly III. They rowed at Islandbridge, Dublin, in an Old Collegians eight. There are two other Kellys in the photograph that was published in The Irish Times, Susan Kelly and Nicholas Kelly, who are J B Kelly’s wife and son. Here’s a link to the photograph:

  3. This morning, being in contact with Sue Bushnell, one of Bert Bushnell’s daughters, asking her if Bert ever told her about his date with Grace Kelly, she said: ‘He did, although for some reason my mother didn’t like him talking about it!’ Sue continued: ‘Loved these pieces on the Kellys, btw, Grandma Bushnell referred to Jack Jnr as ‘Wargrave’s favourite dinner guest’ – brought his own steak’.

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