The Principality of Monaco was on the brink of financial collapse by the early 1950’s. The ravages of the Second World War, the subsequent drop in tourism, and a series of reckless loans taken out by government ministers all combined to make Monaco’s continued existence precarious at best. In 1951 Greek shipping billionaire Aristotle Onassis solved part of the problem by becoming the majority share holder of the Societe des Bains de Mer, that is the government operated real estate corporation that in essence owns the country. Until the mid 60’s, Onassis was the de facto ruler of the Principality. In 1954 he hatched a scheme to revitalize Monaco, and make it infinitely more attractive to the crucial American tourist market, by arranging a marriage between the 30 something Prince Rainier lll and a Hollywood movie star. Aristotle Onassis’s original candidate for the role of Princess of Monaco was Marilyn Monroe.
In his book Nemesis, investigative journalist Peter Evans unravels the story of Onassis’s marriage proposal. He first broached the idea in 1955 with Father Francis Tucker: Monaco’s Vatican representative and Prince Rainier’s spiritual advisor. Although Monroe at that time was divorcing her second husband, and was already notorious among the world’s rich and powerful for her loose morals and mental instability, Father Tucker did not expressly veto the idea, and promised to sound Rainier out on the matter. Onassis then asked his friend Gardner Cowles, the publisher of Look magazine and Connecticut neighbor of Monroe’s, to informally approach the star concerning the offer.
While she initially didn’t know where Monaco was, and jokingly insisted on calling her prospective fiancé Prince Reindeer, Marilyn tentatively agreed to marry the Prince once she was assured he was young and rich. When asked by the publisher if she thought Rainier would want to marry her, she declared that he would after spending a couple of days in her company. Perhaps Spyros Skouras, the head of Marilyn’s movie studio, her occasional lover, and a fellow Greek friend of Onassis’s, said it best when he insisted to Aristotle that Monroe, despite being a wonderful woman, was definitely not princess material.
Still, Onassis went full steam ahead with his plan until Prince Rainier blindsided him by announcing that he was going to marry another American movie star. Her name was Grace Kelly, and they’d met the previous year during the Cannes Film Festival when the actress had been invited to the Palace for a photo shoot. Grace and Rainier had kept up a correspondence since then. Not only did her debutante like elegance make her a far more ideal casting choice for Monaco’s Princess than Marilyn, but the fact that Grace’s father was a multi-millionaire who could easily fork over the $2 million dowry that would save the Principality from financial ruin all but sealed the deal. Onassis was furious, but at least he had the satisfaction of knowing the general outline of his scheme had born fruit.
History, of course, was to prove Prince Rainier’s choice prescient. Not only did Princess Grace put Monaco back on the map, but Monroe continued on her downward spiral that would end with her presumed suicide in 1962. Still, one can’t help but wonder how different celebrity history truly would have been had Marilyn Monroe ended her life as Her Serene Highness Princess Marilyn of Monaco.