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Royal newlyweds open Grace Kelly exhibit of memorabilia, letters and gowns

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TORONTO - Monaco's Prince Albert and Princess Charlene attended a black-tie reception in Toronto Wednesday to help open an exhibition dedicated to his late mother, Grace Kelly.

Wearing a simple black cocktail dress with ruffled sleeves, the princess received a small bouquet of flowers from a young girl as they arrived on the red carpet at TIFF Bell Lightbox.

The royal couple, who wed in July, then posed for photos and walked into the swank soiree in the Lightbox atrium, where other guests included the ambassador of Monaco.

"It's obviously a huge honour to have a member of the family, one of Grace Kelly's sons, here in Toronto for the opening of the show," said TIFF director Piers Handling.

"It speaks volumes, I think, for just their connection with the show itself, the care that they're taking with it, the fact that they're here to kind of bestow their approval of what we've actually done.

"And I think it's just a way of extending their mother's legacy — and what a legacy it was."

The exhibition, "Grace Kelly: From Movie Star to Princess," traces the fairy-tale life of the film and fashion icon.

A vast collection of Kelly's artifacts — including jewels, gowns and personal correspondence — goes on display Friday at the Lightbox, offering a rarely seen glimpse into the private life of a superstar who had broad appeal.

For Hollywood director Alfred Hitchcock, she was an icy blond muse. Prince Rainier III of Monaco saw her as his elegant bride. And for legions of adoring fans around the world, she was the epitome of style, poise, and beauty.

"Although she was among the most photographed women of the 20th century she still remains something of a mystery," says curator Noah Cowan, artistic director of TIFF Bell Lightbox.

"In all phases of her life she became iconic — as a movie star, as a bride, as a princess — and yet it's hard to actually know who the real Grace Kelly is. I think this show actually takes you inside (her world). You see her personal correspondence, you see what she wore, what she loved to wear and what she loved to do."

Among the more intriguing pieces are several letters from a playful Hitchcock, who signs his missives "Love, Hitch"; a handwritten holiday greeting from "High Society" co-star Bing Crosby; and framed collages of dried flower petals — a hobby picked up after Kelly retired from the big screen and settled into life as a princess and mother.

Then there are home movies, letters and photos from childhood scrapbooks, even cherished playbills and an early rejection letter from a filmmaker.

"She was a complete pack rat during her Hollywood years, so every telegram, every letter, every flower arrangement that she had was preserved," says Cowan.

The exhibit is based on similar ones held in Monaco and London, and makes its only North American stop in Toronto. From Canada, it heads to Australia and then returns to the Grimaldi palace, says Cowan.

"Grace Kelly: From Movie Star to Princess" is loosely divided into three sections: Kelly's life as a movie star, as a bride and finally, as a princess.

Highlights include an exact replica of her Helen Rose-designed lace wedding gown, several original dresses, her signature Hermes "Kelly bag," her Academy Award for "The Country Girl" and the diamond tiara she wore when she became Princess of Monaco in 1956.

"The tiara was always kept by (jewelry designers) Van Cleef and Arpels; they were the owners of the piece and it was for the exclusive use of Grace Kelly," Cowan notes. "And now of course that means it's only in museums."

Meanwhile, the replica wedding dress — featuring a 21-inch waist — was created by some of the original seamstresses who worked on the first one. Cowan says the original is in "pretty bad shape" and cannot travel from its home at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

"(The replica) is really made to the most exacting standards and I think it's about as close as we'll all get to seeing it," he says.

Kelly left Hollywood at the height of her career after just five years in show business. Her 11 films, including "Rear Window," "High Noon" and "To Catch a Thief," made a huge impact on the industry, says Cowan.

"She is one of the great queens of the silver screen," he says. "When people talk about Grace Kelly, they frequently use the word 'timeless.' She speaks to something that just doesn't go away, which is a certain style, a certain glamour."

Cowan notes that Kelly had hoped to return to acting after giving birth to children Caroline, Albert and Stephanie, but Prince Rainier asked her to stop.

"She was in fact prohibited from going back to Hollywood to work," he says, noting Hitchcock had her in mind for his 1964 thriller "Marnie," starring Tippi Hedren.

The exhibit is being held in conjunction with a film series "Icy Fire: The Hitchcock Blonde," which kicks off Friday with Hitchcock's 1954 mystery "Dial M for Murder."

Cowan says there is still much to learn about Princess Grace, who died in a car accident in 1982.

"We still are finding things out about her and still finding images of her that redefine her sense of style and glamour. She's just an endless source of what makes life more interesting."

"Grace Kelly: From Movie Star to Princess" runs Friday through Jan. 22, 2012.

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