You might assume that Grace Kelly’s 700-person royal wedding to Prince Rainier III of Monaco in 1956 was the pinnacle of her social legacy. But 13 years later, on Saturday, November 15, 1969, the American movie star turned princess threw herself one of the most unusual and extravagant birthday parties in history.
The celebration of Kelly’s 40th birthday, themed “Scorpion’s Ball”, was held at the Hermitage Hotel in Monte Carlo, Monaco.
The actress’ penchant for star signs has long been well known: In 1956, Hollywood astrologer and horoscope columnist Carol Reiter was photographed visiting Kelly on set during the filming of one of her final films, “The Swan.” Shortly after her engagement to Rainier, Reiter devoted one of his columns in the Chicago Tribune to support of the couple’s astrological compatibility, detailing Kelly’s horoscope over the “past several years”. When Righter died in 1988, his obituary listed the Princess of Monaco as one of his many celebrity clients.
Famous astrologer Carroll Reiter was documented visiting Grace Kelly on the set of “The Swan” in 1956. attributed to him: Everett Collection Inc/Alamy Stock Photo
Kelly’s celebration centered around the eighth astrological sign, and included a few iron-clad ground rules: First, a Scorpio-only guest list. In attendance were Swedish actor and model Heurdice Polina Genberg (born November 10, 1919), Italian actress Verna Lisi (born November 8, 1936), and American movie star Rock Hudson (born November 17, 1925). Fortunately, Scorpio couples were also allowed, as were the Kelly family.
Elizabeth Taylor was one of those guests whose presence was justified by marriage. The famous Pisces was also the wife of Welsh actor Richard Burton, born November 10, 1925. Taylor didn’t take her admission to the event lightly, arriving in a glamorous black Tizani gown adorned with two diamond hands up front and one on the hood. Years later, the evening gown fetched $60,000 when Christie’s sold it in 2011.
Elizabeth Taylor, Pisces with a pair of Scorpios, was admitted to the event and arrived in a black velvet gown with Scorpio motifs. attributed to him: Jacques Garofalo/Paris Match Archive/Getty Images
In addition to enforcing a red-and-black dress code for her guests—the color palette most associated with the sign of Scorpio—the waiters at Kelly’s party wore 18th-century-style powder wigs, red velvet suits embroidered with sequin stars, in keeping with the celestial theme, and carried silver candelabra with red candles.
Kelly herself wore an off-the-shoulder black velvet Balenciaga dress with a black rose under each collarbone from the fall-winter 1966 couture collection. She also adorned the dress with sapphire brooches set with diamonds—flourishes from Kelly’s wedding gift from Rainier, the Cartier Bains de Mer tiara.
Kelly’s black velvet off-the-shoulder dress was Balenciaga Couture Fall Winter 1966, embellished with Cartier Bains de Mer tiara jewelry. attributed to him: Jacques Garofalo/Paris Match Archive/Getty Images
Lining the walls of the Hermitage were portraits of other famous Scorpios, from Edgar Allen Poe to Marie Antoinette. The meticulously planned event culminated in a giant fuchsia cake, said to weigh 166 pounds, decorated with an ominous ring of golden scorpions as well as a giant version of a spider. It was evident that the cake was so huge that it had to be cut in half to fit in the dining hall doors. It was her last Christmas after all, or as Kelly is believed to have said that night: “The last Christmas I confess.”