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Grace Kelly Bridesmaids: Real Life Follows Fairy-Tale Wedding

June 05, 1989|JEANNINE STEIN | Times Staff Writer

It was the wedding to end all weddings, and the media event to end all media events: the marriage in 1956 of American movie star-glamour queen Grace Kelly to the dashing Prince Rainier of Monaco.

Caught up in this fast-lane fairy tale were six young women chosen to be Grace Kelly's bridesmaids. And now one of them has written a book about it, titled "The Bridesmaids."

Author Judith Balaban Quine was one of the six who wore a daffodil yellow dress the day Kelly married her prince, along with Maree Frisby, Rita Gam, Carolyn Scott, Sally Parrish and Bettina Thompson.

"I wanted to write a story of seven women," says Quine during lunch one day at Trumps. "From the perspective of women of my generation, we were ill-prepared for anything called change. I grew up in that era where once the war was over, everything got safe, and everything was going to be comfortable for the rest of your life if you did all the right things."

Quine, the daughter of Barney Balaban, former president of Paramount Pictures, led the glamorous life in Manhattan in the '50s that included dates with Montgomery Clift and a brief engagement to Merv Griffin.

Kelly Came to Quine's Wedding

She became the young bride of Kelly's agent, Jay Kanter, the two women meeting on Quine's wedding day. They were Gracie and Judybird to one another, maintaining a friendship that endured until Kelly's death in 1982 from a car crash.

The idea for the book came to Quine in the summer of 1978, while she was in Monaco attending Princess Caroline's wedding. Family and professional obligations kept her from pursuing it until three years ago, although she says Kelly thoroughly endorsed the idea from the beginning.

She interviewed all the bridesmaids and other key players, even tracking down Carolyn Scott Reybold, whom she found living in a New York City women's shelter.

Of that experience Quine says, "I think the notion of it was mystifying and perhaps scary. But the label of it meant nothing. She has her health and she is an incredibly spiritual person."

The book is hardly a "Gracie Dearest" account of the star/princess, although readers are privy to such observations as, "Her maverick sense of adventure seemed all but suppressed, though we could still hear its wings fluttering against the walls, yearning to escape" as the '70s wore on.

"You know something?" Quine says, her voice barely rising above the restaurant's din, "I don't think people are trashy, so I don't like to trash them. I wrote about people I know, which meant I cared for them. I wanted to write about what it meant to be alive then, a woman trying to be a wife, a mother, a worker, a person and that's not a trashy experience. That's called being alive."

Story of Their Lives

"The Bridesmaids" is something of a deceptive title; the book is not exclusively an account of the wedding. It includes the ensuing years, complete with marriages, children and divorces for some among Quine, Kelly and their friends, making Quine less a biographer--or autobiographer--and more a chronicler of an era.

Fellow bridesmaid Bettina Thompson Gray is "very proud" of her friend. "She's a very brave girl to have written that, putting her life out there for everyone to see," she says, speaking from her home in Dedham, Mass.

Gray admits that she was "dead set against" the book at first. "I said, 'Judy, everybody's written enough. It's so boring, billions of people having gone through what we went through.' "

But once she realized that Quine was serious, she relented and cooperated. "When I first read the book, one minute I was in tears, the next I was bursting out laughing."

The publication of "The Bridesmaids" was recently celebrated at the home of film producer John Foreman, a longtime friend of Quine and Kelly's.

Celebrities such as Tom Hulce, Polly Bergen, Vanna White, Valerie Harper and Roddy McDowall meandered through the living room and back yard as Quine announced that the book is headed for miniseries-land, the rights having just been purchased by David Wolper and Warner Bros.

Victoria Kanter, one of Quine's daughters, shivered in the evening chill as she talked about the book.

"I heard stories growing up, but I didn't realize how my mother's and Grace's relationship evolved. I see their lives, and it was always so much fun in the beginning. But the realities they came to are much the same as women of our age are coming to. There were these two very brave women discussing things and allowing changes in their lives that other women might not have at that time."

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