You could assume that Grace Kelly’s 700-strong royal wedding ceremony 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 one of the most quirky and extravagant birthday parties in history.
“The Scorpion Ball,” Kelly’s horoscope-themed 40th birthday party, was held at the Hotel Hermitage in Monte-Carlo, Monaco.
The actor’s penchant for constellations had long been widely known: In 1956, Hollywood astrologer and horoscope columnist Carroll Righter was photographed visiting Kelly on set during the filming of one of her last films, “The Swan.” Shortly after her engagement to Rainier, Righter devoted one of his Chicago Tribune columns to defending the couple’s astrological compatibility, detailing Kelly’s horoscope from “the past few years”. When Righter died in 1988, his obituary listed the Princess of Monaco as one of his many celebrity clients.
Famed astrologer Carrol Righter visited Grace Kelly on the set of “The Swan” in 1956. Credit: Everett Collection Inc/Alamy Stock Photo
Centered around the eighth astrological sign, Kelly’s celebration included a few ironclad ground rules: The first, a guest list strictly for Scorpio only. Attendees included Swedish actor and model Hjördis Paulina Genberg (born November 10, 1919), Italian actor Virna Lisi (born November 8, 1936), and American movie star Rock Hudson (born November 17, 1925). Fortunately, Scorpio husbands were also allowed, as were Kelly’s relatives.
Elizabeth Taylor was one such guest whose presence was justified by marriage. The famous Pisces was also the wife of Welsh actor Richard Burton, born November 10, 1925. Taylor did not take her acceptance of the event lightly, arriving in a glamorous black Tiziani robe embellished with two diamond scorpions on the front and one on the hood. Years later, the evening cape fetched $60,000 when it was auctioned by Christie’s in 2011.
Elizabeth Taylor, a Pisces with a Scorpio husband, was admitted to the event, arriving in a Scorpio-motif black velvet cloak. Credit: Jack Garofalo/Paris Match Archive/Getty Images
In addition to mandating a dress code of red and black for her guests — the color palette most associated with the Scorpio sign — waiters at Kelly’s party wore 18th-century powder wigs, velvet red suits embroidered with sequin stars, in keeping with the celestial theme, and carried silver candlesticks with red candles.
Kelly herself wore a black velvet off-the-shoulder Balenciaga dress with two black rosettes below each collarbone from the house’s Fall-Winter 1966 couture collection. She further adorned the dress with two ruby brooches set with diamonds – detachable flowers 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 jewels from the Cartier Bains de Mer tiara. Credit: Jack Garofalo/Paris Match Archive/Getty Images
Portraits of other famous Scorpios hung along the walls of the Hotel Hermitage, from Edgar Allen Poe to Marie Antoinette. The carefully planned event was topped off with a giant fuschia cake, reportedly weighing 166 pounds, adorned with an ominous ring of golden scorpions and a giant version of the arachnid. The cake was apparently so huge that it had to be cut in half to fit through the dining room doors. It was her last birthday, after all, or as Kelly is said to have said on that night, “the last one I’ll admit.”