Grace Kelly exhibit draws big crowd on first day

Ellen and Jim Melson visit "From Philadelphia to Monaco: Grace Kelly Beyond the Icon" at the Michener Museum.
Ellen and Jim Melson visit "From Philadelphia to Monaco: Grace Kelly Beyond the Icon" at the Michener Museum. (CLEM MURRAY / Staff Photographer)
Posted: October 30, 2013

DOYLESTOWN Lawn mowers were buzzing, the windows were being cleaned, and the doors were closed when Jim and Ellen Melson arrived around 9:40 a.m. Monday at the James A. Michener Art Museum.

The couple could not wait to head to Doylestown from their home in Carversville, about seven miles away. Monday was the first day the public could see the museum's exhibit on Grace Kelly, the actress, princess, and fashion icon from East Falls, and the Melsons wanted to be among the first visitors.

The Melsons have been Kelly admirers for decades. Jim Melson, 51, loved her movies, Ellen, 49, her style. In the early 1990s, they visited Monaco, and Ellen Melson cried at Princess Grace's grave.

"We like everything" about her, she said, taking the last few puffs from her cigarette and heading inside.

Such excitement was ubiquitous as dozens of eager visitors visited the museum Monday to admire the 41 dresses and 125 artifacts celebrating Grace's life.

"She's classic," said Kelley Snead, 30, of Virginia Beach, Va., clutching articles about Kelly before entering the exhibit.

Snead was visiting with her mother, Sue Snead, 58, also from Virginia Beach. The pair stayed near King of Prussia on Sunday night.

The women said they felt particularly connected to Grace. Sue Snead said her parents once dined with Grace and her husband, Prince Rainier, aboard a Navy ship docked in Monaco. And she said her father often remarked that Grace was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen, "even though the only makeup she had on was lip gloss."

Grace's beauty and elegance will be on full display at the exhibit, said tour guide Kathi Ambrogi, who added that she expected a flood of anecdotes similar to Sue Snead's.

"Everybody of a certain age in Philadelphia," she said, "is no more than two degrees of separation from Grace Kelly."

Lisa Tremper Hanover, the museum's chief executive officer, was pleased with the exhibit's early results. She said that about 3,000 advance tickets and hundreds of group tours had been booked for the three-month showing.

The museum also hosted about 900 members for a special event Sunday, she said, and nearly 200 members attended a gala Saturday night.

Grace's son, Prince Albert II, attended the gala and received a brief private tour of the exhibit beforehand, according to publicity director Helen Koven.

Hanover said the exhibit was the largest the museum had hosted in terms of prestige and anticipated crowds.

Planning began about a year ago, she said, after the Monaco palace asked whether the Michener would be interested in hosting an exhibition. The museum hired about 25 additional workers and added volunteers for its run, she said.

The excitement in town has been palpable for months, Hanover said, and people at the dry cleaners told her how thrilled they were that the exhibit had arrived.

"That's the running mantra, that we're so excited to have this," she said.

The buzz was evident along Main Street on Monday. Grace Kelly books were on display in the windows of the Doylestown Bookshop.

The exhibit is "great for the town," said owner Glenda Childs. She ordered about 50 copies of several Grace books to sell during the show's run, she said.

In November, the museum will join with the County Theater on State Street to play selected Grace Kelly films, and the museum will be open seven days a week until the exhibit closes in January. It will also host nighttime seminars on aspects of Grace's life and legacy.

Michener members can return to the exhibit as many times as they want. That's why the Melsons became members this year, they said.

Before driving to the museum Monday, they watched Albert speak about the opening on Today. That the exhibit is making an impact in a small town so close to where Grace grew up makes it even more special.

"We're pretty fortunate that it was right here," Jim Melson said, adding that his wife called the exhibit " extraordinaire" in Grace's adopted French.

Kelley Snead said it was fitting to have a comprehensive look at Princess Grace so close to where her fairy-tale life began.

"How cool that it's here," she said. "It's home."


cpalmer@phillynews.com

609-217-8305

@cs_palmer

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