MONTE CARLO -- No inch of space went untrampled that spring day, helicopters buzzed in the blue skies and the matching waters of the bay below teemed with a display of great yachts not seen before in postwar Europe.
As the world listened and watched from afar, in the greystone cathedral a story too improbable for fiction came true.
The most beautiful star in Hollywood, Grace Kelly of Philadelphia, had been introduced by friends to handsome Prince Rainier, ruler of Monaco. And here they were a year later getting married -- not in some Hollywood extravaganza or Viennese operetta but in real life.
So the excitement of that unforgettable April 19, 1956, must have burned every moment into Prince Rainier's memory?
Well, not exactly. He was sitting the other day in his palace on the fortress-rock his ancestor, Francois the Cunning, captured by guile 650 years ago, genially confessing he missed a lot of what was going on at his own wedding.
'There was so much pressure I didn't remember it all,' he said. 'It was really hectic. I had to go and see a film of the wedding later on to realize what really happened.'
Rainier, an agreeable man with a smile that is as good as an army to Monaco, was taking a few minutes out of a busy day to look back on life with his three children and Grace, who once suggested that the 1,500 reporters at her nuptials ought to have been awarded battle ribbons.
He was dark-haired and glamorous at the wedding. At 57 he is grey-haired and distinguished.
'I am growing old comfortably,' he said with that disarming smile.
Rainier said there would be no silver wedding celebrations in the principality on the anniversary. He and Grace leave April 3 for a visit to Kobe and elsewhere in Japan. It is basically a private visit but he plans, as an expert in reclaiming land from the sea, to study the great Japanese reclamation project there and open an exhibition of Monocan art and archives.
The Monaco they are leaving behind is very different from the luxurious principality of villas and limousines it still was on that wedding day 25 years ago. Then the mostly elderly, wealthy residents and visitors rubbed the right foreleg of the bronze equestrian statue of Louis XIV in the lobby of the Hotel de Paris for luck before tottering across the square to gamble in the casino.
Soon after the marriage, Rainier confronted his council and announced he did not want a museum-like nation for the privileged, living on revenues mostly from gambling. He presented a plan for radical change.
There was a government crisis of sorts and Rainier later underlined it by coupling the announcement that Grace was pregnant with a warning that the country might not endure if he could notfully exercise his legal powers.
What Rainier wanted is what he has now -- a Monte Carlo of high-rise apartments for a vastly expanded number of residents, with luxury hotels for tourists and revenues obtained from business taxes and stamps that reduce the reliance on gambling to 3 percent.
This left the picturesque old town around the royal palace, where the native Monegasques mostly live, untouched. But to achieve that, he had another hurdle to cross. Aristotle Onassis, the Greek multimillionaire, had bought into the principality's gambling concession and wanted to retain the Monte Carlo that was. There was a duel of wits with millions at stake.
Onassis, to his own surprise, lost. He was philosophical in defeat. 'I underestimated him,' he said.
'Anyhow,' Rainier said of the approaching anniversary, 'Prince Albert (the heir apparent) won't be finishing school in Massachusetts till the end of May. So we probably will have a family gathering when we are all together in June. But not a big hullaballoo.'
A few days earlier his daughter, Princess Caroline, 24, had officially opened the International Television Festival and Market her father has sponsored for 21 years. Still a beautiful young woman, Caroline seemed more subdued than the effervescent girl she was before she fell in love with the wrong man and spent two unhappy years of marriage.
It is no secret to friends of the royal family that when Caroline told her parents of her intention to marry French businessman Philippe Junot, 17 years her senior, they were dismayed. But as parents recognizing her deep attachment they asked only that she wait a year.
A year later she said her feelings had not changed and so Junot, neither rich nor famous nor handsome, achieved in 1978 what most men scarcely dream about -- marriage to the prettiest princess in Europe and an alliance with a rich and powerful family.
But, as a friend of the family put it, 'the leopard did not change his spots' after marriage. When the honeymoon was over, Junot returned to the night clubbing he loves, parking Caroline at home when she was tired. There were other problems, too. Caroline kept them to herself. She was obviously unhappy but, said her father, 'too proud' to admit it.
'Should I have put my foot down?' Rainier mused. 'The blessing is that when she could stand it no longer she came straight back to her family, straight back to us. She felt she was safe, that she had a refuge and we gave her support and so she got out of a situation which could not have gotten better, only worse.'
Caroline's present ambition, he said, is to write fiction. One of her speeches on behalf of Monaco during UNESCO's 'Year of the Child' was highly praised. She wrote it herself. She has studied creative writing in London and has her first assignment from a newspaper.
Rainier's heir, Prince Albert, 22, tall, athletic and a member of his college glee club, one day will be the first half-American to sit on a European throne. He is looking around for something adventurous to do after he leaves college in May.
'It has to be something active,' Rainier said. 'He's not one who likes to sit behind a desk. I want him to do things of his own choice. He chose his own college. I don't want to burden him with that kind of preoccupation (learning to govern Monaco.) I'll let him get acquainted with how it goes and runs in small doses.
'We have a very good rapport,' he said, with a touch of paternal pride. 'We get on well together. It's a more familiar relationship than father and son. We laugh a lot together.'
Rainier and Grace are bracing for the debut of their youngest child, Princess Stephanie, 16. She has been shielded from the media thus far but there are chinks showing in the protective screen. Already there have been rumors, indignantly denied, that she has a boyfriend, pop singer Michael Bose, son of the bullfighter Dominguin.
'They've never met,' Rainier said.
Stephanie was something of a tomboy, he said, 'still into blue jeans, leather jackets and windbreakers. The more tattered and torn they are the better. And you should hear the language! When I ask her why, she says, 'Oh Daddy, we all talk that way.''
Tomboy or not, the paparazzi badly need new blood to replace the fading staples of their scene in the glossy magazines that specialize in jet set gossip. There can't be anything new about Princess Margaret, Jacqueline Onassis, Sophia Loren and their generation at this stage.
The palace knows from the wild stories concocted about Caroline and even Grace what to expect when the rumor factories get to work on Stephanie.
Grace, for example, is bored with reading that she is very ill or very unhappy or that the marriage was an 'arrangement' or that she has exiled herself from Monaco or a dozen other 'revelations' of the sensational press. She has considered suing that fraction of the media that lives by pure invention, but rejects the idea because, in her view, it takes a lot of time and dignifies the undignified.
Stephanie, a brunette tall for her age and with a strong resemblance to Rainier, is in a school run by nuns in Paris. As a day student she 'got a little slack in her studies' and asked to become a weekday boarder with an immediate improvement in her marks, Rainier said.
Caroline's unfortunate marriage confirmed Rainier's belief that Paris is not the place for a young girl. So Grace is often there to look after Stephanie.
A hard-to-believe 51, Grace spends part of her time in the French capital preparing more of the words-and-music poetry readings she has now given in several countries. She was, after all, an Oscar-winning actress, and even a Most Serene Highness likes an audience.
But she also takes a prominent part in the ceremonial and social life of the principality.
She heads the Red Cross, helps organize The International Arts Festival, is honorary president of AMADE (the World Association of Friends of Children), runs the Princess Grace Foundation that sponsors local arts and crafts, founded the now famous Monaco Garden Club and wrote a book about flowers. She helps the International Leche League which promotes breast feedings and does the usual cornerstone laying and other duties of royalty.
It's a long way from Hollywood and serious producers long ago stopped trying to tempt her back to films. She is still a remarkably attractive woman but too realistic to believe she can recreate that incredible beauty of 25 years ago on the big screen.
Recently she disclosed what she says is her only beauty secret, passed on by a titled Briton who still had a fine complexion in her 80s.
She puts rose water on her face every day.