Grace soon found herself enmeshed in a sexual imbroglio, but it had nothing to do with Hitchcock. Her forty-nine-year-old co-star Ray Milland was another highly attractive leading man, an Oscar winner in 1945 for The Lost Weekend, and powerful and well liked in Hollywood. The fact that he was married did little to dampen twenty-three-year-old Grace’s ardent interest.
Milland had married the former Murial Weber in 1932, and they had a son, Daniel, born 1940, and a daughter, Victoria, adopted in 1949. Like Gary Cooper, however, Milland appreciated women other than his wife, and he often succumbed to temptation. He was particularly susceptible to Grace’s considerable charms, and he fell hard. So did Grace. “It was very serious between Ray and Grace,” [Grace's sister] Lizanne recalls. They began to see each other, making little effort to conceal their romance. “I was aware of it,” Mel Dellar says. “My wife and I saw them out having dinner a couple of times, and late in the evening, after we finished filming, they’d go to some little place and have a few drinks.”
Milland surprised Lizanne one day by confiding the depth of his feelings for Grace to her. “I flew back from Hollywood on the same plane with him,” she recalls, “and we had a long talk. He told me he really was very much in love with her.”
Gossip in Hollywood spreads faster than Southern California fires whipped by hot Santa Ana winds, and Milland’s wife, known to her friends as Mal, soon heard talk about her husband and this beautiful newcomer. She feared it was true, but there was no proof. Several weeks after her suspicions were first aroused, her fears were confirmed. A close friend of the Millands, who requested anonymity, recalls: “Jack—his friends call Milland ‘Jack’— was going on a trip, and he had just left the house. Mal's sister Harriet was there, and Mal poured her heart out to her about her suspicions. Harriet got in her car, followed Jack to the airport, and sure enough, there was Jack with Grace, going off on a tryst somewhere.”
The Millands separated; Grace and Ray discussed marriage. He took an apartment in Hollywood and Grace spent a great deal of time there. Teet Carle, a publicist at Paramount at the time, says, “I don’t know if they were living together, but the story got back to me that someone from the studio went over to Ray’s apartment and Grace answered the door.”
Grace’s indiscretion soon became common knowledge in Hollywood, and she was unprepared for the animosity directed toward her. Mai Milland was extremely well liked in this company town; she and Ray had a family, and none of their many friends wanted to see the marriage destroyed. A tearful late-night telephone call from Mrs. Milland to Louella Parsons about “this young girl who’s trying to steal my husband” did little to help Grace’s cause.
It wasn’t the publicity, which the veteran Milland was more used to and less affected by than Grace was, but rather his realization of the impracticality of his divorcing Mal that caused Milland to reconsider. Studio publicist Andy Hervey recalls that Mrs. Milland had an ace up her sleeve: “Mal told Ray, ‘You go ahead and get a divorce and marry Grace Kelly. That’s okay with me, because all the property is in my name.’ Needless to say, it wasn’t long before the marriage plans were off.”
The previously quoted friend of the Millands adds, “Jack finally came to his senses and realized that he had a wonderful woman in Mal—and of course, they’re still together to this day.* Mal still refers to the Grace Kelly period as ‘those agonizing days.’”
Not only was Milland being pressured to break off the romance, so was Grace by her family.family. After the Cooper and Gable “situations,” Jack Kelly had asked publicist Scoop Conlan, a family friend, to “keep an eye on Grace,” and Conlan reported back to him about his daughter’s latest potentially embarrassing liaison. The Kellys were very displeased. “My father was concerned about Ray Milland,” Kell said later. “He didn’t like what he had heard about him.” Jack Kelly himself huffed to a reporter a short time later, “I don’t like that sort of thing much. I’d like to see Grace married. These people in Hollywood think marriage is like a game of musical chairs.”
Lizanne recalls, “In our family at that point divorce was not the thing to do, and going out with a married man or a divorced man was a no-no. If Milland had been single, things might have been different.” Once again, Mrs. Kelly flew to Hollywood to make sure her daughter kept her head. Jack Kelly later said, “She and Scoop sat down and talked things over with Grace. They found her willing to listen.”
“My mother and father were very strong-willed people,” Lizanne says, and they convinced Grace that she simply had to drop Ray Milland. “Grace came to realize that Ray hadn’t quite gotten over his wife, and that it was wrong for her to be the cause of his divorce. That was the main reason Ray and Grace never pursued it.”
The gossip in Hollywood about Grace and Milland was so fierce—and the reaction so virulent—that both Grace’s own studio and Warner Brothers feared a tidal wave of bad publicity that could harm her very promising career. Robert Slatzer recalls, “In those days the studios would routinely pay off reporters to keep unsavory things out of the newspapers. In Grace’s case, it got to be very expensive because the studios were always buying off journalists in order to keep her image pure.”
A few gossip column items did appear, but it was always possible to dismiss these as exaggerations of a few innocent dates. One publication that couldn’t be bought off, however, was Confidential, the Enquirer of its day, and before long the magazine blew the whistle on the Kelly/Milland liaison in a salacious account that caused Grace deep consternation and public humiliation. In its colorful style, the magazine detailed Ray’s infatuation with Grace and the domestic discord it caused: “After one look at Gracie he went into a tailspin that reverberated from Perino’s to Ciro’s. The whole town soon hee-hawed over the news that suave Milland, who had a wife and family at home, was ga-ga over Grace. Ray pursued her ardently and Hollywood cackled. Then mama Milland found out. She lowered the boom on Ramblin’ Ray and there followed one of the loudest, most tearful fights their Beverly Hills neighbors can remember.”
Grace was shaken. She had never experienced the glare of the spotlight in quite this way before. Perhaps Confidential could be dismissed as a rag, but disapproving tidbits soon began turning up in respectable newspapers as well. “I felt like a streetwalker,” she told an interviewer later.
A good deal of the resentment against Grace in Hollywood stemmed from what many saw as the hypocrisy of her Goody Two-shoes image in light of her healthy sexual appetite. Mrs. Henry Hathaway, the widow of Grace’s first motion picture director, feels bitter toward Grace to this day. “I have nothing good to say about Grace,” she says. “She had an affair with my best friend’s husband, Ray Milland. And all the time wearing those white gloves!” Asked whom else in Hollywood Grace may have had affairs with, Mrs. Hathaway replies, “You name it. Everybody. She wore those white gloves, but she was no saint.”
Many in Hollywood shared Mrs. Hathaway’s feelings. They mocked Grace as “Little Miss Prim and Proper.” Columnist Kendis Rochlen cackled in the Los Angeles Mirror-News, “She’s supposed to be so terribly proper, but then look at all those whispers about her and Ray Milland.”
Hollywood’s reaction to Grace’s behavior upset her deeply. She never looked upon her frequent sexual dalliances as promiscuous—and they were not, in the true sense of the word. They were neither indiscriminate nor casual. When Grace gave herself to a man, it was, as Don Richardson has said, because of a deep-seated desire for affection and acceptance from father substitutes, much more than the physical delights of sex. And, more often than not, she felt herself truly in love before she would have sex with a man. She wanted to marry Ray Milland, and the fact that her conviction that he would leave his wife and marry her was rooted more in naivete than reality does not make it any less genuine.