Young and impressionable, budding star Grace Kelly jumped at the opportunity to star in Mogambo in 1953. She said later, “Mogambo had three things that interested me: John Ford, Clark Gable and a trip to Africa with expenses paid. If Mogambo had been made in Arizona I wouldn’t have done it.”
During the long shoot, isolated in Africa, it wasn’t long before the beautiful young blonde caught Clark’s eye. She fell quickly for him too, despite their twenty-eight year age difference. She called him “Ba”, which is Swahili for “father.”They would spend the downtime between shots in their chairs next to each other, chatting and playing cards. He taught her to fish and they would often rise at 4:00am and sneak off together before shooting began. Grace admitted to a friend that they skinny-dipped in Lake Victoria. Costar Donald Sinden remembered walking into Clark’s tent one night to find them in bed.
Co-star Ava Gardner recalled, “Clark’s eyes were definitely on Gracie, and hers, for that matter, were on him. They were both single at the time, and it’s very normal for any woman to be in love with Clark. But Gracie was a good Catholic girl, and she was having a hard time feeling the way she did about Clark. Not to mention that being in Africa, with exotic flora and fauna all over the place, and Clark, strong and smiling and completely at home, made her love him more.”
When the production moved from Africa to MGM’s studios in London, Clark and Grace spent much of their time holed up in his hotel room. The gossip about their affair soon reached Grace’s mother and she flew to London immediately to chaperone. As she was more Clark’s age and had always admired him, she soon warmed up to the idea of her daughter becoming Mrs. Gable. It didn’t take long for Clark to catch on to what her ideas were and he quickly ended the affair. He ignored Grace’s phone calls and snubbed her at the studio. Grace was devastated.
On the last day of shooting, Clark gave Grace an expensive six millimeter camera. She was delighted and was hopeful that perhaps this meant he was willing to continue their romance. MGM publicists urged Clark to take Grace to the airport when she left London for Los Angeles. Photographers surrounded them as he gave her a polite kiss on the cheek to see her off. In front of everyone, she burst into tears.
Clark and Grace did see each other a few times after he returned to the United States upon completion of Never Let Me Go. He escorted her to the Academy Awards on March 25, 1954, the first time he had attended since escorting Carole Lombard in 1937. Grace had been nominated for Best Supporting Actress for her role in Mogambo but lost, as did Ava Gardner, who was up for Best Actress.
Grace was seeing two other recent costars at the time, Bing Crosby and William Holden. Clark was not in any place to compete and wasn’t interested in marrying her and so they drifted apart.
Grace gave up Hollywood for good in 1956, when she famously married Prince Rainier and became Princess of Monaco. They had three children. Grace died in a car accident in 1982, at age 52.