French Sketches: Monaco, Onassis, and Prince Rainier
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In 1950, twenty-seven-year-old Prince Rainier succeeded his grandfather as sovereign prince of the little principality of Monaco on the French Riviera. The city-state’s principal attractions were the renowned casino at Monte Carlo and the beautiful belle époque Hotel de Paris. Unfortunately, the Russian nobility and English aristocrats who had lost fortunes at the casino were long gone. Into these impecunious circumstances sailed international tanker tycoon Aristotle Onassis who bought majority control of SBM, the holding company that owned the casino and hotel.
Onassis had new money and old ideas about how to make Monaco prosperous again. He wanted to cater to a small audience of the very wealthy. In contrast, Prince Rainier wanted to develop a modern and larger market of well-to-do and affluent tax exiles, high income people attracted to favorable tax rates and beautiful Riviera weather. A power struggle between the two visions evolved over the next fifteen years until in the mid-1960s Rainier vanquished Onassis with the help of Charles de Gaulle, president of France.
Along the way Rainier married movie star Grace Kelly in the greatest fairytale wedding of the twentieth century. In a more roguish manner, Onassis embarked on high profile affairs with opera diva Maria Callas, Lee Radziwill, and Jackie Kennedy, often using his luxurious yacht Christina O as a floating rendezvous for assignation, a perfect symbol for the lust, greed, and status behind these tabloid romances.
- Paul A. Myers, April 2012
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