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May 11, 1987|By MICHAEL KILIAN, Chicago Tribune

In the matter of Grace Patricia Kelly, Her Serene Highness the late Princess of Monaco, we were all wrong.

Those of us who came of age in the 1950s remember the aristocratic blond beauty from Philly as a glacial goddess, Hollywood`s best attempt at cinematic royalty who became an actual princess in her own right - an ice princess, a virgin queen, the genteel, ultra-British-mannered lady who seemed stratospherically above reproach, despite flashes in those magnificent arctic blue-gray eyes that spoke of fire beneath the ice.

We were wrong. The flashes, it seems, were right. In Grace: The Secret Lives of a Princess (Dolphin Doubleday, $17.95), a new book that has the potential to be the non-fiction best seller of the year, a book that will steam clean the brain of any `50s man who can remember the swimming pool scene in High Society, biographer James Spada presents us with a living, breathing Grace Kelly whose real life surpassed every male fantasy imaginable - or at least every `50s male fantasy.

As he put it in a recent interview, there were two revelations that absolutely astonished him about Princess Grace during his three years of researching the book.

``The first,`` he said, ``was how the most sexually active woman in Hollywood was able to come across as the most chaste. The second was that Prince Rainier actually believed that she was a virgin.``

What is sexually active? Spada tells us that when Grace was 18, she called upon a close friend. The friend was away but the husband was home, and by the end of that rainy afternoon, Grace had lost that quality her own eventual husband so cherished.

After interviewing a seemingly endless parade of former lovers, co- workers, friends and relatives, Spada concluded that, among many other interesting diversions, Grace was fond of dancing to Hawaiian music in the nude. Although she dressed primly in outfits that often included the white gloves de rigueur in that decade, she was given to shocking her fellow residents at New York`s exceedingly proper Barbizon Hotel for young women by performing wild dances in the hallway while clad only in panties.

Her liaisons were legion. They included classmates and at least one faculty member of New York`s prestigious American Academy of the Dramatic Arts, where Grace went to study in the late 1940s in a desperate but ultimately successful attempt to break away from her fearsomely strict and demanding German-Irish American family.

They included David Niven, William Holden, Ray Milland, Gary Cooper, Bing Crosby, Oleg Cassini and other older, married men, a type some say she favored as father substitutes. They included Prince Aly Khan, who, according to Spada, gave her an emerald bracelet as a reward for her sexual favors. They included, for heaven`s sake, the maitre d` at the Waldorf Astoria when Grace was launching her theatrical career, a man who not so incidentally knew a great many important people who could help her career.

Spada quoted Mrs. Henry Hathaway, the widow of Grace`s first movie director, as complaining: ``I have nothing good to say about Grace. She had an affair with my best friend`s husband, Ray Milland. And all the time wearing those white gloves! He asked her with whom else in Hollywood she may have had affairs, and said she replied: ``You name it, everybody.``

Quoting Robert Slatzer, a friend of Mrs. Alan Ladd, Spada reported that Bing Crosby and Grace used to use the Ladds` house for meetings. ``Alan was very upset with Bing, and he`d say to Sue (Mrs. Ladd): `Doesn`t he know any place else where he can go at night? There must be hotels or motels.` ``

According to Spada, Grace`s sister Lizanne said, ``Grace called me up one night and said, `Bing has asked me to marry him.` But she wasn`t in love with him. She loved him, but she was not in love with him.``

He also quoted Lizanne as saying that Grace and William Holden wanted to get married. However, Spada said that, according to several friends of Holden, he ``never had any real intention of divorcing his wife and said, `If I were to lose Ardis, I would lose everything.` ``

Spada, who has written 10 other biographies of famous stars and says he has at least two authoritative sources for each of his steamy revelations, told this anecdote about the suave and fast-on-his-feet David Niven:

``Grace . . . had a brief and very discreet affair with David Niven, one which never reached the point of press speculation. Grace and Niven became close and lifelong friends, and he and his wife frequently visited the palace at Monaco once Grace became a princess. On one occasion Prince Rainier asked Niven who among his reputedly large number of Hollywood conquests had been the most satisfying. Unhesitatingly Niven replied, `Grace.` Seeing the prince`s shocked expression, Niven added the highly unlikely clarifier, `Er, Gracie, . . . Gracie Fields.` ``