Judy Balaban, the daughter of a longtime studio mogul who dated Montgomery Clift and Merv Griffin, married Tony Franciosa and served as one of Grace Kelly’s bridesmaids at her wedding to Prince Rainier of Monaco, has died. She was 91.
Balaban died Thursday night in a hospital in Los Angeles, her friend, author and documentary filmmaker Cari Beauchamp, told The Music news.
Balaban was a champion for civil rights, serving on the board of directors for the ACLU of Southern California for decades.
In a 2010 piece for Vanity Fair that she and Beauchamp co-wrote, Balaban described using LSD (then legal) as a form of therapy in the early 1960s when her good friends Cary Grant and his third wife, Betsy Drake, were using it, too.
“What I had with Cary and Betsy was a kind of soul-baringness that the culture didn’t start to deal with until years later,” she says in the story. “We continued to have that even when our lives went off in different directions.”
Balaban also talked about those days during an appearance in the 2017 Showtime documentary Becoming Cary Grant.
Her 1961-67 marriage to Franciosa (A Hatful of Rain, The Name of the Game) was sandwiched between her marriages to high-profile Hollywood agent Jay Kanter from 1953-61 and to actor Don Quine (The Virginian) from 1971-96. All three ended in divorce.
Judith Rose Balaban was born in Chicago in October 13, 1932, to Tillie and Barney Balaban. Her father co-owned a chain of theaters before he was elected president of Paramount in 1936, and he would preside over the studio through 1964.
Her brother was noted jazz musician Red Balaban, and her half-brother was Burt Balaban, a producer of films including 1960’s Murder, Inc.
She and her family moved to New York when her dad took the Paramount job, and she attended high school in Washington, D.C., before returning to Manhattan to work in the fashion industry.
Balaban, who was in the gossip sheets as dating Clift in the early ’50s when he was making films like A Place in the Sun, was going out with Griffin and watching him sing at a nightclub when she was introduced to Kanter. Their marriage brought her to Hollywood.
Balaban became fast friends with Kelly through Kanter, who was the actress’ agent (he also represented the likes of Marilyn Monroe, Marlon Brando and Paul Newman during his career). The star of High Noon, Rear Window and The Country Girl called her “Judybird”; she called Kelly “Graciebird.”
When Kelly and Rainier wed at Saint Nicholas Cathedral in Monaco on April 18, 1956, Balaban was there alongside fellow bridesmaids Maree Frisby, a high-school friend of Kelly’s; Sally Parrish and Bettina Thompson, classmates from the American Academy of Dramatic Arts; Carolyn Scott, a modeling companion; and actress Rita Gam, Kelly’s onetime roommate in Hollywood.
All traveled to Monaco with the bride-to-be aboard the SS Constitution. (Ava Gardner, who starred with Kelly in 1953’s Mogambo, reportedly declined to be a bridesmaid.)
Balaban wrote about the experience in her 1989 book, The Bridesmaids: Grace Kelly, Princess of Monaco, and Six Intimate Friends.
She described Kelly’s dress — created by MGM costume designer Helen Rose — as “twenty-five yards of silk peau de soie, another twenty-five of light silk taffeta, ninety-eight yards of silk tulle and nearly three hundred and twenty yards of Valenciennes lace.”
Balaban also appeared in 1983 and 2018 documentaries about Clift and one about Kelly in 1987 and was interviewed for Mark Cousins’ acclaimed 2011 doc series The Story of Film: An Odyssey.
Survivors include her daughters, Amy, whom she had with Kanter, and Nina, whom she had with Franciosa; and a cousin, Oscar-nominated actor Bob Balaban. Victoria, her other daughter with Kanter, died in June 2020.
Scott Feinberg contributed to this report.