Celeste Holm was a film, stage and television actress who won an Academy Award for her performance in "Gentleman's Agreement" in 1947. She also received supporting actress nods for her role as a nun in 1949's "Come to the Stable" and as Bette Davis' friend in 1950's landmark comedy "All About Eve." Holm played Ado Annie in the original 1943 Broadway production of "Oklahoma!”
Holm died at her Manhattan home on July 15, 2012 surrounded by friends and family. "I think she wanted to be here," her great niece Amy Phillips said, "in her home, among her things, with people who loved her."
Holm maintained she never wanted to be a star. She recalled famed British actress Flora Robson as the first person to tell her she had "star quality" when they were appearing in a long-forgotten Broadway play together in the early '40s.
"She was a lovely lady," Holm said. "Every night I would run downstairs and talk to her before she went onstage. She suddenly said [one night], 'You are going to be a star.' I said, 'How come?' She said, 'You are going to get a show in which the show is going to be great and you will be a star.' I said, 'How can I avoid that?' "
Holm realized even back then that it is a huge responsibility being a star. "You know, everybody in the audience thinks you wrote the lines and everything," she explains. "So you have to be sure to choose very good material."
Robson's prophecy came true in 1943 when Holm lit up Broadway as the comedic flirt Ado Annie in Rodgers & Hammerstein's landmark musical "Oklahoma!"
" 'Oklahoma!' was like a blessing," Holm said. "I mean, I'll never forget when I first got the job. Do you know that story?"
Holm smiled and began her audition tale: "I was carrying music," she said, "and I couldn't see over the three steps leading down [from backstage] onto the stage, and I fell flat with the music skating out in front of me. My belt busted — the final indignity. So I am on my knees picking up my props and the voice in the front said, 'That's pretty funny. Can you do that again?' I said I'd rather not."
The voice in the darkness belonged to composer Richard Rodgers. After gathering herself, Holm said, she "never sang better in my life. You know what? I wasn't nervous. Once you've fallen on your face, you have nowhere to go but up."
Impressed as he was with her voice, Rodgers then asked Holm to sing as if she had never had a lesson in her life. "He said, 'I want a bold, unedited farm girl voice.' So I said, 'We have a farm and I can call a hog.' So on the stage of the St. James Theater I said, 'Suuueeeeeeeeeee' for a long time. He said, 'That's loud enough and funny enough.' "
Hollywood soon beckoned, and Holm signed with 20th Century Fox on the condition that she get script approval. "They gave it to me," she said, "and I made a picture called 'Three Little Girls in Blue.' It was one of the silliest movies in the world but a sweet score and fun."
Screenwriter Moss Hart had to fight to get Holm cast in "Gentleman's Agreement," the 1947 best picture Oscar winner that dealt with anti-Semitism. Studio head Darryl Zanuck, she recalls, saw her only as a musical-comedy performer. "So they made me do the big emotional scene first as a test," she said. "I didn't know it was a test."
Holm returned to the stage after her contract with Fox ended. She has freelanced in films, including performances with Frank Sinatra in “The Tender Trap” (1955) and “High Society” (1956). More recently she played Ted Danson's mother in "Three Men and a Baby" (1987) and Brendan Fraser's musical grandmother in the independent romantic comedy "Still Breathing" (1997).
Her television work began in the early 1950s in dramatic series such as “The Lux Video Theater," "Climax!" and "Zane Grey Theater.” She returned to series work as Gerald McRaney's mother in the CBS drama "Promised Land" (1996-99) and also had a recurring role on the short-lived UPN cop drama "The Beat" (2000).
Points of interest
|1947||Best Supporting Actress||Gentleman's Agreement||Win|
|1949||Best Supporting Actress||Come to the Stable||Nomination|
|1950||Best Supporting Actress||All About Eve||Nomination|