Celeste Holm, Legendary Actress of Stage and Film, Dies at 95

By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
and Kenneth Jones
15 Jul 2012

Celeste Holm
Celeste Holm

Celeste Holm, a theatre and film actress who, through a small but select collection of indelible mid-20th century stage and cinema performances, achieved the somewhat legendary status in show business circles, died at her apartment in New York City on July 15. She was 95.

CNN and others reported her death, citing niece Amy Phillips.

Though much honored by Hollywood (she was nominated for Oscars during three of the four years she was primarily active), Ms. Holm was more a featured player than a headlining star. But her performances were so reliably expert and witty, she often eclipsed the actors she was hired to support. And she was lucky in her choices. She won an Academy Award as Best Supporting Actress for her performance as a smart fashion editor in Elia Kazan's 1947 dramatic examination of anti-Semitism, "Gentleman's Agreement." It was only her third film. She was Frank Sinatra's cynical equal as a photographer in "High Society" (1956), the all-star movie musical of The Philadelphia Story. She starred again with Sinatra in the comedy "The Tender Trap" (1955), playing a philosophically suffering maiden-in-waiting to his womanizing press agent.

In her most famous film, Ms. Holm played the common-sensical, yet savvy best friend to Bette Davis' tempestuous stage diva in "All About Eve," Joseph L. Mankiewicz acid love letter to the theatre. She was also one of the backstage drama's off-screen narrators. Mankiewicz was fond of Ms. Holm's mellifluous voice, which effortlessly expressed all sorts of knowing sophistication. He also used it in "A Letter to Three Wives" as the voice of the unseen friend who has stolen away one of the trio's husbands. She was nominated for Oscars for both "Come to the Stable," in which she played a nun, and "All About Eve."

Though a screen natural, Ms. Holm resolved that she preferred stage work over film, and made few movies after "All About Eve." She had first made her mark on Broadway as the original Ado Annie in Oklahoma!, kicking up her gingham skirts and singing about being a girl who "cain't say no." The year after, in 1944, she topped the bill, playing a Civil War-era feminist in Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg's Bloomer Girl. The show was a hit and ran for two years. Following her stay in Hollywood, she returned to Broadway with another hit, the comedy Affairs of State by Louis Verneuil. Ms. Holm played Anna Leonowens during Gertrude Lawrence's vacation from the role in The King and I.


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