Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Celeste Holm Passes On

Award winning star of stage, screen, and television Celeste Holm died on 15 July 2012 at the age of 95. Two weeks ago she was in hospital suffering from dehydration after a fire in Robert De Niro's apartment, which was in the same apartment building as her apartment.

Celeste Holm was born 29 April 1917 in New York City. It when her grandmother took her to see ballerina Anna Pavlova that Miss Holm began her love affair with the theatre. Miss Holm would study ballet for ten years when she was young. Her father worked for Lloyds of London and her mother was a painter and writer, so the family moved frequently during her childhood. Celeste Holm attended 14 different schools as a child. She studied drama at the University of Chicago.

Celeste Holm made her debut on Broadway in Gloriana in 1938. Her first real success on Broadway would come in 1939 in the role of Mary L. in The Time of Your Life. Miss Holm would return to Broadway many times and had a highly successful career on stage. On Broadway she would appear in such productions as The Damask Creek, Oklahoma!, Bloomer Girl, Affairs of State, The King and I, Third Best Sport, Invitation to a March, Mame, Habeas Corpus, and I Hate Hamlet. Off Broadway she appeared in A Month in the Country, Paris Was Yesterday, and With Love and Laughter.

Celeste Holm made her debut in Three Little Girls in Blue (1946). From the late Forties into the Fifties she appeared in such films as Gentleman's Agreement (1947--for which she won the Oscar for Best Actress in a Supporting Role), Road House (1948), The Snake Pit (1948), Everybody Does It (1949), Come to the Stable (1949--for which she was nominated for the Oscar for Best Actress in a Supporting Role), All About Eve (1950--for which she was nominated for the Oscar for Best Actress in a Supporting Role), The Tender Trap (1955), and High Society (1956). In the Sixties she appeared in such films as Bachelor Flat (1962) and  Doctor, You've Got to Be Kidding! (1967). In the Seventies she appeared in the films Tom Sawyer (1973), Bittersweet Love (1976), and The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover (1977). From the Eighties to the Teens Miss Holm appeared in the film 3 Men and a Baby (1987), Still Breathing (1997), Alchemy (2005), and Driving Me Crazy (2012). Her final appearance on screen is to be in the yet to be released College Debts (2013).

Celeste Holm made her television debut in 1950 on All Star Revue. During the Fifties she briefly had her own show, Honestly, Celeste!, on which she played a reporter for the fictitious New York Express. In the Fifties she appeared on such shows as Lux Video Theatre, The United States Steel Hour, Climax, Producers Showcase, Goodyear Television Playhouse, and Zane Grey Theatre. In the Sixties she was a regular on the sitcom Nancy. The series focused on the daughter of the President of the United States (the "Nancy" of the title); Miss Holm played press secretary Abby Townsend, who was often called upon to chaperon Nancy. She also appeared on such shows as Play of the Week, Follow the Sun, Checkmate, Alcoa Premiere, Dr. Kildare, Burke's LawMr. Novak, Run for Your Life, The Fugitive, The F.B.I., Insight, and The Name of the Game. She also appeared in the 1965 television adaptation of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella.

In the Seventies Celeste Holm appeared on such shows as The Delphi Bureau, Medical Centre, The Streets of San Francisco, The Manhunter, Wonder Woman, Lucan, and Fantasy Island. In the Eighties she was a regular on the shows Jessie, Falcon Crest, and Christine Cromwell. She appeared on such shows as Archie Bunker's Place, Matt Houston, and Spenser: For Hire. In the Nineties Miss Holm was a regular on the series The Promised Land. She appeared in such shows as Cheers and Touched by an Angel. In the Naughts she was a regular on The Beat and appeared on the shows Third Watch and Whoopi.

Celeste Holm was a prolific actress with an extraordinarily long career. Her career lasted over seventy years, having made her debut on Broadway in 1938 and her last film coming out next year. This is all the more remarkable when one considers that she acted on stage, in films, and on television, and she did a good deal of charity work as well. Among the many charities in which she was active was UNICEF and the National Mental Health Association. It would seem that Celeste Holm had an endless amount of energy very nearly until her death.

Of course, if Miss Holm was very much in demand as an actress, it was perhaps because she was so versatile. She was the original Ado Annie, "the Girl Who Just Can't Say No," in the stage production of Oklahoma! At the same time she played Karen Richards, Margo Channing's (Bette Davis) sophisticated best friend and the one person who first realises what sort of power Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter) actually wields. Over the years she played everything from a fashion editor (Gentlemen's Agreement) to a Fairy Godmother (Cinderella), and she did all of them well. My strongest memory of Celeste Holm is from the musical version of Tom Sawyer, a movie which I think has largely been forgotten everywhere except Missouri. In the film Celeste Holm played Tom's Aunt Polly. Even when I first watched the film as a child, it seemed to me that she was the living embodiment of Aunt Polly. Indeed, to this day I cannot read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer without picturing Celeste Holm as Aunt Polly. Such was the power of Miss Holm's talent that she could take any character and make them real, more so than most actresses of her time or since.

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