★ American actress, Celeste Holm, was born exactly 100 years ago today! A talented performer on both stage and screen, she’s pictured here in a studio publicity photo from 1947.
Born in Manhattan, New York, on 29th April 1917, Celeste was the only child of Theodor Holm, a Norwegian businessman, and Jean Parke, an American portrait artist. Due to her parents’ occupations, the family moved often and she attended various schools in the Netherlands, France and the United States. Having appeared in many stage productions whilst still at school, she enrolled at the University of Chicago to study drama, although she did not graduate.
Holm won her first professional theatrical role in 1936, when she appeared in a production of Hamlet with Leslie Howard. That same year, she married film director Ralph Nelson, and the marriage was soon followed by the birth of her first son Ted, in 1937. With her son in the care of her parents, Holm’s fledgling career continued to improve and she made her Broadway debut with a small part in Gloriana (1938) as Lady Mary. After her marriage to Nelson ended in 1939, she married for a second time, to English auditor Francis Emerson Harding Davies, on 7th January 1940, and followed this with a major role in William Saroyan’s production of The Time of Your Life (1940) in which she was cast alongside fellow newcomer Gene Kelly. Continuing to take small roles over the next few years, Holm finally got her big break when she starred as Ado Annie in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musical Oklahoma! in 1943. Singing the showstopper ‘I Cain’t Say No’, she wowed audiences and received widespread critical acclaim.
Holm scored another Broadway hit in 1944, when she was cast as Evelina in the Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg musical Bloomer Girl. The highly successful production ran for 657 performances before it closed on 27th April 1946, and helped secure her a movie contract with 20th Century Fox. Her film debut came with a role in Three Little Girls in Blue (1946), where she made a startling entrance singing ‘Always a Lady’ whilst wearing a brilliant ‘Technicolor red’ dress. Having divorced Davies in 1945, 1946 also saw Holm marry airline public relations executive A. Schuyler Dunning, with whom she had a second son Daniel, in 1947. This marriage would last until 1952. Cast as fashion editor Anne Dettrey in Gentleman’s Agreement in 1947, her film career reached something of a peak when she won both a Golden Globe and an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. More film roles followed, including two more Oscar nominated performances in Come to the Stable (1949), and the critically acclaimed All About Eve (1950) in which she appeared opposite Bette Davis and Anne Baxter.
Having realized that she preferred live theatre work, Holm took a step back from the movie business and appeared in only a few select film roles over the next decade, most notably in comedy The Tender Trap (1955) and musical High Society (1956) both co-starring Frank Sinatra. She also began appearing in various television productions, including the 1954 CBS series Honestly, Celeste! in which she played a professor-turned-reporter in New York City. In 1961, she married her fourth husband, actor Wesley Addy. Living on a farm in Schooley’s Mountain, New Jersey, they would remain married until Addy’s death in 1996. Although Holm did make occasional film appearances, she continued to work mainly in television over the remainder of her career, with roles in notable series including Dr. Kildare, The Streets of San Francisco, Columbo, Wonder Woman, Falcon Crest, and Cheers.
On 29th April 2004, her 87th birthday, Holm married for the fifth and final time to opera singer Frank Basile, age 41, whom she had met at a fundraiser in 1999. Soon after the marriage, Holm and Basile began legal proceedings to overturn an irrevocable financial trust established in 2002 by Holm’s younger son, Daniel Dunning, with Basile claiming that the trust had been set up to keep him away from Holm’s money. The lawsuit lasted six years, poisoned Holm’s relationship with both of her sons, exhausted all of her financial assets, and thanks to overdue maintenance and legal costs, even saw her facing eviction from the New York apartment she had owned since 1958. The case was settled in 2011, with Basile awarded a third of the proceeds from the estate. Completely estranged from both of her sons, Holm died of a heart attack on 15th July 2012, aged 95.
Through a 75-year career, multiple marriages, divorces and personal dramas, Celeste Holm delighted audiences and won critical acclaim for her work on the stage, in movies, and on television. A lifelong member of The Actors Studio, she received numerous awards and honours, and was an active spokesperson for UNICEF and other charities. One of the most forgotten actresses of the Golden Era of Hollywood, she undoubtedly deserves to be remembered.