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Sunday, July 15, 2012

Celeste Holm, Broadway star in 'Oklahoma!' and Oscar-winner, dies

Celeste Holm won an Academy Award for supporting actress in the 1947 film 'Gentleman's Agreement' and was nominated two other times. She also had frequent roles on television, including in the 1990s series 'Promised Land.' Celeste Holm, the versatile actress who achieved fame on Broadway in the original production of Rodgers and Hammerstein's hit musical "Oklahoma!" in 1943 and five years later won an Oscar for best supporting actress in the landmark movie-drama "Gentleman's Agreement," died Sunday. She was 95.

Holm, whose more than 70-year career in show business included performing in nightclubs, died in her apartment on Central Park West in New York City, said her husband, Frank Basile.

She had recently spent two weeks in a hospital, where she was discovered to be dehydrated and ended up suffering a heart attack. She asked to be taken home Friday, Basile said.
 “My wife was an extraordinary woman,” Basile said. “She lived her life with such grace and dignity.”

Prior to Holm's hospitalization, the couple briefly had been living outside their home due to smoke damage from a fire in actor Robert De Niro's apartment in the same building.

Holm had great success on Broadway, and already had 10 productions behind her when she was cast in the star-making role of man-crazy Ado Annie in "Oklahoma!," in which she sang "I Cain't Say No."

"Any good actress can play a man-crazy hoyden, but Celeste Holm played Ado Annie with a sly wink-in-the-eye that made her character irresistible," Miles Krueger, president of the Los Angeles-based Institute of the American Musical, who was a boy when he saw Holm in the role, told The Times in 2007. "She was so cute."

Holm's Broadway work, including the lead in the hit 1944 musical comedy "Bloomer Girl," led to a long-term contract with 20th Century Fox, where her first two films were the musicals "Three Little Girls in Blue" and "Carnival in Costa Rica."

Then came her third film, "Gentleman's Agreement," the groundbreaking 1947 drama directed by Elia Kazan and starring Gregory Peck as a journalist who adopts a Jewish identity to chronicle his own first-hand experiences dealing with anti-Semitism.

Kazan fought to have Holm cast in the role of the witty and sophisticated magazine fashion editor Anne Dettrey. Studio head Darryl F. Zanuck, Holm told The Times in 1998, viewed 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."

Critics took notice of Holm's portrayal of Dettrey.

"Really in the Academy class for supporting honors is Celeste Holm, who brings joy and gaiety, as well as good common sense, to the screen in her thoroughly ingratiating rendition of her role of everybody's friend," Los Angeles Times film critic Edwin Schallert wrote in his review of the film, which also earned Oscars for best picture and best director.

Holm received two more supporting-actress Oscar nominations while under contract to Fox — for playing a nun in the 1949 drama "Come to the Stable" and for playing the best friend of Bette Davis' aging Broadway star Margo Channing in the classic 1950 backstage drama"All About Eve."

"My agent didn't want me to do 'Eve.' Can you imagine?" Holm told the Associated Press in 1997. "He was afraid 'Miss Normal' would get caught between two cats, Bette Davis and [co-star] Anne Baxter."

Holm, in fact, didn't get along with the legendary Davis.

As Holm often recalled, when she walked onto the set the first day of shooting and said, "Good morning," Davis responded by saying, "Oh, [expletive], good manners."


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