Holm, Celeste (1919—)

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Holm, Celeste (1919—)

American actress and singer who won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her performance in Gentleman's Agreement. Born on April 29, 1919, in New York City; daughter of Theodor Holm (an insurance executive) and Jean (Parke) Holm (an author and artist); attended 14 schools, including Lycée Victor Durée, Paris, France; graduated from the Francis W. Parker High School, Chicago, Illinois, 1934; studied drama at the University of Chicago, 1932–34 (while still in high school); married Ralph Nelson, a director (divorced); married Francis Davies, in January 1940 (divorced); married Wesley Addy, an actor; children: (first marriage) one son.

Selected stage work:

debuted as Roberta Van Renssalaer in The Night of January 16 (Orwigsburg Summer Theater, Deer Lake, PA, 1936); New York debut as Lady Mary in Gloriana (1938); Mary L. in The Time of Your Life (Booth Theater, New York, 1939); Ado Annie in Oklahoma! (St. James Theater, New York, 1943); Evelina in Bloomer Girl (Shubert Theater, New York, 1944); Kate Hardcastle in She Stoops to Conquer (New York City Center, 1949); Irene Elliott in Affairs of State (Royale Theater, New York, 1950); title role in Anna Christie (New York City Center, 1952); temporarily succeeded Gertrude Lawrence as Anna in The King and I (July 1952); Maggie Palmer in His and Hers (48th Street Theater, New York, 1954); Mrs. Price in Interlock (ANTA, New York, 1958); Helen Sayre in Third Best Sport (Ambassador Theater, 1958); Camilla Jablonski in Invitation to a March (Music Box Theater, New York, 1960); title role in Mame (tour 1968–69); title role in Candida (Great Lakes Shakespeare Festival, 1970); I Hate Hamlet (Walter Kerr Theater, New York, 1991).


Three Little Girls in Blue (1946); Carnival in Costa Rica (1947); Gentleman's Agreement (1947); Road House (1948); The Snake Pit (1948); Chicken Every Sunday (1949); (off-screen narrator) A Letter to Three Wives (1949); Come to the Stable (1949); Everybody Does It (1949); Champagne for Caesar (1950); All About Eve (1950); The Tender Trap (1955); High Society (1956); Bachelor Flat (1961); Doctor, You've Got to Be Kidding! (1967); Tom Sawyer (1973); Bittersweet Love (1976); The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover (1978); Three Men and a Baby (1987).

Often referred to as "amazingly versatile," actress Celeste Holm has enjoyed a remarkable career encompassing stage, screen, nightclubs, and television. A talented youngster who entertained her parents' sophisticated friends with imitations from her favorite Broadway shows, Holm seemed destined for the stage. She was educated at 14 different schools in the United States and abroad, and was trained in singing, dancing, and acting. She studied variously with Adolph Bolm of the Ballet Theater, Clytie Hine Mundy of the Covent Garden Opera, and acting coach Benno Schneider, her favorite. Holm made her professional stage debut in a summer-stock production of The Night of January 16 (1936). She followed that with a bit part in the road company of Hamlet and a slightly larger role in the tour of Clare Boothe Luce 's comedy The Women (1937). Holm's Broadway debut in the short-lived Gloriana (1938) was so inauspicious that biographers often fail to cite it, listing instead her portrayal of Mary L. in William Saroyan's comedy The Time of Your Life (1939).

Holm performed capably in a variety of roles before her breakthrough as the lovelorn Ado Annie in Rodgers and Hammerstein's blockbuster musical Oklahoma! (1943); her rendition of "I Cain't Say No" was a stand-out. Most critics agreed with Rosco Burton when he noted that Holm "simply tucks the show under her arm and lets the others touch it." Capitalizing on her success while still acting on Broadway, she put together a nightclub act to entertain the after theater crowds at such renowned supper clubs as La Vie Parisienne and the Persian Room at the Plaza Hotel. Cafe society flocked to see her, and the critics were charmed once more. "Her voice is sure. Her timing is exact," wrote a reviewer for PM. "Her talent and her intelligence are in perfect control of the situation. She is funny and sweet, and the people stop scraping their chairs around … and the room is tense with their listening." During World War II, Holm took her act on the road, performing with the USO for the troops in Europe.

In 1944, Holm had another successful run as the rebellious niece of Amelia Jenks Bloomer in Harold Arlen's Bloomer Girl (1944), a Civil War period musical written with her in mind. In July of that year she also launched her film career, signing a long-term contract with Twentieth Century-Fox. She made her screen debut in Three Little Girls in Blue (1946) and won an Academy Award as Best Supporting Actress for her third film Gentleman's Agreement (1947). Her film career included a wide variety of roles and two subsequent Best Supporting Actress nominations, for Come to the Stable (1949) and All About Eve (1950).

Holm continued to combine stage and nightclub performances with her film career throughout the 1950s. She made her television debut on the "Chevrolet Show" (CBS, 1949) and appeared in dramatic productions and variety shows through the mid-1970s. Her later stage performances included a nationwide tour with the "Theater in Concert" program (1963, 1964, and 1966) and a national tour in Mame (1969), for which she received the Sarah Siddons Award. In the '90s, Holm appeared on Broadway with Nicol Williamson in I Hate Hamlet (1991) and in a concert performance of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Allegro (1994). She was also seen regularly as the grandmother on the television series "Promised Land."

An activist, Holm has been a member of the governing boards of the World Federation of

Mental Health and the National Association for Mental Health. In 1979, she was knighted by King Olav V of Norway. President Ronald Reagan appointed her to the National Council for the Arts in 1982, and the following year she served as chair of the New Jersey Motion Picture and Television Development Commission. Holm has been married four times. With her first husband, director Ralph Nelson, she had her only child, a son. Her fourth husband is actor Wesley Addy.


Current Biography. NY: H.W. Wilson, 1944.

Katz, Ephraim. The Film Encyclopedia. NY: Harper-Collins, 1994. McGill, Raymond D., ed. Notable Names in the Theater. Clifton, NJ: James T. White, 1976.

Wilmeth, Don B. and Tice L. Miller, eds. Cambridge Guide to American Theatre. NY and London: Cambridge University Press, 1993.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts