A Beautiful Mornin’ with Celeste Holm.
Another Screen Beauty Passes
Hal Drucker | Jul 19, 2012, 5:14 p.m.
The familiar eyes were crystalline blue. The face still beautiful. The delicate voice glissando-ing like the keyboard celeste from The Nutcracker Suite. Suddenly I was no longer sharing a scone with Celeste Holm in her sun-filled breakfast nook overlooking Central Park back in 2003, I was sharing a scene with her, transported back in time to the St. James Theater of 1943. From the very last row of the balcony in nose-bleed land, this 12-year-old had sat transfixed by a perky, calico-clad miss named Ado Annie, who reddened my ears with the sweetest sounds I’d ever heard, about a girl who simply caint say no. With the death of Celeste Holm at 95, Joan Roberts who played Laurey (to Alfred Drake’s Curly) is the remaining link to Rodgers and Hammerstein’s breakthrough musical Oklahoma.
One year after Oklahoma! I was charmed by Holm’s performance in Bloomer Girl as the coquettish Evalina, a follower of the early feminist Dolly Bloomer. I will never forget her rendering of the love song Right as the Rain, from Harold Arlen’s exquisite score, nor the musical’s social awareness subplot featuring Dooley Wilson (the “play it, Sam” of Casablanca) as a runaway slave. Yet that socially aware theme paled against her Oscar-winning supporting actress role for 1947 in the controversial Gentlemen’s Agreement (with Gregory Peck, Dororthy McGuire and John Garfield) based on Laura Z. Hobson’s best-selling novel about anti-Semitism in America.
In her 80s, Holm was an inveterate theatergoer and passionate keeper of the flame for working actors and the Actors Fund. She joined protesters against the demolition of two classic Broadway theaters 1985 to make way for a towering hotel. She has served as chairperson of the New Jersey Motion Picture and TV Commission, as head of the National Health Association, as president of the Creative Arts Rehabilitation Center, and is president of The Arts Horizons, which brings music and art and she hopes, inspiration, to 450,000 kids.
Equally at home tossing an exquisitely timed straight line, warbling a satirical ditty or delivering a visceral dramatic turn, this Brooklyn-born grand dame of theater and film (she was knighted by Norway’s King Olaf) stuck in her thumb and pulled out a number of plums from the past as she re-filled my coffee cup.
I told her how my grandkids loved watching my video of High Society, Cole Porter’s 1956 musical version of The Philadelphia Story in which Holm appeared with legends Bing Crosby, Louis Armstong, Frank Sinatra and Grace Kelly as Tracy Lord (her last role).
Holm smiled and said, “It’s a joyful picture. Children pick up on that. And oh, the fun we had doing it. Sinatra and I play a couple of reporters from a tell-all fan magazine who are grudgingly admitted to Grace Kelly’s Newport, RI estate for her impending second marriage after splitting from Crosby. Which scene did your grandchildren like most?”
I told her the number in which she and Sinatra poke fun at the upper crust with the rousing duet, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? (The answer in Porter’s words: “I don’t! All I want is you.”)