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Celeste Holm dies at 95

Actress won Oscar for 'Gentleman's Agreement'

Celeste Holm, who won an Oscar for her performance in “Gentleman’s Agreement” in 1948 and drew Oscar nominations for her work in “Come to the Stable” and “All About Eve,” died Sunday in New York. She was 95.

In “Gentlemen’s Agreement,” a rather too-earnest exploration of anti-Semitism, Holm provided what little wit and charm there was in her supporting performance as fashion editor Anne Dettrey. (Honored for its good intentions, the film won for best picture and director in addition to supporting actress.)

She was not beautiful, but Holm often brought a certain sparkle to the movies in which she appeared, even if afforded only a few scenes and a secondary role.

In the classically acerbic “All About Eve,” Holm brought a welcome warmth.

In “Come to the Stable” she and Loretta Young played French nuns determined to build a children’s hospital in a New England town, but Holm never got too sentimental in the role.

She had a supporting role in 1948’s “The Snake Pit,” starring Olivia de Havilland as a woman plunged into the hellhole of the mental health system, and held her own against Richard Widmark, Ida Lupino and Cornel Wilde in the Fox film noir “Road House” the same year.

The New York native studied acting at the U. of Chicago. She made her professional legit debut in a production of “Hamlet” that starred Leslie Howard, and her first substantial part on Broadway came in the 1940 revival of William Saroyan’s “The Time of Your Life,” in which Gene Kelly also appeared. The Rialto role that gained her the most attention, however, was Ado Annie in the original production of “Oklahoma!” in 1943.

She was signed to a contract at Fox in 1946 and made her bigscreen debut in “Three Little Girls in Blue” that year; “Gentlemen’s Agreement,” for which she won her only Oscar, was just her third film.

She was unhappy with what that the Oscar did for her film career, however, as she was offered serious dramas rather than musicals or light comedies, and she eventually bought herself out of her studio contract and returned to the stage in New York.

Holm was busy on Broadway in the early 1950s, starring in the comedy “Affairs of State”; as a replacement in “The King and I”; in a brief production of “Anna Christie”; and in the comedy “His and Hers.”

She worked in television, too, starring in her own CBS show, “Honestly, Celeste,” in 1954.

Then Holm was back on the bigscreen for “The Tender Trap,” with Frank Sinatra and Debbie Reynolds, and the musical comedy “High Society,” with Sinatra, Bing Crosby and Grace Kelly.

She was a steady presence on TV throughout the 1960s, guesting on numerous series and starring in an ABC adaptation of “Meet Me in St. Louis” in 1966.

Holm was a replacement in the starring role of “Mame” on Broadway in the late 1960s.

In 1970-71, she was a series regular on the brief NBC sitcom “Nancy,” in which she played the press secretary of the first lady of the United States and chaperone to the president’s daughter.

She was Mrs. Florence Harding in the miniseries “Backstairs at the White House,” and she recurred on “Archie Bunker’s Place” and “Falcon Crest.”

During the 1990s she appeared on Broadway for the last time, in Paul Rudnick’s comedy “I Hate Hamlet.” She was also a series regular on the ABC soap “Loving,” recurred on “Touched by an Angel” and was a series regular on the CBS drama “Promised Land.”

In 2000 she was a series regular on the brief UPN skein “The Beat.”

Holm became an activist on mental health issues after making “The Snake Pit” in the 1940s and remained one for the rest of her life.

She was appointed to the National Arts Council by then-President Ronald Reagan and was inducted into the American Theatre Hall of Fame in 1992.

Holm was married five times, the first time to later director Ralph Nelson and the fourth time to actor Wesley Addy. On her 87th birthday she married Frank Basile, a 41-year-old opera singer.

In her last years she and Basile were in legal conflict over her assets with her two sons, from whom Holm came to be estranged.

She is survived by Basile, the two sons, Theodore Holm Nelson, an Internet pioneer who coined the term “hypertext,” and Daniel Danning; and three grandchildren. Donations may be made to UNICEF or to the Lillian Booth Actors Home of the Actors Fund in Englewood, N.J.

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