Friday, July 20, 2012

Friday Dance Party: Holm, Sweet Holm

Celeste Holm
She had already played Broadway (as Mary L in The Time of Your Life, which introduced Gene Kelly to the world) when she landed the role which launched her career.  Auditioning for the new musical Oklahoma!, she sang a ditty from an operetta.  Composer Richard Rodgers was not impressed, and told her so, saying that he needed someone "with a little less polish." Celeste let out a whooping hog call ("Suuuuuuuuuuu-Eeeeeeeeeeee") and landed the role of man-hungry Ado Annie, stopping the show every night with her rendition of "I Cain't Say No."  
The original cast of Oklahoma!
The lady had polish.

Richard Rodgers was right, though, when he noted Holm's natural polish.  She portrayed all sorts of characters in a career which lasted over sixty years, and her most memorable appearances were indeed ladies with "polish." 
Holm's follow-up to Oklahoma! was
the Harold Arlen rarity, Bloomer Girl.

She earned three Oscar nods, including the role for which all theatrical junkies will best remember her, as Bette Davis's wavering best friend Karen in All About Eve (she lost to Josephine Hull from Harvey; Celeste won the award for her supporting turn in Gentlemen's Agreement).
As Margo's best friend in All About Eve, Holm gave a nuanced portrayal of a woman uneasily manipulated by Anne Baxter's Eve. In the film, her Karen caused the star to miss a performance which launched  understudy Eve's career.
Celeste and her 4th husband, Wesley Addy,
occasionally worked together, including
a stint on the soap Loving.
On the small screen, our gal was a regular on Promised Land, a spin-off of the more successful Touched By An Angel, and she spent some time on the daytime soap Loving, as grande dame Isabelle Alden.  She played the press secretary on the shortlived sitcom Nancy, regarding the daughter of the President of the United States, and she earned an Emmy nomination as Mrs. Warren G. Harding in the mini-series Backstairs At The White House. 
Celeste earned an Emmy nod
in the miniseries deemed "Upstairs/
Downstairs at the White House."
The highlight of her television career, though, was probably the role for which an entire generation knows her, as the Fairy Godmother in the remake of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Cinderella, starring Lesley Ann Warren. 
Rodger's and Hammerstein's TV musical Cinderella received a major remake in the mid-60s. It was my first encounter with Celeste Holm.
I was lucky enough to see Celeste Holm onstage, twice. 
Allan Bennett had an early flop
with this British sex farce. I saw it.
Celeste Holm was in it.

Frankly, I don't remember her at all in the Broadway production of Alan Bennett's sex farce Habeas Corpus (I wrote about seeing that show here), but I certainly remember her work in I Hate Hamlet (in fact, it was her presence in the show which encouraged me to see it, only a day after the show's star caused an onstage uproar.  I wrote about that here).  Sadly, this sophisticated, "polished" lady was forced into relative poverty in her later years, when she married a some-time opera singer (and some-time waiter) who was 45 years her junior. 
Celeste's marriage to her 5th husband ignited
a family brawl which bankrupted our gal.

Her sons from her various previous marriages objected, and they dragged their mother through the courts during the last years of her life.  Holm lived in relative poverty in her home on New York's Central Park West, an apartment she purchased for $10,000 decades ago but which is now valued at well over 2 million.  She was recently sued for being delinquent on her homeowner dues, and was reportedly living only on her Social Security pension when she died this week at the age of 95, estranged from her sons.

This week's Dance Party deals with the double-edged sword of wealth and privilege.  It comes from one of Celeste's movie musicals, High Society.  It's the musical version of the Philip Barry classic The Philadelphia Story, with a score by Cole Porter, and features the final film appearance (and only musical role) of Grace Kelly. 
For the musical,
Cary Grant, Katherine Hepburn, and
Jimmy Stewart were replaced by Bing,
Princess Grace, and Ol' Blue Eyes.
By the time the movie was released, Kelly had fled Hollywood for Monaco and acquired the title of princess. When compared with the breezy perfection of the original, High Society does not measure up, but viewed on its own, the musical contains a few gems (none of them involving Bing Crosby, who was too old for the role made famous by Cary Grant).  Frank Sinatra is playing the role which won James Stewart his only Oscar, and our gal Celeste is playing his confederate journalist.  There may be a bit of irony in viewing this number, which wonders who wants to be a millionaire, when our heroine was in such financial difficulty at the time of her own death.