Donald Clarke

Whingeing about cinema and real life since 2009

Farewell Celeste Holm

Yes, until yesterday, she was still with us. Holm, who was 95, is memorable for a relatively small number of roles from Hollywood’s golden era.  Always dryly witty and slightly hoarse in her delivery, she enlivened the indestructible musical High …

Mon, Jul 16, 2012, 12:45

   

Yes, until yesterday, she was still with us. Holm, who was 95, is memorable for a relatively small number of roles from Hollywood’s golden era.  Always dryly witty and slightly hoarse in her delivery, she enlivened the indestructible musical High Society and won an Oscar for the compromised liberal flag-waver Gentleman’s Agreement. (Famously, that film was supposed to be about racism against African-Americans, but was finessed into a story about the less touchy business of anti-Semitism). On the stage, she created the role of Ado Annie — the girl who couldn’t say “no” — in Oklahoma! In later years, she was a stalwart on TV. There was a regular role in Falcon Crest. Inevitably, she popped up in an episode of Columbo.

You should, however, know where this going. Holm will probably be best remembered as one of an untouchable female players in Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s All About Eve. Indeed, Ms Holm was part of an answer to my regular movie quiz in The Ticket last week. The question touched upon the fact that All About Eve is the only film to have earned Oscar nomination for four female actors. Celeste took her place alongside Anne Baxter, Thelma Ritter and the mighty Bette Davis. It’s a funny thing about All About Eve. The leading men all seem quite invisible in the picture. Who, when discussing the picture, mentions Gary Merrill or… erm… What was his name? Oh, yes, Hugh Marlowe. Obviously, George Sanders is magnificent. But he’s as much the chorus as an active player. The film would be unimaginable without Holm. Acting as conscience to Davis’s grand diva Margo Channing, she urges the actress not to be so paranoid and to accept Baxter’s young Eve as an acolyte. Of course, this being one of the great cynical films, it turns out that Margo was right about the dastardly Eve all along. Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean that nobody’s out to get you.

It seems that Holm did not get to enjoy her later years as much as she deserved. In 2004, she married a waiter, who was 45 years her junior, and ended up in a legal dispute with her sons (none of whom are in the first flush of youth). It seems that she spent so many millions on lawyers that she risked losing hold of her much-loved Central Park West apartment.

None of that matters now. “Nothing is forever in the Theatre. Whatever it is, it’s here, it flares up, burns hot and then its gone.” So Holm’s character said in Eve. I suppose that’s true. But we still have the movies.

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