CELESTE HOLM was born on April 29, 1919 in New York
City to Norwegian-born Theodor Holm, an insurance adjuster for Lloyds of
London, and his wife, Jean Parke Holm, a portrait artist and author. Because of her parents professions, Celeste traveled frequently, attending a
number of schools in France, Holland and the United States. Theatrically inclined from a very early age, Celeste also received training
in singing, dancing and acting, both professionally and from family friends.
Upon graduating from University High School for Girls in Chicago, Illinois
where she appeared in a number of school plays, Celeste enrolled at the
University of Chicago to study drama.
In the summer of 1936, Celeste accepted an offer to play ingénue
leads for a stock company in Deer Lake, Pennsylvania, and during the
winter of 1936-7, was offered the chance to understudy the part of Ophelia in a
touring production of "Hamlet" (starring Leslie
Howard). In 1937 she joined the road company of Clare
Boothe's comedy "The Women" in the role of the home-wrecking shop girl
"Crystal" (played by Joan Crawford in the 1939 film version), and
in 1938 Celeste made her New York debut in "Gloriana,"
a costume drama starring Blanche Yurka.
It was her Broadway debut in the small part of Mary L. in
"The Time of Your Life," William Saroyan's Pulitzer Prize-winning
play, which finally brought Celeste to the attention of critics
however. She left the role before the end of the first run (from
October 1939 to April 1940) to play the lead in "Another Sun"
which opened in February 1940, but despite positive personal reviews for her
contribution, the anti-Nazi play didn't last. Celeste then embarked on a
series of commended parts in other short-lived productions including
"The Return of the Vagabond" (May 1940) with George M. Cohan, a
brief second run of "The Time of Your Life" (September 1940),
"Eight O'Clock Tuesday" (January 1941), "My Fair Ladies"
(March 1941) and a series of summer stock productions. In
1942, Celeste had better luck, appearing in a well-received production of
"Papa is All" as well as "The Damask Cheek" (October
1942) for which she received very complimentary notices.
A stamp issued in 1993 commemorating the 50th
In early 1943, Celeste auditioned for a musical version of
Lynn Riggs' play "Green Grow the Lilacs," written by composer
Richard Rodgers and lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II, the pair's first musical
collaboration. After demonstrating her ability to "sing
bad," she was cast as the man-crazy Ado Annie in "Away We Go"
(as the production was originally titled for its premiere at the Schubert
Theatre in New Haven, Connecticut on March 11). Building steam and
undergoing some revisions during brief opening runs in New Haven and Boston,
the musical finally made its Broadway debut as "Oklahoma!" at the
St. James Theatre on March 31, 1943. An instant smash, "Oklahoma!"
enjoyed packed houses and rave reviews. Critics were especially
enthusiastic about Celeste's rather naughty rendition of "I Cain't Say
A few months into the run of "Oklahoma!",
Celeste began making between-performance appearances at New York supper clubs and the Persian
Room of the Plaza Hotel for which she was also highly praised. In the summer of 1944,
producer John C. Wilson decided to build a musical around her, and the show,
"Bloomer Girl," opened in October of that year to good box office
and positive reviews.
Holm in costume for "Bloomer Girl" on the cover of the
November 6, 1944 issue of LIFE Magazine.
In July 1944, Celeste finally gave in to an offer from
Hollywood and signed a long-term contract with 20th
Century-Fox, effective later in 1945 in order to allow her time to tour
Europe with the USO and entertain troops before reporting to
California. In her film debut for Fox,
THREE LITTLE GIRLS IN BLUE (1946), Celeste stole the show in a supporting
role as a French visitor and was rewarded with star billing in her second
film, the musical CARNIVAL IN COSTA RICA (1947). But her big break
came when she won the role of fashion editor Anne Dettry in GENTLEMAN'S
AGREEMENT (1947), taking home an Academy Award as the year's Best Supporting
Actress for her performance -- one of the film's eight nominations and its
only acting Oscar.
Having proved her talents in both comedy and drama,
Celeste looked forward to more quality roles after GENTLEMAN'S AGREEMENT but
found herself frequently at odds with the Fox
management who had difficulty finding parts appropriate for this intelligent
blonde who didn't fit their Betty Grable "pin-up girl" mold.
In 1948 Celeste appeared as a second-fiddle cashier in the film-noir ROAD
HOUSE, as Dan Dailey's long-suffering wife in CHICKEN EVERY SUNDAY, and as a
friendly hospital inmate in THE SNAKE PIT with Olivia
de Havilland. Though she received good notices for each of these
films, only the latter could be considered a "quality" Fox
production and her role in this film was quite small.
Celeste fared slightly better in 1949, making a memorable
contribution to Joseph
L. Mankiewicz's A LETTER TO THREE WIVES as the off-screen voice of Addie
Ross and earning a second Oscar nomination for her role as a tennis-playing
French nun in COME TO THE STABLE with Loretta
Young. After another first rate comic performance in EVERYBODY
DOES IT (1949) as a socialite and aspiring opera diva, Celeste was loaned to
United Artists to appear alongside
Ronald Colman and Vincent Price
in the comedy CHAMPAGNE FOR CAESAR (1950). She soon found herself on
suspension from Fox however, for
refusing other roles she felt were beneath her.
At the insistence of director Joseph
L. Mankiewicz, Fox brought
Celeste back to the studio in the spring of 1950 to play the role of Karen
Richards in Mankiewicz's
all-star production of ALL ABOUT EVE
The film was a box office smash and received more Oscar nominations (14)
than any film in the history of the Academy Awards. Celeste herself
was nominated in the Best Supporting Actress category, along with co-star Thelma
Ritter, but both actresses lost to Josephine Hull for her performance in
HARVEY (1950). Nevertheless, it appeared as if Celeste's film career
was looking up. Shortly after ALL ABOUT EVE
debuted however, she shocked the Hollywood film community by buying out the rest of
her Fox contract and heading back to
In December 1949, Celeste returned to the stage in a
revival of "She Stoops to Conquer" with Brian Aherne and Burl
Ives, and shortly thereafter, starred in "Affairs of State" which
was written especially for her by Louis Verneuil. That same year, she
made her television debut in an episode of "The Chevy Show."
In 1952 Celeste continued her stage work, playing the title role in a
revival of "Anna Christie," and later that year, temporarily
replacing Gertrude Lawrence as Mrs. Anna in "The King and
I." After appearing with Robert Preston in "His and
Hers," Celeste returned to Hollywood in 1954 to star in her own TV
series, "Honestly, Celeste!" Although the series (in which
Celeste played a journalism teacher) only lasted eight weeks, the exposure
helped Celeste land starring roles in two MGM musical comedies, THE TENDER
TRAP (1955) with Frank Sinatra,
Debbie Reynolds and David Wayne, and HIGH
SOCIETY (1956) with Sinatra, Grace Kelly and
After her brief return to film, Holm pursued several
opportunities in television, appearing in episodes of "The U.S. Steel
Hour," "Producer's Showcase," "Goodyear Television
Playhouse," and "Zane Grey Theatre." In 1957 Celeste
joined the touring company of "Back to Methuselah," and the
following year she returned to Broadway in "Third Best Sport" and
the psychological melodrama "Interlock" in which she played her
entire performance from a wheelchair. During the 1960s she continued
to concentrate her talents in the theatre, appearing in "Invitation to
the March" (1960) on Broadway, "A Month in the Country"
(1963) with husband Wesley Addy, and "Mame" (1968) for which she
won Chicago's Sarah Siddons Society Award. She also scored a
significant television success as the Fairy Godmother in Rodgers and
Hammerstein's "Cinderella" (TV 1965), and earned an Emmy
nomination in 1968 for her performance in an episode of
"Insight." Her film work in the 1960s consisted of
supporting roles in two comedies, BACHELOR FLAT (1961) and DOCTOR, YOU'VE
GOT TO BE KIDDING (1967).
Holm in a publicity portrait for her most recent film, STILL
During the 1970s and '80s, Celeste continued to appear on
stage, on television and in movies. High points of this period include
a production of "Candida" which opened on Broadway in 1970 with
Celeste in the title role opposite her husband Wesley Addy, a tour of
"Butterflies are Free," a lauded appearance as Aunt Polly in the
film musical TOM SAWYER (1973), a one-woman off-Broadway show called
"Paris Was Yesterday" (1980), a recurring role on TV's
"Falcon Crest," and an appearance as Ted Danson's mother in the
smash comedy THREE MEN AND A BABY (1987). It was during this time that
Celeste also became actively involved in a variety of charitable
causes. The organizations with which she has been involved include
UNICEF (for whom she has raised over $20,000 by charging $.50 for her
autograph), the Theatre Hall of Fame (as a member), Easter Seals, Arts
Horizons (a nonprofit enrichment program for school children in New York and
New Jersey), the
Actor's Fund (as a board member), the National Health Association (as head), the Creative Arts
Rehabilitation Center (as president), and the New Jersey Motion Picture and TV
Commission (for which she has served as chairperson).
In 1979, Celeste was knighted by King Olav of Norway, and in 1982, she was arrested for protesting the demolition of two classic
Holm on the Red Carpet at the 75th Annual Academy Awards in
As for her personal life, Celeste was first married in
1938 to director Ralph Nelson with whom she had a son, Ted. The couple
divorced the following year however, and in 1940 Celeste converted to Catholicism
and married Francis Davies, an English auditor. This union also ended in
divorce. In 1946, Celeste married airline public relations executive
A. Schuyler Dunning, and their son Daniel was born in November of that
year. This marriage did not last either however, and in 1961 Celeste
married for a fourth time -- to actor Wesley Addy whom she had met in 1960
during "Invitation to the March." The couple frequently
appeared onstage together, and the marriage lasted until Addy's death in 1996 at age 83.
In addition to her two sons, Celeste also has three grandchildren, and in
1997 was named "Grandparent of the Year" by the national Grandparents Day Committee.
Since her husband's death, Celeste has continued to make
occasional appearances in both film and television. She has played
recurring roles on the TV series "Promised Land" (1996-9) and the
short-lived "The Beat" (2000). Her most recent big screen role was
that of Brendan Fraser's grandmother in the romance STILL BREATHING (1998).
Celeste currently resides in New York and is still actively involved with a
number of charitable causes. In June 2001, she spoke to the National
Press Club in Washington, DC about the importance of arts education in
public schools, and in 2003, she appeared on the 75th Annual Academy Awards
during a segment of the telecast honoring previous Oscar winners.